Once again, the U.S. and other imperialist powers are threatening military intervention to impose “order” on Haiti’s spiraling economic, social, and political crises. They claim they are responding to the call for international forces from Haiti’s de facto prime minister and president, Ariel Henry, to repress gangs blocking access to gas and water terminals in Port-au-Prince.
But Henry does not represent the Haitian people. He was not elected, but selected to be president by the U.S. Henry only retains power based on Washington’s support and is opposed by the vast majority of the country’s population for very good reason. At the behest of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), he has pushed through neoliberal economic “reforms,” including the end of fuel subsidies that have further impoverished the country’s working class and peasantry.
Henry has called for U.S. intervention to defend such policies and repress popular resistance and gangs that have emerged out of the crisis within Haitian society. Already, Washington and its so-called Core Group, comprised of the U.S., Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, the European Union, the United Nations, and the Organization of American States, has secured the passage of one UN resolution, which imposes sanctions on one purported gang leader and former police officer Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, paving the way for another resolution that would authorize the deployment of non-UN military forces to Haiti.
While any interventions would be dressed up in humanitarian language, the U.S., other great powers, and their proxies offer no solution to the crisis in the country. Indeed, as their history of interventions as well as present policies attest, they are at the root of Haiti’s problems. Asking them to solve those problems is like asking arsonists to put out a fire they set and continue to stoke.
Imperialists Against the Free Black Republic
The U.S. and other imperial powers have been Haiti’s overlords and oppressors since the country’s victorious revolution that overthrew France’s colonial regime and its slave-holding ruling class, finally establishing itself as a free Black republic in 1804. France, Britain, and Spain all tried to retake the country with military invasions, which Haiti repelled, and France only recognized its independence on the condition that it repay the slaveholders for their lost “property,” trapping the country in debt ever since.
The U.S. did not even recognize Haiti’s independence until the southern slavocracy was overthrown in the U.S. Civil War. After that, however, Washington’s only concern with Haiti was imperial—making sure that no other state infringed on its hemispheric hegemony and that it controlled the country’s government and reaped the profits from its economy.
In pursuit of those aims, the U.S. repeatedly intervened in the country, culminating its invasion and occupation of the country from 1915 through 1934, during which it installed handpicked leaders, created the Haitian Army, and repressed liberation fighters. During the Cold War, it backed the brutal father-son dictatorship of François “Papa Doc” and Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier as its counter-revolutionary ally against Cuba in the Caribbean.
Under Baby Doc, the U.S. imposed a neoliberal structural adjustment plan that wrecked peasant agriculture and opened the country up to multinational corporations that super-exploited the country’s urban working class. It backed the dictatorship’s army, police, and infamous death squad, the “Tontons Macoutes,” which together killed as many as 60,000 Haitians in enforcing an economy of sweatshop underdevelopment that reduced Haiti to becoming the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
In the face of such brutal repression and impoverishment, however, the Haitian masses rose up. They organized a mass insurrectionary movement called Lavalas and overthrew Baby Doc in a successful political revolution that eventually led to the first free and fair election in the country’s history. The movement brought liberation theologist Jean Bertrand Aristide into office as the country’s president.
Coups, Occupation, and Unnatural Disaster
Rather than support his plans for democracy, social reform, and development, the U.S. aided and abetted a coup in 1991 and tolerated its regime for three years. The U.S. only reversed its policy when resistance within the country mounted and the flight of refugees, who President Bill Clinton jailed in the thousands in Guantanamo and Florida’s Krome Detention Center, threatened regional stability.
The U.S. invaded Haiti and imposed a UN occupation. They restored Aristide to power on the condition that he obey neoliberal edicts for economic “reform,” surrender his lost years in office, and step down in 1996. But Aristide and his successor Rene Preval partially resisted, and when Aristide was elected again in 2001 his administration demanded reparations from France for the original debt it imposed on Haiti. In response, George Bush Jr., in collaboration with Canada and France, carried out a second coup, abducting and deporting the elected president into exile and eventually to South Africa.
Bush imposed order through the UN, which occupied the country in various guises from 2004 until 2019. The occupation became an international scandal, with UN forces repressing the democratic resistance, exploiting impoverished women in the sex trade, and introducing cholera—a disease previously unknown in the country—killing an estimated 10,000 people.
The U.S. and its Core Group backed a succession of increasingly illegitimate and unpopular governments that followed their neoliberal dictates. In the process, they incapacitated the Haitian state, privatizing its state industries and social services and turning the country into what activists call a “Republic of NGOs,” whose patchwork charity could never replace the state in meeting people’s needs.
The only state institutions the U.S. has supported are the repressive ones. With the old Haitian Army long gone, having been abolished by Aristide, the U.S. and its collaborators have poured money into the Haitian police to repress desperate people.
All of this has made the country vulnerable to a succession of “natural” disasters, from the horrific earthquake in 2010, which killed hundreds of thousands of people, to a series of hurricanes that swept the country over the last decade, yet another earthquake in 2021, and then the COVID-19 pandemic. Without a functioning state, regulated infrastructure, social safety net, or a functioning healthcare system—all the result of imperialist intervention—the country has been thrust into an unending political, social, and economic crisis.
All of this has reduced the Haitian working class, urban poor, and peasantry to destitution. Nearly 60 percent of the population live in poverty, 30 percent are food insecure, and 50 percent lack access to sanitary water. Washington, which rules over the richest country in human history, is directly responsible for these horrific conditions.
U.S. Policing their Crisis
The U.S. under the Obama, Trump, and now Biden administrations have backed a succession of corrupt right-wing governments from that of Michel Martelly to Jovenel Moise, who was assassinated in 2021. Since then, the U.S. has backed the selected but unelected Prime Minister and de facto acting president Ariel Henry.
Without a legitimate elected government and with Haitian society wracked by social and economic crises, popular anger has exploded in waves of protest, calling for Henry to step down. At the same time, these conditions have driven waves of Haitians to flee the country as they have since the earthquake.
While Biden has renewed Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to those that fled to the U.S. after the earthquake, he has enforced a brutal border regime against newly arriving Haitians as well as all other migrants, even going so far as to use Trump’s Title 42 ban on admissions during the pandemic. Those policies produced the horrific scenes of desperate Haitians on the U.S.-Mexico border being chased, arrested, and brutally beaten by the Border Patrol.
It also produced far less publicized atrocities such as the U.S. Coast Guard intercepting Haitian migrants at sea before they could even get to shore. Conclusively demonstrating Biden’s callous disregard for Haitian lives and human rights, his administration has deported and repatriated 20,000 migrants, including some who have not lived in the country for over a decade, into horrific conditions and without any support.
In Haiti, as the country descends into chaos entirely caused by the imperialist powers, the private and state leaders have turned to gangs to protect their political and economic rule. Other gangs have arisen within impoverished cities and the countryside, mainly in the form of mafioso-like “protection” rackets, with some like Chérizier claiming to lead a revolutionary political project.
Chérizier’s forces have blockaded gas and water terminals at Port-au-Prince’s main port, demanding that Henry step down. As a result, Haitians are facing skyrocketing gas prices and lack of access to potable water, triggering a new outbreak of cholera in the country.
Other Haitian political and civil society organizations have come together in the Montana Accord, demanding that Henry step down and new elections be held to provide Haitians the ability to democratically choose their own government. Some on the Left worry that the U.S. may try to use this formation to manipulate Haitian politics to secure an outcome in its interests. As a result, Aristide’s party Fanmi Lavalas has pulled out of the Accord.
For Reparations and Haitian Self-Determination!
For now, the Biden administration has seized on the crisis provoked by Chérizier’s shutting down of the port to orchestrate yet another imperialist intervention in Haiti. While they justify their push with supposed concern about Haitian lives, security, and well-being, no one should take such claims at face value.
In reality, the U.S. and its Core Group are motivated by imperialist aims—shoring up the Haitian state and its police forces, orchestrating a political resolution on their terms, repressing popular resistance, arresting some though not all gangsters, and above all else stopping the flow of migrants into the U.S. Haitians know that. That’s why they are protesting against intervention in the streets of Port-au-Prince.
The U.S. offers no solution for Haiti save repression. The international Left, unions, and Haiti solidarity activists must unite and oppose any political, economic, and military intervention orchestrated or subcontracted by Washington. Instead, we must demand that they and their proxies stay out of Haiti and allow its people to determine their own destiny.
Most importantly, we must call for the imperial powers including the UN to pay at least $21 billion in reparations to Haiti for their imperialist crimes against the country. Freed from Washington’s boot on their neck and with that money, Haitians would finally have the chance to rebuild their country in their interests.
This piece first appeared at The Tempest.