Haiti and Imperialist Domination, Part 1

by Jan Makandal
(February 2010)

Since capitalism reached the stage of imperialism, many imperialist countries have initiated and developed relations with Haiti. From the onset, these have been nothing but relations of domination.

This analysis divides that history into three periods, with an emphasis on the third:

1) The period from our independence to 1915
2) From 1915 to the 1960s
3) From the 1960s to the present

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The first period:

Before 1915, the relation of Haiti with imperialism was mostly based on trade. This trade relation was always unequal, with Haiti in the subordinated and disfavored position. Haiti was compelled to sell its products at an undervalued cost, while buying products from imperialist countries at an overvalued cost. This systematically held back the development of Haiti.

In addition to unequal exchange, imperialist countries used other tactics to continue the pillage of Haiti: for example high-interest loans, which Haitians call “Kout Ponya.” Also, imperialist forces intervened militarily many times, and forced Haiti to pay indemnities (in 1850, 500 million dollars to the US; in 1872, 18 thousand Deutschmarks to Germany; in 1877, 682,000 British pounds to England; in 1874-84, 179,750.00 francs to France; and in 1914, the US pillaged the Haitian National Bank).

During this period, imperialist countries did not really invest in Haiti. All of these practices (unequal exchange, loans with high interest, and forced indemnities) blocked the development of Haiti‘s economy, and caused an atrophic and deformed type of capitalism to develop there.

There were many reasons for Haiti’s unequal economic relation with imperialism. Two stand out as the most determinant:

First and foremost, anti-national, anti-popular social classes held political power inside Haiti, and allowed and facilitated its domination by imperialism.

The second reason was the direct political domination of Haiti by imperialism. This took many forms, the most humiliating of which was constant and repeated military interventions.

We must also note that during this period, there was inter-imperialist competition over the domination of Haiti. Imperialist countries such as France, Germany and the US were in a constant struggle among each other for hegemony. During this first period until 1915, France was the main dominator.

The second period:

The second period witnessed some important developments with enormous consequences. To more systematically cover this timeframe, it helps to split it in two: 1915 to 1934, and 1934 to 1968.

1915 to 1934:

This is the duration of the first US occupation. Imperialist hegemony had changed hands: the US dethroned France and became the main dominator of Haiti until today.

Contrary to some assertions, the US did not occupy Haiti because it wanted to make Haiti pay for the insolence of being independent. It was also not because we were the first “Black nation” or “Black people.” To believe these were the reasons indicates a pretty limited understanding of the nature of imperialism.

Instead, this domination was based on the politics of US imperialism toward what it referred to as its “back yard.” While European imperialist countries were engaged in their first inter-imperialist war (I refuse to call it a “world war,” which is a totally arrogant bourgeois concept), the US took the opportunity to seize control of most of Latin America and the Caribbean. The effort to dominate peripheral countries was one of the constant drivers of inter-imperialist rivalry.

The direct investments made in Haiti by US imperialism increased considerably. They were geared toward capitalist enterprises, and facilitated the development of the capitalist mode of production in Haiti. But because of the existing structure of domination, the particular form of capitalism that arose was not able to destroy the feudal mode of production, even though the latter had begun to deteriorate and decompose. Instead, these two antagonistic modes of production existed side by side. This condition fostered a constant state of crisis in the society as a whole, but in the final analysis benefited imperialism and the Haitian dominant classes.

Imperialism restructured the state apparatus to defend its interests and guarantee the political domination of Haiti. The reorganized state apparatus carried out the repression of the nationalist and patriotic forces led by Charlemagne Peralte and Benoit Batraville.

US imperialism consolidated its relations with the Haitian dominant classes, creating a social base that solidified the US domination over Haiti even after the patriotic resistance forced them out physically.

Meanwhile, the US totally decimated the newly emerging national bourgeoisie, using political means: both repression and judicial measures. One law passed in 1918, regarding the production of alcohol, bankrupted more than one hundred national businesses. This period of imperialist domination sparked the first wave of migration to other countries (such as Cuba).

1934- 1968:

With US imperialism dominating Haiti, direct investment continued to increase. To cement economic domination, the imperialists brought additional mechanisms to bear, such as concession contracts and aid.

These methods were connected to changes in US imperialism. Finance capital was slowly but surely replacing industrial capital as the principal form of extracting surplus value. Rather than relying on production, capitalists increasingly began seeking profits through the circulation of capital.

Meanwhile the Haitian state apparatus became more dependent on imperialism, openly defending imperialist interests with an advanced sycophantism.

During this period, the imperialist powers continued their inter-imperialist struggle for control. US imperialism had hegemony over Haiti’s economic and political structure, while French imperialism was dominant in the cultural realm.

Again, we must emphasize the collaborative role that the Haitian dominant classes have played in facilitating and allowing imperialism to dominate Haiti. We are insisting on this point because there is a prevalent political position, dominant on the left, to look at only one aspect of imperialist relations with dominated social formations.

The Haitian dominant classes were anti-national and anti-popular. US imperialism consolidated its relations with these reactionary classes, especially the comprador bourgeoisie, in order to facilitate their economic and political line in Haiti. At the same time they were aggressively dismantling the national bourgeoisie that had just begun to develop in Haiti. With US backing, the comprador bourgeoisie was established as the hegemonic fraction of the dominant power bloc.

Although the imperialists favored the ascension of the comprador bourgeoisie, and assisted them in supplanting the hegemonic position once held by the feudal landlords, at the same time they also maintained some strong relations with the feudal landlords for political balance.

Toward the end of this period, from 1957 to 1968, a new fraction within the bourgeoisie became a class by itself: the bureaucratic bourgeoisie. This resulted in certain contradictions between imperialism and the Haitian government (the center pole of the state apparatus). This was the Duvaliers’ era.

Even when these contradictions appeared acute at times, they were always very secondary to the underlying relationship of cooperation. The Haitian Left misinterpreted the nature of these contradictions, and assigned them a role not corresponding to the objective reality. This resulted in an opportunist line, which totally degenerated into a revisionist line.

Imperialism dominated Haiti as a whole by dominating its ruling classes (the bourgeoisie and feudal landlords, both allies of imperialism). For 19 years, the US marines aggressively repressed the patriotic forces and the masses who did not accept occupation. The Haitian dominant classes collaborated with them. They organized marches demanding occupation, and leaned on the petit bourgeoisie to participate. In unity with the dominant classes, US imperialism built a solid state apparatus that was for the most part capable of organizing anti-popular repression. Whichever government was heading it, the state apparatus was going to defend their interests—the interests of the dominant classes as well as imperialism, mainly US imperialism.

After the occupation, the anti-national and anti-popular Haitian dominant classes continued to allow imperialism to dominate Haiti. The interests of these classes and imperialism coincided, and the same state apparatus defended both. The Haitian ruling classes not only accepted domination; they contributed to it and to its consolidation.

Even when the state apparatus was already defending the interests of imperialism, the US continued to play a direct role in the political life of the country. During the Duvalier era, the CIA fomented coups, and used incidents such as attempted coups or invasions by the opposition, in order to put pressure on the government and the dominant classes.

During the two aforementioned periods, Haiti was subjected to many atrocities by imperialism, mainly by France and the US. This was due to the nature of imperialism—humiliation is necessary in order to enforce domination. Imperialist centers can only exist by dominating peripheral social formations—they are driven to do so by their need to export goods and capital, to extract raw materials, and to exploit labor based on the international division of labor. The nature of imperialism explains such relations with dominated countries.

Haiti is a perfect example. After 95 years of imperialist domination, the Haitian social formation is in worse shape than it has ever been. During this period, many different governments have run the state apparatus, but all have done so in the interests of the dominant classes and imperialism.

We need to point out that the ways these various reactionary governments served imperialism and the Haitian dominant classes have not been identical. The many reasons for their differences include internal struggles among the dominant classes, plus the effects of popular struggles. Notwithstanding their differences, we must refrain from representing any one of these governments as being less reactionary, less anti-popular, less anti-national than the others. The differences between them were secondary to the fact that in all cases, the whole state apparatus was totally domesticated for imperialism, and served as the instrument of organizing the dominant classes against the popular masses. As many governments came and went, the nature of the state apparatus remained the same throughout: an anti-popular and anti-national institution.

During these first two periods, the popular masses didn’t remain idle in the face of imperialism. They resisted. The most advanced form of resistance was the armed struggle of poor peasants and small farmers under the leadership of Peralte and Batraville. Students protested as well. Workers organized themselves to resist exploitation by capitalist enterprises in the sugar cane industry. Intellectuals, progressives and revolutionaries all resisted.

While upholding these struggles, we also need to recognize their limitations. The popular camp was not unified. The working class—the only class under whose leadership the goal of liberation can be achieved—was not organized, either at the mass levels or at the revolutionary level.

Still, the popular resistance did play a fundamental role in kicking imperialist forces out of Haiti, although imperialist domination remained. One fact must be reinforced: we can’t understand imperialist domination without grasping the complimentary roles of the reactionary government, the anti-national, anti-popular state apparatus, and the reactionary dominant classes.

The third period (1968 to the present):

This latest period is the most important. Many phenomena occurred during this period that were completely different from previous periods, because imperialist domination was consolidating, and the general situation of the social formation was reaching a more critical stage.

Two important conditions marked this timeframe. The Haitian dominant classes, especially the bourgeoisie, totally aligned themselves with the Duvalier regime. This rallying occurred between 1961 and 1965—a period of extreme, extensive and consistent repression against the working class movement, as well as against the progressive cultural movement. Soon after, from 1967 to 1969, the Duvalier regime organized another period of heightened repression against progressives and communists.

The secondary contradictions between Duvalier and imperialism were slowly being resolved, and the American government consolidated its relations with the regime. Imperialism resumed economic and military aid. Bolstered by this new relationship, the Duvalier regime consolidated itself in relation to the dominant classes.

Developments at the international level also had a profound effect on Haiti. American imperialism was taking heavy blows from countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia, and Chile. In addition, other imperialist countries were regaining influence after the second inter-imperialist war. They were able to engage with increasing aggression in a new re-ordering of peripheral countries under their domination, seriously challenging the hegemony of US imperialism. The emergence of Russian social imperialism also challenged the hegemony of US imperialism in various parts of the world. These new conditions had a pertinent effect on the relation of Haiti with other imperialist countries.

In general, from 1968 to 1980, imperialist domination of Haiti firmed up with the continued utilization of the same methods. Imperialists gave “aid” to the dominant classes, as well as increasingly to the government. Historically, the amount of this “aid” was incomparable to that imposed during any other period in Haiti.

We need to assert firmly that this so-called “aid” had nothing to do with assisting Haiti. Instead, it only benefited the dominant classes and made them even more receptive to imperialist policies. This aid facilitated the penetration and domination of imperialism  . Without it, the Haitian dominant classes would have been totally powerless. (Their fundamental powerlessness, by the way, opened the door for many occupations).

Without this aid, imperialism would not have been able to exploit our natural resources, such as bauxite. They would not have been able to super-exploit the working class. This aid was necessary for Haiti to balance its budget. It was essential in solidifying the state apparatus in the interest of imperialism and the dominant classes. It was necessary to reinforce the dominated relations of the sycophant Haitian ruling classes (in addition to their state apparatus) to imperialism.

In reality, this aid didn’t help us. Objectively it only made Haiti even more dependent. Often this aid came under the cover of humanitarian assistance, even using natural disasters as the ostensible reason. But even though in some situations this aid may have been truly needed in the short term, coming from imperialism, with the conditions attached to it, it has had extremely negative consequences in the long term.

Today, for Haitians to eat, food has to be imported. This is a consequence of “aid.“

Aid has been a means to block the development of Haiti, by allowing the reactionary retrograde structure to maintain and reproduce itself. Imperialists have used NGOs directly connected to imperialist institutions—such as Food for the Poor, PAM (UN World Food Programme)—to actively pursue their objectives in Haiti. Free food distribution has been in direct competition with peasant agricultural production. One of its consequences has been to increase unemployment, as well as to create more conditions for total dependency on imperialism. These types of aid are no solution at all. Instead of helping, they are chains keeping us in domination and totally blocking us from coming out of these abject conditions. WE HAVE 95 YEARS TO PROVE IT.

Imperialist investments began increasing in 1968, but this had a very negative impact on Haiti. Imperialists sought oil, copper and other resources. They invested in factories—all assembly sweatshops.

It is important to point out that their investment in industry was (and still is) detrimental to the Haitian social formation. These sweatshops are only contributing to the development of a stunted, totally dependent form of capitalism in Haiti. The factories are not connected to the economy as a whole. They have no relation to agriculture or to other spheres of production. They are justly called assembly industries. They are units of production extracting surplus value in an exceptionally inhumane way (not that there is a humane way of making profits). Workers are forced to labor in the most wretched conditions, for wages that correspond to slavery. Their most basic human needs are systematically denied.

From Jean Claude Duvalier to all the Lavalas-led (Aristide or Préval) governments in unison with the bourgeoisie, the only thing being peddled was the cheap labor Haiti had to offer. The surplus value extracted from this was not being reinvested in Haiti.

To argue that sweatshops create jobs is a political position propagandized simply to benefit the bourgeoisie and imperialism. In fact, sweatshops are fake employment. The workers sell their labor at far less than its value. In Haiti today, a worker needs at least 500 gourdes ($12.50) per day to provide subsistence for a family of four. Just recently, the daily minimum wage was adjusted from 70 gourdes ($1.75) to 200 gourdes ($5), in violation of even the reactionary Haitian Labor Code’s cost-of-living adjustment provision.

Imperialism also invests in tourism. Club Med was one of their most well known resorts in Haiti. They have big plans to continue this type of investment. It is an anti-national type of investment, with no plan for the creation of any support industry. It is a model already proven to be a failure, the parasitical creation of an oasis in the middle of a desert hell for the masses.

Imperialism is also forced to make investments it would rather not make, such as building infrastructure, but only for the purpose of penetrating deeper into the country. The Haitian state apparatus sits idle, preferring that imperialism (rather than itself) makes these types of investments.

In addition to all these investments, banks are sprouting like mushrooms in Haiti, penetrating the countryside. With the intensification of domination, a lot of capital is circulating in Haiti, making all these banks necessary. They are not subject to the regulations of imperialist countries, and are able to do international transactions.

For the past two decades, the monopolistic bourgeois fraction has formed conglomerates to acquire banking institutions. Two of these institutions were acquired during the reactionary, anti-national, anti-popular embargo demanded by Aristide, benefiting them during the occupation. All the capital required to maintain the troops went through these financial institutions. All the funding for NGOs is passing through them. All the aid money is going into these banks.

Even as imperialist economic interests are accruing, they also must defend them. In reality, these interests are not translating into the development of Haiti. They are investments made from an anti-national objective, in an atrophied economy, with no intention to positively stimulate the economic potential of Haiti. For example, when the imperialists extracted bauxite, they took the top soil and exported it to Jamaica—leaving Haiti with nothing when the bauxite had been exhausted. They even took the light bulbs as they were leaving. No processing plants are anywhere to be found that could exploit our natural fruits. Instead, we have Coca Cola plants producing beverages for local consumption.

All this capital circulating in Haiti only benefits the dominant classes, mainly the bourgeoisie. The masses can’t even smell that green; they only hear about it through the airwaves. On the contrary, they are paying heavily for this capital circulation: inflation is forever increasing, while the cost of living has quadrupled in the past decade.

At the political level, domination increased and has been consolidated. Imperialism has objectively been managing Haiti since the 1980s. The relation of the imperialist state to the Haitian state became more strict, and the Haitian state apparatus became increasingly dependent. What existed was an objective de facto “mise sous tutelle” or protectorate.

Since the mid-1980s, it has been evident to many proletarian revolutionaries that  the Haitian social formation has been facing two alternatives. Due to the incapacity of the Haitian dominant classes, and due to the failure of the state apparatus, Haiti faced two realities: 1) occupation by imperialism, or 2) a takeover by the popular masses under the leadership of the working class to defeat the dominant classes, change the course of Haiti, and prevent it from falling into the abyss.

US imperialist influence remains dominant and hegemonic. The influence of other imperialist countries remains very weak, though French influence has been slowly growing. France participated in the consolidation of the state apparatus and the government. It functions in relative autonomy even as its role in Haiti is coordinated under the hegemony of US imperialism. Of course, this reflects the perpetual inter-imperialist struggle.

In the aftermath of the January 12th, 2010 earthquake, French imperialism was quickly reminded, even in its relative autonomy, who the real boss was. France was stopped from taking any independent role, and their aid effort was blocked unless put under US control.

One of the spheres of inter-imperialist struggle is at the cultural level. French imperialism is attempting to reclaim control by using the existence of similarity at the level of culture between France and Haiti. They are actively participating in opening schools in Haiti (as is the US). In 1977, they founded the National Institute of Professional Formation. They opened a publishing company called Edition Caraibes. The French control the entire education system throughout Haiti. But with frequent immigration to the US, the competition for influence in Haiti seems to be an uphill battle for the French. HBO is accessible in Haiti; the popularity of hip-hop and rap are growing fast. Frankly, from an imperialist world outlook, the French seem to be at the losing end of this ongoing war of influence.

To understand imperialist domination in Haiti, it is imperative that we examine two contradictory aspects that exist in unity:

1) The competition that exists among imperialist countries for influence and for hegemony. Sometimes this struggle is resolved through armed conflict, or sometimes simply by taking over where another imperialist left off (such as occurred with Vietnam). Each imperialist country strives constantly to expand its zone of influence, but they are also aggressively seeking their own little pieces inside a social formation. The struggle for influence is, at this time, not antagonistic. The imperialist countries use bilateral agreements to get their respective pieces of the pie: the French in Jacmel, Israel in Bas Bohen, Germany in Plaine du Nord. US imperialists have participated in very shady business deals, such as trade in human blood, corpses, and urine. They used (and tried to use more of) Haiti as a dump for toxic waste. They employ NGOs as a front to use the Haitian masses as guinea pigs for pharmaceutical experiments, or for introducing their products in the Haitian markets. They sell powdered milk while marketing it as superior to mother’s milk. Many Christian NGOs have participated in tryouts of contraceptives on women from the popular masses.

2) The unity existing amongst imperialists to dominate Haiti. They all have the same political project to dominate Haiti. They all coordinate their political practice, while at the same time each tries to present itself as the lesser evil.

A) They all support the reactionary government, and even coordinate their actions. Both the French and American ambassadors were present at the departure of Jean Claude Duvalier. Both were present in the National Palace during the first coup against Aristide. Both tried to block the first election of Aristide (and might have succeeded had it not been for the tenacity and the determination of the masses).

B) They all maneuver to consolidate the state apparatus.

C) They all work to maintain a certain stability of bourgeois democracy, as window dressing for the masses. The only form of participation of the masses is to look at the illusion of democracy as if from outside a glass window, by putting a piece of paper in a box.

D) They all pressure the government to stop corruption and to regulate their administrative practices. They push the government to adopt the policies they want, by promising or withdrawing “aid.”

These points, all from a proletarian problematic, show that no self-determination can be achieved in Haiti if our struggle is not an anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist struggle. No international solidarity is worthwhile if it is not guided from an uncompromising anti-imperialist stand.

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