Protests in Haiti show the way forward

MOHAMMED RAWWAS, Opinion Columnist

On Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, protests in Haiti erupted in reaction to the country’s president, Jovenel Moïse, and his administration’s theft of billions of dollars that were on loan from Venezuela’s oil program Petrocaribe, as well as decreases in purchasing power and other economic concerns. The protestors demanded the funds be allocated towards establishing and strengthening social programs such as health care, housing and education, as was their intended purpose, the prosecution of those involved in the corruption and mishandling of these resources, the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse and addressing their concerns regarding the economy and standards of living. Alongside protests and a general strike, protestors set luxury vehicles ablaze and threw rocks at the president’s home. The police, meanwhile, have fired live ammunition into crowds of protestors, with a total of 9 deaths reported.

Not only are the protestor’s actions justified, but should be replicated worldwide. In the US, the strike has been grossly underused as one of the most powerful forms of rebellion and force for change that the labor movement has at its disposal — mainly due to the lack of class consciousness in the current mainstream discourse. When strikes have been used, they have been fairly effective, such as the teacher’s strikes in West Virginia that sparked more teacher’s strikes nationwide. These should be encouraged to the greatest extent possible.

Another dimension of this event has been the U.S. response, including direct intervention. I believe that the US response, in contrast to the response to the Venezuela situation, is revealing in demonstrating the U.S. empire’s real intentions abroad. To take a step back, it should be noted that the 2015 election that President Jovenel Moïse originally won was fraudulent, with an official verification commission from the Haitian government, alongside other organizations within the country, finding innumerable instances of significant cases of fraud. At the time, the United States government issued official declarations denouncing the annulment of the election results, citing such ludicrous reasons as the cost to fund a re-election.

Elections were held again in 2016, in which Jovenel Moïse once again “won,” this time successfully ascending to the presidency, although the US refused to fund international observers so the results of this election can also be called into question. Because Moïse had committed fraud to secure his victory in the 2015 election, it is not unreasonable to assume that he did so again, and there were reports of intimidation and violence at the polls.

The important point is that the US is clearly not concerned with democracy, as demonstrated by their official statements decrying the annulment of the 2015 election, despite the fact that it was found to be fraudulent. Compare this with them feigning concern for democracy in the case of Venezuela, supporting what amounts to a coup by recognizing Juan Guaidó as interim president and refusing to recognize Maduro as the winner of the most recent election, despite multiple international observers recognizing the validity of the election. The reality is that the US empire is only concerned with pursuing its own interest overseas, and the right-wing Haitian administration will be amenable towards US capital in the country, while the Maduro government will not be. “Democracy” is of no concern.

Furthermore, private mercenary contractors, five of which are ex-military American citizens, and most likely sent there by the US government, have been caught in Haiti. Armed with automatic rifles, pistols, telescopes, satellite phones and even drones, they were arrested for illegally carrying these weapons. They claimed they were on a “government mission,” and members of the Moïse administration tried to have them released from custody, leading to the belief that they were sent by the US to assist the Moïse administration in quelling the protests, with violence if necessary. This intervention and escalation by the US government must be firmly opposed by its citizenry in the strongest terms possible.

Finally, the State Department decried the violence of the Haitian protests with a spokesperson quoted as stating, “there is no excuse for violence.” This is simply stated axiomatically and never justified. The hypocrisy of the State Department issuing this statement is somehow lost. But of course, this is exactly the point. Military action by the US government is not considered “violence,” and therefore does not need to be excused, but people demanding a better future for themselves and their posterity somehow needs to be justified.

The reality is that this comment ignores the structural violence inflicted on the Haitian people by the Moïse administration by misallocating billions of dollars that should have gone to social programs, thus robbing the Haitian people of health care, housing and education that mostly would have benefitted the poor, leading to untold deaths. Somehow, this is not considered “violence” because people categorize violence against a background of normalcy, not a background of peace. Haitian protestors burning luxury vehicles is considered “violence,” but hoarding wealth in a world with finite resources, poverty and famine, and therefore denying access to those resources and directly leading to untold deaths, is not considered so. The reality is that violence does not have an inherent value judgement; the important question is, violence to what end? It is poetic that the country with the only successful slave revolt in history is once again demonstrating this lesson, 215 years on?