By Danny Shaw / Truthout
The United States government is spearheading an effort to reinvade and reoccupy Haiti. On May 4, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, led the latest diplomatic anti-Haitian assault traveling to Brasilia to try to convince the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to again lead the “multilateral effort.”
Bogged down in a proxy war in Ukraine to the tune of $113 billion, the Biden administration has been searching for a Caribbean Community and Common Market nation or another ally to deputize to carry out the unpopular mission. Under the guise of humanitarianism, and as a potential prelude to a full-scale invasion, Canada has been sending spy aircraft, ships and military aid to the Haitian National Police. The unelected, Core Group/U.S.-backed Haitian prime minister, Ariel Henry, has been calling for a foreign intervention since October 7.
Is this the way forward for this nation of 11.5 million battling an ongoing gang, gunand hunger crisis? First, we must understand the history of a century-plus of U.S. intervention in the Caribbean nation and the role of the Haitian National Police, which shows why there can be no U.S. and no military solution for Haiti. We must also understand, beyond the mainstream misinformation, what is happening right now in Haiti, particularly Port-au-Prince.
Guns, Gangs and Hunger: Genocidal Symptoms of Neocolonialism
Guns, gangs and genocidal attacks in the city of Port-au-Prince against stable communities have made life even more difficult for millions of Haitian families. Port-au-Prince is currently embroiled in a war that is affecting every facet of life in the capital. CNN reports that in the first three months of 2023, there have been 1,600 reported rapes, kidnappings and murders. One could easily double these stats because in the most oppressed bidonvilles (slums), such as Solino, Cite Militè or Cite Solèy, the Western press, predictably, has done little to shed light on the dire situation in the city of 2.7 million. Inflation is over 50 percent. There is no gasoline in the pumps and the cost on the black market is $15 per gallon. Food is scarce. According to the World Food Program, a total of 4.9 million Haitians — nearly half the population – do not have enough to eat, and 1.8 million are facing emergency levels of food insecurity.
Support our Independent Journalism — Donate Today!
Gang bosses, in touch with representatives of the “Gangsters with Ties,” far up in the exclusive mountainside enclaves of Petyonvil, employ young “Gangsters in Flip Flops” as their foot soldiers in the slums of Port-au-Prince. The average “gang banger” in Delma 6 (G-9 territory), in Granravin (G-Pèp territory) or Kwadebouke (400 Mawozo territory) works and patrols with a $1,800 Israeli IMI Galil assault rifle. This same young “gangster” most often doesn’t have the 300 gouds ($2 dollars) necessary to eat lunch. The horizontal violence, no different than in any U.S. city or neocolony, pits the gangs against one another in competition for key turf to direct their operations, against the people who are determined to survive and keep their communities safe, and against the poorly paid and equipped police. There is ample proof that these guns are made in the USA.
The unfolding historical duel for Haiti’s self-determination between the forces of submission and liberation has many moving parts. My other work offers a deeper understanding of the guns, gangs and hybrid war unfolding in Port-au-Prince. This article will focus on the possibility of yet another foreign invasion.
Yes, there is a crisis. But do those forces responsible for the disease truly have the cure?
A Free Country or a Neocolony?
From 1915 until 1934, U.S. Marines occupied Haiti as the presidencies of Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt contemplated how to best integrate Caribbean nations into the U.S.’s imperial sphere of influence. The forces of occupation and white supremacy relentlessly pursued the Cacos, a peasant guerrilla army led by Charlemagne Péralte, labeling them bandits.
From 1957 until 1971 the U.S. government worked through Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his private military force, the Tonton Makouts. Duvalier’s security force murdered over 60,000 Haitian leftists in the 14 years that “Papa Doc” was in power. These merciless killers, who were officially called the Volunteers for National Security, persecuted, disappeared, exiled, tortured and massacred a generation of Haiti’s most courageous and brightest daughters and sons.
As long as there was no repeat of the 1959 Cuban Revolution, the U.S. foreign policy establishment was content to allow the 8,000-member militia to maraud across Haiti, living off of corruption and terrorizing anyone who dared speak out against the dictatorship. Even Time magazine openly wondered in 1962 why the U.S. government had sent the ruthless Papa Doc $1,100,000 in arms over the past two years to equip Haiti’s regular army, air force and coast guard. Human Rights Watch called out the U.S. for its support of Duvalier in 2004.
In 1971, Francois Duvalier died from a heart attack but not before naming his 19-year-old son Jean Claude Duvalier, “president for life.” At the height of the Cold War, the U.S. put all their eggs in the Duvalier 2.0 basket. Any opponent of “Baby Doc” or his International Monetary Fund and World Bank overlords was also exiled or executed, according to Paul Farmer’s The Uses of Haiti and Elizabeth Abbott’s Haiti: The First Inside Account.
Jeb Sprague’s Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti outlines the U.S.’s later overt and covert support for multiple coup attempts, two of which were successful in 1991 and 2004, against the twice democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. After 1991, in order to repress support for the exiled Aristide, the U.S. government started working through the far-right paramilitary group, The Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH). The top commanders of FRAPH, Emmanuel “Toto” Constant openly talked about his career working clandestinely for the Central Intelligence Agency and Guy Philippe was a known U.S. intelligence operative. The FRAPH assassinated an estimated 5,000 dissidents during the 1991 to 1994 coup.
In the last century, when has Haiti ever been free of U.S. financial, political, diplomatic, military, paramilitary and economic coercion? This brief history of U.S. invasion and control proves that the current effort to reoccupy Haiti didn’t come out of nowhere. Nor is this blood-curdling brutality somehow part of Haitian genetics, as many of Haiti’s racist detractors allege. This tragedy unfolding in Port-au-Prince is more a part of the U.S.’s DNA than Haiti’s.
Core Group Neocolonizers
This brief sketch of Haiti’s history since the 20th century shows the problem is not the lack of action of Western powers. A U.S. audience should not fall for the crocodile tears of CNN or other mainstream anchors when they speak of this dignified nation.
Haiti’s challenge has been the opposite, the over-involvement, or complete domination, by foreign powers of Haitian geopolitics. Only forces as arrogant as the G7 heads of government would self-anoint themselves as “the international community.” Haitians know them as the Core Group. Author Cécile Accilienexplains the Core Group as largely made up of white ambassadors from the U.S., Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, and the European Union who are viewed by many people inside and outside of Haiti as a secretive colonial and imperialist alliance meddling in Haitian political affairs.
The Core Group, and the pro-intervention forces they finance, use humanitarian rhetoric just as they did to justify their illegal invasions, bombing campaigns and occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and beyond. Keith Mines, director of the Latin America program at the paradoxically named U.S. Institute of Peace writes, “It’s pretty simple. No one wants to [invade Haiti]. There’s just no country that right now feels either a responsibility or a compulsion to do this.” After lauding how “effective on the ground Brazilian, Canadian and Chilean forces have been,” referring to the 2004-2017 UN occupation, Mines went on to claim, “We’re riding this wave of anti-nation building right now which I think is very unfortunate.”
It’s important to educate a Western audience on why these neoliberal claims are blatant lies. The Core Group has always been an anti-nation building global gang. Their “responsibility and compulsion” never had anything to do with noble, selfless motives as their corporate mouthpieces claim. They are motivated by power and profits. It is well documented that for over a century now the U.S. has coordinated the repression of Indigenous leftists across Haiti and the Americas to then parachute down crumbs on the populations in the form of charity programs led by missionaries and nongovernmental organizations.
The United Nations
It is widely accepted in the Western world that the UN is a neutral, “peace-keeping” actor on the international stage. Nowhere has this been less true than in Haiti.
On February 29, 2004, President Aristide was surrounded by U.S. marines, forced onto a U.S. military plane and flown to the Central African Republic. This intimidated, diluted, beaten-down version of Aristide, in comparison to the 1986 and 1991 Aristide, was still enough of a threat that Roger Noriega, the assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs under George W. Bush, and the foreign policy establishment in D.C., acted again to instigate a coup and kidnap him.
The Pentagon spun on a dime. The coordination was quick. Suddenly, Haiti’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre was president. He petitioned the UN Security Council to send an “international peacekeeping force.” The Security Council authorized the mission. One-thousand U.S. marines embarked on “Operation Secure Tomorrow.” They were in Haiti by nightfall. Canadian, French and Chilean troops invaded a few hours later.
For 14 years, 2,366 military personnel and 2,533 police from Brazil, Chile, Sri Lanka, and other UN countries occupied Haiti. This was not a peace mission as the UN claimed; this was a mission of occupation, humiliation and repression. I was in Port-au-Prince during the UN Stabilization Mission and witnessed the disconnect between the foreign soldiers and Haitians. What knowledge did these soldiers have of Haitian history, culture and Kreyòl? Filmmaker Kevin Pina’s Haiti: We Must Kill the Bandits documents the human rights abuses and massacres carried out by occupying troops in Cité Solèy, Fò Nasyonal, and other oppressed communities of Port-au-Prince.
To bring it to the present day, after Haiti had been marching for months against Washington bullets to remove the petty, mediocre Core Group-sponsored tyrant, President Jovenel Moise, the recent release of phone records shows that the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Miami-based private security firm Counter Terrorist Unit Federal Academy had links to the July 7, 2021, assassination of Moise. Hypotheses abound across Haiti as to why the State Department took out the unpopular Moise. Some say Moise was shutting down private airports being used by drug and arms traffickers. Others say he was pivoting toward the U.S.’s main geopolitical rival, Russia. Regardless of the exact reasons, few question who is ultimately responsible for the gruesome murder.
The Haitian National Police
The Haitian National Police (PNH) officially has 9,000 officers. As the above history shows, the state has never been on the side of the Haitian people. Thoroughly corrupt and guilty of egregious human rights violations, the Haitian police have always been on the opposite side of the barricades. This has never prevented a U.S. presidency from supporting the PNH.
The Trump administration quadrupled U.S. support for the PNH from $2.8 million in 2016 to more than $12.4 million in 2019. That same year the State Department awarded a $73,000 contract to a private security firm to quell potential riots which were in fact peaceful demonstrations against the lackey Moise. Canada and the U.S. continue to support the police. The film Haiti Betrayed reveals that Canada has never been the “good cop” in Haiti but has rather been an uncritical junior partner of the U.S., joining in the ongoing pillaging of the nation.
Another word on the police is important here. Port-au-Prince is embroiled in war. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced. Gangs burn, rape, pillage, extort, kidnap, murder and massacre at will. Never before have families and communities been so paralyzed in Port-au-Prince. In Vilaj de Die, the stronghold of the banned YouTube artist Izo, when the police attempted to apprehend gangsters, they were slaughtered. Given the intensity of this historical moment, there are new debates underway in the ghettos of Haiti about how to characterize and relate to the police. This recent demonstration in Solino ghetto called for “the marriage of the people and the police.” It may be the first-time Haitian progressives have ever applauded the police and sought to support them in the nation’s history. This shows how many residents consider the gangs to be their principal enemy.
Not once has CNN, The New York Times or Fox asked the grassroots Haitian leadership what they want. In my conversations and meetings with dozens of social organizations, including Radyo Resistanz, MOLEGHAF and SOFA there are several proposals that come up again and again:
- True International Solidarity: The Haitian people distrust the Troika of Evil, the U.S., France and Canada, along with their junior partners, the UN and Organization of American States. Grassroots organizations desire working relationships with their anti-imperialist counterparts in South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, and other nations and struggling peoples across the Global South. Haitians demand to be left alone by the Core Group and are fighting for greater integration into multipolar organizations, such as the Southern Common Market (UNASUR), the regional BRICS economies, Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America and the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. Haitian leadership is not looking to Washington, D.C. or Miami. There are deep ancestral connections to Caracas, Havana, Durban, Lima, Savannah, and beyond.
- The International Division of Labor: As long as there is such deep inequality between the Western exploiter countries and the Global South, hundreds of millions of families will have no choice but to immigrate in order to eat and survive. A simple comparison of economic possibilities in the U.S. and Haiti shows why migration continues to be inevitable under a neocolonial system. In the U.S., the average worker toils for 40 hours per week at $7.25 and makes an annual income of $15,080. A Haitian worker averages 48 hours of labor per week at $0.41 cents per hour to make a salary of $1,014. Economic, political, diplomatic and military inequality are part and parcel of this international system. We have no choice but to build a new system based on mutually beneficial trade and economic cooperation.
- Reparations: The former colonizers and present-day exploiters have a debt with Haiti. Haiti did not arrive at this particular moment isolated from world politics. Quite the opposite. Haiti has not ceased to be in the crosshairs of imperial ambitions and plunder. In 2001, President Aristide ordered a 21-gun salute at his inauguration for the $21 billion France owes Haiti. A thorough review by the Haitian people of the decades and centuries of rape and plunder will determine how much each colonial and neocolonial entity owes.
- Bring State Services to the Ghetto: Gangs are not just bloody groups of murderers. Some gang leaders see themselves as war lords; others see themselves as anti-bourgeois Robin Hoods. But what about the strongest gang, a small clique of oligarchs who work with their neocolonial overlords. Haiti has the highest rate of millionaires of any country in the Americas. In an interviewentitled “Haitian Ruling Families Create and Kill Monsters,” longtime Haitian author, analyst and activist Jafrik Ayiti takes a closer look at a dozen or so light-skinned oligarchs who control the central economic and political arteries of the Caribbean nation. All of the media attention when it comes to the “gang crisis” has been on the most cast-off members of Port-au-Prince’s lumpenproletariat who wield guns and violence in a bid to control ever-increasing swaths of the city. We must take a closer look at some of these tycoons, the economic and political power they hold and their role in this crisis. The Brookings Institute discusses governmental strategies that have pushed a social agenda into the most violent, anti-social communities. Though the Brookings Institute heavily favors state repression, it also discusses land reform, infrastructure projects and the building up of legal economic opportunities as a way to peacefully demobilize gang members.
- The Bwa Kale Movement: This movement exploded into Haitian parlance onApril 24. Residents of Kanape Vè intercepted a police vehicle carrying Ti Makak gang members from Laboul who were trying to expand into their neighborhood. The spontaneous crowd stoned and burned the alleged gang leaders. Like the 1986 dechoukaj, or uprooting of the Tonton Makouts, this ignited a new ghetto-vigilante movement vowing to defend themselves and their homes against gangs by any means necessary. Bwa Kale (vulgar slang for erection) is a catchphrase for a new, widespread and spontaneous phenomenon, again showing how desperate the ghettos are to rid themselves of the latest arsonists, racketeers, rapists and thieves. Community organizers have worked to erect barricades, file down 100,000 machetes and distribute them. Many warn of the vigilante tactics because others can use them for opportunistic reasons, such as allowing the settling of personal scores.
The Haitian people who carrying the legacy of the 1804 revolution of self-liberated slaves against French colonial rule in their blood have overcome the greatest of foes and challenges. They are confident they will again bury another.
Danny Shaw is a professor of South American and Caribbean Studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the senior research fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. He is a frequent commentator on TeleSUR, HispanTV,and other international media outlets. His work can be found at @dannyshawcuny.