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How Trump’s Attacks on Venezuela Sparked a Revolution in Haiti

Chaos reigned in Haiti for a seventh straight day on February 13, as people continue to rise up against President Jovenel Moïse over his corruption, arrogance, false promises and straight-faced lies.

But the crisis will not be solved by Moïse’s departure, which appears imminent.

Today’s revolution shows all the signs of being as profound and unstoppable as the one that took place 33 years ago against dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier and triggered five years of popular tumult.

Despite fierce repression, massacres, a bogus election and three coups d’état, the uprising culminated in the remarkable December 1990 landslide election of anti-imperialist liberation theologian Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

At a time when Nicaragua’s left-wing Sandinistas and the Soviet Union had just been vanquished, the Haitian people defeated Washington’s election engineering for the first time in Latin America since Salvador Allende’s victory in Chile two decades earlier.

Haiti’s example inspired a young Venezuelan army officer, Hugo Chávez, to adopt the same playbook. Chávez’s election in 1998 helped kick off the “pink tide” of left and centre-left governments across South America.

Just as Washington fomented a coup against Aristide on September 30, 1991, it carried out a similar one against Chávez on April 11, 2002. But the latter was thwarted after two days by the Venezuelan people and the army’s rank-and-file.

Despite this victory, Chávez understood that Venezuela’s political revolution could not survive alone and that Washington would use its vast subversion machinery and economic might to wear down his project to build “21st century socialism”. Chávez knew his revolution had to build bridges too, and set an example for, his Latin American neighbours, who were also under the US’s thumb.

Using Venezuela’s vast oil wealth, Chávez began an unprecedented experiment in solidarity and capital seeding, the PetroCaribe Alliance, which was launched in 2005 and eventually spread to 17 nations across the Caribbean and Central America. It provided cheap oil products and favourable credit terms to member nations, throwing them an economic life-line when oil was selling for $100 a barrel.

By 2006, Washington had punished the Haitian people for twice electing Aristide (1990, 2000) with two coups d’état (1991, 2004) and two foreign military occupations carried out under the auspices of the United Nations. That year, the Haitian people managed to win a sort of stalemate by electing René Préval (an early Aristide ally) as president.

On the day of his May 14 inauguration, Préval signed up for the PetroCaribe deal, greatly vexing Washington, as revealed by WikiLeaks-obtained secret US diplomatic cables. After two years of struggle, Préval eventually got Venezuelan oil and credit, but Washington made sure to punish him too.

Following the January 12, 2010, earthquake, the Pentagon, State Department, and then-head of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission Bill Clinton, with some flunkies from the Haitian elite, virtually took over the Haitian government. In the lead up to the March 2011 election, they pushed out Préval’s presidential candidate, Jude Célestin, and put in their own, Michel Martelly.

From 2011 to 2016, the Martelly group went on to embezzle, misspend and misplace the lion’s share of the capital account known as the PetroCaribe Fund, which since its creation in 2008 had basically kept Haiti afloat.

Martelly also used the money to help his protégé, Jovenel Moïse, come to power on February 7, 2017. Unfortunately for Moïse, having come to power just as Donald Trump did, he was about to become collateral damage in Washington’s escalating war against Venezuela.

Surrounded by a gaggle of anti-communist neo-cons, Trump immediately stepped up hostility against Venezuela, slapping far-ranging economic sanctions on Nicolas Maduro’s government.

Haiti was already in arrears in its payments to Venezuela, but the US sanctions now made it impossible to pay its PetroCaribe oil bill (or, at least, gave them a golden excuse not to). The Haiti PetroCaribe deal effectively ended in October 2017.

Life in Haiti, which was already extremely difficult, now became untenable.

With the Venezuelan crude spigot now closed, Washington’s enforcer, the International Monetary Fund, told Moïse he had to raise fuel prices, which he tried to do on July 6 last year.

The result was a three-day popular explosion which was the precursor to today’s revolt.

At about the same time, a mass movement began asking what had happened to the $4 billion in Venezuelan oil revenues that Haiti had received over the previous decade.

The PetroCaribe Fund was supposed to pay for hospitals, schools, roads and other social projects, but the people saw virtually nothing accomplished. Two 2017 Senate investigations confirmed that the money had been mostly diverted into other pockets.

So, what was the straw that broke the camel’s back? It was Moïse’s treachery against the Venezuelans after their exemplary solidarity.

On January 10, in a vote at the Organization of American States (OAS), Haiti voted in favour of a Washington-sponsored motion that said Maduro is “illegitimate” after he won more than two-thirds of the presidential vote last May.

Haitians were already angry about the unbridled corruption, hungry from skyrocketing inflation and unemployment, and frustrated from years of false promises and foreign military humiliation and violence.

But this spectacularly cynical betrayal by Moïse and his cronies, in an attempt to win Washington’s help to put out the growing fires beneath them, was the last straw.

Surprised and paralysed by its lack of options (and its own internal squabbles), Washington is now watching with horror at the not-so-sudden collapse of the rotten political and economic edifice it has built in Haiti over the past 28 years since its first coup d’état against Aristide.

The US Embassy is no doubt feverishly seeking to cobble together a stop-gap solution, using the UN, OAS, Brazil, Colombia and the Haitian elite as its helpers.

But the results are likely to be no more durable than they were in the late 1980s.

Ironically, it was Venezuelan solidarity that may have postponed for a decade the political hurricane now engulfing Haiti.

It is also fitting that US aggression against Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution has created a cascade of unintended consequences and blowback, fed by the Haitian people’s deep sense of gratitude and recognition for Venezuela’s contribution to them — just as Chavez and Maduro often said that PetroCaribe was given “to repay the historic debt that Venezuela owes the Haitian people.”

A longer version of this article appeared on Haiti Liberte.

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Kim Ives is an editor of the weekly print newspaper Haiti Liberté, where this piece was first published. The newspaper is published in French and Kreyol with a weekly English-language page in Brooklyn and distributed throughout Haiti.

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