The earthquake that destroyed so much of Haiti was a natural disaster. But the conditions that led to the huge number of deaths were man-made, the result of centuries of colonial and imperialist plunder.
The peoples of the world responded to the tragedy with aid and sympathy. The leaders of America’s capitalist ruling class, on the other hand, saw a public relations opportunity. Aware that its occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and its expanding attacks in Pakistan and Yemen continue to stir anti-imperialist opposition, the Obama administration sought to present the U.S. as a benevolent, caring superpower.
But the White House’s response to the crisis betrayed the fact that its chief concern was not to help the Haitian masses. Before sending aid, the U.S. wanted to send the message that it is still the boss – that it is not too bogged down in the Middle East to use its military muscle to maintain “order” closer to home. The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), the force of thousands of soldiers and cops that was already occupying Haiti, had effectively collapsed along with the fig-leaf government. With little to keep the masses under control, Washington needed to bolster policing on the ground and prevent a wave of Haitian refugees from setting sail for U.S. shores.
So the Pentagon hurried to Haiti with a massive military force that actually made the immediate aftermath of the earthquake even worse. Having seized control of Port-au-Prince’s harbor and airport, the U.S. delayed the arrival of medical and other aid missions by many days, thereby multiplying the death toll. It rushed in warships, while its much-publicized hospital ship came a week later. U.S. planes ferried in troops and supplies for the troops but little for Haitians. It stranded injured Haitians while it evacuated several hundred Americans and Europeans. At a cost of unknown numbers of lives, the U.S. refused for a week to airdrop food and bottled water, claiming that this would lead to riots.
Haiti has been oppressed by colonialism and imperialism for hundreds of years. Its slave revolt in the 1800's overthrew French colonial rule and established an independent republic – the first in Latin America and the Caribbean. But Haiti was then subjected to an economic embargo by France and the U.S. and was forced to pay multi-billion dollar reparations. Throughout the 20th century, Haiti was dominated by the U.S., which occupied it from 1915 to 1934, sucking out billions more. From 1957 to 1986 the U.S. promoted the brutal Duvalier dictators, who ran up the bulk of the $1.8 billion dollar debt that the Haitian people are still being held responsible for.
Throughout their history the Haitian masses have repeatedly risen against the local ruling class and its U.S.-backed state of soldiers and cops. In the 1980s a growing movement of mass protests, general strikes and other struggles overthrew the Duvalier dictatorship and in 1990 Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a radical-talking priest whom the masses mistakenly regarded as their champion, was elected president. Even though he carried out the dictates of the imperialist financiers – slashing public services, ending price controls on basic foods, paying the Duvalier debts – the Haitian army and bourgeoisie didn’t trust Aristide to shut down the mass movement. So in 1991 they organized to have him overthrown in a coup which took a bloody revenge on the bourgeoisie’s real foes, the politically active workers and peasants.
But the flood of refugees fleeing the new dictatorship caused a worldwide outcry. Aristide was restored to the presidency in 1994 by U.S. Marines under the Clinton administration, after he had again agreed to demands for privatization, budget cuts and accelerated loan repayments to the imperialist bankers. Re-elected in 2001, he was ousted again in 2004 by the U.S. and forced into exile.
In all these events, the LRP stood for the Haitians’ right to choose their government without imperialist interference, often working with Haitian groups in New York. We opposed the 1991 coup under Bush I, campaigned against Aristide’s deal with Clinton to prettify bourgeois rule in 1994, and protested his ouster in 2004 under Bush II.
Many Haitians have called for Aristide’s return. Of course, the imperialists and their Haitian allies have absolutely no right to keep him out of his country; nor do they have any right to suppress the bourgeois Lavalas party that supported him. But Aristide remains tied to a wing of the Haitian bourgeoisie, as his history of aligning with imperialist policy shows, and there is no basis for supporting his return to power now. That would only compromise the necessary struggle of the workers and poor against imperialism and all its local defenders.
U.N. forces have occupied Haiti since 2004. The imperialists delegated the dirty work to mostly “third-world” countries led by Brazil and including Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina and Nepal. These forces have carried out the repression of the masses just the same, conducting deadly raids on Port-au-Prince’s slums and repressing demonstrations by workers, students and poor people against high food prices and for raising the minimum wage. After the earthquake, U.N. soldiers have been caught on video using tear gas against hungry Haitians who protested having to fill out paper work before being given rice and other urgently needed goods.
Haiti, like many oppressed countries, has been subject to the austerity demands of the rampaging free-marketeers of the U.S.-dominated International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Haiti was forced to open its markets to imports and privatization, which led to its farmers being undercut by subsidized rice and sugar from the U.S. Haitian agriculture and local industries were ruined, putting an end to the country’s self-sufficiency in basic food production. In 2008, Wall Street’s financial speculation sent rice prices skyrocketing, leading to mass starvation and food riots in Haiti and other countries.
Given the history of imperialist interference led by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama’s appointment of these two to head up the U.S.’s major fund-raising effort for Haiti adds insult to injury. Clinton has most recently served as the U.N.’s Special Envoy to Haiti, acting as the front-man for the renewed super-exploitation of the country, leading tours of businessmen seeking opportunities for factories and tourist facilities that would take advantage of the country’s poverty. In this spirit, while people around the world generously donated to appeals for funds to provide aid in Haiti, the International Monetary Fund announced a new $100 million loan to Haiti. But this, like all imperialist loans and grants, had strings attached – including raising electricity prices and freezing wages for public employees. And it will only add to Haiti’s current $1.8 billion debt to international financiers.
The problems of reconstructing and developing Haiti’s economy and infrastructure are immense. The U.S. and the other imperialist powers have made clear that redevelopment under their control will include little beyond what is needed for the continued superexploitation of the working people.
For as long as America’s great wealth is in the hands of private capitalist profiteers and a government that does their bidding, Haiti and the other nations of the Caribbean and Central America will be condemned to nightmarish oppression and poverty. Mass struggles by the workers and poor people of the oppressed countries can help inspire and educate the American working class as to the need to overthrow U.S. imperialism. However, the Haitian masses’ need for aid could not be more desperate – they cannot wait for workers’ rule in America to provide it.
There have been numerous acts of solidarity by workers’ and other organizations in many countries, from unions organizing donations to fund relief work to calls for workers’ brigades to bring aid and solidarity. There have been reports – for example, in a statement by the Liga Socialista de los Trabajadores of the Dominican Republic and others – of actions by Dominican workers. These are especially welcome, given that the Dominican rulers have long encouraged vicious racism against the many Haitian immigrants who have fled over the border to escape devastating poverty.
Haiti’s urgent needs – from food, drinkable water, shelter and emergency medical care to longer-term projects like building hospitals, power stations and water supplies – cannot be met by isolated efforts. They demand the sort of massive mobilization of resources that only governments can most effectively provide. No wonder the Haitian masses have turned to the hope of receiving aid from powerful capitalist states like the U.S. Rather than standing aside from the masses’ immediate and desperate struggle to survive, revolutionaries must participate by their side, demanding that the U.S. and other states provide aid while exposing every attempt by the U.S., the U.N. and others to use Haiti’s crisis to advance imperialism’s interests. Demonstrations and other struggles under slogans like Aid, Not Military Occupation! U.S./U.N. Military Out! could both win important concessions in terms of more aid, begin to rally the Haitian masses for a struggle to end their country’s imperialist occupation, and expose U.S. imperialism’s role to millions in the U.S. in particular.
The imperialists are already taking advantage of Haiti’s desperation by forcing its government to agree to emergency loans with interest. This is in the spirit of the first U.S. occupation in the early 20th century which was aimed at guaranteeing the payment of Haiti’s debts. Working-class protests in Haiti and around the world should therefore also demand Aid, Not Loans! Cancel Haiti’s Debts!
Further, as aid is slowly being delivered in Haiti, more injustices are already taking place. The rich and powerful are receiving aid before the poor and corrupt Haitian capitalist forces are trying to sell for a profit relief supplies meant for free distribution. Protests against such outrages can grow into a general demand that the Workers and the Poor Must Control Relief and Reconstruction! As reconstruction projects begin, struggles will be needed to fight for development in the interests of the masses, as well as for jobs, training and decent wages for Haitians.
The earthquake’s devastation has surely set back the struggles and organization of Haitian workers and poor. But in an encouraging sign, the Haitian workers’ group Batay Ouvriye and others have reported on the creation of popular committees to search and clear rubble, build camps, distribute food and water and organize security independent of the Haitian police and foreign troops. Committees of the workers and poor formed around such immediate issues have the potential to become the basis mass organizations of political struggle for the masses’ needs and against the imposition of a U.S.-controlled regime.
The U.S. is blockading Haiti’s coasts to keep refugees from reaching Florida and allowing only a trickle of earthquake victims in for medical treatment. U.S. workers should oppose these racist exclusions. There should be no restrictions on refugees and immigrants from all countries whose economies have been wrecked by imperialist domination. End All Restrictions on Refugees and Immigrants!
The arrogant and criminally obstructive role of the U.S. government in post-earthquake Haiti exposes once again the true nature of the capitalist system that exploits workers at home and terrorizes masses abroad – even when it is supposedly helping them. These basic slogans and demands can raise awareness of the crisis of political leadership the workers of the world face, and the need to build internationalist working-class revolutionary socialist political parties around the world to lead the struggle.