HAITI: Five Days of Inspiring Rebellion Against Imperialist-Imposed Price Hikes... and the Crying Need for Revolution

| Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


In early July, Haiti was rocked by five inspiring days of rebellion—the most powerful in decades—against the deadly stranglehold of imperialism, in league with the corrupt and subservient Haitian government, which are making life increasingly unbearable for the great majority of Haiti’s 10 million people.

The trigger was the decision of the government of President Jovenel Moïse to carry out the demands of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to withdraw government subsidies for fuel prices, which would drastically raise those prices. (The IMF is a U.S.-dominated political/financial institution that plays a key role in “managing” the economies of poor countries in the service of the big imperialist powers.) The IMF threatened to cut off $96 million in promised loans and grants if subsidies were not withdrawn. When they were, the cost of gas, diesel, and kerosene jumped by as much as 50 percent, gas prices went up to $4.75 a gallon, and at the same time the government increased the cost of public transportation by a similar amount.

Haiti’s people were already in a desperate situation, as a direct result of over 500 years of relentless plunder, exploitation, intervention, and invasion, first by European powers, and for the last 100 years, by the U.S. The minimum wage is $5 a day—or the cost of about a gallon of gas—and most people live on $3 a day or less. Haiti’s official unemployment rate is 14 percent, and youth unemployment is at least 36 percent. Millions are stalked by hunger and malnutrition and are now fighting for their very survival. In this context, the fuel hikes were the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The government arrogantly tried to get over by making the announcement on Friday, July 6, while the popular Brazilian soccer team was playing in the World Cup—they even purchased 3,000 big-screen televisions (which cost millions of dollars) and set up public viewings in the hope this would distract people.

It didn’t work; the viewing sites became focal points of boiling anger, and thousands took to the streets in neighborhoods around the capital and in cities, suburbs, and towns across Haiti. In Petionville, Jérémie, Petit-Goâve, Cap-Haïtien, Jacmel, Gonaïves, and in the agricultural Artibonite Valley, burning barricades went up in the streets, blocking roads to airports and upscale neighborhoods. Symbols of wealth and power were attacked—luxury hotels, car dealerships, and tax offices—while small businesses were spared. In Gonaïves and in the capital’s huge working-class Carrefour area, two police stations were burned to the ground. Many protesters were armed with machetes; in some cities shots were fired.

As this volcano of outrage erupted, the government tried to retreat, announcing the—temporary—withdrawal of the rate increases just 14 hours after they were declared. It did no good. Protests continued on Saturday, now calling for the fall of the government. U.S. airlines canceled all flights to Haiti, the U.S. embassy ordered “non-essential” employees to leave, and the reactionary government of the neighboring Dominican Republic—which has a large population of Haitian and Haitian-Dominican people who came there to cut sugar cane—mobilized 5,000 troops to the border, fearful that the contagion would spread.

On Sunday, unions and popular organizations called for a general strike, and on Monday and Tuesday the capital and much of the rest of the country were shut down. Only on Wednesday—after five days of upheaval—did protests ebb, while the tension and anger remained. On Saturday, July 14, Prime Minister Guy Lafontant was forced to resign, in an effort to stabilize the crisis and save the Moïse government as a whole. However, strikingly, the IMF is continuing to insist that the government go ahead with the price increases, but do it in a more gradual way, and combine it with transportation vouchers for the poor in hopes of preventing further rebellions.

Given Haiti’s history of resistance and rebellion, its potential to be a tinderbox, and its proximity to U.S. shores, the U.S., in concert with international institutions like the IMF, has acted to ensure a measure of stability in Haiti within an overall context of subordination to the U.S. and imperialism. At times this has meant military invasions and support of brutal dictatorships, and at other times, emergency loans and concessions. These larger geostrategic interests and needs overall influence their response to events in Haiti.

IMF “Model” of Development

In the eyes of the IMF, Haiti must implement the price hikes in order to show itself to be a “reliable partner” to international capital, “fiscally responsible,” willing and able to properly handle and make payments on the loans and investments that keep it afloat.

But it is the IMF that has played the dominant role for decades in shaping a Haitian economy that is completely dependent on international capital and addicted to loans in order for the government and economy to even function. (Major natural disasters like the earthquake of 2010 and the hurricanes of 2016 and 2017 have also contributed to this.)

Through the 1970s, Haiti, though poor, produced 80 percent of its own food, with farms marketing staple foods like rice, as well as corn and sorghum. This self-sufficiency was made possible by high tariffs on imported food; the tariffs provided a limited measure of protection against foreign competition. But in 1995, under tremendous pressure, Haiti implemented the IMF’s “structural adjustment program,” which all but eliminated the tariffs. At the same time, the U.S. flooded Haitian markets with U.S.-grown rice that could be sold cheaply because its production was subsidized by the U.S. government.

The rationale was “the international market will provide cheap rice for Haiti’s people,” which in the short term was true. But the overall result was the devastation of Haiti’s agricultural economy, which at that time employed the majority of Haitians. Haitian rice could not compete with the cheap imports, and large numbers of farmers were bankrupted, lost their land, and flooded into the cities seeking work. Unemployment was driven up, poverty deepened, and Haiti now imports 80 percent of its food, which means it must have foreign currency in order for its population to have food.

And the influx of displaced peasants into the cities was in turn fuel for another IMF/U.S. “solution”—setting up garment factories and other manufacturing plants that were subsidiaries to and fed into international production chains. Haiti’s “draw” for such investment was the poverty and desperation of its workers who were willing to work like slaves for a few dollars a day, with which they must feed not only themselves but other people close to them who are unemployed. But for decades the U.S. has opposed any increase in the minimum wage, arguing that if workers were paid even six dollars a day, manufacturers would close up shop and go elsewhere. So while on the one hand, these factories produce goods to be sold abroad, and profits for their owners, the main thing they “produce” for Haiti is... more poverty!

Yet to the imperialists and the IMF, the road forward is to draw yet more such foreign investment, in industry, in agriculture, in tourism.

But for Haiti to develop in this way, to be “inviting” and “a good investment,” certain things have to be done—ports and roads have to be built; enclave neighborhoods and business districts have to be built up to provide “First World” amenities to foreign and Haitian elites running all this; reliable electricity and water must be provided; political and economic stability must be maintained.

And these things in turn require large amounts of capital outlay that have to be covered through loans—loans to build infrastructure; loans to maintain the police and army to repress the people; loans to pay for schools and other social services to prepare, sustain, and pacify the workforce. And to get those loans, the government has to prove to those who provide them—international banks, investors, imperialist governments, and “donor” organizations like the World Bank—that it will do whatever it takes to pay them back, no matter how much suffering this may entail, and that it can “handle” the political blowback.

And that brings us back to the fuel price hikes. The IMF is demanding that the population be squeezed in order to improve the government’s financial stability so that more loans can be made, more debt incurred and the population squeezed even further. As Haiti’s minister of finance put it after the rebellion broke out, “It’s difficult for you to be asking your international partners to give you budgetary assistance or support and at the same time you have revenue that you are not capturing.”

Another Model

There is no way around this within the framework of capitalism and imperialism. As Philip Alston, a UN official who is somewhat sympathetic to the suffering of the impoverished masses, put it: “The one thing that is not a real option for a relatively powerless country like Haiti is to say ‘IMF go to hell.’ The IMF remains the single most powerful player in all of these negotiations. It sends the signals to all the others in the international community.” In other words, if an oppressed country doesn’t meet the IMF’s demands, no loans, no grants, no investments... and no way for a capitalist economy to function.

This is why revolution—and specifically, communist-led revolution (which in today’s world means revolution based on the new synthesis of communism developed by Bob Avakian, BA)—is the only way out of the hell that the imperialists have created in Haiti, breaking imperialism's shackles on Haiti and opening the possibility of a radically different society and system aiming towards a world free of all exploitation and oppression, and all the other needless horrors caused by the capitalist-imperialist system.

In 2011, BA issued a statement on the mass uprising in Egypt (also available in French) that had brought down the hated Mubarak dictatorship there. In this statement, while Avakian extended “heartfelt support and encouragement to the millions who have risen up,” he drew on the crucial historical experience of the Russian Revolution—the first communist revolution, which took place in 1917 and established a liberating power that lasted for almost 40 years. He pointed out that what was new and world-historic about that revolution was:

[T]here was a core of leadership, communist leadership, that had a clear, scientifically grounded, understanding of the nature of not just this or that ruthless despot but of the whole oppressive system—and of the need to continue the revolutionary struggle not just to force a particular ruler from office but to abolish that whole system and replace it with one that would really embody and give life to the freedom and the most fundamental interests of the people, in striving to abolish all oppression and exploitation.

And BA pointed out that even though that revolution was ultimately reversed and Russia is now a capitalist and imperialist power, this crucial lesson remains valid:

When people in their masses, in their millions, finally break free of the constraints that have kept them from rising up against their oppressors and tormentors, then whether or not their heroic struggle and sacrifice will really lead to a fundamental change, moving toward the abolition of all exploitation and oppression, depends on whether or not there is a leadership, communist leadership, that has the necessary scientific understanding and method, and on that basis can develop the necessary strategic approach and the influence and organized ties among growing numbers of the people, in order to lead the uprising of the people, through all the twists and turns, to the goal of a real, revolutionary transformation of society, in accordance with the fundamental interests of the people.

Given this, BA stressed:

[W]hen people massively break with the “normal routine” and the tightly woven chains of oppressive relations in which they are usually entrapped and by which they are heavily weighed down—when they break through and rise up in their millions—that is a crucial time for communist organization to further develop its ties with those masses, strengthening its ranks and its ability to lead. Or, if such communist organization does not yet exist, or exists only in isolated fragments, this is a crucial time for communist organization to be forged and developed, to take up the challenge of studying and applying communist theory, in a living way, in the midst of this tumultuous situation, and to strive to continually develop ties with, to influence and to ultimately lead growing numbers of the masses in the direction of the revolution that represents their fundamental and highest interests, the communist revolution.

Crucially, he goes on to say:

In my writings and talks, in Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, a Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, and in other major documents of our Party, we have striven to draw as deeply and fully as possible the critical lessons from the historical experience of the communist revolution and the socialist societies it has brought into being—the very real and great achievements, and the serious errors and setbacks—and to learn from the broader experience of human society and its historical development, in order to contribute all we can to the advance of the revolutionary struggle and the emancipation of oppressed people throughout the world. As the Constitution of our Party states:

The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA has taken the responsibility to lead revolution in the U.S., the belly of the imperialist beast, as its principal share of the world revolution and the ultimate aim of communism....

The emancipation of all humanity: this, and nothing less than this, is our goal. There is no greater cause, no greater purpose to which to dedicate our lives.

The July uprising in Haiti was heroic and determined, and it won a significant victory. But its greatest importance is that it shows both the potential and the necessity for a powerful revolutionary force to arise in and utterly transform Haiti... if and as the necessary communist leadership emerges to forge and guide that revolutionary process. Forging that leadership is the most essential task of all those who yearn and dream of an end to the life-stealing oppression of the Haitian people, and of people all over the world.

Thousands in Haiti took to the streets to protest the enormous jump in the cost of gas when Haiti’s president decided to meet the demands of the IMF to withdraw government subsidies for fuel. (Photo: AP)

Imperialism means huge monopolies and financial institutions controlling the economies and the political systems—and the lives of people—not just in one country but all over the world. Imperialism means parasitic exploiters who oppress hundreds of millions of people and condemn them to untold misery; parasitic financiers who can cause millions to starve just by pressing a computer key and thereby shifting vast amounts of wealth from one place to another. Imperialism means war—war to put down the resistance and rebellion of the oppressed, and war between rival imperialist states—it means the leaders of these states can condemn humanity to unbelievable devastation, perhaps even total annihilation, with the push of a button.

Imperialism is capitalism at the stage where its basic contradictions have been raised to tremendously explosive levels. But imperialism also means that there will be revolution—the oppressed rising up to overthrow their exploiters and tormentors—and that this revolution will be a worldwide struggle to sweep away the global monster, imperialism.

Bob Avakian, BAsics 1:6

Let’s get down to basics: We need a revolution. Anything else, in the final analysis, is bullshit.

Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t unite with people in all sorts of struggles short of revolution. We definitely need to do that. But the proffering of any other solution to these monumental and monstrous problems and outrages is ridiculous, frankly. And we need to be taking the offensive and mobilizing increasing numbers of masses to cut through this shit and bring to the fore what really is the solution to this, and to answer the questions and, yes, the accusations that come forth in response to this, while deepening our scientific basis for being able to do this. And the point is: not only do we need to be doing this, but we need to be bringing forward, unleashing and leading, and enabling increasing numbers of the masses to do this. They need to be inspired, not just with a general idea of revolution, but with a deepening understanding, a scientific grounding, as to why and how revolution really is the answer to all of this.

Bob Avakian, BAsics 3:1


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