Haiti awakens: protests bring the country to a standstill

During the past month, protests in Chile and Ecuador have dominated headlines in the region, however, another in country, citizens had already been occupying the streets six months beforehand when the first mobilisation took off in Quito a few weeks ago: Haiti.

Since February of this year, protests against currently president Jovenal Moïse and current prime minister Jean-Henry Céant, reignited after almost a year of intermittent strikes, and since then, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Haiti’s city to demand they resign.

Protesters are tired of austerity measures that have often gone accompanied by increases in the prices of basic commodities. They also demand to know what happened with thousands of millions of dollars received from Venezuela that disappeared without a trace.

“The exploitative neoliberal model that has been imposed on Haiti has failed many times before” according to journalist Antony Loewenstein, and as a result, many Haitians live in poverty and despair. This, combined with the poor governance of a series of corrupt administrations who have diverted public and humanitarian funds, and historical colonialism, has created the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

According to the World Bank, in 2018 the GDP per capita in Haiti was only $870 USD, and in a country of only 10 million inhabitants, 6 million live below the extreme poverty line. In other words, that’s 60% of the population.

However, just like Chile and Ecuador, Haiti awakened, and now there is little that will contain the popular uprising that seeks to hold Moïse to account for his actions during his presidency. That’s why we tell you everything you need to know about the current situation in Haiti, and why this is all a consequence of centuries of colonialism and corruption.

A colonial past and present

It’s no coincidence that Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world and this poverty has everything to do with its colonial past and present.

The island of Hispaniola, colonized in 1492 by the Spanish, and later divided by the Spanish and French, is now home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Haiti, upon colonisation by the French, received the second largest quantity of African slaves of the Americas, only beaten by Brazil, and in the 19th century, 90% of its population was made up for Afrodescendents.

After Haiti gained independence from France and liberated the slaves in 1804, the US which was still a slave owning nation boycotted all trade with the island fearing the revolution would expand to its own territory.

France, also infuriated with the liberation of Haiti’s slave population and the loss of its colony, forced the country to pay a financial reparation of 150 million francs, which was 10 times more than the country’s income at that time.

A punishment for being black, as it is now understood with the benefit of hindsight. This debt crippled the country over the following centuries, and it helped to create the state of extreme poverty that exists today.

During the 20th century, US involvement in the island began to emerge, provoking two coup d’etats and generating more foreign debt and dependency. It all began will millions of dollars of humanitarian aid in the 60s that was squandered by authoritarian leaders, and it later took the form of tied aid, conditional on the implementation of certain neoliberal policies. In the 70s, in order to receive aid, the US forced Haiti to lower tariffs on imported agricultural goods, that led the internal agricultural market to completely crash in favour of US imports.

Later on, the Clinton family became the main promoters of neoliberalism on the island, even in Haiti’s darkest hour after the earthquake in 2010 that displaced around 1.6 million people and killed another 316,000. The Clintons supported the construction of the Caracol industrial complex in 2011, but the complex mostly benefited US businesses and its construction displaced around 300 local families. Later, the Clinton Foundation helped to secure a deal to build the Marriott in Port-au-Prince, whilst their plans to reconstruct housing and the port fell through.

Current protests and police repression

Colonialism and a series of extremely corrupt governments are the molotov cocktail that has ignited protests in Haiti, paralysing the country in the main cities. It’s as much a revolt against US imperialism as it is against Moïse and Céant, who have both been implicated in various corruption scandals.

Aristide, who was the first democratically elected president of Haiti, and who governed until 2004, was kidnapped and forced into exile by members of the Haitian elite with the support of the US because he attempted to implement social programs to alleviate poverty that went against their economic interests.

Since he last left Haiti, governments that have strengthened the neoliberal agenda are all Haiti has known. In fact, the majority of homes that fell during the 2010 earthquake, has been built without regulations and according to the principles of neoliberalism during that period, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths and worsening suffering.

It is for these reasons that Haitians are tired of their governments that lack the political force to resist imperialist interests and the temptations of corruption. The Haitian police force and army, backed by UN troops sent to Haiti to supposedly keep the peace, have responded with repression and brutality, causing 26 deaths and injuring another 77 since February this year.

This police brutality follows a pattern of responses throughout the region, but namely in Chile where the government in the previous weeks sent the army to the streets to repress protests, resulting in more than 19 deaths.

It would appear that the Americas are awakening and beginning to see the true ugly face of neoliberalism: a system that has brought suffering for the majority and immense wealth for an elite that has always had the support of the US to continue implementing its reign of terror. Is there finally hope this will come to an end in Haiti?

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