Unfolding over twelve and a half years beginning in August 1791, history’s first and last successful slave revolution culminated in the founding of Haiti on Jan. 1, 1804.
Like those of France (1789), Russia (1917), China (1949), and Cuba (1959), Haiti’s first social revolution was one of humanity’s most important, influential, and dramatic. Acting as an inspiration, model, and touchstone for other liberation wars, its success marked the beginning of the end of early capitalism’s chattel slavery system and of European colonial domination in South America. It also resulted in the redrawing of the map of North America, when, following his defeat, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was forced to sell to the fledgling United States of America, to the great delight of President Thomas Jefferson, the vast Louisiana Territory.
As this analysis is written in January 2020, Haiti has been engulfed for months in weekly, if not daily demonstrations. Regularly, roads have been widely barricaded for weeks on end, paralyzing businesses, schools, and government offices. Police and pro-government paramilitaries have killed hundreds in clashes and executions, with many hundreds more wounded and disappeared. The President has dissolved the Parliament and is ruling by decree. With inflation, unemployment, and shortages raging, the government dysfunctional, and emigration bottled up, the situation remains very explosive.
Haiti appears to be on the brink – in the next few months or years – of its second social revolution, which occurs when a nation’s economic system and property relations fundamentally change. It will be the culmination of over three decades of fierce class war fought, since the Duvalier regime’s collapse in 1986, between the Haitian peasantry and working class, accompanied by an unflagging revolutionary intelligentsia, against the country’s international and local ruling classes, which mostly work in concert.
To understand why Haiti’s revolutionary potential is so great today and who the actors are, it is essential to have a notion of the struggle over these past 34 years, and some Haitian history.
Haiti has had no shortage of inter-ruling class coups d’état, often self-proclaimed as “political revolutions.” But there was a genuine political revolution on Dec. 16, 1990, when former liberation theologian Salesian priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president. Other than the 20-day coup-ended presidency of Daniel Fignolé in 1957, Aristide’s sweeping victory, with 67.5% of the vote out of a field of 11 candidates, was the first time that a champion of Haiti’s peasant and worker masses had acceded to the presidential chair.
But the victory, as could be expected, was short-lived: merely eight months after his Feb. 7, 1991 inauguration, the Armed Forces of Haiti (FAd’H), with the support of Haiti’s two ruling classes and Washington (albeit tacitly), ousted Aristide in a bloody putsch (which he barely survived) on Sep. 30, 1991 and sent him into a three year exile, first in Carlos Andres Perez’s Venezuela and then in Washington, DC.
Ironically, that coup, much more than Aristide’s electoral victory, set the stage for the “system change” that Haiti’s masses are today universally demanding.
The Perils of Accommodation
Although he declared in his inauguration speech that his arrival in power marked Haiti’s “second independence,” Aristide’s approach to Haiti’s dire state after five years of political and economic dysfunction following dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s flight from Haiti on Feb. 7, 1986, was merely social democratic: asking that the rich pay taxes (which they hadn’t before) to lift the Haitian masses out of their wretched impoverishment.
Also, Aristide was a student and apostle of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the first undisputed leader of the Haitian revolution. He led the armed rebellion which forced the abolition of slavery in the French colony of Saint Domingue in 1793.
But Toussaint did not envision Haiti as an independent nation. He was simply trying to convince the French Assembly, and later Napoleon, that he could manage and protect the affairs of St. Domingue, Europe’s richest and most productive colony in the Western Hemisphere, more effectively than any governor from France. And as Governor-General of the colony in 1801, he did.
However, the early 19th century was the age of European colonialism, not of neo-colonialism, which would not fully emerge until a century and a half later. Furthermore, France had to rationalize and justify the enslavement of Africans, who replaced European indentured servants during the 17th century. Thus, France’s King Louis XIV promulgated the “Code Noir” (Black Code) in 1685 to codify, legalize, and enforce the racism necessary for the smooth functioning of African slavery.
Racist ideology, which is not genetic to humans, became dominant among Europeans following the Code Noir’s implementation, mightily infecting First Consul Bonaparte, who declared: “I am for the whites because I am white. I have no other reason, and that one is good.” In response to Toussaint addressing him in letters as “the first of the blacks to the first of the whites,” Napoleon instructed his Colonel Vincent to “rip the epaulettes from the shoulders of the ‘gilded Africans’ of St. Domingue,” who, under Toussaint’s command, had served as French officers in defeating attempted colony-snatching by England and Spain.1
On Aug. 25, 1802, Napoleon’s officers tricked and captured Toussaint and shipped him to France, where he was imprisoned in the brutally cold Fort-de-Joux, high in France’s eastern mountains. Toussaint died there from the cold on Apr. 7, 1803. Until the end, he wrote letters trying to convince Napoleon that he would be the ideal governor to run France’s prize colony, “The Pearl of the Antilles.”
Similarly, Aristide thought that he could strike a deal with the late 20th century’s superpower: the U.S.. He did not take the defiant, denunciatory approach that Fidel Castro had in neighboring Cuba, or which Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez would a decade later. He sought to find accommodation with Washington, just as Toussaint had tried with Napoleon.
As he said after his 2000 re-election in an interview published in The Progressive in 2001: “If the international community [code for the U.S. and its allies] is not for us, one thing is sure. We will fail.”2
So Aristide did not envisage a rupture from the empire or expropriation of the land, factories, and ports of Haiti’s ruling class. He simply tried to wield his vast appeal and authority with the masses as a way to pressure the bourgeoisie to ante up for social programs and Haiti’s development and to convince Washington that only he could bridle and control the Haitian popular movement’s radical aspirations. In the process, he calculated, he could win some modest improvements for Haiti’s impoverished masses, moving them, as he wrote in one book, from “abject misery to dignified poverty.”
But even this timid program was too much for U.S. imperialism and Haiti’s ruling class. Hence the coups d’état against him on Sep. 30, 1991 and Feb. 29, 2004. In each case, like Toussaint, Aristide was captured and sent into exile, the second time for seven years in Africa.
During Aristide’s second exile, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, killing as many as 85,000 people. Individuals and governments funneled some $13 billion to the country, but the money was mostly intercepted by humanitarian organizations. The promised “Build Back Better” overhaul of Haiti’s agriculture, infrastructure, and housing never materialized. The signature achievements of the relief effort directed by the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), effectively led by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, were the Caracol sweatshop complex near the northern city of Cap Haïtien (far from the earthquake zone around Port-au-Prince and built on some of Haiti’s most fertile farmland), and two luxury hotels – the Royal Oasis and Best Western – in the capital (both are now failing).
Emblematically, the Red Cross took in half a billion dollars in disaster relief donations and ended up building only six houses, a Pro-Publica and National Public Radio investigation found.
Washington also used the disaster to essentially take over the Haitian government and introduce a new pro-Washington neo-Duvalierist president, former vulgar konpa singer Michel Martelly, via November 2010 and March 2011 first and second round elections. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even flew to Haiti in January 2011 to force President René Préval to remove his candidate, Jude Célestin, from the run-off and replace him with Martelly.
Moïse Jean-Charles Emerges
After his return to Haiti from South Africa on Mar. 18, 2011, Aristide assumed a very low profile, never publicly leaving his home in Tabarre or criticizing Martelly, who had won the record low-turnout election three days later, on Mar. 21, 2011. Martelly, who founded the Haitian Bald Headed Party (PHTK), was inaugurated on May 14, 2011.
Nonetheless, the base of Aristide’s party, the Lavalas Family (Fanmi Lavalas Political Organization or FL), was re-energized by Aristide’s mere presence in the country. Martelly’s flagrant corruption, scattershot repression, arbitrary arrests, brazen lawlessness, and refusal to hold elections provoked larger and larger demonstrations, in which the FL’s masses marched.
On May 8, 2013, Aristide was summoned to appear in court to be questioned for his alleged involvement in the murder of journalist Jean Dominique in April 2000. The masses saw this as an attempt by the Martelly regime to arrest and capture Aristide. In one of the largest and most militant Haitian marches ever, tens of thousands accompanied his car to the court and back.
Prominent in the entourage was outspoken Sen. Moïse Jean-Charles, who had come on the national stage between 2011 and 2013 after starting his rise as a Lavalas mayor in the northern town of Milot in the early 2000s. Articulate, charismatic, and leading the charge against Martelly, Jean-Charles appeared to be poised to assume the mantle for leadership of the Lavalas Family shortly after that historic outing and claims that Aristide promised him as much that very day after successfully returning home.
But instead, the next day, May 9, Aristide held a press conference anointing Dr. Maryse Narcisse, a long-time loyal but uninspiring lieutenant, to be the party’s leader.
Narcisse, under Aristide’s direction, mapped a very cautious (and, in retrospect, deluded) strategy. She and others in the party’s leadership (which in typical Aristide fashion had bourgeois and even “Macoute” figures in it) had a simple and conservative game-plan: wait until the end of Martelly’s term in 2016 to then win the election, as Aristide had done in 1990 and 2000.
But Jean-Charles and the Lavalas base were taking a more confrontational approach. Even before Aristide snubbed him, Jean-Charles had begun to deal with Haiti’s more radical left, in particular the spin-offs and remnants of the National Popular Party (PPN), which had been headed by Haiti’s most prominent communist, Ben Dupuy. In 2011, with the arrival of Martelly, there had been a split within the PPN, and Dupuy, who’d been its principal ideologue, face, and voice since its founding in 1999, was expelled. The various PPN bases across Haiti were rent, some maintaining allegiance to Dupuy, others with the renegade faction. Both PPNs became politically weak, their bases neutralized by confusion.
As a young man in the late 1980s, Jean-Charles had been politically formed by the PPN’s precursor, the National Popular Assembly (APN), a structured and disciplined mass organization which had been founded in then-Father Aristide’s St. Jean Bosco church in the capital’s La Saline slum in April 1987. A leader of the APN’s youth wing in Cap Haïtien, the National Youth Assembly (AJN), Jean-Charles had gone on to head the APN’s branch in Milot, his hometown. He later left APN as his political ambitions grew to become Milot’s mayor.
Those roots were rekindled as Jean-Charles used his national stature and podium as one of the North’s Senators since 2011, elected under the banner of President René Préval’s Espwa (Hope) party, to become the leading critic of not only Martelly but, more importantly, the United Nation’s military occupation of Haiti (MINUSTAH), set in place after Aristide’s 2004 ouster. He joined forces with a collection of APN and PPN veterans, alumni, and associates, as well as new recruits, to wage a campaign for the withdrawal of UN troops from Haiti. The weekly newspaper Haïti Liberté, founded by PPN alumni, with offices in Port-au-Prince and Brooklyn, NY, also played a central role in this emergent coalition.
Working with a dissident current of Brazil’s Workers Party, Jean-Charles and his allies organized several high-profile delegations to Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay (nations whose troops made up most of the 10,000-soldier MINUSTAH) as well as to UN headquarters in New York to lobby and speak out for the immediate withdrawal of occupation troops.
A First Try with KOD
Seeing Aristide’s party’s inertia, limitations, and delusions, during 2013, the APN/PPN-descended leaders, joined by Jean-Charles, began meeting to discuss and plan a new party which could take the struggle to the next level. After his capture, Toussaint L’Ouverture had been succeeded by his principal and more radical lieutenant, Gen. Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who led the French colony’s former slaves to fight for, win, and then declare independence from France. Therefore, fittingly, Jean-Charles and his reconnected comrades called their embryonic party the Dessalines Coordination or, its Kreyòl acronym, KOD.
“It’s a great name,” Moïse said in one of the meetings. “We can have slogans like ‘Mare Martelly ak kòd’” (Tie up Martelly with rope).”
Two of KOD’s key planks hammered out by the seasoned militants were that the party would not participate in elections held 1) under Martelly or 2) under MINUSTAH. They presciently saw that either scenario would make a fair election impossible.
On Sep. 29, 2013, the eve of a national march in Port-au-Prince marking the 22nd anniversary of the 1991 coup, KOD organized at the Fany Villa in Port-au-Prince a meeting of over 100 delegates, largely from former PPN bases around the country. But a number of other popular organizations and militants linked to Aristide’s FL also attended, as well as outspoken lawyer André Michel (who is one of the principal leaders of today’s uprising).
KOD’s proposal, which was reviewed, edited, and then adopted by the assembly, was for the formation of a 13 member Council of State which would lead the country with a judge drawn from Haiti’s Supreme Court (a formula similar to the provisional government which ran Haiti from March 1990 to February 1991 and under which Aristide was first elected). The Council of State’s members would be drawn from key sectors of Haitian society: peasant organizations, popular organizations, political parties, non-aligned parties, women’s organizations, unions, the business sector, vodou, Protestant, and Catholic sectors, students, young people, and civil society.
“The Council of State would sit down with the Supreme Court judge to find a democratic formula to name a government,” the KOD proposal read. “That government would put in place a democratic Provisional Electoral Council which would hold a general election in the country for all the empty posts in a time frame of no more than six months.”
The huge march that surged through the capital’s streets the next day highlighted KOD’s two principal demands: “Martelly must go! MINUSTAH must go!”
“We are clear about it: the international community has an agenda for Haiti,” said Jean-Charles in his speech at the Forum. “In 1990, we disrupted their plans and elected our own government. Seven months later, they carried out a bloody coup d’état. Since then, it is they who have imposed what they want in Haiti. This cannot continue. They imposed President Martelly on us. They imposed [Prime Minister] Laurent Lamothe on us…. It is we, the Haitian people, who have to take our destiny in hand. And that is what we are beginning to do here today.”
It was a heady moment, full of promise, but danger signs soon emerged. Jean-Charles did not yet want to make known his change of party to KOD. When questioned by his comrades, he claimed he didn’t want to alienate the Fanmi Lavalas base which still revered him and was waiting for the right moment to make his new allegiance clear.
But the Lavalas leadership was not as waiting. Things were coming to a head. Jean-Charles was increasing his calls through radio programs, meetings, and demonstrations for Martelly’s resignation. But in mid-2013, Narcisse and the FL’s leadership issued a statement saying the FL was opposed to Martelly stepping down before the end of his term. She called only for elections, and during the summer, the party began to organize electoral campaign rallies in towns around Haiti.
But tensions grew when – in towns like Mirebalais, Miragoâne, Port-de-Paix, St. Marc, and Aux Cayes – Jean-Charles would convert FL electoral rallies into anti-Martelly mobilizations. He articulated KOD’s message: no free, fair, and sovereign elections are possible under Martelly and foreign military occupation. The rallies usually ended with the crowds carrying Moïse away on their shoulders to shouts of “Martelly out, MINUSTAH out,” leaving Narcisse and the Executive Committee fuming.
After huge anti-Martelly demonstrations on Sep. 30, Oct. 17, Nov. 7, and Nov. 18, 2013 in Port-au-Prince, Cap Haïtien, and other provincial cities, Jean-Charles announced a march on the U.S. Embassy in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Tabarre for Nov. 29, the anniversary of a 1987 election massacre.
Two days later, the FL announced that, also on Nov. 29, it would hold a march to lay flowers at the Argentine School at Ruelle Vaillant, the site of the worst bloodshed during the 1987 election-day massacre.
The two rival currents now stood face-to-face. Whose call would the Lavalas popular organizations and the masses heed?
On the morning of Nov. 29, Venel Remarais of the FL-aligned Radio Solidarité and Haitian Press Agency (AHP) issued a bitter editorial against the march on the U.S. embassy, in which he accused Jean-Charles (without naming him) of being a “Rambo,” an “individual, a revolutionary with great political ambition,” of suffering from “vertigo from having a swollen head,” and of thinking “he is the center of everything.”
“It is in respecting the rules of the game that all victory is possible, not in rebellion, hot-headedness, and charging ahead,” Remarais said.
He even suggested that a “rarely seen personality,” an apparent reference to Aristide, might be at the Ruelle Vaillant flower-laying.
In the end, only a few hundred people turned out to the Executive Committee’s Ruelle Vaillant demonstration, while many, many thousands marched on the U.S. Embassy, although Haitian police dispersed the demonstration with teargas and gunshots in the air before demonstrators reached the building. The people’s inclinations and allegiance were clear. The last straw came two days later during a Dec. 1 FL rally in St. Marc. Jean-Charles again electrified the event, with a passionate speech calling on the people to beware of “traitors who are in the National Palace, who are in this crowd, who are everywhere… Veye yo, veye yo, veye yo!” Keep an eye on them!
“We demonstrated and marched on the National Palace [Sep. 30 & Oct. 17]. Then we went to see Pétion in Pétionville [Nov. 7]. Then we decided to go visit Uncle Sam, but a few of them didn’t want to come with us… For their personal interests, they’re afraid of Uncle Sam. But since we are the children of Dessalines, we are not afraid to look [the Americans] in the eye. [The Americans] bombarded us with their gunshots. But we’re going back there.”
Warned by other FL officials at the St. Marc event about Jean-Charles’ fiery speech, Narcisse and other Executive Committee members decided not to even show up. The next day, Dec. 2, 2013, for the first time in the party’s history, the FL leadership publicly cast out a member, in this case Jean-Charles, saying: “The Fanmi Lavalas Political Organization protests with all its might against any public declaration which comes from some people who present themselves as Fanmi Lavalas members…”
Sen. Moïse Jean-Charles responded immediately on radio stations, saying the FL had been taken over by a “macouto-bourgeois group,” referring to Executive Committee members like businessman Joel Edouard “Pasha” Vorbe and former pro-coup right-wing politician Claude Roumain.
“I have spoken with [former] President [Jean-Bertrand] Aristide about it,” he said. “I told him it is destroying the party. I told him that unless he made a public declaration about it, I regret to say that the Fanmi Lavalas will cease being a party which defends the masses’ demands. The bourgeoisie will simply take it over completely and finish with it.”
The Revolution Betrayed
If it appeared that the moment had come for Jean-Charles to make his switch to KOD public, that was not to be. He continued to argue that the moment was not yet ripe. He headed a KOD delegation that toured Brazil and Argentina in May and June 2014, trying to win their governments’ withdrawal from MINUSTAH. Giant demonstrations continued to buffet the Martelly regime during 2014, again with the slogan that Martelly and MINUSTAH had to go, and the regime’s survival appeared to be in doubt.
Again the FL leadership tried to tamp down the rebellion by saying that it opposed Martelly’s ouster but thought that PM Lamothe should go. At the same time, the Martelly government, with pressure from the Obama administration, finally began to organize elections.
“Will the prospect of elections break the mobilization to uproot Martelly?” Haiti Liberté asked in late 2014. “Will the FL leadership enter into an agreement with the Martelly regime to take part in elections, from which the party has been excluded for the past decade?”
In December 2014, Martelly sacrificed Lamothe, replacing him with Evans “K-Plim” Paul, a politician who had helped orchestrate Aristide’s first presidential campaign. Jean-Charles, who several times publicly denied his membership in KOD, parleyed with the FL, trying to convince them to boycott Martelly’s elections with him. FL’s response, he said, was: “N ap antre tet bese” (We diving into them head first.)
As a result, Jean-Charles broke with his KOD comrades, taking KOD’s blueprints to found his own party named Platfòm Pitit Desalin (Dessalines’ Children Platform or PPD), and plunged into the electoral fray. Another more social democratic formation called the Patriotic Movement of the Democratic Opposition (MOPOD), changed the D-word in its name to Dessalinien, and also announced it would field a candidate. Everybody wanted to be Dessalinien now, but not follow his lessons.
“We witness the pusillanimity of the so-called opposition under the leadership of MOPOD…, the Lavalas Family Political Organization, and the Dessalines’ Children Platform, three rather inconsistent formations which are now prepared to play the game of electoral lottery concocted by the government,” said a bitter Haiti Liberté editorial. “Despite its record of lawless behavior and of association with people accused of rape, murder, drug trafficking, and kidnapping, this government is still moving towards elections that will no doubt deliver a society which is even more unjust and corrupt, with the encouragement of those who should but don’t see anything wrong with that.”
The prediction would come to pass. Elections for president and parliament were held on Oct. 25, 2015, and, despite KOD’s and Haïti Liberté’s warnings, the results stunned the two Lavalas currents. The election was a mess — marred by fraud, violence, and intimidation — with voter turn-out less than 30%. Martelly’s anointed PHTK successor, a former banana growing businessman – nèg banann – Jovenel Moïse, led the field of 70 presidential candidates with 32.81% of the vote and Préval’s candidate, Jude Célestin of LAPEH, came in second with 25.27%. Moïse Jean-Charles came in third with only 14.27% of the vote, and the Lavalas Family’s Narcisse came in fourth with a mere 7.05% of the vote.
Huge demonstrations greeted the results, thwarting a run-off. Martelly was forced to step down on Feb. 7, 2016, handing over power to Jocelerme Privert, who was selected by the Parliament to be interim president.
Because Privert had been Aristide’s former Interior Minister (he spent two years in jail after the 2004 coup), the Lavalas masses were assuaged. On Apr. 5, 2016, Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) said the presidential elections had to be rerun from scratch. (Many of the Parliamentary races were allowed to stand.)
The new presidential election was reheld on Nov. 20, 2016 with a winnowed field of 27 candidates, and the results were even more shocking. With less than 20% of the electorate voting, Moïse won in the first round with 55.6% of the vote, trailed by Célestin with 19.57%, Jean-Charles with 11.04%, and Narcisse with 9.01%.
Despite vociferous protests over falsified and missing voter tallies, ballot stuffing, transport violations, and other irregularities, the CEP and international overseers remained unmoved, and Jovenel Moïse was sworn in as Haiti’s 42nd president on Feb. 7, 2017.
The election had been hopelessly rigged, not just through widespread fraud, but systemically, like elections in the United States. The candidates with the biggest coffers garnered the most votes, and the convoluted voting system Washington had set in place since Aristide’s 1990 victory, combined with help from United Nations “peacekeepers,” had effectively suppressed the votes of over 80% of Haiti’s electorate.
The PetroCaribe Factor
Ironically, the country which may have most guaranteed Jovenel Moïse’s victory was not the U.S., but, inadvertently, Venezuela. Since 2008, it had been providing Haiti with all of its petroleum needs – about 20,000 barrels a day – under it PetroCaribe program, which since 2005 had been extended to 16 other Caribbean and Central American nations.
Haiti had a particularly sweet deal, due to the solidarity Dessalines and his successor Alexandre Pétion had extended to Sìmon Bolivar, Hugo Chavez explained. Haiti had been instrumental in providing refuge, military advice, printing presses, boats, arms, and soldiers to the continent’s “Great Liberator” in the early 19th century.
Under its special PetroCaribe arrangement, the Haitian state (through which the oil was funneled) only had to pay Venezuela for 60% of its petroleum sales, with the remaining 40% stashed as a loan for 25 years at 1% interest in the PetroCaribe Fund, which was established to pay for schools, hospitals, roads, and any other social projects which might benefit the Haitian people. Chavez’s idea was to create goodwill by extending this solidarity fund which would free Haiti from having to turn to the strings-attached loans of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) to keep its economy afloat.
Close to $2 billion ended up in the PetroCaribe Fund, but the Martelly government burned through almost three-quarters of it. Millions of it, we suspected before but now know after a government report in May 2019, went to Jovenel Moïse. This is one of the reasons his campaign was able to so vastly outspend his competitors.
The Revolutionary Stage Set Again
Unfortunately for Moïse, he came to power at roughly the same time as Donald Trump. One of Trump’s first moves was to dramatically increase economic sanctions against Venezuela, which made it impossible for Haiti, and other PetroCaribe beneficiaries, to make their oil bill payments. As a result, the flow of PetroCaribe oil to Haiti – which consumed about $4.3 billion of it over the course of a decade – came to an end in March 2018.
Now Moïse didn’t have a magic pot from which to draw money to realize all the fantastic promises he had made, like providing electricity 24/7 around the country within 18 months. On the contrary, he had to turn back to the IMF, which agreed in early 2018 to provide Haiti a $96 million loan, but on the condition that Haiti raise fuel prices, in some cases up to 51%.
The attempted price hike took place on July 6, 2018, and that, not coincidentally, marks the beginning of the current uprising. (The government had to rescind the hike, and the Prime Minister resigned.) It has become a perfect storm of Haiti’s enduring anti-imperialism mixed with anti-austerity, anti-corruption, anti-occupation rage, which all appear to be stoking a profound social revolution. “System change” has become the movement’s watch-word, and, with a little luck, it might even be possible. Here is the political lay of the land at this writing.
There are basically four sectors trying to follow and lead the still-flaring uprising of the masses.
The Traditional “Political Class”
Since the complete humiliation and defeat of the Lavalas Family and Dessalines’ Children Platform in the elections, the “Lavalas masses” have been like a headless body, charging somewhat blindly at the PHTK regime. A shifting assortment of traditional and “nouveaux arrivés” Haitian politicians and at least five opposition coalitions have battled to assume leadership of the anti-Jovenel movement.
The most prominent figure has been André Michel, an outspoken lawyer who heads the Consensual Alternative for Haiti’s Refounding, today’s principal opposition coalition. He is seconded by a right-wing, allegedly corrupt and death-squad-leading former-PHTK-ally, Sen. Youri Latortue. A Lavalas leader, Dr. Schiller Louidor, is also a Consensual Alternative spokesman. The coalition has also worked closely with a number of elected officials from the FL, PPD, and the late René Préval’s party (Sens. Nénel Cassy, Evalière Beauplan, Antonio “Don Kato” Chéramy, etc.)
Meanwhile, Moïse Jean-Charles had his credibility severely damaged during the two elections by making alliances with patent reactionaries, all of whom betrayed him. He continues to alternately work with and then denounce different opposition coalitions, further cementing his growing reputation as a mercurial, unreliable, and opportunistic politician.
However, his sense of strategic showmanship is very keen. He scored a great coup in late 2019 when he spoke at a public rally and posed for a photo-op with Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, during which he apologized for Haiti’s betrayal of Venezuela at the OAS on Jan. 10, 2019.
That was the date of an OAS General Assembly during which Haiti flipped and voted with Washington that Maduro’s 2018 election was “illegitimate.” Outrage over that diplomatic treachery helped fuel the uprising during 2019.
The Lavalas Family continues to remain formally insular and aloof from the opposition (despite FL leaders and spokespeople working in and with opposition coalitions). Citing tactical differences, the party refused to sign onto a joint project of Haiti’s five opposition coalitions in November 2019. It may have been just as well, since the coalition of coalitions crashed and burned.
Amy Wilentz wrote in The Nation in January: “Aristide seems to have retired from political life after the presidential candidate he backed lost the contested election that Moïse eventually won.” This may explain the FL’s clear lethargy.
However, the political situation remains highly combustible. September through November 2019 saw almost non-stop demonstrations with the regime playing pure defense. But in December (when, historically, popular mobilizations slow down for the holidays), Jovenel, the U.S. Embassy, the OAS, UN, and Vatican ramped up their diplomatic and public relations counter-offensive of pushing for “dialogue” and “compromise,” calls they eschew in Venezuela and Bolivia.
By January 2020, Haiti’s masses felt that the traditional opposition has capitulated. The Consensual Alternative’s latest proposal was that demonstrations take place after school from 6 p.m. to midnight. People saw this proposal as so shameful and ridiculous that the Consensual Alternative would have been better off proposing nothing at all.
Following the July 2018 uprising, young, educated professionals began to take to the streets.
Well-versed in social media, competent in messaging and making well-designed banners, posters, and T-shirts, these mostly 20-to-40-something petty bourgeois activists began a campaign against corruption with the slogan: “Kote kòb PetroCaribe a?” (Where is the PetroCaribe money?).
Although their movement began with a demand only for a trial of those responsible for the embezzlement of the PetroCaribe billions, the “PetroChallengers” gradually also joined the larger mass movement demanding Jovenel’s resignation.
The PetroChallengers are in fact a constellation of different, independent committees with similar sounding names: Nou Pap Konplis (We’re not complicit), Nou Pap Dòmi (We keep our eyes open), Ayiti Nou Vle A (The Haiti we want), The Coalition of Petro-Challenger Organizations, etc..
There is a mutual distrust between the PetroChallengers and the traditional “political class,” while the Haitian masses are wary of both groups.
In July 2019, Nou Pap Dòmi presented a 13 point program called the 4Rs: in French, “Rupture, Redressement, Réorientation et Rigueur” (Rupture, Straightening Out, Reorientation, and Rigor), which was in response to the Consensual Alternative’s plan unveiled a month earlier.
In a year-end interview, Nou Pap Dòmi’s Gilbert Mirambeau, Jr. (whose viral August 2018 Tweet helped spark the movement) said in a recent interview: “This is not a struggle against a government. It is a struggle against a system.”
But the PetroChallenger groups are far from politically homogenous. Nou Pap Konplis provoked widespread outrage by meeting to dialogue with Jovenel Moïse in January. This is also seen as complete capitulation – “Nou Konplis” is the new derisive moniker for that current.
The Other World-ists
There is an ultra-left constellation of student, intellectual, and activist groups found in and around the Democratic People’s Patriotic Movement (MPDP), a pseudo-party whose guiding lights are economist Camille Chalmers and, by extension, peasant leader Chavannes Jean-Baptiste. This sector has traditionally been well-represented at international leftist conferences and on international news shows because its leaders are well-educated, articulate, and worldly.
However, the sector has little traction in the Haitian masses, largely because many of its components were extremely hostile to Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s governments.
Similar to the Socialist Revolutionaries in Russia a century ago and other ultra-left currents worldwide, the MPDP groups usually don’t have a Bolshevik goal of seizing state power, but rather see themselves as a “permanent opposition,” pressuring governments through their autonomous “social movements” and unions.
In their most extreme form, they seek to establish “another world,” like the Zapatistas in southern Mexico’s state of Chiapas, or Chavannes Jean-Baptiste’s Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP) on Haiti’s Central Plateau.
Like many ultra-lefts throughout history, this sector’s leaders sometimes ally with right-wing forces, as Chavannes Jean-Baptiste did with bourgeois assembly industry magnate and presidential candidate Charles Henri Baker, Jr. in past elections. Baker was a leader of the Washington -backed “civil society” Group of 184 coalition that helped oust Aristide in 2004. Today, Baker is one of Jovenel Moïse’s most stalwart supporters.
This “other world-ist” sector formed an opposition coalition called the Patriotic Forum in August 2019.
The Independent Haitian Workers Party (PETA)
The fourth sector is the most embryonic and cash-strapped, but at the same time, the most promising.
This current has a Leninist project of forming a disciplined and reliable “fighting organization” of professional revolutionaries, not a mere electoral party.
It is essentially a reboot of the KOD initiative, but built patiently this time, not on a rushed basis. It brings together former PPN bases as well as militants from the Democratic Popular Movement (MODEP) who became alienated with the MPDP and left it. There are many new recruits as well.
These comrades have taken care not to get caught up again in the struggle’s emotional fervor and the beautiful oratory and promises of untrustworthy politicians, as they did with Moïse Jean-Charles. They have painstakingly worked to write and review a founding manifesto and bylaws, devise a program, vet militants, and establish means and methods of communication between comrades in different parts of the country and the diaspora.
This is all being done with minimal funds but lots of discussion and coordination. Their approach is to go slowly but surely. They plan to have the PETA’s founding congress at some point in the middle of 2020.
If the party is successfully launched, it could possibly gain rapid popular acceptance, support, and adherence. Many of its militants are well-known and trusted. Herein lies the promise of a project like PETA.
Factors Favoring Revolution
While PETA’s challenges are still daunting, and initiatives from the other sectors cannot be discounted, there are several objective conditions favorable to revolution in Haiti.
First, revolutionary prospects are improved by the divisions rending the bourgeoisies of North America and Europe, where “nationalist” insurgencies are challenging the hegemony of globalist establishments. The bankruptcy and austerity of the globalists’ neoliberal order has fueled the rise of Trump in the U.S., Johnson in England, LePen in France, as well as Washington-aided spin-offs in “emerging” nations like Bolsonaro in Brazil and Piñera in Chile.
Just as Third-world nationalists like Mosaddegh in Iran, Arbenz in Guatemala, Peron in Argentina, and Vargas in Brazil emerged in the wake of the inter-imperialist conflicts of the Second World War, today we see progressive popular rebellions breaking out across the world’s neo-colonies, from Chile to Lebanon, Algeria to Ecuador, Iraq to Colombia, and, above all, Haiti.
Secondly, the threat that 2019’s general strikes and “lock-down” mobilizations presented to the capitalist system in Haiti, where factories and businesses were shuttered for weeks on end, has motivated many leading figures of Haiti’s comprador bourgeoisie – like Reginald Boulos, Dimitri Vorbe, and Bernard Craan – to fund and posture in support of the revolt in an attempt to salvage the system. The intransigent Jovenel, with his backing from an equally pig-headed Donald Trump, is threatening to bring everything down, they fear.
Therefore, the Haitian bourgeoisie, likely with tacit backing from the U.S. Embassy, has funded groups and conferences to ensure an “orderly transition” from Jovenel to a provisional government so “the system” can be preserved.
But rather than short-circuit the masses’ revolutionary output, this may increase it as the deals that are cut (or even dialogue held) with Jovenel will be seen by the masses as a sell-out or provocation.
Thirdly, Jan. 12, 2020 marked the earthquake’s 10th anniversary. Like the plundering of the PetroCaribe fund, the earthquake relief campaign’s Clinton-directed failure has stoked a very deep anger and resentment in the Haitian people, as did the subsequent U.S. election meddling which brought Martelly, Moïse, and the PHTK to power.
Finally, because the government has not held Constitutionally required elections, the Haitian Parliament expires on Jan. 13, 2020. The U.S. Embassy may see this as advantageous, because Jovenel Moïse will be able to rule by decree and impose any kind of Prime Minister and government that he chooses. Parliamentary ratification will be moot. The two PM candidates he has proposed since Jean Henry Céant’s ouster in March 2019 – Jean Michel Lapin and Fritz William Michel – were never ratified.
But, as the Haitian proverb says, this may be a case of “byen konte, mal kalkile” – counting well but calculating poorly. By removing all brakes on Jovenel Moïse and any buffer between him and the enraged Haitian masses, U.S. strategists may only make the situation worse. Already, Jovenel had to cancel plans to speak, as tradition dictates, at the Jan. 1 independence ceremonies in Gonaïves out of fear for his security and large demonstrations.
Today’s revolutionary conjoncture is therefore the culmination of three decades of false starts, dress rehearsals, and political lessons since 1986.
The high hopes of 1990 and 2000 were dashed by the 1991 and 2004 coups, and then again by the Lavalas Family and Dessalines Children leading their followers into rigged elections in 2015 and 2016. Many illusions about those parties have been shed, and revolutionaries learned not to substitute and concentrate their faith and strategy in a charismatic leader in place of patient building of political structures from the base up.
Finally, and foremost, the Haitian masses have become explicitly fed up with the capitalist system, whose corruption robbed them of the solidarity wind-falls which came after the 2010 earthquake and the decade-long PetroCaribe deal.
“The barricade is one of the most remarkable and constant modes of expression of revolutionary insurrections,” wrote Mark Traugott, the author of “The Insurgent Barricade.” (University of California Press, 2010).
So, Haiti’s burning tire barricades, which brought “peyilòk” (Locked down Haiti) for most of 2019, will likely continue in 2020. Other even more active forms of struggle will also surely emerge.
Haiti’s first revolution in 1804 took 13 tumultuous years to run its course. The uprising that started in July 2018 is now 18 months old. Whatever lulls, surprises, and detours the future holds, it is very clear that the subjective and objective conditions are presently in place for the Haitian people to achieve the “system change” they are universally demanding, inching ever closer to Haiti’s second great social revolution.
1Joan Dayan, Haiti, History, and the Gods, page 149.
2Catherine Orenstein, “Aristide Again,” The Progressive, January 22, 2001.