Revolutionary Challenges in Haiti and the Brazil of Bolsonaro

Camille Chalmers

First of all, I would like to emphasize a fact that is not anecdotal and reveals many things,  is that Bolsonaro’s defense minister is Mr. Augusto Heleno, who was commander of MINUSTAH, of the occupation troops of Haiti for several years. Heleno now occupying the vital, crucial and strategic position of defense minister, allows us to make a connection between the military occupation in Haiti and what it represented for the projects of imperialism at the continental level, and the weakness of our responses as a popular movement against that. When the occupation began in 2004, we said that this was not just a question of Haiti, it was not just the defense and dignity of our people.  The occupation of Haiti represents a threat to all our peoples.

One can draw the clear  conclusion that the occupation of Haiti was a very important laboratory in terms of rearticulating the US security philosophy, of redefining the targets.  In Haiti, Brazilian soldiers went to learn how to fight against urban dwellers. The techniques of repression and social control experienced in Haiti were applied in Rio de Janeiro when the occupation was decreed there, by that same army. The same officers, used and trained in Haiti, are the ones who are now repressing urban residents in Rio de Janeiro.

That allows me to pose a question that seems very important when we are talking about alternatives and is the fact that many times we are locked in the national vision. The bourgeoisie offers us a prison, which are the borders of the Nation States, when in reality at the world level we already have a situation where those who direct are the transnational companies, which act above national contexts and have international strategies of domination and yet, many of our responses often stay in the prisons of the borders of our nations.

Therefore, the connection between the military occupation in Haiti and the new processes of domination in Brazil brings us many reflections.

A movement of solidarity with Haiti and against the military occupation has not occurred, despite many efforts of the comrades of the MST and others. That is to say,on a global level we did not understand what was happening and what it represented as a strategic threat to the interests of the workers, of the peoples of the continent.

The second element is that a very important situation is now developing in Haiti: a situation of pre-insurrectional mobilization. We have lived during these 18 months of the government a very significant deterioration of the living conditions of the people. We are talking about a loss of 65% of the value of the gourde – the national currency – with respect to the dollar, of an inflation that 36 months ago continues above 15% per year and of the freezing of the minimum wage.

The economic project of imperialism in Haiti, is to transform the country into a free zone with poverty wages and to de-dollarize the economy.

Faced with this situation of deterioration of living conditions, increased misery and hunger we have experienced very significant mobilization processes since January 2015 and last year there was a very strong mobilization on what we call the “criminal budget”; denouncing new taxes, fiscal repression against the people, etc. That led to a popular uprising on July 6, 7 and 8, when the government decided to increase the price of gasoline by 51% following the dictates of the IMF. The popular response was very strong: three days of uprising where the whole country was blocked, and it was so strong that the government had to retreat and abandon the increase. In that uprising we obtained three victories: first, the government retreated and eliminated the increase in the price of gasoline; second, the Prime Minister and all his ministers fell; and third, he had to withdraw the 2018-2019 budget.

It was a very important mobilization process that continues today with a new theme, that of Petrocaribe. From this I want to say some things. Haiti benefited from an exceptional agreement, within the conception put forward by Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro, which is Petrocaribe. This allows us to access the fuel under advantageous conditions by paying over a period of 25 years with an annual interest rate of 1%; totally exceptional conditions that allowed the government of Haiti to have a very important annual liquidity for the first time. But the people of Haiti, who understand the alternative and solidary nature of this cooperation, today are denouncing the use that has been made of the money that was diverted massively towards private interests, towards foreign companies and towards families of the oligarchy.

October 17 was an impressive thing, a pre-insurrection process very little known in the continent, and yet there is total silence about this, as there is about what usually happens in the Caribbean. We have not yet been able to connect Caribbean mobilization processes with continental mobilization processes.

Now then there is a mobilization claiming where the Petrocaribe silver is. This new wave of protests, which is really very creative and involving many young people, has generated a truly national mobilization process – two moments, on October 17, which is the anniversary of the murder of Dessalines, and on November 18. The Haitian popular movement chose those dates to connect the claim of where Petrocaribe’s silver is with historical processes of conquest of independence and sovereignty against imperial domination. It is still an open process, very interesting because it not only questions the processes of robberies, deviations, embezzlement, but also connects that claim with all the antisystemic claims. We are talking about millions of people in the streets. October 17 was an impressive thing, a pre-insurrection process very little known in the continent, and yet there is total silence about this, as there is about what usually happens in the Caribbean.

The third element that I want to point out is that I believe that ALBA Movimientos has an important vocation in how to really connect the antisystemic movements of the continent with the antisystemic movements of the Caribbean, but, many times, we are far below what is happening. The Caribbean represents a very important link in the process of world capitalist accumulation and it is not by chance that we have in the Caribbean a massive presence of imperial armies; we have soldiers from the United States, France, Great Britain, Holland, one might ask why so many soldiers for small towns that have very limited demographics and territorial extensions. In fact, the Caribbean has played and plays a fundamental role in the process of global accumulation. With the exponential growth of Asian industrial production there is an impressive increase in the transit of goods from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and that is done throughout the Caribbean. For transnational capital it is essential to have control over what happens in the Caribbean and its countries.

In addition, the Caribbean region in the international division of labor, from the beginning of the twentieth century, has been designated in particular by the United States, as a region to provide cheap labor and massively export migrants (it is an impressive thing the migration towards United States, Europe and Canada). There is also another issue and it is the Caribbean Sea, a fundamental space in terms of biological resources and we know that biological resources are going to be the center of the processes of struggle between imperialists. It is also important that the Caribbean territories are home to a large part of tax havens worldwide, we have countries where there are more registered companies than population. In Bermuda for example, there is a building where there are 14 thousand registered companies, and we know that tax havens play a fundamental role in the global capitalist accumulation and represent each year more important volumes of capital that transit through these paradises.

One last issue that makes the Caribbean an important space is the fact that the Caribbean people have a wonderful tradition of rebellion, of producing revolutions and in some cases, revolutions that question the global logic of the functioning of the capitalist system, two of those: the process of the Haitian Revolution of 1804 and the process of the Cuban Revolution of 1959.

So, for these things, it seems very important to see how at the level of our program in ALBA Movements, we can connect more Caribbean processes and continental processes.

The fourth point to consider is the question of alternatives. I think it is fundamental to put the practice what I call the “pedagogy of revolutions”, the “pedagogy of revolutionary processes”. If we look at the revolutionary processes, the two that we mentioned recently, the Haitian and Cuban processes, involve very important elements of learning to conceive new revolutionary processes, because today what is at stake is how to conceive new revolutionary processes that allow us to respond not only to the crisis of capitalism, but also the need to create new societies that work in the interests of workers and peoples. In that sense, a very important thing seems to me that the Nation State formula reproduces a model of organization of society that often does not correspond to our alternative projects. That is, we are prisoners of these processes and do not know how to get out of that vision of global social organization.

There is an intellectual from Trinidad and Tobago, Cyril James, who started to study the Haitian Revolution with a book “The Black Jacobins“, but later, he went to Africa and worked with Nkrumah and wrote a very short text where he says that for him the formula of the Nation State constituted the biggest obstacle to the development of revolutionary processes in Africa in the 60s. That seems very important to me, and of course, it demands that we return to Marx, to 18 Brumaire, to the Civil War in France, where Marx, inspired by the Paris Commune, explains that the fundamental task of the revolutionary is to destroy that bourgeois state. And we have to see what we have done to destroy that bourgeois state and to be able to start really moving towards the construction of socialism.

If we think about the Haitian Revolution we would say that, for example, a character like Dessalines offers very important elements of rupture with respect to the reproduction of the modalities of social regulation that maintain capitalist invasions. The Haitian Revolution was an anti-colonial and anti-slavery revolution when slavery was a very important element of accumulation – until the end of the 19th century and even in the 20th century – and it was also an anti-racist revolution because Dessalines in its first decrees tried to deracialize social relations, because the racialization of social relations is a fundamental element of colonial discourse and the domination of colonialism. We also speak of an anti-estate revolution, that is, it rejects the economic model of colonial domination: the whole struggle throughout the nineteenth century was among the former slaves who are peasants, who fought to stop the process of reconstituting the plantations. Dessalines, in one of the articles of the first Constitution of 1805, says one thing that I think is fabulous about this discussion of the Nation State: that any individual in the world, whatever their color, religion, ethnicity, from the moment they decide to fight against slavery, he is Haitian. That is, he invents a new concept of Nation there. So, the Nation is not only the same blood, the same origin, etc, is basically defined, according to Dessalines, in that project to live together, to defend the interests of the working class, because getting out of slavery was fundamentally the objective the main struggle of the workers in the early nineteenth century.

Fidel says it in an interview: that the process of political formation of his political conscience owes much to the contacts and dialogues he had with the Haitian workers who worked on his father’s farms and that he asked them many questions about the Haitian Revolution and what Haitian culture was.

The Cuban Revolution also has many things to learn from. For example, a fundamental thing, and also a bit of dialogue with the Haitian Revolution, is the fact of carrying out an anti-imperialist national project, but also, changes in internal social relations. That is, how to join these internationalist projects with substantial changes at the level of social relations, which also made the Haitian Revolution. I think that is the core of the success of the Cuban Revolution, of being able to connect these two elements and that, of course, achieved the massive adhesion of the people through the Agrarian Reform, the Literacy Campaign, etc. Also, the Cuban Revolution teaches us the need to reinvent internationalism because Cuba has really made a permanent, systematic investment to maintain and have a presence in the liberation processes of the whole world and played a very important role in the liberation of Namibia from Zimbabwe and in the fight against Apartheid; the presence of the Cuban militants was key to its defeat, for the first time, the army of South Africa, which completely changed the power relations in Africa and had consequences in the world order. This internationalist commitment is updated in the vision of fidelity to the fundamental principles and ethical bases. Remember that despite the fact that the blockade has tragic consequences on Cuba, when the US Department of State offered to the to remove the block in exchange for Cuba ceasing support for the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, Fidel said no, they would continue to support those comrades who fought for the liberation of El Salvador and who would remain there. And this, in spite of the sacrifices, of everything that means, what Cuba loses every day for that blockade. It also seems to me that another of Cuba’s important lessons is the necessary connection between discourse and political project with popular cultures. That is one of our greatest weaknesses. We make very nice speeches and theoretical schemes but we do not know how to express them within our cultures, based on the codes of our peoples, and in that the Cuban Revolution made a significant advance and I believe it is one of its strengths. In fact, there is a very interesting dialogue between Haitian popular culture and the Cuban Revolution, Fidel says in an interview: that the process of political formation of his political conscience owes much to the contacts and dialogues he had with the Haitian workers and it was for him a fundamental point in his process of acquiring revolutionary consciousness in the face of the tragedy of overexploitation that they lived through. It is said that many times, when the family was eating in the dining room, they were looking for Fidel but he was not there because he was eating with the Haitian workers.

In short, there is an interconnection with these revolutionary processes and I believe that today we should be much bolder in our alternative projects, inspired by the revolutionary processes we have experienced. A figure that seems very important to me is the one of the cimarron, which was key to make possible the Haitian Revolution. The cimarron is a slave who flees from the plantations to very remote mountains and creates an autonomous community, a new way of life, there are many lessons to be learned from these new ways of life, besides the cimarron returns to attack the plantations and seek alliances to get more slaves from the plantations. At that time, fleeing the plantations was like fleeing today from the consumer society, because many times we talk about revolution but in our daily community life, we reproduce consumer societies. How to flee from capitalist plantations, create alternatives of life and at the same time, from those alternatives of life, attack the logic of the capitalist system, is something to think about.

Camille Chalmers Economist, professor, representative of the Platform for Alternative Development of Haiti (PAPDA), member of the CADTM-AYNA network.

Translation by Internationalist 360°