As famine lurks throughout Haiti and cholera daily kills the weak, the very young and the old, the response of the Haitian people has been growing militancy. In massive numbers they have taken to the streets to demand an end to the corrupt regime of President Michel Martelly.
The Haitian people want an end to the U.N. occupation force, called Minustah, which brought cholera to Haiti less than two years ago. The cholera epidemic has been traced to Minustah’s infectious waste deposited in Haiti’s largest river, Artibonite.
Minustah — a smokescreen for the imperialist powers, especially the United States, Canada and France — operates like any other occupying army. Under the direction of its U.N. commander, Major General Fernando Rodrigues Goulart from Brazil, Minustah engages in rape, pillage and arbitrary arrests, detentions and murders, with nothing stopping them. Minustah’s troops are all soldiers from oppressed countries, who get paid far less than their colleagues in the imperialist armies.
The U.N. occupation of Haiti and its unwillingness to acknowledge its responsibility for the cholera epidemic, which has killed nearly 8,000 Haitians and sickened over half a million, remains a hidden issue in the United States. The racist demonization of the Haitian people in the big-business press is a contributing factor. Outside of the Haitian community, in Latin America and the Caribbean, there is growing mass resistance to their countries’ participation in Minustah.
A significant delegation of Latin American trade union leaders asked the U.N. not to extend Minustah’s mandate. The delegation included Pablo Micheli, General Secretary, Argentine Trade Union Confederation; Julio Turra, National Executive Committee representative of United Trade Union Central of Brazil; David Abdulah, Secretary General of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union of Trinidad; and Fignolé St. Cyr, of the Centrale Autonome des Travailleurs Haitiens.
This delegation met with U.N. leaders on Oct. 11, the day before the U.N. Security Council was scheduled to vote on the extension. They also addressed a protest rally, organized by a coalition of Haitian community and political groups in New York, on the day of the vote. Micheli noted in his talk that during the same day thousands of workers were protesting the presence of Argentinian soldiers in Minustah in front of the Argentinian parliament. Turra said there were also a number of smaller demonstrations in Brazil.
Haitians, participating in the demonstration, were visibly heartened by the international support their struggle had obtained. However, the Security Council did extend the occupation for another year.
Famine due to capitalist market
Even workers in Haiti with a stable job covered by minimum wage laws — a minority since most workers, especially women, are in the informal sector — have trouble covering the rising cost of food. According to the government’s Haitian Institute of Statistics and Data Processing, inflation was 1 percent just for the month of August. These official figures don’t reveal the real costs for poor people, who can afford to buy only small quantities of food. The World Bank reports that the price of rice, the main staple Haitian food, was up 1.31 percent in September.
A 2009 bill raising the minimum wage from $1.69 a day to $4.82 a day went into effect Oct. 1 this year, according to Haiti’s Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Josefa Gauthier. For a family of four to just survive in Haiti, it is generally accepted that $12.50 a day is needed. The Martelly government has announced that it intends to buy 300,000 sacks of rice from Japan and dump them on the market. “The government decision to subsidize rice ‘dumping’ is a direct consequence of the protests of people who have seen their cost of living rise,” rice farmer and peasant leader Nesly Voltaire in the Artibonite told IPS. (ipsnews.net, Oct. 1) The government could also have given the money to Haiti’s rice farmers to produce locally, which would mean the masses would have easier access to rice. In the meantime, the Japanese rice is yet to be seen.
The 80 percent of Haitians who live on less than $2 a day are hungry because they don’t have enough money to buy food, which is sold for a profit, not based on need. If you don’t get enough calories, it is practically impossible to do a full day of hard work without collapsing.
The demand for food was a constant refrain in the massive, militant demonstrations held throughout the country in September, which were only intensified by Martelly’s pro-imperialist policies. The demonstrations in October have been just as militant and more harshly repressed.
On Oct. 5, when Martelly and the U.S. ambassador were en route to inaugurate a new road (of less than a mile) that the U.S. Agency for International Development had funded in the port city of Petit Goave, a small group of motorcyclists recognized them and began shouting slogans like “Down with Martelly! Down with corruption! Martelly must go!”
Bodyguards fired large amounts of teargas, beat some protesters, burned their motorcycles, and killed some of the farmers’ animals. Facilia Hyppolite, 80, was asphyxiated by the tear gas.
On Oct. 7, in Port-au-Prince, the capital, and Gonaïves, Haiti’s third largest city, thousands of protesters came out, waving the red cards soccer referees give to players who have committed a foul and must leave the game. They intended to give these cards to Martelly.
There were also major protests in the southern city of Les Cayes, where Sen. Moïse Jean-Charles, a leader in the protests in the northern city of Cap-Haitien, spoke.
On Oct. 8, in Fort Liberté, a port in northeast Haiti, “One person was shot dead, three others injured, and a police substation burned. This is the final toll of a demonstration. … Jean-Baptiste Bien-Aime, Department du Sud-Est senator elected from [former President Prevals] Inite party, who is on the spot, says the police shot at the demonstrators and used teargas to disperse them because they had blocked the National Road.” (Radio Kiskeya, recorded by BBC Monitoring Service, Oct. 8)
Bien-Aime explained that the whole population of Fort Liberté, both proponents and opponents of Martelly, were opposed to the government’s decision not to build port facilities there, a devastating blow to its economy. Demonstrators were also outraged that the cops shot and killed Georges Delius, who happened to be passing by the demonstration on his way to work with a shovel in his hands.
The presence of Minustah exists to protect Martelly from the righteous anger and heroic determination of the Haitian people. The way the Haiti press is reporting the current protests appears to be an extension of a similar period when no amount of repression stopped the Haitian masses from forcing the brutal former Haitian dictator, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, out of power in 1986.
The Defend.ht website covered the incident at Petit Goave, along with a number of other news services from Haiti. Defend.ht also has extensive videos, in Creole and French, focused on the protests.