Parallels in protest and struggle

How do the United States influence the contemporary political landscape of Haiti and Venezuela?

Art by Matilda Alex-Saunders

As the Gilets Jaunes movement continues to threaten the neoliberal status quo in France, a political revolution has lived and died in its former colony: Haiti. The spark of this electrifying new political movement has invigorated tensions among both Haitian elites and imperialist actors like the United States. However, unlike other acts of American meddling, the recent Haitian uprising was linked to another illegal assault on a sovereign state: Venezuela.  

Haiti has both defied and been dominated by the United States. Recently, after the ousting of prominent Haitian national-liberation figures such as Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a comprador bourgeoisie class has risen again. As revealed by the Clinton email leaks, ex-Interim Haiti Recovery Commission Bill Clinton (supported by ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Haitian elite) used the devastation of the January 2010 Haitian earthquake to their advantage.  

One such intervention in Haiti’s 2010 democratic elections was the excluding the most popular political party from the ballot, the social-democratic Fanmi Lavalas. As a result, the following election had the lowest voter turnout in decades, with over three-quarters not attending, perhaps out of protest: citizens wouldn’t vote without a right to legitimately choose. Thousands protested the sham elections, alongside the poor social conditions exacerbated by the earthquake. Following this, former  singer the charismatic Michel Martelly rose to power as a US-backed stooge in a weak attempt to hold popular support.

Ever since, social unrest has been commonplace in Haiti, with increased corruption, economic uncertainty and disease, Martelly’s protégé, current President Jovenel Moise later rose to power, bringing with him connections to Haiti’s elite echelons. Last July saw a disastrous government shut down in the wake of an announced fuel hike. Upheaval by Haitians saw the swift resignation of the prime-minister, yet no justice for an autocratic reign of mismanagement and economic hardship to be found.

In the first week of February, two weeks of protests shut the country down. Businesses, schools and workplaces were closed, flights cancelled, and security alerts to tourists and aid workers became constant.

Nonetheless, rallying was disorganised, with no particular party or area acting as the locus of anti-government activity. The death toll is still unclear. 78 prisoners have been let free amidst the chaos, with the local media and American media using the chaos and the violence to spin the riot as an outburst of gang violence.

Haiti was granted $4.3 billion dollars (in oil and favourable credit terms) by Venezuela to further the development of the Haitian economy. These funds became known as the PetroCaribe fund. This camaraderie makes sense: both social-democrat Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, and Aristide in Haiti were victims of multiple coup attempts. In 2008, the PetroCaribe fund became a key factor in keeping Haiti economically afloat, at a time where oil was selling at $100 dollars a barrel. However, the fund––initially intended for the building of public schools, hospitals and roads––was ultimately misspent by Martelly and Moise. Likewise, chants of “Kot kòb PetroCaribe a?” echoed throughout Port au Prince last month––“where is the PetroCaribe money?”

The calls for Moise’s resignation are rooted in his submission to United States policy demands. 2017 sanctions against the Maduro government made it impossible to pay the PetroCaribe oil bill, costing the Venezuelan government billions in assets, and Haitians a social safety net. In a remarkable and spontaneous uprising that lacked structure, a sense of solidarity against the victims of United States expansionist policy, anger against internal elites working against national interest, and a call for adequate social reform united the working people of two suffering nations.

This disarray, however, may have been for the worst — whilst a testament to cross-cultural community against the forces of capital and military power, Moise has refused to step down. Police crackdowns have followed the riots in the last week, and the death toll is again unknown. Business has started again in Haiti, but it remains to be seen if it is business as usual.