Over the course of January we ran a series of guest blog posts from writers and activists looking to the year ahead. Here we present all the first part of a collection of those contributions which together cover the world economic crisis, the Arab uprisings, climate change, energy politics, education, health, disability rights and much, much more besides.
If there is one thing to be hoped from the continuation of the revolutionary processes in the Arab world into their third year, it is that the notion of an ‘Arab spring’ as a discreet single event be jettisoned. This view sees the uprisings of 2011 as the work of disaffected middle-class youth aspiring to liberal modernity and the persistent crises of 2012 as a betrayal of that aspiration—as one commentator put it, ‘the year the Arab spring went bad’.
A useful, although sadly unlikely development, in understanding of the Arab revolutions in 2013 would be for Western commentators to shed their Islamoneurosis—the conviction that everything that happens in the region is a consequence of the dominant religion within it. The Islamists will of course continue to be significant players but in a context composed of class interest, economic collapse and hierarchies of gender and identity just as in the rest of the world. For the first time in decades, however, the mainstream of the Muslim Brotherhood is no longer the only effective opposition force but the managers of states, and continuing disillusionment with their performance, notably in Egypt, is likely to increase in 2013. The trend is clear: the initial referendum on post-Mubarak constitutional amendments in March 2011, supported by the MB, passed with 77%. Morsi’s rushed new constitution passed with 64% on a turnout of one-third, and that after provoking the most serious revolutionary upsurge since November 2011. The massed cadres of the Brotherhood turned out not to be so massive: during the clashes of late November, the MB had to bus supporters in to Cairo from the provinces. The referendum was lost not only in Cairo but also in Alexandria, until recently regarded as the Salafists’ stronghold. The industrial town of Mahalla briefly declared autonomy from the ‘Ikhwan (Brotherhood) state’. This is no basis on which to secure legitimacy for a new regime. The looming collapse of the currency may hasten what Egyptian commentators refer to as the ‘revolution of hunger’.
It is difficult to see Bashar Al-Assad celebrating New Year 2014 in Damascus, or anywhere else for that matter. The regime still mounts counter-attacks against the revolutionary forces, but its supply lines are cut and its bases are increasingly falling. Russia has been hinting it may be prepared to drop Bashar. The collapse, when it comes, may be swift but it is impossible to know how long that will take—and each day brings further scores displaced, killed or hungry. The obsession of outside reporters with the Islamist group Jabhat Al-Nusra is an instance both of the Islam complex I mentioned above, and of attempts by rival commanders to leverage support out of the threat of Al-Qa’ida. Nusra are certainly attracting more and more recruits because they have weapons, money and training: but they are not the only story in Syria. In liberated areas such as Kafr Nabeel, Yabroud and Saraqeb, organs of revolutionary self-governance operate, consciously combating sectarian currents. A repetition of these experiments on a national scale may be too much to hope for—but it is a corrective to the predominant narrative of all-out sectarian civil war.
Jamie Allinson is a researcher specialising in Middle East politics.
My attention in the new year is focused on the U.S., which is in a highly unusual state of crisis. On the one hand, it is unlikely to totally collapse. On the other, it is unable—not least because of the long-term radical decline in union density—to mobilize traditional progressive solutions for reforming the system. The result is decay: growing economic inequality, stagnation, massive structural poverty, and a stalemated national politics.
Paradoxically, however, this very stalemate is forcing people both to pursue innovative strategies in the short term and reassess longer term visions about where the left is and might decide to go. The coming year is likely to generate a major increase in both activism and the sophistication of activism, as we come to terms with the need to get serious about taking on the structural crisis and building an institutional basis that shores up the traditional left while at the same time laying the foundations for something beyond—i.e. the next system.
Here a myriad of underreported on-the-ground experiments with new forms of worker and community ownership, with more participatory forms of government and with more sophisticated forms of decentralised planning on the municipal and regional scales, are likely to be taken up by a movement increasingly aware that something fundamental is wrong with the system at a structural level. Already, the result is a growing understanding of the importance of democratising capital, and of the need to build a movement capable of doing so.
Precisely because the welfare state and social democracy is so much weaker in the United States than in many advanced systems—and because the country is so large and so decentralised—a different form of evolutionary reconstruction that is neither reform nor revolution may well be in the process of accelerating here. This, too, is laying the groundwork for systemic change around a much more highly decentralised social ownership model than many have as yet conceived.
I believe 2013 may mark an important inflection point in this trajectory, as the various strands working in this direction—the ‘new economy’ and co-op movements, the leading edges of the labour movement, climate change activists, progressive politicians at the local level, and radicals looking for a way forward—begin to recognise their common task at this moment in history. As the system creates failure and disillusionment, yet does not collapse, a long path of rebuilding of consciousness is also developing. There will be inevitable setbacks, potentially even violence and repression, but a very significant process is quietly underway and is not likely to be easily thwarted as it slowly builds power.
Gar Alperovitz, Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland and co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative, is the author of the forthcoming What Then Must We Do? Straight Talk About The Next American Revolution (Chelsea Green, May Day 2013)
A large and growing share of world output is controlled not by conventional property relationships, but rather by patent and copyright monopolies that allow their owners to charge prices that hugely exceed the free market price. Progressives have generally not appreciated the rapid growth in the importance of intellectual property in the economy. In the United States, in prescription drugs alone, patent protection adds more than $250 billion a year (1.8 percent of GDP) to the cost compared to free market prices. This is close to 15 percent of all before-tax corporate profits. The total cost of all forms of intellectual property is almost certainly three times this amount.
In many areas, notably prescription drugs and software, patents are almost certainly an obstacle rather than an impetus to technological progress. In the case of copyrights, the development of the Internet and digital technology is making enforcement ever more difficult. Enforcement is likely to require increasingly repressive measures from the government, like the Stop Online Piracy Act which prompted a grassroots revolt.
For these reasons, it is important that efforts to strengthen patent and copyright protection be beaten back both in the United States and around the world. There is some hope that countries in the developing world are growing increasingly assertive in their resistance to the imposition of intellectual property rules by the wealthy countries.
This resistance has been strongest in the case of prescription drugs, where developing countries are increasingly taking advantage of the flexibility allowed in the TRIPS agreement to force compulsory licensing of patent protected drugs. Some countries, notably India, have been subjecting patent applications to increasing scrutiny, rejecting patents that have been approved in the United States and Europe.
In 2013 we may see an acceleration of this trend with developing countries becoming more aggressive in rejecting these forms of intellectual property. They are increasingly recognising patents and copyrights as a mechanism for rich countries to extract wealth from the developing world in a way that seriously impedes economic development, and in the case of prescription drugs jeopardises public health. In wealthy countries there have also been signs of rebellion against ever stronger patent and copyright protection, most notably with the 'Pirate' parties that have received support across much of Europe.
The year 2013 may see increasing growth and self-consciousness in this movement against intellectual property. This struggle should rank near the top of every progressive’s agenda.
Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He is the author of, most recently, 'The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progessive' (2011).
2013 should be the year that Labour, and the left in general, turns away from defensive positioning and begins to outline its own policies for future generations.
Nowhere is this more relevant than in the area of education.
The last couple of years have been difficult for Labour’s front bench, in part because the Coalition appeared to be further building on, and improving, on policies introduced under New Labour.
In fact, the Tory led government has increased educational inequality, with a massive shift of resources from struggling schools to already successful ones. And despite all the hype about academies and free schools, educational improvement has been the result of more prosaic across-school factors: improved teaching, strong leadership and collaboration – not competition – between schools.
But as we go into 2013, Gove’s plans are going seriously awry, particularly with the ill-thought through proposals for the new e-bacc qualification (opposed by everyone from Ofqual to the teaching unions) and rock-bottom morale among teachers.
It is clear that state education is not safe in hyperactive Coalition hands and we desperately need a period of stability and slowly-slowly evidence-driven reform.
In terms of public projection of its argument, Labour – and the left – needs to keep the edu-jargon to a minimum and its sights set firmly on a number of simple ideas:
• Keep education public. No-one wants to see private companies take over our schools.
• Create a well trained, highly professional teaching force. Here, Labour could learn from Finland, the highest performing country in Europe, with its rigorous entry requirements - and equally tough training. (Compare this to Tory quick fix policies to let untrained teachers into schools.)
• Create high quality school buildings and smaller classes. Again, all the evidence suggests that a pleasant environment and more personalised teaching is crucial, particularly to poorer childrens' chances. Spending pledges are always going to be difficult in an age of austerity, but this would not be a hard one to justify to a nation of parents desperate for excellent, local schools.
• Forge a modern, broad based, stimulating curriculum. This is particularly vital given that every child in the UK will soon be required to stay on at school under they are 18. We need a ‘One Nation’ system that can provide a core education and then, at 16, provide credible pathways to further vocational and academic study.
Melissa Benn's School Wars: The Battle for Britain's Education, published by Verso, is now out in paperback, with a new afterword.
2013 will be shaped by the economic and fiscal crisis in both the Europe and the United States and the developing ecological catastrophe. Mainstream politicians will pay mere lip service to addressing the latter whilst offering variants on the neoliberal project for the former. The dominance of the neoliberal project makes it almost impossible to address problems like climate change, since it depends on promising a world with greater and increasingly individualized consumption. Faced with a choice between shifting to a different model or developing damaging technologies like fracking that can keep business-as-usual running for a bit longer (and promise growth and jobs in the interim), political leaders will opt for the second. This involves a squeeze on consumption for some in the developed world, but politicians will assert that if people just work harder and longer and endure austerity, renewed long-term growth and prosperity will come.
As in a house being eaten away by termites, life can carry on ‘normally’ until the moment when the floorboards give way. Though 2012 saw some serious climate events—droughts in the U.S. and torrential rain in parts of Western Europe—we can never know whether 2013 will see some decisive eruption of the natural order into the social cocoon. At present, the higher food prices predicted for 2013 don't seem to have materialized, though they remain at historically high levels. But making ends meet is going to continue to be difficult for millions for whom food is the biggest part of the household budget, especially since the price of basic foodstuffs (unlike services or manufactured goods) varies little between poor and rich countries.
Expect, then, increased but often chaotic responses by stressed populations to the combined economic and ecological crisis, responses met by yet more dogmatic assertions of the neoliberal model by political leaders. Expect also violence, where required, to contain the immediate discontent and an emphasis on ‘security’ and borders: blame the foreigners, blame the immigrants, but don't question the model. Expect right-wing nationalists to profit from ill-directed discontent. Do not expect anyone in the political mainstream -- least of all Eds Miliband and Balls -- to do other than pretend that things could be made better if only they were setting the budget. And sadly, don't expect there to be a ready mass audience for an egalitarian, green and internationalist alternative. At least not yet.
Chris Bertram is Professor of Social and Political Philosophy at the University of Bristol. He blogs at Crooked Timber and is the author of Rousseau and the Social Contact.
Linda Burnip (DPAC)
On top of policies which are already causing the deaths of 73 disabled people a week through Work Capability Assessments carried out by the discredited private firm ATOS – the Condems plan yet further major attacks against disabled people and their lives. Disability Living Allowance, a benefit which allows many disabled people to be able to work, is to be stripped from over 600,000 people starting in 2013, and the government’s ill-thought through plans to scrap the Independent Living Fund (ILF) from 2015 will not only wreck disabled people’s lives but potentially push them into residential institutions rather than being able to exercise their rights to live, work and study in the community. This is in spite of the UK having ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which guarantees these rights.
The planned changes will cost taxpayers millions of pounds every year by forcing disabled people back into institutions, and by creating greater ill-health leading to a greater drain on the NHS all at public cost. The average cost of a place at Winterbourne View – where disabled people were systematically abused – was £3,500 per week compared to the average ILF award per week of £360.
The ILF supports independent living for some 20,000 disabled people with the highest support needs across the UK, enabling real choice and control over how they live their lives and creating employment. It contributes to UK tax gains and public savings.
A campaign to save the ILF, to have it re-opened to new applicants and to ensure the right to live independently led by Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) was launched last February when Jamie Bolling, Executive Director of European Network for Independent Living (ENIL), flew in from Sweden to support UK campaigners. Jamie said: ‘Cuts across Europe must stop! They are breaches of human rights and are taking the lives of disabled people. Without the ILF there will be no choice for disabled people and choice is a right.’ Now that the permanent closure of the ILF has been announced, sneakily just before Christmas, this campaign will be ramped up further.
Anne Novis, who was awarded an MBE for her work on disability hate crimes, summarises the gravity of the situation: ‘As an ILF user I have been in fear and anxiety for over a year wondering how I will manage to have any life after the ILF closes down. With all the other threats and cuts in care support and welfare, those most in need, as we are defined by this government, have absolutely no reassurance that our needs will be met because we see and hear each day of another disabled person kill themselves, be penalised, demonized and impoverished simply for being disabled.’
Together with our sister campaign Black Triangle, DPAC will lead the fight in 2013 against these vicious attacks against disabled people’s independence and rights.
For more on the Independent Living Fund see here.
The grim prospect for the UK in 2013 is for further areas of life to be subject to the ideological sway of so-called 'market forces'. These, as we know, are not actual economic mechanisms: they are strictly ideological constructs in the sense that, in the guise of being universal truths about 'the real world', they are offered as a justification for doing things that are calculated to further the project of increasing the return upon capital. This is a political project, enforced by political means. For this purpose, the standing of 'pre-capitalist' and non-capitalist values has to be further diminished, and forms of association or human relationships which do not correspond to the imagined profit-maximising model need to be made to do so. In these terms, the prospects are bleak for our cultural and educational institutions, which have been such notable redoubts of non-capitalist values, and no less dire for the institutions of the welfare state - notably, but not only, the NHS – which have incorporated other ideals of human solidarity. There may be genuine and heartfelt protests against the policies that seek to reduce or change the character of these institutions and practices, but there seems little prospect of well-organised, deep-rooted, effective and sustained political opposition. Inequality will worsen and the financial elite will extend its domination. The absurd claim that everyone's well-being depends upon the continued and increased prosperity of the 'wealth-producers' will be repeated ad nauseam, while the reality is that the financial interests of the City and of the corporate elite are less and less tied up with the actual economy of the UK and more and more based on directing capital flows to more lucrative markets elsewhere in the world. I hope others will be able to provide more optimistic antidotes to this bleak forecast
If one of the defining battles over energy and climate in 2012 was between those who favoured a ‘dash for gas’ over a ‘race for renewables’, then 2013 may be the year when the reality of developing new gas reserves hits home.
Some wish to paint shale gas (often discussed with reference to the process ‘fracking’) as an unproblematic transition fuel, cleaner than oil and coal, buying us time to develop more cost-effective renewable technologies and offering a degree of energy independence by reducing our reliance on imports. But any ‘dash’ for gas is likely to be less a glorious sprint, and more of a clumsy, casualty-strewn steeplechase.
For a start, it is unclear how much shale gas the UK has. There are also serious concerns about the environmental impact, e.g. with respect to methane. And then there is the not insignificant matter of how local communities will feel about living in the proximity of giant, hydraulic, shale fracturing machines.
In 2012, the debate about wind farms – at least among certain sections of the Conservative Party and associated media – really turned toxic. To glance at the headlines in the Telegraph, you’d think that there was barely-contained national outrage against wind turbines (when in fact general attitudes are fairly positive, especially relative to shale gas). Certainly, the siting of wind turbines is contentious, and people (understandably) feel strongly about where they should be located. But this is by no means something peculiar to the siting of wind turbines – the siting of any energy infrastructure is contested – and you can bet your last barrel of oil that if people don’t want the landscape scarred by wind turbines, they won’t want it eviscerated by fracking either.
In Keynsham (near Bath), just as 2012 was drawing to a close, a planning application for exploratory drilling in a potential shale gas site attracted more than 500 objections. The end of 2012 also saw a wave of anti-fracking protests, including a 20ft drilling rig erected outside the home of Lord Browne (http://frack-off.org.uk/action/drill-rig-on-fracking-lords-lawn/). In 2013, expect more of this. Expect also to see controversies flowing from Matt Damon’s film Promised Land and the pro-fracking documentary Frack-Nation. The shale gas industry seems worried about activism, if a recent study from a risk consultancyis anything to go by. The dash for gas in 2013 promises to be a bumpy ride.
Adam Corner is a researcher and writer focusing on the psychology of communicating climate change and public perceptions of energy technologies and geoengineering.
The year 2013 is the centennial anniversary of the year in which income inequality in Britain last began to fall. In 1913 the richest 1% of people in the country took home almost a quarter of all income. A year later their share had dropped by more than a percentage point, and it continued to drop for a further 66 years. Lloyd George, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, realised that the country could no longer afford the excesses of the rich. Greater rights for women played a part. Income inequality began to fall within months of when Emily Davison was killed by the King’s horse in 1913. Later revolution in Russia contributed as it spread fear among elites in Europe. Trade unions strengthened and inequality continued to fall as a result of many other battles being won.
The initial instrument was taxation, though later such skewed redistribution from the rich via the state became less necessary as pay rates became much more equal and controls were placed on accruing riches through unearned incomes. The top tax rate in Britain rose from 5% in 1907, to 50% in 1919. It stands at 50% today, but is about to be lowered to 45%. This will increase income inequality. Benefit payments are to be reduced in real terms over the course of the next three years and this will further increase income inequality.
Early in 2010, Nick Clegg complained that the gap between the mean average incomes of the richest fifth as compared to the poorest fifth of people in Britain had risen from 6.9 to one, in 1997, to approaching 7.2 to one towards the end of Labour’s 13 years in power. Yet early in 2013 he defended the real terms cut in benefits that will widen this inequality further, mostly for people in work. British centrist politics has moved quickly from seeing growing inequality as wrong, to considering it inevitable in the short term.
In the large majority of affluent countries income inequalities are already lower than in Britain. There, the sense of common purpose and respect for, and trust of, fellow citizens is usually stronger. Almost no one in Britain in 1913 noticed that income inequality began to fall that year. In 2013 many people will note the rise in income inequality. It could be the year in which Britons begin to realise both how great the economic divisions between them have become, but also the economic impossibility of both maintaining such divisions and sustaining a sense of common purpose.
For almost everyone in Britain today, those above them are not sharing in the extra suffering, on average, as much as they are. To distract attention from this reality, the right wing will be tempted to stoke division, to talk of fecklessness, to blame poorer immigrants for fewer job opportunities and to suggest we need imprison more of the young to maintain discipline. The left needs to respond by emphasising social solidarity, common purpose and reminding everyone of those 66 years in which we were last becoming progressively more equal.
Danny Dorling is professor of human geography at the University of Sheffield. He is the author of You Think You Know About Britain and, most recently, The No-Nonsense Guide to Equality.
The illness of Hugo Chávez creates uncertainty over the future direction of his government, and specifically its commitment to revolutionary change and socialism. Throughout the fourteen years of his presidency, the key to Chávez’s political success was the constant deepening of the process of change, which invigorated the rank and file of his movement. Chávez’s political capital, which enabled him to decree radical changes, was well earned. It stemmed from the extreme courage he demonstrated with the coup attempt he led in 1992 and the one that was led against him in 2002, as well as the compassion he has shown for the underprivileged.
Before traveling to Cuba on December 9 to be operated on, Chávez called on his followers to vote for Vice-President Nicolás Maduro if circumstances required him to step down. Maduro is a former trade union leader who was Minister of Foreign Relations between 2006 and 2012. More than several other top Chávista leaders, Maduro supports certain far-reaching measures favoring the non-privileged sectors. Thus, for instance, he headed a presidentially appointed commission that during several months drafted the new labour law that Chávez signed on 30 April. Not all Chávista national deputies had previously been in agreement with the law’s far-reaching provisions, and ratification was held up in the National Assembly for over five years. The law eliminates the practice of outsourcing and creates a controversial system of severance pay that the business organization FEDECAMARAS had opposed since its founding in 1944.
Had it not been for his illness, Chávez would have undoubtedly taken advantage of the momentum created by the electoral triumphs of the October presidential election and the December gubernatorial ones by carrying out bold initiatives to deepen the process of change. These actions would have been in keeping with his strategy up until now of striking out in new directions immediately after each victory. Measures at the outset of his new presidency may have included expropriations of monopoly firms that have created shortages of important items in recent months, or punishment of corrupt officials to set an example for the rest of the public administration. Whether Chávez retains the presidency during a lengthy period of recuperation or whether Maduro assumes the presidency, the national executive is now less likely to surprise the nation with bold actions of this nature. Chávez’s physical weakness would weigh in if indeed he remains in power. Furthermore, regardless of his intentions, Maduro lacks Chávez’s political capital to enable him to overcome resistance from within his movement and from powerful interests outside of it.
Nevertheless, two considerations are on the plus side of the balance sheet for the Chávistas. In the first place, the opposition is greatly demoralized. In fact, its defeat in 20 of the nation’s 23 states in the December gubernatorial elections was due in large part to the abstention of its supporters following its disappointing showing in the October presidential contests.
Second, regardless of the outcome of Chávez’s bout with cancer, the situation has thrust on the Chávista movement the issue of collective leadership. Many Chávistas, including intellectuals grouped in the outspoken Centro Internacional Miranda, have for some time expressed concern about the movement’s excessive reliance on one individual. In the month that Chávez has been absent from the nation, Maudro and Diosdado Cabello (the other main Chávista leader) have worked as a team. Political rivalry occurs in all political organizations and in the case of the Chávista movement there are concrete differences that underpin it. If Chávez eventually recovers and if in the meantime the Chávistasmove in the direction of a collective leadership based on the recognition of diverse positions—albeit just roughly defined—then Chávez’s health ordeal may someday be considered a blessing in disguise.
Steve Ellner has been teaching economic history at the Universidad de Oriente since 1977. His latest book is Rethinking Venezuelan Politics: Class, Conflict and the Chávez Phenomenon.
In the context of an all out assault on public services and the determination of the rich to make the poor bear the burden of the financial crisis, more than ever we need to rediscover the unity and anger that we saw emerge on to the streets ten years ago when millions marched to stop a war in Iraq. What happened on 15 February 2003 should remind us of what it takes to mount a serious challenge to governments who put their own interests above those of ordinary people. So I’m looking forward to the conference and cultural events organised by the Stop the War Coalition to commemorate a time when we saw a ‘second superpower’, in the words of the New York Times, take over the streets of dozens of countries.
We know that public opinion doesn’t back the government’s austerity agenda, doesn’t trust the banks and the financial sector, and doesn’t want to see some of our wealthiest companies and individuals getting away with tax avoidance. The question is how best to turn this into active resistance to welfare cuts, privatisation, managerialism and corporate greed. It won’t happen through abstract slogans but by building the biggest coalitions we can that are focused on concrete issues whether that’s defending the NHS, stopping the encroachment of the private sector into education, demanding that we redirect money spent on war into our public services or campaigning for a whole new approach to growth and investment.
Personally, I’ll be continuing to work on a whole series of fronts: for example, defending international students from attacks from the UK Border Agency and the Home Office, campaigning inside higher education to make sure that universities aren’t turned into supermarkets, and pressing for wholescale changes to our media system—including limits on ownership and levies on the richest media companies to fund new journalism projects that will challenge the cosy consensus we have—in the context of the debates around the Leveson Inquiry which have revealed the extent of the complicity between politicians, the press and the police.
The government’s austerity agenda lacks legitimacy and popular support. The left has pretty much failed to rise to the challenge so 2013 needs to be the year when we start to organise on the basis of what unites us and to link together our different movements into a meaningful opposition. Their coalition represents a tiny minority; ours represents the overwhelming majority. But if we want to rebuild that ‘second superpower’, we need to behave and organise in a way that reflects this.
Des Freedman is Reader in Communications in the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of The Politics of Media Policy, co-author of Misunderstanding the Internet and co-editor of several books including The Assault on Universities and Media and Terrorism: Global Perspectives. He is chair of the Media Reform Coalition and a National Committee member of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom.
Shortly after former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier returned to Haiti on 16 January 2011, a state prosecutor visited him about the many crimes against humanity his regime committed from 1971 to 1986, as well as the over $500 million he and his cronies are documented as pilfering from Haiti’s treasury. But after neo-DuvalieristPresident Michel Martelly’s government came to power in May 2011 via a Washington-engineered illegal election two months earlier, Haiti’s investigation of Duvalier all but stopped. In January 2012, a Martelly-aligned judge dismissed the multiple massive human rights charges against him.
Instead, as 2013 opens, Martelly’s state prosecutor has brought charges against former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide—massively elected in 1990 and 2000, then deposed by U.S.-fomented coups in 1991 and 2004—for being responsible somehow to investors who lost money in the boom and bust of small Haitian cooperative banks in 2002-3, and on a vague charge of ‘exploitation’ of boys at the Lafanmi Selavi orphanage he ran in the 1980s. The prosecutor’s summons for Aristide—who remains a potent symbol—to come before him, first on 3 January, then on 9 January, has stoked the fires of a nationwide anti-Martelly uprising over the Haitian masses’ deepening impoverishment combined with the governing clique’s runaway corruption, growing repression of demonstrations, and flagrant steamrolling of Haitian law and state institutions (principally the establishment of a completely unconstitutional Electoral Council or two). Many state workers have been unpaid for months, and Sen. Moïse Jean-Charles charges that government is bankrupt.
On 5 January, pink-bracelet-wearing pro-Martelly thugs violently attacked and disrupted a meeting of political party leaders in Archahaie, 10 miles north of the capital, Port-au-Prince, provoking anti-Martelly outrage across the political spectrum. Politicians renewed their calls, long heard from the streets, for Martelly’s resignation. Even Port-au-Prince’s Archbishop Guire Poulard denounced government corruption in his traditional 1 January homily for Haitian independence day, singling out the alleged $20,000 per diem that the president pockets during his frequent international trips. Now it appears that even the U.S., French, and Canadian imperialists who facilitated Martelly’s rise to power can read the writing on the wall and are taking their distance. On 4 January Canada, which has in recent years played the bad cop in Haiti to Washington’s good, said that it was freezing all new aid to Haiti due to concern about official corruption.
As 2013 begins, it appears unlikely that Martelly will finish his five year term. But who will replace him? The illegally-enacted Constitutional amendments which he managed to ram through earlier this year would make his long-time business partner and friend Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe the next president if Martelly steps down. Militants of feuding currents in Aristide’s Lavalas Family party along with alumni from the once dynamic but now all-but-defunct National Popular Party (PPN), as well as other progressive groups, still lead spirited demonstrations and morphing coalitions, but the leadership is fragmented. The Lavalas Family, like Aristide himself, remains mute on every burning issue and development, simply calling for inclusive elections. But Aristide’s outspoken and putative political heir, Sen. Jean-Charles, has declared that fair elections under Martelly are impossible.
So although the coming year sees Martelly’s star setting, the challenge remains for Haiti’s progressives to unite and rally their forces to gain, or gain more, political power, a solution which will surely be guarded against by the 9,000-strong United Nations occupation troops (MINUSTAH), clearly Washington’s proxy force. Indeed, the volatile and unpredictable class struggle in Haiti is precisely why UN troops are there. The coming struggle may be messy. Martelly has been building a nationwide network of armed thugs, called ‘Le Police’ or ‘Lame Wòz’ (Pink Army). They resemble the Tonton Makout militia, which guarded the Duvalier dictatorships. Duvalier, meanwhile, still has embezzlement charges against him pending, but the maximum sentence if found guilty is only five years. This outcome seems unlikely given that the former President-for-Life flagrantly and routinely flouts his house-arrest order, visiting friends and dining out at posh Pétionville restaurants. And as Aristide was being served his summons, Martelly was giving Duvalier a diplomatic passport, so he can leave the country whenever he wants.
Kim Ives is an editor with Haïti Liberté newsweekly, the host of a weekly Haiti show on WBAI-FM, and a filmmaker who has helped produce several documentaries about Haiti.