Struggles in Haiti will intensify over the coming year, writes journalist Kim Ives, as the Martelly regime quashes charges against the country's former dictator even as it pursues investigations into former President Aristide. Part of our series of short contributions from writers and activists looking to the year ahead.
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-Duvalierist President 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.