[All over the globe, from Iraq to Venezuela the militarist faction of the US ruling class is amazed to discover the new limits of American power. Part of their surprise can be explained as the difference between conscious and unconscious white supremacy - avowed racists are all too numerous in this country, but the racism of tens of millions is the kind decried by Dr. King when he observed: "We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people." Uncle Sam tends to exchange fluids with our souls, giving us all his skanky diseases, and Americans who have never been infected with any racist ideology at all are rare. Exposed to that cognitive virus in our national environment, people fight it off with varying degrees of success. But the failure to realize that racism pervades American consciousness like salt in the sea, leaves naïve white liberals asking "why do they hate us"? That really is the question of the hour, but in the mainstream media it remains a rhetorical one that cannot have an answer. And racist imperialism is the answer.
Stan Goff is as illuminating on electoral politics as he is on military-economic hegemony: "Six out of ten white Americans vote Republican. Nine out of ten Black Americans vote Democrat. The question of which is an offensive and which a defensive strategy can be easily determined by examining any empirical measure of relative social power between these two categories." And that's saying a lot -here he is on the Haitian lifeworld: "The urban poor of Port-au-Prince are much the same as the burgeoning mass of surplus people now jamming the other cities of squalor around the world, dumped off the land and decanted into these hellish bidonvilles, with ten to a dark room choking with charcoal smoke, adjacent to an open sewer thickened by the plastic detritus of foreign modernism and by sugarcane bagasse." This is the second of a two-part series on Haitian "unrest." Read 'em and weep. --JAH]
THE HAITIAN INTIFADA
A story of politics from black and white, high and low
© Copyright 2004, From The Wilderness Publications, www.fromthewilderness.com. All Rights Reserved. May be reprinted, distributed or posted on an Internet web site for non-profit purposes only.
January 9, 2005, 2200 PDT (FTW) - It's not hard to compare Haiti's internal class structure and its relation to the Northern imperial power and the experience of African Americans. From slavery to sharecropping to land enclosure to urban industrialism to abandonment and deindustrialization, the trajectory has been the same, albeit on a different time line and in different dimensions. One can even make the argument that African America experiences domestic law enforcement more as an occupying army than service and protection - a prominent feature of all colonialism, whether that occupation is carried out directly by the imperial power armed forces or by colonial surrogates from the dominated nation.
And the political containment of African Americans by the US dominant class's Democratic Party wing is in many respects similar to the attempt to control electoral outcomes in the colonies through the funding of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which former CIA agent Ralph McGehee describes as:
NED is the primary overt vehicle for political operations - in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, Eastern Europe and in the former states of the USSR. NED subsidizes and influences elections, political parties, think tanks, academia, business groups, book publishers, media, and labor, religious, women's, and youth organizations. NED assumed this role from CIA beginning in 1983, and uses many of the same institutions but operates more openly. While NED is in the open drawing all the attention, it is in part a smoke screen for operations by other organizations. As proof we cite a government study that states the United States through AID and USIA, "and other agencies," is a huge and primary source of funding for democracy promotion programs.
The NED was, in fact, heavily involved in the political destabilization of Haiti as soon as it became apparent by 1999 that the 2000 Haitian elections would be overwhelmingly won by the Fanmi Lavalas Party of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. My own account of NED destabilization was written during Aristide's February 2001 inauguration, which also has a detailed description of the class composition of Haiti, can be found at http://www.counterpunch.org/goff02142004.html.
Haiti gained its independence in 1804 at the peak of the period of European colonial capital accumulation based on slave labor. It was the inter-imperial rivalry to control this rich slave-colony that created the conditions for the Haitian revolution.
It's difficult to overstate the shockwaves that went through the colonial powers, and in particular the terrifying potentiality for slave rebellion in the Southern United States, when a slave army led by Jean-Jacques Dessalines, himself a former slave, devastated Napoleon's armed forces. Initially Toussaint L'Overture led the rebellion, but Toussaint wanted only the abolition of slavery. Just as Aristide has done, he played conciliator to the French at every turn, and they eventually trapped him into captivity and sent him to France to die, leaving the more revolutionary Dessalines to wage the brutal final push to independence.
An interesting historical aside here, one that relates to the difficulties being experienced by the occupying forces in post-coup Haiti today:
Seventy percent of the ex-slave warriors at independence had been born in Africa, many from Congo, who had brought with them knowledge of tactics we now commonly associate with guerrilla warfare.
This fact of an un-deracinated African origin is responsible for the distinctly African culture of Haiti to this day. Unlike generations of slaves elsewhere in this hemisphere that were uprooted and divorced by time from their own histories, there are many Haitians to this day who can trace their families to Kongos, Ibos, Nagos, Bambara, Arada, Mines, Morriquis, Sosos, Thiabas, Bobo, Mondongues, Senegals, Mozos, Hausa, Tacouas, and Yolofs.
Unfortunately for many US diplomats, this African culture - with its regionally unique cultural formation - has remained largely impenetrable by Ivy League bureaucrats schooled in the particular Orientalisms of so-called Latin America experts. This has proven, even during the current intifada in Port-au-Prince, a powerful advantage in struggle against the US - a kind of cultural cipher that translates into a form of operational security.
During this intifada, the cultural obtuseness of the Americans is displaying itself likewise among the MINUSTAH occupying forces from Latin American countries, led by the confused and strident General Heleno of Brazil, who has redeployed the majority of this thin force into Port-au-Prince in what has been ominously named Operation Baghdad.
It seems appropriate somehow, given that Operation Baghdad in Port-au-Prince has proven about as effective as occupation operations in the real Baghdad, and I will describe this intifada further down as well.
We were talking about the Haitian Revolution, and this latent fear of rebellion by Euro-American capitalists of slave insurrection, not merely out of concern for their own hides, but because of an economically rational concern about profit.
It is historically demonstrable, albeit an unpopular and embarrassing statement for many, that capitalism did not incorporate slavery as a kind of amoral appendage, but that Euro-American capital could not have taken off at all without Indian land and slave labor. The material basis for capitalist expansion simply did not exist in Europe, and could not be bootstrapped out of the existing mercantile sector of European society.
This is the Rosa Luxemburg thesis I have alluded to before that "Imperialism is the political expression of the accumulation of capital in its competitive struggle for what remains still open of the non-capitalist environment." Colonial conquest and control is not incidental to the accumulation and expansion of capital, it is that expansion's precondition, and it remains so today.
Just as the capitalists of that day understood clearly the dangers of insurrection to capital accumulation then, today's imperialists are perfectly lucid about the potentially disastrous consequences of rebellion now - and the mandarins of this imperialist class are well aware of the structural connections between the struggle for independence now in motion in Iraq, the continental drift of Latin America being driven by ever more militant popular forces, the Haitian intifada, and the biggest political nightmare of all - the potential for an African American national liberation struggle that would ignite the fires of self-determination among other oppressed nationalities inside the United States.
Let's remember that the US in Haiti has always been ably assisted by the native comprador class, just as the compradors have always been the handmaidens of US capital in Latin America. The reactionary caudillos - in Haiti, they are the big landowners now called macoutes - are called in for muscle, but the petit bourgeoisie has always been the truest servant. They cajole and contain the masses, and they get paid.
Could sound familiar right here, eh? Look at me, the comprador always says, I am providing stability (to the boss) and I am providing jobs (to the masses)… and I'm one of you. My ascendancy will pave the way for yours.
In "Critical Race Globalism?" an essay by Gil Gott for the UC Davis Law Review (http://www.law.ucdavis.edu/lawreview/Gott.pdf), Gott points out:
The earlier race internationalists faced… tensions in pursuing their intellectual and political project of race conscious anti-imperialism. When CAA [the Committee on African Affairs] hit its stride, just after the Second World War, the anticommunist parochialism of the mainstream simultaneously took hold. The turn of events divided the civil rights community between the more anticapitalist and internationalist CAA of Robeson, DuBois, the Huntons, and Bethune on the one side and the more domestic-minded, if not patriotic, anti-communist and reformist NAACP of Walter White on the other… colonial techniques had to allow for the suppression of a… population, usually entailing the creation of a comprador, or middle-man economic and bureaucratic class.
Without these colonial surrogates, conflict becomes open and direct.
Think of the slave master's terror of Black rebellion ignited by the Haitian Revolution, and the later panic of the American ruling class when the Civil Rights movement started down that anti-colonial path again with King's opposition to the Vietnam invasion, followed by the Black Power movement that was both class conscious and national.
Dropping back for a moment to the Haitian Revolution, the other major blow dealt to surrounding slave colonies by Dessalines' victory was the destruction of the myth of white supremacy - an ideological blow that US capital, still dependent on the colonial subjugation of the Black Nation, has been struggling to overcome ever since. The Republican Party is in fact now the Party of White Supremacy in the United States, and the voting demographic of Republicans makes this abundantly clear even as the rhetoric becomes more oblique and camouflaged.
In the November 4, 2004 edition of USA Today, page 17A, there is a demographic breakdown of the election results. With the single exception of party affiliation, there is not more reliable indicator of a Republican vote than being white - stronger than age, stronger than education level, stronger than gender, and stronger than marital status. Six out of ten white Americans vote Republican. Nine out of ten Black Americans vote Democrat. The question of which is an offensive and which a defensive strategy can be easily determined by examining any empirical measure of relative social power between these two categories. Other data suggest a strong income correlation, but when income polarities are examined against 'race,' one finds that the correlations are just as strong. On average, individual Black net worth is 1/14th of white net worth.
Haiti today is telling the Imperium and its own dominant class they should be afraid, and telling the comprador - like the American-sponsored and supported Group 184 - that he has to get out of the way.
Haiti is subjected to a coup and the masses open up an urban rebellion (now punctuated with the glimmer of a rural insurgency). Intifada! Election time is over. They are hurling the coup back into the faces of the US and the UN.
This is how they defeated Napoleon's legions. They told the French they would turn the island to ashes before they would accept the re-imposition of slavery, and when the French called their hand, the slave-general Jean-Jacques Dessalines began the arson by putting the torch to his own home.
When people want to know why I have such enduring respect for the Haitian masses, that's why! It's because they mean it.
The favored rhetorical strategy of our dominant class, served up hot by our obedient press, is to reduce all resistance to the US diktat to the purported individual madness of a given leader - be that a progressive like Hugo Chavez, a maneuver-artist like Saddam, or a reactionary like Papa Doc. This attribution of madness serves to conceal the actual structures of class and empire.
Just as the US and its OAS drones tried to explain away Haiti's class struggle with Duvalier by portraying him as a madman (ergo, the nation that produced the lunatic is a nation in the genetic grip of lunacy… even though the mad Duvalier outfoxed the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and all his enemies for six years), the US ruling class and its press now represent the Haitian intifada as a kind of collective insanity - a voodoo, hoodoo reaction of crazed Africans.
Papa Doc, the favored bogeyman of Haiti in US Haiti-lore, of course, was neither an American creature - as some on the left have erroneously argued - nor was he insane. He was the canny and brutal representative of the reactionary Haitian caudillos, and his struggle was both against US inroads with capitalist agriculture in Haiti and against the cosmopolitan Haitian compradors who were competing with the caudillos for political hegemony. His compromises with all his rivals (including the Haitian compradors and their US allies in the State Department) was in every case to meet the one class threat common to all - the Haitian poor.
The madness-explanation, individual and collective, for Haiti, is a key that exactly fits the lock of American Negrophobia, and Negrophobia is the real basis of the Bush victory - the perfect confirmation of our white cultural impression-ingestion - black beast, bogeyman, blood-curdling cartoon… irremediable. This, of course, is what African American petit bourgeois politicians fear intuitively, because it is this great rock of American racism against which they most fear the fragile craft, the USS Equality, will run aground. And so they, too, are unable or unwilling to see through the minutiae of the great storm enveloping Haiti, into its root causes, into its class struggle, and into its potentially uncontrollable and transformative character. "Oh please, please," they seem to say, "let's have an election!"
The ballot is always deployed when there is fear of the bullet, and the bullet is always deployed when the ballot doesn't contain the masses.
Aristide himself, like the talk-left-act-right Lula de Silva of Brazil, now appeals from his teaching position in South Africa for dialogue with the de facto government and the MINUSTAH, condemning the violence of the intifada as if it were the moral equivalent of the violence of the de factos, the ancien militair, and the MINUSTAH occupiers.
When he said this, he was harboring the frail hope that Kerry would Clinton him back into the presidential palace. He himself, who once was able to mobilize the Haitian masses as a transformative force, now plays the role of union bureaucrat… and plays it to the mainstreamed American Black elected official. Contain, contain, contain.
James Petras describes the role of the comprador leader eloquently - and aspects of the Latin American continental drift as well - in his recent Counterpunch essay, "The Politics of Imperialism: Neoliberalism and Latin America":
The link between the 'global' or imperial power and its control of national economies, natural and financial resources, markets and treasuries is through the ascendancy of national political-economic configurations of power. The basic 'link' in the imperial chain - what now is mistakenly called "globalization" - is based fundamentally on the outcome of class struggle. Without a successful outcome to the class struggle, there is no political elite or dominant class capable of linking to the imperial drive. Without a national 'link' the imperial powers cannot expand, or "globalize" the world. Unable to globalize or expand, the imperial powers must intervene directly, that is, militarily to shift the balance in the national class struggle, via invasions, coups and colonization… If the imperialist powers - in our time - the US and the European Union are incapable of establishing direct hegemony, strictly speaking, over the masses in Latin America, they rely on the collaborator elites with whom they share interests, property and riches. Given increased polarization, and deepening political and economic crises the collaborator ruling class's influence over the masses has become very tenuous. In this context the crucial political-social class which enters to exercise power is the petit bourgeois via its electoral party apparatus, its role in the state bureaucracy and in civic organizations, its close ties with the trade union bureaucracy, NGO's and 'social movements.' Combining a 'populist rhetoric' attacking "neo-liberalism" and "globalization" with an unquestioning servility to electoral politics, and the institutional and legal order, this class does exercise hegemony over important sectors of the masses for longer or shorter time spans…
The stalemate between the MINUSTAH and the insurrection in Haiti is partly a consequence of the political incoherence of the Lavalas popular movement in the absence of Aristide and the Fanmi Lavalas party organization - which was always a sketchy organization at any rate. The Haitian intifada has now outrun its former Lavalas leadership in its militancy, but it has not been disciplined strategically for lack of ideologically clear and well-organized leadership. It has the power to disrupt, but not the organization to contest for political power. Political power is necessary to effect a post-insurrection social transformation and to mobilize the state in defense of independence.
Already in April, Aristide's own base was moving out in front of him, when he began calling for an end to protests that threatened to turn violent in response to de facto government crackdowns. He was still nursing the Kerry-as-Clinton fantasy, so he was already beginning to contain. Stand down, my ass, was the practical reaction.
These protests continued, and heated up as Aristide's Prime Minister Yvon Neptune was jailed on idiotic charges of a "massacre" in St. Marc that never happened, along with the killings and arrests of dozens of top Fanmi Lavalas officials, including the gratuitous arrest of the immensely popular Lavalas-sympathetic folk singer, So-Anne, without a peep of protest from the US State Department, and morgue figures point to thousands being killed in the general chaos and repression. In June, the macoutes-sector ex-military and the comprador technocrats, led by Andy Apaid - a US citizen who was appointed, like Chalabi and Allawi, to be the new leader - were still coordinating their activities, though there were already polemical sniper shots being fired by the macoutes reminding people that Apaid was "white" (an appeal to the demagogic noirisme of the Duvalier era), and a US citizen (an appeal to the long standing macoute xenophobia). The fracture lines had begun to appear, but the popular challenge of the streets had driven both ruling class factions into the same bunker, again.
While the ex-militaries rampaged through the country, engaging in actions like killing teenage girls to terrorize villages by shooting them in the vaginas with shotguns, members of the US press continued to repeat de facto government references to them as "freedom fighters."
The only condemnation from the press was reserved for the alleged violence of Lavalas in Port-au-Prince in a series of suspicious arsons in June.
When Tropical Storm Jeanne brought devastating floods to Haiti in September of 2004, and over 2,000 were killed - 500+ in Gonaives alone - these same paramilitaries opened a new enterprise, stopping and robbing aid workers trying to deliver help to flood victims. Still not one word from the US government, though this was the point at which Argentinean and Brazilian MINUSTAH troops, suddenly faced with food riots and other aspects of this overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe, decided to at least denounce the paramilitaries… though to this day they refuse to confront them, even as they parade around in uniforms with weapons right next to MINUSTAH troops in Cap Haitien… I saw this with my own eyes.
Instead MINUSTAH was called on by the Latortue de facto government to attack protesters in Port-au-Prince who had had, by God, just about enough of it. When on October 2nd, de facto government police battered their way into Radio Caraibe and arrested three more Lavalas leaders, Senators Yvon Feuillé and Gerard Gilles, and former Deputy Rudy Hérivaux, without a peep from the US Embassy, pro-democracy forces poured into the street, where they were met by raw force. From Haiti Progres (October 6, 2004):
Haitian police, backed by U.N. occupation forces, have gunned down dozens of pro-democracy demonstrators and shanty town residents in the Haitian capital over the past six days and arrested many people without warrants, including former parliamentarians.
Skirmishes, barricades and spontaneous demonstrations have sprung up daily in poor neighborhoods around the capital since the police and paramilitary gunmen tried to stop a massive demonstration on September 30.
As we go to press on Oct. 5, there is street fighting in downtown Port-au-Prince, as well as the popular neighborhoods of Martissant and Bel Air. The latter slum is surrounded by heavily-armed contingents of the Haitian National Police (PNH). A former Haitian soldier was captured and decapitated in the neighborhood on Oct. 5, Port-au-Prince radios reported. On Oct. 2 and Oct. 3, police units entered Bel Air but were twice forced to flee, the first time abandoning their vehicle and weapons.
The popular uprising began on September 30th during a march to commemorate the 13th anniversary of the 1991 coup d'état against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. It is the largest and most sustained resistance to the latest coup against Aristide on Feb. 29, when U.S. Marines kidnapped and flew him into exile.
On the morning of Sep. 30, men in trucks, stripped of their license plates, drove around the capital setting up burning tire barricades. The National Cell for Reflection of Popular Organizations of the Lavalas Family Base, which called the demonstration that day, charged that the barricades were the work of pro-coup forces - either official or paramilitary - intent on thwarting the Sep. 30 march.
But the barricades didn't work. Stepping off from Bel Air at 10 a.m., thousands of demonstrators marched through the streets of neighborhoods like Sans Fils, Tiremasse, Caravelle, Saint Martin, Delmas 4, Delmas 2, Monseigneur Guilloux, Front-Fort, Montalais, Geffrard, and Oswald Durand, demanding an end to foreign military occupation, the departure of the de facto government, the release of all political prisoners, and the return of the constitutional government, including President Aristide.
Near the Interior Ministry, not far from the National Palace, shooting started. "On September 30, the police opened fire on unarmed demonstrators, provoking an attack against a unit of the Unité de Securité Présidentielle (U.S.P), a special security detail assigned to [de facto] Interim President Boniface Alexandre," the Haitian Information Project (HIP) reported in an Oct. 4 dispatch. "Members of the special police unit were seen firing on demonstrators and collecting bodies before masked gunmen returned fire, killing three and wounding a fourth who later died in the hospital."
The U.S. mainstream press, echoing the de facto government and Haitian bourgeoisie's radio stations, has alleged that the policemen killed were decapitated by Lavalas "armed gangs." However, Lavalas leaders deny the charge. Last Friday, a day after the supposed decapitations, there were no headless bodies at the capital's morgue.
[The] de facto Prime Minister admitted that the police fired on the demonstrators. "We fired on them, some of them went down, others were wounded, and others fled," he announced with no words of regret on Friday. He claimed to have the situation under control and said that he would prohibit further Lavalas demonstrations.
Meanwhile, de facto Justice Minister Bernard Gousse went even further, calling the demonstrators "terrorists" and outlaws. "In consultation with the Prime Minister, we ordered the demonstration to be forbidden," Gousse declared unabashed. "This is not a violation of human rights, this is not a violation of anything, because the population knows that when it comes to expressing its opinions, we have no problem." (Under the 1987 Constitution, the Haitian government cannot outlaw a demonstration.)
But two leaders of the National Cell of Reflection, Jean Marie Samedi and Lesley Farreau, charged that the police had engineered the confrontation. "It was a well orchestrated plan to disperse the demonstrators and prevent the international community from seeing the dimensions of the Lavalas," Farreau declared.
Gilvert Angervil, a Lavalas Family spokesman, made a similar charge. "The government in place recruited armed bandits to fire on the police and attack stores downtown to try to lay the blame on Lavalas partisans," he said.
On Oct. 2, Haitian police, backed by occupation troops from the United Nations Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH), arrested former Senators Yvon Feuillé and Gérald Gilles and former Deputy Rudy Hériveaux, all of Aristide's Lavalas Family party.
"Feuillé, Gilles and Hériveaux had gone to Radio Caraïbes to participate on the station's 11AM 'Ranmase' program, along with Evans Paul and Himmler Rébu, both prominent critics of the Lavalas party," the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) reported in an Oct. 2 press alert. "The program's subject was violence accompanying recent anti-government demonstrations. Feuillé, Gilles and Hériveaux denounced the violence, and condemned the police for firing on unarmed demonstrators. Before the program ended, heavily armed police officers from the Port-au-Prince police headquarters and specialized units surrounded the station and announced their intention to arrest the three parliamentarians."
"A stand-off ensued," the IJDH report continues, "until just before 6 PM (the Constitution prohibits arrests, even with a warrant, after 6 PM). At that point Judge Gabriel Ambroise, a Justice of the Peace, instructed the police to cut the locks and make the arrests. The three Parliamentarians did not resist arrest, and were taken by the police from the Station Manager's office to the Port-au-Prince police holding cells. Lawyer Axène Joseph, also a former Deputy, was arrested earlier in the day when he arrived to protest the other arrests."
But authorities had trouble concocting a charge against the former parliamentarians. During the stand-off, "government and police sources made announcements purporting to link Feuillé, Gilles and Hériveaux to recent violence," the IJDH said. "The police also claimed that a car belonging to one of the three contained automatic weapons, but dropped this claim when journalists and human rights observers on the scene insisted that the police, not the parliamentarians, had brought that car."
Finally the government charged Hériveaux and Feuillé as the "intellectual authors" of the Sep. 30 march. They said they would release Gilles for lack of evidence, but at press time, he remains jailed.
The official death toll since Sep. 30 is now about 20, but residents of popular neighborhoods say that there have been many more killings. They claim that the police often snatch and dump the bodies of their victims.
On Oct. 5, gunfire and street confrontations rocked the capital's Martissant neighborhood. "According to witnesses, heavily armed units of the PNH cordoned off the community at about 10:00 a.m. and began a sweep through the area," the HIP reported. "Gunfire could be heard as they entered with force and residents reported at least two people were killed and several more wounded. At least fifteen young men were reportedly seen being handcuffed and placed in the back of a large covered truck. Family members on the scene stated police would not respond when questioned about where they were being taken and are worried for their safety."
On the street, and having just arrived, I asked what was going on. The reply was, "Tet chaje!" which is Kreol for "The shit is on!"
The Haitian intifada had begun.
And it's still on.
MINUSTAH was called in from across the country, but they were beaten back out of neighborhood after neighborhood, sometimes abandoning their vehicles and weapons. The police began strong-pointing certain intersections and making mass arrests, but much like Fallujah in Iraq today, the rebellion just sprang up elsewhere. Then, more ominously, paramilitaries came into possession of police uniforms, which they wore to enter neighborhoods and then kill children in front of neighbors - a terror tactic hearkening back to the Tonton Macoutes. Many of the police themselves have now been placed under the command of commissars who are ex-militaries.
The people in Martissant, Belair, Delmar, and Cite Soleil still didn't stand down. The paramilitaries, now fearing they might be hunted, withdrew into their own enclave in Port-au-Prince near the intersection of 15 Oktub and Rue Jakob, where they go out each morning and do jumping jacks, practice 'karate', and try to look martial as they harass passers-by with their camouflage uniforms and their US-supplied guns.
It was only last October, in 2003, that the popular indigenous nationalism of Bolivia erupted like a volcano, a phenomenon described in the excellent recent article by Forrest Hylton and Sinclair Thomson in "The Roots of Rebellion - Insurgent Bolivia," at http://www.counterpunch.org/hylton11122004.html. It was just April 2002 when Venezuela rolled back the made-in-USA coup d'etat, described here by Gregory Wilpert in "CounterCoup," found at http://www.counterpunch.org/wilpert0415.html:
The… miscalculation was the belief that Chavez was hopelessly unpopular in the population and among the military and that no one except Cuba and Colombia's guerillas, the FARC, would regret Chavez' departure. Following the initial shock and demoralisation which the coup caused among Chavez-supporters, this second miscalculation led to major upheavals and riots in Caracas' sprawling slums, which make up nearly half of the city. In practically all of the "barrios" of Caracas spontaneous demonstrations and "cacerolazos" (pot-banging) broke out on April 13 and 14. The police immediately rushed in to suppress these expressions of discontent and somewhere between 10 and 40 people were killed in these clashes with the police. Then, in the early afternoon, purely by word-of-mouth and the use of cell phones (Venezuela has one of the highest per capita rates of cell phone use in the world), a demonstration in support of Chavez was called at the Miraflores presidential palace. By 6 PM about 100,000 people had gathered in the streets surrounding the presidential palace. At approximately the same time, the paratrooper battalion, to which Chavez used to belong, decided to remain loyal to Chavez and took over the presidential palace. Next, as the awareness of the extent of Chavez' support spread, major battalions in the interior of Venezuela began siding with Chavez.
There was a powerful antiracist element to these manifestations of continental drift, just as there was in the indigenous rebellion in Ecuador in 2000, when Quechua-speaking Andeans (just as in Bolivia and parts of Peru) organized in Conaie, with its "people's parliament," to shut down the capital, Quito, and force the resignation of the seated president. The linkage between this sentiment and a resentment of the compradors who have consistently followed the directions of the Republican (white supremacist) government of the United States, even with its color decoys of Condoleeza and Colin, is hard to ignore. More and more, the brown people of the global South are becoming self-conscious in decidedly political ways.
This is also the case in Haiti, though the waters are somewhat muddied there by the outrageously demagogic "black-consciousness" of the macoute sector that is used to paper over class divisions whenever the macoutes are challenged by people like white comprador Andy Apaid, head of the US-sponsored "184" that currently enjoys a tenuous toehold on state power.
But none of this changes the fact that Haiti - with the ongoing intifada - is joining this continental drift, and the war in Iraq has weakened the capacity of the United States to stop it.
This drift has been noted by others, particularly China, who - as reported in the Wall Street Journal on November 11th - has begun to "court" Latin America ("As US Diverts Its Attentions, China Courts Latin America," by Charles Roth).
Geopolitics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. That largely explains why Chinese President Hu Jintao is leading a large delegation of his countrymen to Latin America, where the U.S. is seen to suffer from an attention deficit disorder.
The war in Iraq and the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran have diverted Washington's focus far from its southern neighbors. Analysts say U.S. policy toward the region goes no further than pursuing free trade accords and anti-narcotics cooperation, leaving plenty of room for
China to court it.
The debility of the intifada in Haiti is similar in many ways to the debility of the PLO, and that is in the essentially horizontal (and therefore in many ways unaccountable) structure of the organization. In a sea of locally-based elements, one person exercises a hegemonic influence over what becomes a set of competing cliques, that competition being for the favor of The Leader. While this strengthens the leader (alone), it also makes the organization vulnerable to the leader's errors, and renders him unaccountable to collectively arrived-at mandates. Such organizations are easily penetrated by alien class and ideological forces that quickly contaminate the whole project with corruption and opportunism as well as infiltration. With Aristide's removal, the Lavalas movement is undergoing a structural crisis that will almost certainly lead to dissolution and the re-emergence of various factions. In the short term, this has been an advantage to the intifada, because the police and MINUSTAH are incapable of "decapitating" it.
But in the long term, it forecloses the possibility of coordinated and universal action. Moreover, the current intifada is city-based and slum-based, and the mentality of many participants is often reflective of the hustler-survivor orientation of slum dwellers, individualistic in the extreme, and often difficult to discipline into a coherent political project that is not built around a charismatic personality.
Lavalas "gangs," as the US press calls them, the chimeres (a mythical fire-breathing beast), have been portrayed as Aristide's actual organization. Instead, they are a loose composite of the disaffected slum-dwellers who use Aristide and the Lavalas movement as a kind of populist touchstone for their rebellious activity. There has never been even a shred of evidence that actually linked the chimeres with Aristide or his organization. Their own organization is highly fragmented and decentralized, and this is one reason both the government and the paramilitaries have so easily committed crimes for the express purpose of blaming the chimeres, and by extension, Aristide. Latortue and other Haitian propagandists have even made the idiotic claim that Aristide is still directing them from South Africa.
The chimeres stir the slums with this amorphous resistance. They are as diverse as their motives in a place where the law is now something that ignores them or is used against them, so the claim that they are "lawless" - while it has some technical merit - is practically meaningless. In the absence of law, there is righteous anger at those who sent away the embodiment of their hopes - President Aristide - and there is desire for revenge against a thick history of affronts and humiliations.
There is also now the jolting intoxication of the newfound power that comes with possession of firearms, as their battlefield recovery of MINUSTAH and ancien militair weapons proceeds apace. With this intoxication comes the occasional impulse to become a criminal or a neighborhood warlord within the milieu of this boiling rebellion. It's a soup not made with a clarified stock, and the 184 press as well as the US news models find it easy to now characterize the whole resistance as "bandits." During the 1915-1934 occupation, the Caco rebels were called just that by US Marines, and in Iraq now we still hear guerrillas being referred to as "thugs." This is a cheap rhetorical tactic for denying the political content of any rebellion.
But armed bandits do exist in Haiti - the zenglendo. These ubiquitous armed robbers that haunt remote spots on the roads or blind alleys grew in the fissures of a ruined infrastructure. It is convenient for the ruling class publicists to have these real zenglendo with whom to characterize all resistance as armed bandits, as bandi ame, because - as we were told in Special Operations training - a good cover story always has a strong element of truth to make it work.
The urban poor of Port-au-Prince are much the same as the burgeoning mass of surplus people now jamming the other cities of squalor around the world, dumped off the land and decanted into these hellish bidonvilles, with ten to a dark room choking with charcoal smoke, adjacent to an open sewer thickened by the plastic detritus of foreign modernism and by sugarcane bagasse. Mike Davis has written a very informative and useful piece that maps this urbanization globally in "Planet of Slums," published this year in New Left Review.
This is the basis of the Haitian intifada, and while it accomplishes the critical task of neutralizing the de facto government and the MINUSTAH occupiers, its social disposition is still defined by that survivalist individualism - which in turn predisposes these slum dwellers to seek saviors and to turn their saviors into personality cults.
But in Haiti, 70 percent of the population is still in the countryside, so unlike their city-bound kin who are poor-without-land, they are poor-with-land - even if it's technically someone else's land (the macoute's) - and they survive through the traditions of collective effort, disciplined solidarity, and a powerful sense of real community. It is likely here, therefore, that rebellion will morph into revolution. Peasant culture is materially based on collective effort and the powerful and axiomatic social norms that perpetuate community stability and the basis for conflict resolution.
I was driving through Gonaives on October 25th, mesmerized by the Nagasaki-like post-flood landscape, when I heard a news report on the radio. Not far away, the night before, in the town of Gros Morne on Trois Rivieres, a police station run by an ex-military commissar had been attacked and sacked. This was a long way from Port-au-Prince, and Gros Morne is a barter town for peasants between the Artibonnite and Nord Ouest districts of Haiti. The only activity until now in the whole region there had been the attacks by paramilitaries and the predations of the zenglendo.
This attack was being claimed in graffiti by something called the Armee Dessaliniene de Liberacion Nacionale. Apparently, a uniformed, armed group had slipped into the city, ransacked the police station and wounded one policeman, and fought back a police reaction force of some kind, then disappeared… not into the slums. That's not Gros Morne. They disappeared back into the mountains. And their graffiti was not in support of the ex-military, according to witnesses. In fact, it had denounced the macoutes and the MINUSTAH. The news did not refer to this group as bandi ame, armed bandits, but as ame bandi, a bandit army.
Something is going on.
If the peasants join this rebellion, it really will be tet chaje, and Haiti will definitively join the continental drift of Latin America as the US grinds away in Iraq.
Somewhere, someone dreams of the Pax Americana.
Somewhere, a comprador wrings his hands and mutters about elections and the problem of lawlessness and the need for reconciliation.
Somewhere, a peasant picks up a gun.
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