THE PRESIDENT of Haiti, Jean Bertrand Aristide, the former "radical slum
priest", fled the country on 29 February, under pressure from the Bush
administration and the threat of armed rebels. For weeks, Haiti, the poorest
country in the Western Hemisphere, has been wracked by a violent rebellion and
Soon after Aristide’s forced departure, the UN Security Council voted to
send in a multi-national military force, dominated by troops from the US,
France and Canada, to "restore law and order". The Chief Justice of the Haitian
Supreme Court, Boniface Alexandre, was sworn in as head of a "transitional
government" until elections in 2005.
These events mark a major change in public by Bush, from opposing "regime
change" to pressurising Aristide to step down. The Bush administration finally
decided to send troops to Haiti fearing the alternative was civil war, huge
destabilisation in the region and many Haitian refugees attempting to cross the
sea to Florida.
JEAN BERTRAND Aristide held the reins of power for ten years, both directly
and through his appointee Rene Preval, Haiti’s president from 1996-2001.
Aristide claimed to rule on behalf of the poor against the ruling elite but he
failed to change the country’s dire social and economic situation. Eventually
this prepared the way for the return of the forces of reaction.
As a Catholic priest working in the slums of Port au Prince in the early
1980s, Aristide won a large following by denouncing the corrupt and brutal
dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier, and also the military regimes that
followed in 1986.
Aristide had called for a boycott of US-backed elections but in 1990 decided
to stand for the presidency. Aristide formed a broad electoral alliance, toned
down his anti-capitalist rhetoric and called for "national reconciliation".
Nevertheless, the radicalised masses, who had five years earlier overthrown the
despot "Baby Doc" Duvalier, voted overwhelmingly for the ‘radical’ ex-priest.
In power, Aristide failed to fulfil the huge expectations of working people
and the poor. He made only minor reforms and signalled he intended to work
within the capitalist system.
Despite this, only eight months after taking office, Aristide was overthrown
in a military coup led by General Cedras. Sections of the Haitian elite feared
Aristide was incapable of safely channelling the aroused radical expectations
of the youth and the poor. But the truth is that Aristide called for his slum
supporters to remain "peaceful" as the military rulers assumed power and killed
over 3,000 people during their three year rule.
Exiled in the US, Aristide moved further to the right and, in effect, threw
himself on the mercy of the imperialist superpower that is largely responsible
for the continuing social misery in Haiti.
IN THE past, political figures like Aristide, representing the radicalised,
middle class layers in the neo-colonial world, would sometimes take
far-reaching measures against imperialism and capitalism.
To try to overcome the desperate legacy of capitalism and to develop
society, these forces, on coming to power, often implemented radical policies,
which included nationalising big sectors of industry and making important
But Aristide came to office just as the ‘models’ of the bureaucratically
planned Stalinist states collapsed and the capitalist market ‘triumphed’.
Lacking a genuine socialist programme that would take the major sectors of
the economy into state ownership, under the democratic control and planning of
working people, and which would seek to spread the revolution throughout the
region, Aristide instead decided to operate within the market economy.
In 1994, the Clinton presidency in the US restored Aristide to power through
a military intervention. Clinton was worried about the large number of refugees
fleeing the brutal rule of the generals in Haiti and trying to reach the US. He
also wanted a regime in Port-au-Prince that could be easier to control by
Washington than the military Junta.
During the 1990s, Aristide’s party, Fanmi Lvalas, carried out an IMF-imposed
programme that led to mass redundancies in the public sector and cuts in food
and transport subsidies.
There is very little left of the formal economy, with traditional exports of
coffee, rum and other agricultural products falling to almost nothing. Because
of grinding poverty and the Aids epidemic, average life expectancy in Haiti
stands at 49 years.
Aristide’s policies were deeply unpopular and caused huge anger. But as they
were carried out under the presidency of RenŽ Preval, due to a US imposed
constitution barring Aristide from succeeding himself as president, Aristide
did not get most of the blame.
Aristide was returned to power in the 2000 elections, on a much lower
turnout, largely because workers feared the return of the generals and Duvalier
But the new period of Aristide rule saw a worsening of people’s living
conditions. Average annual income in 2001 stood at a mere US $480. In part this
was because the US and international aid was cut off during his second term
(including around $500 million in humanitarian assistance).
The big powers demanded that Aristide incorporate opposition forces into his
government. Having long ago abandoned any ideas of basing his rule on the
interests of the slum dwellers and workers, Aristide relied more and more on
patronage and on financing and arming gangs, to wield power.
As the social and political crisis grew in Haiti, the Bush administration,
which came to office in 2001, lost patience with Aristide. According to the New
York Times (1 March 2004): "The Bush administration decided that Aristide must
go, regardless of his constitutional authority. That message was communicated
directly to Aristide hours before he left Sunday morning."
Sections of the Republican Party in the US claimed Aristide was a dangerous
"leftist" leader and "as another Fidel Castro in the Caribbean". The Financial
Times (1 March 2004) described the Haitian opposition parties as a "coterie of
rich Haitians linked to the preceding Duvalier regime and former (and perhaps
current) CIA operatives, worked Washington to lobby against Aristide."
AS ANGER in the streets of Haiti grew against Aristide, an armed rebellion
began in earnest in early February, this year. Many of the rebels were made up
of former Aristide supporters. Others were exiled ex-members of the Haitian
army, which was disbanded by Aristide.
One rebel leader, Louis Jodel Chamberlai, is a former sergant suspected of
involvement in a 1987 election massacre in which 34 voters were killed. In
1993, he co-founded the Front for Haitian Advancement and Progress – Fraph,
which is accused of killing thousands of pro-Aristide supporters. Another rebel
leader, Guy Philippe, fled Haiti in 2000, following a failed coup attempt.
Indicating the weak base of support for Aristide, a mere 700 rebels quickly
seized half the country and threatened to overrun the capital.
But the armed rebels, like the deeply divided political parties, lack a real
popular basis of support. They use intimidation and patronage in Haiti, while
courting the US or other imperialist powers.
THE US indicates that it will now try to cobble together a new "government"
from the anti-Aristide armed groups and political opposition, and also from
parts of the Lavalas party. None of these reactionary forces care for
democratic rights or the class interests of working people or the poor. In
power, they will be corrupt and oppressive and act on behalf of imperialism.
The only force capable of bringing decent living standards to Haiti are the
working class of the country, in solidarity with working people in the
Caribbean, North and South America, and internationally. To achieve this, the
working masses need an independent class organisation and a bold socialist
programme, that seriously challenges the rule of capitalism and imperialism.