February 2021 saw a fresh political crisis for the nation of Haiti, as President Jovenel Moïse arrested a fresh batch of opposition figures, claiming they were undertaking a coup against his administration. What followed after was to be the usual for the Haitian masses as they gathered once more to oppose the hegemonic rule of Moïse. A general strike was declared, citing corruption and austerity. In response the police and army have ramped up their repression, shooting two journalists on the 9th of February. Running battles between the masses and the armed might of the institutions currently grip the nation, yet the demands of the Haitian people not only refer to the corrupt Moïse but also to American influence within the country.
When focus is applied to the current batch of Haitian resistance, a pattern emerges from the imagery of the protests. The protestors are seen to be consistently burning the flag of the United States of America. The reason may not seem obvious at first, yet the people of Haiti have long seen the connection between their woes and the history of US influence in their country. It’s one that dates back to the very foundations of the modern Haitian state.
From the beginning, the great success of the Haitian slave revolt put the scare into the plantation class of the US in the late 18th century. Through their own tactical prowess and spirit, the former slaves of Haiti (violently imported from Africa during the slave trade) defeated the armies of numerous colonial nations and eviscerated white racist rule within their country. This historic victory was predictably met with fear and loathing from the American settler colonial planters who believed that their own slaves would similarly revolt and take vengeance upon their white masters. Embargos soon followed but Haiti continued to resist as it had done before. After the consolidation of the United States into an imperial entity, full scale intervention was soon to hit the island.
The term “Yankee Imperialism”, an analysis developed by Latin American socialists fighting against the Monroe Doctrine, best describes US policy towards the island even to this day. The term’s further formulation by Turkish Maoists, including Mahir Çayan, describes the policy as a neo-colonial one. It’s one which places emphasis on the role of the comprador bourgeoisie (localised upper-class elements in colonised nations) who collaborate with American authorities to ease the day-to-day management of imperialism, whilst also requiring the hard use of force by the American imperialists themselves in order to quash dissent during times of crisis. The American government, be it Democrat or Republican, has continually enforced this policy to the general detriment of the Haitian working masses.
The most notable instance of this naked colonialism was on July 28, 1915, when 330 US Marines were ordered to occupy the nation by president Woodrow Wilson – the very same Wilson who would later famously announce his “14 Points for Peace”, which included the concept of national self-determination, during World War I. Yet, only a few years earlier he had forcibly quashed a peasant rebellion which he felt threatened American colonial investments in the form of the Haitian American Sugar Company.
The intervention was predicated and acted out within the deep-rooted notions of American white supremacy, with the soldiers exporting the violence used against black people in the US to the Caribbean. American troops killed and segregated with impunity, their racist butchering empowered by the looting of Haitian economic subsidiaries by the US ruling class. The NAACP executive secretary Herbert J. Seligman made the following remarks emphasising this point, following an investigation into goings on on the island:
“Military camps have been built throughout the island. The property of natives has been taken for military use. Haitians carrying a gun were for a time shot on sight. Machine guns have been turned on crowds of unarmed natives, and United States Marines have, by accounts which several of them gave me in casual conversation, not troubled to investigate how many were killed or wounded.”
In the latter half of the 20th century, American involvement in the island would mirror the precedent of bloodshed left by the occupation. In order to garner support from the United States, the brutal neo-colonial Haitian dictator François Duvalier would put a spotlight to his anti-communist credentials, stating that:
“Communism has established centres of infection . . . No area in the world is as vital to American security as the Caribbean . . . We need a massive injection of money to reset the country on its feet, and this injection can come only from our great, capable friend and neighbour the United States.”
To back up these claims, Duvalier embarked on a violent anti-communist crusade which included a law which stated: “Communist activities, no matter what their form, are hereby declared crimes against the security of the State . . . The authors of an accomplices in crimes listed above shall receive the death penalty…” The killings matched up with American foreign policy throughout the Cold War. Deemed the “Jakarta Method” after the policies’ effectiveness in Indonesia, this murderous anticommunist policy was to be re-used by American agents not just in Haiti but all across South and Central America, as despots used CIA intelligence (including from Nazi war criminals turned American assets such as “the butcher of Lyon” Klaus Barbie) to destroy their communist opposition.
American black ops and economic measures have plagued the island even since the overthrow of the Duvalier dynasty in the late 1980s. The democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in 2004 by right wing paramilitaries with US assistance. Leaked information in 2011 showed the Obama administration fought to keep Haitian wages at 31 cents an hour when the Haiti government passed a law raising its minimum wage to 61 cents an hour. Even as recently as 2 years ago, heavily armed former Navy Seals were captured in Haiti as riots erupted against corruption once more. The incident was eerily reminiscent of the failed so-called Operation Red Dog, where American Klansmen and Canadian Neo-Nazis attempted a coup in Dominica with an expressively white supremacist motivation, backed by an imperialist economic relationship.
In more recent events, IMF-imposed economic sanctions have continuously reigned misery upon the Haitian working class. The measures have in recent years under the administration included the hiking of gas prices up to 38 percent to US$4.60 per gallon and were inflicted on Haitian working people in spite of the fact that the average income for a Haitian is a mere 5 dollars a day.
The response from many sections of Haitian society has been quick and militant. A police station in the Artibonite region was set on fire, as were a courthouse and government tax offices in Petit-Goâve, whilst a policeman was killed in the Delmas 83 neighbourhood outside of Port-au-Prince. The targets are by no means random, with institutions associated with the capitalist class both national and foreign being burned down across the country. In spite of some American reservations about Moïse, the US looks set to give his rule-by-decree free reign over the next year, due to the protest’s distinct anti-imperialist edge. If successful, the current uprising would put American assets at considerable risk of a mass redistribution of resources in Haiti. The spate of arson actions against US businesses such as Coca Cola (who have consistently abused the rights of workers within Haiti) only reaffirm the stance of the Haitian resistors towards the United States and its oligarch class.
The crisis of corruption within Haiti is intrinsically linked with imperialist attacks all across the Americas. After revelations that Haiti’s elite had pilfered the funds from Petrocaribe, a Venezuelan scheme wherein oil was to be sold to the caribbean states and paid back at staggeringly low interest rates, the IMF has forced Haiti’s poor to foot the bill as the nation now has to pay $20,000 per day to each American oil ship that is sitting in the harbor as a penalty. Economic warfare by the US imperialist bloc against Venezuela has placed Haiti in a similar stranglehold to the South American nation. Unable to now obtain subsidised fuel, the American’s oil hegemony over the island reigns once more. This is a policy that has stood firm under both the Biden and Trump administrations. The liberal imperialist method vs the conservative imperialist method is a false dichotomy; both are rooted in American white power and both continue the subjugation of the majority of the planet using both economic and military methods. The neoliberal administration of Biden constitutes no change for the people of Haiti, as it’s a presidency with the very same settler colonial “exceptionalism” as its predecessors.
Throughout its history, Haiti has remained a sore spot for American foreign policy. In spite of continuous repression, both economic and military, the people of Haiti have resisted with all their might against foreign domination. The current uprising is yet another moment of this continuing history, one which places the coloniser against the colonised. With violence rising and Moïse remaining in place, the people in Haiti are unlikely to give in easily as repressive measures begin to be enforced once more. Even more so, they will neither forget nor forgive the American government for the role it has played in the island’s subjugation. The memory of the greatest slave revolution in history still holds strong in the spirit of the Haitian masses.
All power to the Haitian people, no compromise with US imperialism!