Haiti - Poverty and instability

Submitted by Anon on 23 March, 2004 - 8:55

Mark Osborn spoke to Charles Arthur of the Haiti Support Group about the situation in Haiti now

Charles explains: the current US intervention numbers about 1,500 troops, and the total foreign force comes to about 2,500.

These forces are concentrated in Port-au-Prince. They have visited other towns, but have no permanent presence there.

In the capital, much the same as last time they intervened in 1994, the US priority has been to guard the state institutions and big businesses and industrial parks. For me this indicates the nature of US interests in Haiti.

There is the question of disarmament. There are many people with illegally held guns in Haiti. And there have been quite a few violent acts carried out by both Aristide supporters and the insurgent force of former soldiers and former FRAPH (death squad) members.

The US has made nice noises about carrying out disarmament. They did this before, in 1994, when they failed to carry out anything like a proper disarmament campaign - and I expect they will fail to disarm the gangs this time.

Mainly this is because they do not want to get into any gun battles in which their troops are killed.

MO: According to the BBC the US has concentrated their acts of disarmament on Aristide supporters in a poor area of the capital, while only verbally demanding Guy Philippe's group disarm. Is this right?

CA: I understand there has only been one search of a single house. They have also made a radio jingle which asks people to turn in their arms.

That has been the entire extent of the US disarmament effort to date.

The French military commander in Haiti made a statement today saying their forces will not be doing any disarmament at all. He says this is not their function.

They have made some very public remarks against Guy Philippe. They want him to keep a low profile. He will, I assume, do this, while keeping hold of the arms under his control.

MO: Haven't the occupation forces got their own version of a 'third camp' policy; neither Aristide, nor Guy Philippe, but the big bourgeoisie? FRAPH members are thugs, I can't see why the US would want to see them directly in power.

CA: The US intelligence services built up the FRAPH death squad in the early 1990s. This is clear and more-or-less admitted by the CIA.

So the US does have a close relationship with these people and they do see them as having a function.

Now there is no divergence between the reactionary business sector and those who want to rebuild the Haitian army. The two things go together. Big business wants the protection of an army.

The question is will the army be re-constituted sooner or later? The new Prime Minister has said there probably will have to be an army.

MO: The US would rather not have troops in Haiti. So why are they there? Isn't it the case that if Guy Philippe had tried to march into Port-au-Prince at the end of February, there would have been serious fighting in a way that there had not been during the preceding weeks? That would lead to chaos of a type and scale that the US intervention avoided.

Moreover the US was eager to avoid great numbers of Haitian refugees heading towards America.

So the US intervention is about maintaining some stability.

CA: I agree. The overarching US aim is stability.

But it is stability based on the existing order that is itself structurally unstable. There is continual turmoil and instability in Haiti because of the very sharp divide inside Haiti. There is a flat contradiction here in US policy.

The crude breakdown is this: 85% of Haiti's eight million people are poor peasants or unemployed or under-employed. There is a small middle class - defined as all those from taxi drivers to a small businesspeople - which makes up a further 10% of the population. And then there is a tiny section of the population who are enormously rich.

This imbalance is simply not sustainable.

MO: One of the things Aristide seems to have done, by carrying out US policy, was to create new free trade zones and a new working class. These people might be a new factor.

CA: That's not quite right. The assembly sector has been promoted for 30 years, and began under the dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier in the 1970s. It peaked - perhaps employing as many as 100,000 people - towards the end of the 1980s. Since then the sector has been in decline. The number of workers dropped massively in the early '90s because of the military coup of 1991 and the instability and economic embargo that followed.

There has been a small recovery during the 1990s. But at the moment only about 25,000 workers are employed in the sector.

Aristide passed legislation which will allow the creation of huge, new free trade zones. One has opened on the border with the Dominican Republic and two others are planned.

MO: What about the left's response to the US-led foreign intervention? Clearly the US is not benign or benevolent. But a single focus on 'evil US imperialism', without any apparent concern for the development and protection of the workers' movement, is crazy. 'US troops out now' seems equal to 'Death squads to power'.

CA: We need to consider the longer-term. We need to see what type of alliances the US has made in Haiti. They have always linked up with the most reactionary sectors of business and the elite, and also the most violent and repressive elements in the army and police.

Then, more recently, the US intervention in the first days of March was the logical conclusion of their policy in earlier months which was to put pressure on the Aristide government without ever putting any real pressure on the opposition. That policy ruled out any possibility of a compromise between the two groups.

Should the US be there? Well, what the situation makes me think of is the situation in the north of Ireland. People always said that if the British army left there would be massive bloodshed; no doubt the situation in Haiti could be described in the same way. But I don't believe this. It is an artificial construct to justify the existence of an occupying force.

We also have to be very aware that our progressive organisations - including the union federation Batay Ouvrier and the Haitian group which has organised the equivalent of a Social Forum - are, even now, demanding the withdrawal of foreign troops.

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