Haiti and the Paramilitary Path in Latin America and the Caribbean

Lautaro Rivara

The geopolitics of paramilitarism spreads its oil slick across the map of the entire continent. From Haiti to Venezuela, from Jamaica to Brazil, the paramilitarization of life and the social fabric is gaining ground at the hand of the local ruling classes and U.S. imperialism.

Beyond impressionism, the red chronicle or the passing interest of the large media corporations that turn their gaze to Haiti to reinforce and update their secular racist and colonial prejudices (the last time had been in January 2010, after the devastating earthquake), there are some elements that serve to trace the master lines among which the Haitian national drama unfolds since -and before- the assassination of Jovenel Moïse in the early morning of July 7.

The analysis must necessarily include some protagonists: the local ruling classes and their class fractions, the United States, its Western allies and international organizations, and, above all, the armed gangs, politically organized crime and paramilitarism.

There is -as always happens in these cases- a temptation to glorify the deceased post mortem, even more so when it is a vile murder, and especially when the participation of U.S. citizens and former Colombian military personnel in the act is proven, in the framework of what Uribism has called the “democratic security” policy: in this case, for export.

There was even a certain progressive ex-president who compared, in terms of political motive, the case of his own overthrow and assassination attempt with the assassination of Moïse. There is no comparison more inappropriate or less enlightening than that one, which tacitly places the former Haitian de facto president on the pedestal of Latin American popular leaders.

We have already briefly summarized in another article the most outstanding elements of a “résumé” such as Moïse’s, marked by extreme neoliberalism, the rupture of the democratic order, corruption scandals, the most complete pro-American alignment and the co-government with drug trafficking and armed gangs.

The insurrection of July 2018 and the tensions of the power bloc.

The political crisis in Haiti precedes, by far, the power vacuum generated with the assassination. The watershed of the new historical cycle was marked by the popular insurrection of July 2018 against the project of Moïse and the IMF to eliminate fuel subsidies, increasing the price of gasoline, diesel and kerosene (used for cooking and lighting in popular housing) by up to 51%.

Over the course of three days, between one and two million people spontaneously took to the streets of the country, spontaneously overthrowing the measure, forcing the national police into barracks, overthrowing Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant, generating a series of tensions in the dominant bloc and giving rise to the still unresolved crisis of domination. The same crisis of domination that would deepen in successive days with the protests against the multi-million dollar embezzlement of Petrocaribe funds by the PHTK party (equivalent to a quarter of the national GDP) and with the successive peyi lock (blocked country) with which the transport unions, the peasantry and especially the youth of the urban peripheries would block the movement of capital and goods to and from the country for weeks on end throughout 2019.

In fact, it was this very insurrection that prompted the oligarchy and the importing bourgeoisie – the black, the mulatto and the Syrian-Lebanese – to abandon their meager democratic pruriences. We insist on the “scanty”, given that Moïse himself had come to power with two consecutive massive frauds in 2015 and 2016, backed by the “international community” that controlled the entire electoral process and with barely 9% support from the voter roll.

Thus began the PHTK – Moïse’s party – an extensive authoritarian drift, culminating in the dissolution of parliament, the intervention of the main courts of justice, the endless succession of purely ornamental prime ministers, the arbitrary extension of his presidential mandate and the unconstitutional proposal to reform the 1987 magna carta magna by means of a referendum. All mechanisms tending to the concentration of power in the executive as a means to face the challenge imposed by the recurrent mass mobilizations and their capacity to dismantle the government.

This, in turn, reinforced the tensions in the dominant bloc between different fractions: due to the displacement of the old power pacts implied by the new hyper-presidential scheme, the accusation against Moïse for his inability to stabilize the country and repress the protests, and also due to long-standing conflicts in relation to the control of customs, the electricity supply system and the import and smuggling of fuels.

That is why some of the big bourgeoisie, such as Reginald Boulos -a key player in the coup that ended the popular government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the unity built around the “Group of 184”-, increased their hostility against Moïse, as did the local partidocracy represented by the lawyer André Michel and the Democratic and Popular Sector. It is worth noting that the disputes between these rival factions do not denote any kind of confrontation between alternative development projects or models, but rather the struggle for the control of State perks and, above all, of the monopoly of international relations and the capture of “humanitarian aid” and “international development cooperation” money.

Beyond the evident radicalization of these internals – it is enough to see Moïse’s accusation to the CEO of the electric company SOGENER, Dimitri Vorbe, of promoting his assassination – and the probable participation of Moïse’s own security apparatus and members of his own party, such as Magalie Habitant, in the plot of the case, hardly the Haitian oligarchy and the importing bourgeoisie, bovarist elites (according to the concept of the Haitian anthropologist Jean Price-Mars) with little capacity for agency, would have had the competence – and above all the audacity – to make a move of such magnitude without the approval of the United States, a country on whose territory the children and families of the wealthy classes study and live and whose administration retains the powerful right to grant or cancel visas, block remittances, freeze assets and imprison drug traffickers.

From MINUSTAH to the G9

The contemporary and technical names for killing and dying are varied and not all coincide in mentioning them: dirty, irregular, asymmetric, hybrid, unconventional, low intensity, fourth and even fifth generation warfare. In contemporary Haiti, the privileged doctrine of imperial intervention has been the so-called “humanitarian interventionism”, practiced by nine civilian, police and military missions over the last 28 years and by two direct occupations by the United States -in 2004 and 2010- with the assistance of the OAS, the UN and several European embassies. The most famous of them all was undoubtedly the multilateral force of MINUSTAH, commanded by Brazil and composed of several Latin American military contingents, present in the country from 2004 to 2017 and extended by a successor mission (MINUJUSTH) until 2019.

However, the disclosure of some of its most notable crimes, such as rapes, child abuse and participation in trafficking networks, massacres in popular neighborhoods, such as Cité Soleil, committed by the occupation forces or the introduction of the cholera epidemic in the country by the Nepalese contingent of the Blue Helmets generated a certain negative consensus around the much-vaunted capabilities of these groups to provide “peace”, “security” and “democratic stability” in Haiti. Let us recall that even the former UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, had to acknowledge the moral culpability (but not, paradoxically, the legal responsibility) of MINUSTAH in some of these crimes.

However, just as “humanitarian interventionism” gained prevalence in the post-Cold War period with the dissolution of the Soviet bloc and the apparent absence of symmetrical enemies with which the Western world could measure itself, several factors now make it difficult – though not impossible – to reissue a mission of the same characteristics.

Among these factors are the global hegemonic transition and the progressive decline of the United States, the emergence of a multipolar world with greater anti-Western counterweights, the economic costs of this type of occupation for a country in crisis like the United States, the difficulty of finding allies with whom to share the enterprise after the rebuff from Brazil and other international “crusaders”, as well as the reluctance of the democrats to see a new edition of the Middle East stalemate in Caribbean latitudes (the times of the expeditious landings of Operation Urgent Fury and Operation Just Cause in countries such as Grenada and Panama are long gone).

Faced with the impossibility (for now) of appealing to external intervention – despite this hypothesis having been considered with a formal request for US troops from a minister of the interim government of Claude Joseph -, the ineffectiveness of police repression having been demonstrated despite the dozens of murders in the midst of the protests (and, nevertheless, the few and poorly trained PNH agents could do little against the mobilizations of 2018 and 2019) and the country lacking truly operational Armed Forces with which to perpetrate a coup of the “classic” type like that of Raoul Cédras against Aristide in 1991, the dilemma that traversed and strains the ruling classes revolves around how to effectively repress seemingly inexhaustible protests.

How to disarticulate the post MINUSTAH cycle of popular reorganization that included the creation of the Patriotic Forum and the formation of a whole new generation of militants and leaders in the countryside and the city? How to continue without interruption the cycle of accumulation of capital – maquilas, agricultural free zones, extractive mining, enclave tourism – and how to protect their privileges and interests, as well as those of their international props? The decision, taken inside or outside the walls, matters little; it was the decided bet on a path that at that time was, in Haiti, barely exploratory: the paramilitary and criminal path.

There is no “cultural” or even less “racial” (i.e. racist) explanation that can understand these processes from an exclusively national angle or by blaming them on some kind of intrinsic character of the respective populations: they are coordinated regional and global phenomena. Haiti, for example, lacked phenomena of this type and magnitude due to the integration and homogeneity of its popular classes, even though it historically had a breeding ground of very high levels of misery and inequality.

It is not about, as some analysts visibly confused by the rhetoric and performance of “Barbecue”, the exonerated policeman who leads the federation of gangs known as the G9 that plagues Port-au-Prince, a process of “self-organization of the marginal neighborhoods” or of “vigilante brigades” like those that opposed the Duvalierist militias. Much less of a “potential armed revolution”. It is, on the contrary, the exact opposite.

Following one’s own path of arms, from the United States, sometimes via Jamaica, as well as taking note of the proven infiltration of American mercenaries and ex-marines at least since 2019 should be enough to clear any doubt. No local criminal organization has the operational or financial capacity to arm itself as the G9 has done without the support of: a) the oligarchy and the importing bourgeoisie; b) the local police, the main security corps of the country, and c) – subordinating all other national actors – the United States, the main world exporter of arms, the only one of importance in this hemisphere and the one responsible for the local trafficking that began, at least on this scale, with the occupation of MINUSTAH in 2004.

Secondly, these theses fall under their own weight if we consider that some of the main victims of these armed gangs have been and are the very activists and leaders of the popular movement in rural and urban areas, an issue that the murder of feminist activist Antoinette Duclaire (which occurred shortly before the assassination of Moïse) only reconfirms. Of course, groups such as paramilitaries and organized criminals in all latitudes have strategies to actively generate certain social consensuses through a mixture of armed terror and resource sharing in the territories. These actors take advantage of the vacuum generated by the cession of entire territories by the State, as well as the availability of young people, turned into soldiers, who have been denied the possibility of studying, working and supporting their families.

But what would be the reasonable interest of these alleged “revolutionaries in arms” to harass and murder journalists, lawyers, students, peasants, feminists and activists of human rights organizations confronting the government, neoliberal policies and US interference in the country? Why does their apogee coincide exactly with the decline of the insurrectional cycle opened in 2018? Why is their operational capacity inversely proportional to the presence in the streets of the popular classes and their organizations?

Geopolitics of paramilitarism

We can agree, taking into account the most recent events, that the geopolitics of paramilitarism is spreading its oil stain across the map of the continent: previously limited to countries like Colombia, Mexico, El Salvador or Nicaragua (from the Contras to Plan Colombia and the “war on drugs”), paramilitaries were intrinsically linked to internal armed conflicts and drug cartels. But today the paramilitarization of life and the social fabric is gaining ground from Haiti to Venezuela, from Jamaica to Brazil, hand in hand with the strategy of the local ruling classes and U.S. imperialism to sustain their iron grip on neoliberalized societies, increasingly unequal, polarized and violent.

That is why we should not be surprised by the almost simultaneous action, in Venezuela, of “la Banda del Koki” and other criminal groups in Cota 905 and La Vega in the city of Caracas, the assassination of Jovenel Moïse perpetrated by US and Colombian mercenaries hired by the company CTU Security (based in the United States and Colombia and with connections to Uribism and the Venezuelan and Dominican right wing), the reactivation of the anti-Cuban lobby in Miami and the encouragement and financing of protests in Cuba or the recently known attempt of the former de facto minister Arturo Murillo to perpetrate a second coup d’état against the MAS in Bolivia through the hiring of US mercenaries.

We are witnessing a counter-offensive in which the paramilitary strategy is gaining increasing predominance, in articulation with other initiatives encompassed under the concept of hybrid warfare.

To characterize this war it is not enough to go back to classical authors such as Sun Tzu, Herodotus, Titus Livius, or even Karl von Clausewitz or Carl Schmitt. Nor does the evocation of the Colombian chulavitas or traditional paramilitarism, of a rural and landowning type, as opposed to phenomena such as these, more markedly urban, exhaust the phenomenon. This new paramilitarism, increasingly decomposed and criminal, also has its roots, of course, in Haiti’s own history, in the hereditary and life-long dictatorship of the Duvaliers, with such deadly antecedents as the Coagoulards, the Tonton Macoutes or the Leopards, irregular forces all of them trained by the American CIA.

But even those, formal and “legal” arms -at least in the restricted legality of the dictatorship-, had much more transparent ties with the de facto government than those maintained, at present, by the PHTK government with gangsters like Barbecue or, before him, with the famous bandit Anel Joseph, with a close relationship with several of the most renowned senators of the ruling party.

The concept of “preventive counterrevolution”, as formulated by the CIA in the Santa Fe I and Santa Fe II documents during the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, is still in full force, although its intervention mechanisms have been extended to a “post-revolutionary” period -in the strict sense- since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Today they are no longer applied to Marxist-oriented parties or political-military organizations, but to the social movement and even to entire populations. Especially after the ruling classes took note of the cycle of democratic and anti-neoliberal insurrections that took place in Latin America and the Caribbean over two centuries (a cycle in which Haiti, in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, was a pioneering case, albeit fatally misunderstood).

Through the study of the different armed actors proliferating in the country with the encouragement of the local and international ruling classes, we came to the conclusion that the federation of G9 gangs, as well as those acting in an even more anarchic and decentralized manner, are the paramilitary prolongation of the same “pacification” strategy carried out by MINUSTAH before.

The massacres in popular neighborhoods or organized rural communities -13 in 3 years-, the policy of kidnappings (with absolute numbers that exceed those of Mexico in this small country), the circulation of illegal weapons -more than 500 thousand, according to the Disarmament Commission-, the confrontations between gangs, the urban displaced -17 thousand in the last weeks, according to the IOM- and the murder of journalists, lawyers and activists are all part of a concerted strategy of chaos and terror.

And this is a strategy that has achieved what not even the repression of the State security forces could do in recent years: to stifle the mobilization and force a pronounced retreat of the popular classes, now facing an invisible, decentralized, heavily armed enemy, with territorial presence, operational capacity and unpredictable and erratic patterns. Not even MINUSTAH generated similar processes: even under the military boot, Haitian society, repressed and restrained, maintained its fundamental characteristics and its associative tendencies. But this scalpel operation is cutting the deepest ties of a particularly resilient culture and community, tested and re-tested in a thousand adverse circumstances.

It is, once again, objectively counterrevolutionary actors who are part of a preventive strategy in the framework of the U.S. reinforcement of the regular and irregular presence in the Caribbean Basin, where targets of importance such as Cuba, Venezuela, the Gulf of Mexico and the Panama Canal are concentrated.
https://i2.wp.com/litci.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Screen-Shot-2021-07-14-at-2.13.54-PM.pngHaitians reject any attempted imperialist intervention and demand general elections

Translation by Internationalist 360°