Port-au-Prince is paralyzed. Schools are closed, as are medical centres and any other state agency, for over a month. The country was invaded through the MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti). The massive mobilizations of the Haitian people are cornering the government of Jovenel Moíse daily. This is the latest chapter in the Latin American struggle against neoliberalism.
Today, on the anniversary of the assassination of Jean Jacques Dessalines, the slave who became the leader of the Haitian revolution and its independence, the country finds itself in an open battle in the streets between a model that, as in the rest of the region, is weaponized with bullets and is killing to impose itself, and an entire people in the streets that are rejecting its consequences. We spoke with Lautaro Rivara, a militant of the Frente Patria Grande (Argentina). He is a member of the Dessalines Brigade, a brigade of permanent solidarity of the organizations of Alba Movimientos and Via Campesina, which is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary in the country.
What is the current state of the situation in the country? What are the causes of the current demonstrations?
We are in a critical situation at present. We are entering the sixth week of protests in the last cycle of a long crisis. These protests arise from the energy crisis. This led to a shortage of fuel throughout the country, and its consequences, mainly the rise in national prices.
This in the context of a country with strongly unequal characteristics, actively impoverished by decades of colonial and neoliberal policies, where 70% of the population tries to survive on 2 dollars a day.
This cycle of protests is daily. Hundreds of thousands of people leave daily in the capital and in the other departments and cities of the country.
There have been no classes for more than a month, just like in health centers. There is also no activity in any state agency. The same in the shops. The elements that make up daily life are suspended.
International assistance is not arriving. There is no food or water, as there is in the southeast. We are on the way to a new and recurrent humanitarian crisis in the country.
The current state of affairs has a historical origin. The IMF is failing in its old project to arm the “Taiwan of the Caribbean”, as the Clinton’s called it, which is basically a sweatshop, an intermediary station in the value chain. Sweatshops, with an extremely low labour cost. Workers who are engaged only in making textiles and assembling electronic parts for the U.S. market. With some small enclave economies: luxury tourism, tax havens, gold mining in the north and the strong presence of drug trafficking, 12% of the cocaine consumed in the United States passes through Haiti.
This is the model that is in crisis.
There are also other variables that generate rejection and malaise. One of them is endemic corruption. The embezzlement of funds that arrived in the country in the framework of the Petrocaribe agreement. We are talking about the fact that out of 3800 million dollars, 2 billion have been embezzled, according to the official reports, in which the participation of the president and high government officials has been proven. This generated massive mobilizations in August 2018. More than 1.5 million people then took to the streets.
The country’s economic situation is totally adverse, with annual inflation of 20% and constant devaluation of the currency. To this is added the energy crisis generating a combination of factors that falls on a population that has been living on the edge, with no margin to develop their lives.
How do we get to the current energy crisis?
This last cycle of the crisis, the energy crisis has two main causes. Both external. Firstly, the IMF is promoting a global policy of eliminating fuel subsidies. As it did recently in Ecuador, it brought this policy to the country last year. A decree was issued in July 2018 to increase gasoline prices by 50%. The response was immediate, generating a mass popular reaction. More than 1.5 million people took to the streets. The measure was reversed and then Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant resigned.
This measure was temporarily suspended. It is known that the intention to increase the fuel costs is still present. In that framework, the government began to retain the fuel stock it had in the port terminals, arguing that it did not have the funds to pay for imports, with the clear intention of advancing in the elimination of subsidies.
The other cause is the damages generated by the U.S. interventionist policy in the region. The embargo on Venezuela impacts Haiti. The fuel that arrived through Petrocaribe’s distribution circuit no longer arrives today, forcing the country to move to a market where the state cannot pay. These two causes, the global policies of the IMF and the impact of the policy of aggression against Venezuela, are behind this latest energy crisis.
What is the situation of grassroots organizations?
It is paradoxical. There are relatively low levels of organization, which respond to the material precariousness of life. However, we have a very high level of popular mobilization and political consciousness.
There are really massive protests practically every day. The clearest dynamism is shown by the youth of the periphery of the capital and the big urban centers.
In organizational political terms, two large opposition blocs have been delineated in the country. A first block we can define between moderate and conservative, with extreme right-wing sectors inside, called “Consensual Alternative”, hegemonized by the Popular Democratic sector, the old Haitian political class, which has participated in previous governments. On the other hand, there is another great opposition space that was formed in August of this year, the Patriotic Forum, which brings together peasant movements, unions, women’s movements, human rights movements, youth organizations, student organizations. This Patriotic Forum has a program that envisages the construction of a broad government, a coalition, a great national agreement. That it responds to the urgent needs of the country in the areas of food, health and education. A reform of the political system is proposed, mainly the electoral system, which is vitiated and controlled technically and politically by the United States. The program includes the call for a Sovereign Assembly, a Constituent Assembly. Change the political structure of the country and reorient it towards other objectives, a new horizon. This is the proposal of the Patriotic Forum, in which the movements of ALBA and Via Campesina, and other organizations participate.
What message is there for the organizations of the rest of Our America?
We call for solidarity. The international community is identified in Haiti by those who are not just such a community, but the articulation of the interests of certain powers such as the United States, France, Canada. We call on the other community, the one represented by revolutionary governments, progressive governments, social movements, popular organizations, human rights movements, not to take their eyes off Haiti, which is in a situation that is critical and dramatic, but at the same time hopeful. Nowhere are there mobilizations of this magnitude and radicalism that confronts the repression that has taken many lives. With a people with a high level of consciousness and an enormous history of struggle. It is to be expected that great transformations will take place in the country. It is a strategic zone in the Caribbean. It is important to destabilize colonial policies in the peripheries.
It is necessary to make the situation visible, to deconstruct the tangles of historical lies about the country, to break the media siege that is mounted around the struggles being carried out by these people, it is from the shadows that imperialism has perpetrated its worst atrocities, as has been done in Haiti since the invasion of the MINUSTAH.
The people who carried out the first of the social revolutions in the continent can give birth to the second revolution for the time to come. Solidarity and active support are vital.