Anti-government protests are raging throughout the Haitian capital city of Port-au-Prince as President Michel Martelly continues to resist popular demands for political change. Dissidents in the thousands are calling for Martelly’s immediate resignation and for the formation of a provisional consensus government to replace his highly unpopular regime. Martelly is responding to the unrest with violence. When protestors found their way to the headquarters of the pro-Martelly political party Fusion on January 17, his partisan provocateurs instigated violence among the demonstrators by throwing rocks. Haitian police responded by training their guns on the protestors and opening fire, seriously wounding numerous leaders of the anti-government movement. Despite this brutal repression, widespread political demonstrations persist in Haiti.
Since coming to power in 2011, Martelly has successfully resisted holding elections. His unilateral appointment of Evans Paul as Prime Minister on January 16 was made without seeking the constitutionally required approval of the Haitian parliament and is thus illegal. Protestors are condemning the illegitimacy of Paul’s appointment and are calling for an investigation into his predecessor Laurent Lamothe’s alleged corruption straightaway. Martelly continues to ignore these and other popular grievances. In a move that further stoked popular contempt for his regime, he and Paul publicly celebrated the 210th anniversary of Haiti’s independence with former Haitian dictators Jean Claude Duvalier and Prosper Avril in January of 2014. Rather than addressing protestors’ concerns, Martelly’s actions appear to be confirming their worst nightmares.
At the center of Haitians’ dissatisfaction with Martelly’s presidency is his regime’s close relations with certain foreign governments, specifically the U.S., France and Canada. Historically, these governments have regularly interfered in Haitian political affairs, toppling governments that reject their neoliberal development plans -like Haiti’s first democratically elected leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991 and again in 2004- and installing regimes open to their dictates. This neocolonial arrangement -along with a devastating 2010 earthquake and its disastrous aftermath- has retarded Haiti’s development and created a situation of dysfunctional dependency and exploitation between Haiti and more advanced countries in North America and Europe.
In 1995, the foreign-backed Haitian government was compelled to sign off on the first in a series of so-called “free trade” deals which opened up Haiti’s largely agricultural economy to competition in the international marketplace. Predictably, Haitian farmers were unable to compete with highly subsidized U.S. agribusiness and more than 800,000 Haitian farmers were economically displaced. By 2003, about 80% of the rice consumed in Haiti -a country renowned for its highly effective rice cultivation methods prior to 1995- was being imported from foreign countries. In 2013, 50% of Haiti’s overall food supply was derived from foreign imports, the majority of which came from the U.S. This chain of events is similar to shocks experienced by the Mexican agricultural sector after the ratification and implementation of North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) in 1994.
After the U.S.-induced deterioration of its domestic food supply and traditional rural economy, Haiti became a dumping ground for the unwanted surplus products of various American food conglomerates. Firms like Tyson routinely sell their excess production -mostly dark meat and poultry- to the U.S. government for use as “food aid” to populations in Haiti and other countries of the global south that have been impoverished by Western neoliberal policies and “free trade” agreements. In a cruel irony, many Haitians are now forced to scrap and beg for the very same American food products that destroyed their livelihoods.
Regarding the U.S. government’s campaign to alter the Haitian economy throughout the 1990s, Leah Chavla of the Council on Hemispheric Relations said in 2010 that, “U.S. experts worked to disassemble Haiti’s rural economy, even though USAID officials recognized that such a move could increase poverty and contribute to a decline in average Haitian income and health standards.”
The horrific earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010 -which impacted at least 3 million Haitians according to the Red Cross- provided new opportunities for concentrated private power in North America and Europe to pillage and exploit Haiti -especially multinational mining, garment and tourism firms. Instead of funding vitally needed social services and dilapidated or nonexistent infrastructure in Haiti, the overwhelming majority of disaster and development aid from foreign countries to Haiti in wake of the earthquake has gone directly into the coffers of businesses and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from those same donor countries. For instance, the four private contractors that received the most funding from the U.S. government in the form of aid to Haiti in the five years after the earthquake were well-placed American consulting firms with contracts in Haiti. In that period, those four firms alone were collectively paid upwards of $200 million in American aid to Haiti. Though there are plenty of well-intentioned aid workers diligently operating in Haiti, that doesn’t discount the fact that the overall aid project looks more like a scam than a humanitarian enterprise.
“The NGOs carry out U.S. imperial policies in Haiti in exchange for ‘charity funding’ – which means, they money launder U.S. tax payer and donor dollars and put it in their pockets. US imperial policy is about destroying Haiti manufacturing and local economy, expropriating Haiti natural resources and making a larger Haiti market for their subsidized Wall Street monopolies,” explained Ezili Dantò -a human rights lawyer and activist.
One of the purported “success” stories of the international aid effort in Haiti was the opening of the Caracol Industrial Park in 2013 thanks to funding from foreign aid groups like the Clinton Foundation. Though the construction of the Caracol facility displaced numerous Haitian farmers -most of which remain landless-, the project was lauded internationally as a sure-fire way to promote social mobility and employment in Haiti. In reality, the park amounted to little more than a massive sweat shop. The primary employer there is a Korean apparel company called Sae-A, which supplies mega-retailers like Wall Mart with cheap clothing products and maintains lucrative contracts with popular brand names like Ralph Lauren, Gap, H&M and Old Navy. After accounting for food and transportation needs, workers at the industrial park earn a pitiful $1.36 a day. It’s no wonder Haitians today earn less than they did during the Duvalier dictatorship thirty years ago.
In 2012, it was reported that the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund had invested $2 million in a project to construct a deluxe Royal Oasis Hotel in an area heavily populated by Haitians displaced by the 2010 earthquake; this just after the International Financial Corporation (IFC) -a member of the World Bank Group- invested $26.5 million in the building of a similar hotel for Marriott in Haiti. These new hotels -even if successful- would have a very limited impact on Haitian employment levels -especially among the 80,000 mostly poor and uneducated Haitians who remain displaced by the earthquake. Those aid initiatives that were tasked with constructing permanent housing for occupants of Haiti’s huge tent city and various shanty towns are frequently criminally mismanaged and often yield homes that are comically overpriced by Haitian standards.
After the Haitian Healthy Ministry, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is the top recipient of federal Haiti-Aid funding from the U.S. government: having been allocated $117,111,216 by the U.S. State Department in 2013 alone. Though ostensibly a “peace-keeping” mission, this multinational force is essentially the in-house enforcer of the U.S.’s -and other foreign powers’- neoliberal project in Haiti. MINUSTAH forces have been operating in Haiti since the U.S./French/Canadian orchestrated coup that drove popularly elected Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide from office in 2004. Aristide and his hugely popular political party Fanmi Lavalas had repudiated the disastrous neoliberal policies of the 1990s, which was unacceptable to Washington. A wave of violence against supporters of Fanmi Lavalas by MINUSTAH forces followed Aristide’s ouster. The extrajudicial killing, political repression and widespread sexual assault that has characterized MINUSTAH forces’ subsequent ten year occupation of Haiti has made them likely the most hated presence in the country. The accidental introduction of cholera into the Haitian population by sick MINUSTAH solders -which killed about 9,000 Haitians and infected scores more- didn’t help either.
The unrest currently gripping Haiti has serious momentum. If protestors are able to topple Martelly’s pro-American regime, it will be the first step in achieving de-facto Haitian independence -something that country has never truly experienced. That’s a big “if,” however, as they will also need to overcome the terror of the MINUSTAH forces that still occupy Haiti and prop up Martelly’s unpopular government. Still, the situation in Haiti is unsustainable. The neoliberal development program that was forced on Haiti under the barrel of a gun is failing spectacularly for the majority of the Haitian population. Their additional exploitation -conscious or not- at the hands of international “aid” groups is even more glaring.
It’s doubtful that the American population would remain silent were they aware of the extent to which they themselves enable the exploitation of poor populations throughout the global south for the sake of concentrated international private power. It’s vital that compassionate individuals everywhere continue to disseminate information regarding the plight of such peoples. Only then can a meaningful and global movement of solidarity take shape. In the meantime, Haitians -and others suffering under the heel of neocolonial domination- will struggle on.
Correction: This post originally referenced the Fusion of Haitian Social Democrats as the political party of Haitian President Michel Martelly. In fact, President Martelly personally belongs to the Farmers’ Response Party, and Fusion is simply a pro-Martelly political ally of the president. The error has since been corrected.
Source(s): 1) Julie Lévesque “Haiti, Five Years After the Earthquake: Fraudulent Reconstruction Under Military Occupation” GlobalResearch (January 12, 2015): accessed January 24, 2015 http://www.globalresearch.ca/haiti-5-years-after-the-earthquake-fraudulent-reconstruction-under-military-occupation/5424139
2) Thomas Péralte “Haiti: Thousands Demonstrate as President Martelly Installs De Facto Prime Minister Evans Paul” GlobalResearch (January 21, 2015): accessed January 24, 2015 http://www.globalresearch.ca/haiti-thousands-demonstrate-as-president-martelly-installs-de-facto-prime-minister-evans-paul/5426332
3) “Red Cross: 3M Haitians Affected by Quake” CBSNews (January 13, 2010): accessed January 24, 2013 http://www.cbsnews.com/news/red-cross-3m-haitians-affected-by-quake/