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Why We Should Oppose the U.S. Occupation of Haiti

category central america / caribbean | imperialism / war | opinion / analysis author Tuesday April 20, 2010 22:02author by John Reimann - IWW Report this post to the editors

From the Industrial Worker (Official Newspaper of the Industrial Workers of the Wolrd, IWW) #1723, vol. 107, No.2, February-March 2010.
The PNH (Haitian Police) protects the supermarkets against "looters" after the January 12 earthquake
The PNH (Haitian Police) protects the supermarkets against "looters" after the January 12 earthquake

When the earthquake leveled much of Haiti on Jan. 12, including the Presidential Palace, it destroyed not only buildings and lives, but the capitalist state apparatus as well. In a country whose history includes bloody repression and paramilitary death squads, all reports were that both the police and the military had disappeared from the streets.

For several days, the U.S. administration dithered, uncertain of what to do. Then Obama announced he’d send troops to Haiti along with the commitment of the miserly sum of $100 million in aid (less than two-thirds of the total spent on his inaugural ball).

What is the purpose of the troops?

“Restoring Order”

The conservative Heritage Fund spelled it out on its web site: “We should rapidly deploy sufficient U.S. military and civilian forces to help Haitians restore order in the capital of Port au Prince and in surrounding areas.” It also clearly sees the necessity of using the troops to prevent the Cuban and Venezuelan regimes from increasing their influence in Haiti. Nobody should be surprised if conflicts develop along these lines in Haiti.

Obama also carried out the Heritage Fund’s recommendation of appointing Bill Clinton and George Bush to head up U.S. initiatives in Haiti. Clinton has a long history of helping foster neoliberal policies in the county (low wages and privatization) as well as having supported the coup against Jean Bertrand Aristide. Bush is infamous for his administration’s “relief” effort in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The failure to provide timely aid in Haiti shows that the direction of efforts in New Orleans was no mere accident, nor the product of the incompetence of one particularly stupid U.S. president. It was the result of massive privatization. The fact that Bush and Clinton have been appointed to oversee U.S. “efforts” in Haiti shows that nothing has changed.

One of the U.S. military’s first steps was to seize control of the port and the airport at Port au Prince. Their priority has been to land more troops and lift out endangered U.S. citizens. In fact, as the British Guardian newspaper reports on Jan. 17, this is creating serious tensions with other countries—both rivals and allies—who are seeking access to the airport.

Delays In Providing Urgent Aid

The main issue, though, is the delay in food, water and medical supplies reaching Haitians. The U.S. media gives the impression that the main reason involves “bottlenecks” at the Haiti airport, destroyed and blocked roads, etc. However, the U.S. priorities are clarified by Jarry Emmanuel, air logistics officer for the U.N.’s World Food Program, who told the New York Times: “Most flights (allowed by the U.S. to land) are for the U.S. military. Their priorities are to secure the country. Ours are to feed. We have got to get those priorities in sync.” This is the reason that, as al-Jazeera reports, “People could see helicopters flying overhead, U.S. military vehicles in the city and aeroplanes arriving at the airport with supplies, so it was difficult to understand why little aid appeared to be reaching the people.

The Return of the State Apparatus

Meanwhile, a few Haitian troops and police are back on the streets. Already some clashes with crowds are reported. When U.S. troops go out on patrol, as they inevitably will, what will their focus be?

The U.S. press, ever a good predictor of coming U.S. policy, is now full of comments about “looters” and near riot situations. This serves to establish the justification here at home for direct repression by the U.S. troops, up to and including shoot to kill orders.

This shows the priority of the U.S. military: to establish the presence of some sort of state apparatus until the Haitian ruling class can re-establish Haiti as a functioning capitalist state. Naturally, during a time of utter crisis such as now, the state apparatus will have to carry out some “humanitarian” aid. After all, capitalism cannot function and profits cannot be made if the working class is in such desperate straits. But this is purely a secondary by-product of re-establishing the state.

Neighborhood Committees

There is and was a clear alternative to reliance on U.S. (and U.N.) troops. The 1985 earthquake in Mexico City shows this. As opposed to Haiti, the Mexico City earthquake did not devastate the nation as a whole, and therefore the state apparatus was not nearly destroyed. However, in Mexico the state failed to provide the forces for rescue and similar operations. As a result, neighborhood committees developed to clear the rubble, carry out rescue operations, etc. They showed how workers’ councils could start to develop. These neighborhood committees continued and flourished and out of them developed a mass community-based political movement in Mexico.

In Haiti, there was already the infrastructure for such a development in the form of the Lavalas Party, which has strong roots in working-class communities. The strength of their base was demonstrated once again just last April, when Lavalas was barred from participating in the elections. They called for a boycott and practically the entire Haitian population responded. Voter turnout was only 3 - 10 percent.

With little but their bare hands, Haitian workers are starting to organize to carry out rescue operations, including digging people out of the rubble. Following the example of the Mexican workers, they should create an organizing center of neighborhood committees that could start to take on a national role, such as controlling both the port and the airport to coordinate aid in situations such as the current crisis.

Working-Class Appeal

Most of the foreign troops in Haiti are composed of working-class people. Given the history of racism in the U.S. and the racial composition of the U.S. troops, as well as the severe economic crisis at home under which many of these U.S. soldiers are suffering, they would be very open to fraternization with Haitian workers’ committees. Nevertheless, although there is very little chance of a permanent U.S. military presence in Haiti, the workers’ movement should oppose their presence for any length of time.

Now, several unions are mobilizing aid for Haiti. These same unions have a long history of acting as a front for the CIA and the U.S. State Department. Their efforts to mobilize aid are positive, but it is likely that it will be used to buttress the aims of the U.S. administration, rather than to help Haitian workers free themselves from the chains of poverty. Especially on the East Coast, many of these unions have a large Haitian membership. The IWW and other anti-capitalist forces within the labor movement can play an important role. We should involve ourselves in these efforts and through this make direct contact with our Haitian fellow workers. In the process, we should seek means of campaigning for:

  • A real, worker-based aid program.
  • Getting all foreign troops—including U.S. and U.N. —out of Haiti.
  • The establishment of direct links between the Haitian workers movement—community groups and unions—and that of the rank-and file workers here in the US.
  • Allowing foreign soldiers that are already in Haiti to fraternize with Haitian workers, international aid workers (including those from Cuba and Venezuela), and other troops.

    Only by supporting a program such as this can Haiti be rebuilt as country based on social justice and workers’ rights. Crises, for all their destruction, provide opportunities for social change. The IWW and radical workers all over the world must act now to show support and solidarity for our Haitian brothers and sisters.

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