|Haiti: "The people do not buy liberty and democracy at the market"|
|Written by Kevin Pina|
|Tuesday, 11 August 2009 05:58|
That the Lavalas
political movement opposed the neo-liberal economic model of
development that is currently unfolding in Haiti today is without
question. The insistence of the International Monetary Fund, the World
Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank on structural adjustments
that included eliminating import and export tariffs, selling off
State-owned industries and businesses, maintaining a low minimum wage and an
obsessive reliance on the private sector as the motor for economic
development was called the "death plan."
The major obstacle to the plan of the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) for Haiti was democracy itself in the form of the Lavalas movement representing the interests of the majority of the poor and the president they elected twice, Jean Bertrand Aristide. The government refused to privatize key industries like the Telephone Company (Teleco) and the Electrical company (EDH) and while the IFIs also insisted that social programs be cut, the Fanmi Lavalas party would take profits from these State-owned businesses to invest in a universal literacy program and to provide millions of subsidized meals for the poor. For the first time in history Haiti had a safety net in place to insure against widespread hunger and malnutrition. Over the objections of the IFIs and Haiti's predatory economic elite, the minimum wage was doubled twice during Aristide's first and second terms for the lowest paid work force in the hemisphere. Not so coincidentally, both of Aristide's terms were cut short by a coup.
It should be abundantly clear to even the most casual observer by now that this was a major factor in the coup of Feb. 2004 that not only ousted the democratically elected president, but also drove out more than 7,400 elected officials from municipal and national posts throughout Haiti. It represented no less than an attempt to destroy the movement of Haiti's poor majority and their right through elections to establish their own priorities for economic development based on the pillars of national sovereignty and social justice. The Bush administration and the Republican Party were up to the task as they backed Haiti's elite in overthrowing the constitutional government and orchestrating the "transition."
Far from the mythologized "popular rebellion" often repeated by the well-paid reporters of the corporate media, the ousting of democracy in Haiti in 2004 was a violent affair perpetrated by former military and death squad commanders that went on a killing spree. The paid minions of the wealthy elite who took to the streets to give the illusion of a popular rebellion could not succeed in taking down the government so the vile dogs of war were unleashed after being nurtured in the neighboring Dominican Republic. Not unlike recent events in Honduras, it resulted in a president being taken out of his home against his will under the cloak of darkness and forced onto a plane as the killing began in earnest to insure the success of the plotters.
The two years following the 2004 coup in Haiti would make the intentions of the Organization of American States, the United Nations and the international community clear as glass. They all gave their blessings to the US-installed regime that took power even as it unleashed an unprecedented campaign of summary executions, regular instances of gunning down unarmed protesters and arbitrary arrests. All of this done in the name of "restoring democracy." It was a period of gross human rights violations committed under the aegis of a UN banner that remains successfully cloaked and obscured to this day.
Faced with thousands killed, jailed and forced into exile, the Lavalas movement would elect Rene Preval their new president in 2006. Their hope was that he would stop the repression, free the political prisoners and allow Aristide to return to Haiti. What they could not know was that he had already signed onto the cynical project to destroy the popular movement of the poor as preparation for bringing Haiti back into the camp of neo-liberal economic development and the "death plan" they had fought so hard against.
Despite more than $4 billion dollars of international assistance since the 2004 coup, life only got worse as Haiti's predatory economic elite were set free to squeeze as much profit as they could out of a desperate population. With little business investment to speak of, this elite would use their monopoly on the importation of food staples to steal away the more than $1.5 billion in remittances sent annually by thousands of families and friends to their loved ones in Haiti in an effort to keep them alive. It was always a sweetheart deal where these monopolists would insure the redistribution of wealth into their pockets even as protests broke out against the growing misery and hunger in April 2008.
Throughout, the Lavalas movement and the poor kept demonstrating against the coup demanding justice and that Aristide be allowed to return to Haiti. Their leaders would be disappeared as in the case of Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine on August 12, 2007, forced to rot away in prison like Ronald Dauphin, or eventually succumb to the ravages of harsh treatment as that which befell Father Gerard Jean-Juste on May 27, 2009. Still others would be courted by Preval and offered well-paid positions of authority within his government if they would turn their backs on their own history and the Lavalas movement.
Then came the much-delayed senatorial elections in April and June 2009 where the final blow was to be delivered to Lavalas. The Fanmi Lavalas party would be excluded from participating on a technicality, not because one actually existed as much as the possibility of their success in re-entering the political arena. Despite every attempt at that point to destroy their hope, Lavalas waged a successful boycott campaign of the elections that rendered them a joke by any objective standard of democratic participation. It was nothing less than a collective rebuff of Preval and the international community.
Kill, imprison, exile, divide, exclude and buy-off as many as you can is what presented itself as the long-term strategy to destroy Lavalas and pave the way for Haiti's re-emergence as a neo-liberal success story in the Caribbean. Still, Haiti's poor majority is a resilient and hopeful force. They hoped that with the election of Obama, as the first US president with African blood coarsing through his veins, that the trajectory of US-foreign policy in Haiti since the 2004 coup would change. It did not. They hoped that Hillary Clinton's appointment as Secretary of State would make a difference, that is until she visited the sweatshop of coup backer Andy Apaid to tout the neo-liberal model last June. They hoped that Bill Clinton's appointment, as UN Special Envoy to Haiti, would signal a change until he went out of his way to ignore their pleas at every turn during his two brief visits over the last two months. Instead he spoke of coordinating NGO aid in preparation of instituting the new "death plan" as postulated by UN economic advisor Paul Collier, which is really the same old neo-liberal "death plan" as first exercised under Reagan's Caribbean Basin Initiative in the 80's. Just ignore history and put your name on it announcing it as new to an uncritical press. They won't know any better.
The IFIs announced in late June that they forgave $1.2 billion dollars of Haiti's debt, most of which was racked up by former US-sponsored dictatorships and their partners in Haiti's wealthy elite that fed at their trough. It must be reassuring to go to bed at night in a sea of abject poverty knowing that you are the motor of economic development in the world and that you can do no wrong.
Now comes the final act to set the stage for Haiti's official return to neo-liberalism, as the Haitian parliament just this week legislates the Haitian worker as the lowest paid in the hemisphere. They vote in a closed session to double the minimum wage to a whopping $3.75 a day or about $0.38 per hour for a normal ten-hour day. Haiti's "comparative advantage" under neo-liberal economic policy is solidified as cheap labor by holding down the price of wage labor in the hemisphere and the world. Haiti's "advantage" since Reagan has been to keep down wages in the hemisphere by being the cheapest labor force in the region against which all other labor forces must compete. It must equally reassuring to know that despite that fact you can never make enough money working a 10-hour day to pull yourself out of poverty that you are doing your small part to keep the price of labor low so that US apparel manufacturers and their partners in the elite can turn a handsome profit. At minimum you can sleep well at night knowing that the US Congress is as hopeful as you are with legislation that provides US apparel manufacturers tax breaks to pay you that well-earned $3.75 per day that the Haitian parliament just approved.
All that's left is a platform for Haiti's former mistress of the NGO sector and current Prime Minister, Michele Duvivier Pierre-Louis, to take the stage with Bill Clinton to formally announce that the incubation period of the new-old "death plan" has given birth to renewed hope in Haiti. The corpses have been buried and the blood has been washed away so now Haiti can turn the page on the Lavalas movement and those upstarts in the poor majority who had the audacity to think that elections meant they could choose another alternative. Still, any analyst worth their salt that understands Haitian history would not take bets that this is over by a long shot.
It's only fitting to give Haiti's democratically elected president that was ousted in 2004 and remains in exile in the Republic of South Africa a few words here. Aristide once said, "Pèp pa achte libète ak demokrasi nan mache" or "The people do not buy liberty and democracy at the market." It seems that in today's world almost anything is possible with a Democrat in the White House and a Democratic Congress who owe their success to running on a platform for "Change we can believe in." Either way, the lesson for the world's poor remains the same; when it comes to the Democratic Party don't confuse hope with change especially if that's all you're going to be paid for a 10-hour day.
Kevin Pina is a journalist and filmmaker who has been covering events in Haiti since 1991. Pina is also the Founding Editor of the Haiti Information Project(HIP), an alternative news agency based in Port au Prince.