Haiti: Where should the left stand?

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca in its summer fundraiser today for as little as $1 per month!

Alternatives has helped a number of organizations from the Haitian Diaspora in Canada to participate in the campaign of solidarity for Haiti, including pressing the Canadian government for more generous aid policies and more support for a genuine democra

There has been considerable debate on the left in North America about the current situation in Haiti. As part of this debate, there have been accusations that those of us critical of Aristide have somehow sold out to the forces of evil. The situation in Haiti is dire and deserves a serious debate rather than accusations and counter accusations.

Some of these accusations have been directed against Alternatives. Over the years, Alternatives, a Montreal-based solidarity movement, has stood by several popular movements in Haiti and extended its communication skills to a number of community media and journalist associations.

Back home in the meantime, Alternatives has helped a number of organizations from the Haitian Diaspora in Canada to participate in the campaign of solidarity for Haiti, including pressing the Canadian government for more generous aid policies and more support for a genuine democratic process involving the society at large, and not just the political élites.

More than 200 years ago, the African slaves of Haiti defeated French and later Spanish and British imperialism. The first republic of the hemisphere had a very difficult beginning. France and Britain, then later the United States never gave in to what was perceived as a mortal threat to the interests of the slave-owners. The Africans in Haiti were also split between various factions combining race and class factors, which did not help to create the conditions for a democratic state.

In the early part of the 20th century, the U.S. intervened directly with military occupation and repression. Resistance continued, however and in the 1930s, a new populist movement came about under François Duvalier (the father). After flirting with the popular classes, Duvalier established his own dictatorship, courting an African “middle class” and enlisting Haiti in the Cold War led by the United States.

The rise and fall of Aristide

In the 1980s, Jean Claude Duvalier (the son) was unable to crush the rising tide of people's resistance to the dictatorship. Out of this, Jean Bernard Aristide, a charismatic priest active in the shantytowns of Port-au-Prince, became the spokesperson of the movement. In 1990, he was swept into power through Haiti's first democratic elections.

But U.S. imperialism and the local ruling group could not accept this democratic verdict. A few months later, the military overthrew Aristide opening a new cycle of violence and repression during which many of the popular leaders were executed, jailed or exiled. In 1994 under Haitian and international pressure, the U.S. was forced to bring Aristide back from his Washington exile.

Artistide's movement, Lalavas, which was a sort of rainbow alliance during its first incarnation, began to fumble after the return of a transformed President who was mostly concerned with reaffirming his control rather than engaging in the political, social and environmental reconstruction of the country. Many supporters of Lavalas broke away, including most of the left factions that had supported him initially. Dissidents of various stripes became the target of Aristide, such as the famous journalist-agronomist Jean Dominique and many other popular leaders.

Subsequent elections were rigged to the extent that most of the opposition boycotted the futile exercise. In the last presidential election in 2000, fewer than 15 per cent of Haitians bothered to vote (for René Preval, the “stand-in” for Aristide). By 2003 and 2004, popular demonstrations, strikes and riots multiplied, creating more disturbances. In the meantime, the economy went bankrupt, increasing Aristide's drive towards the side of drug dealers who transformed Haiti into a major smuggling operation.

Descent into hell

All throughout that period, the big international players kept out, creating around Haiti an invisible wall of isolation and neglect. None of them were interested really in supporting the democratic opposition. For the United States particularly, Haiti had to be saved from itself only to avoid a major influx of boatpeople.

Later, the old gangs of Duvalierists and ex-military thugs engaged into their own destabilization with the help of the Dominican government and mafia. They came out with their guns and kicked Artistide's supporters out of several cities. Port-au-Prince became ungovernable. Then the panic-button was hit. In February, U.S. Marines came to “surgically remove” Aristide who was shipped to Africa.

In a few days, the coup was endorsed by the UN under a joint resolution to the Security Council presented by France, the U.S. and Canada. Later a UN-mandated Brazilian-led contingent was sent to protect a “transition” in principle managed by a non-elected government.

The left and many of the popular movements that had led the democratic struggles in the last decade came out of this series of extraordinary events quite stunned. Some decided to side with the transitional government in the hope of rebuilding a minimum space for democratic governance. Others aligned with Aristide defending the principle of national sovereignty above and beyond anything else, including the crimes that everyone knew Aristide had committed. Some of the radical groups refused however to side with one or the other and announced that they would fight “on two fronts”.

In the meanwhile, the situation has gravely deteriorated. Most of the members (with exceptions) of the “interim government” have been ineffective as it was predicted in the beginning. Aristide has succeeded in joining hands with some of the hard-nose gangs in the capital to create havoc. Many of his supporters on the other hand have been arbitrarily repressed, even those who had nothing to do with crime or drug trafficking. In addition to the misery and famine inflicted on the Haitian people, insecurity and violence now prevail in many parts of the country. Tons of promises by the “international community” to clean the mess have been left into the air.

The enemy of my enemy is not my friend

Aristide who has been suppressed by the United States has tried successfully to present himself as a “martyr” and a victim of imperialism. For sure, he was punished, as were several others who have dared to confront at one point or the other the arrogance of the powerful. He is not alone in that family that includes genuine popular leaders but also distorted populist thugs such as Noriega, Saddam Hussein, Robert Mugabe and others. In their desire to overthrow these regimes, imperialism is much less concerned with democracy as it is with the protection of its own interests.

While “bad” dictators are overthrown, “good” dictators are supported and promoted by Washington when they are able to “do the job” properly, as in Saudi Arabia, Colombia or Indonesia.

In any case, should solidarity movements support Aristide because he was punished by the U.S.? Well-known Haitian left activists like Camille Chalmers say that in no way can they support Aristide even though they are highly critical of the way he was expelled and moreover, of how the international community has handled the situation since then. The sovereignty of the nation has to be preserved, and at the same time, the Haitians want democracy and social justice, not the coming back of the thugs. How to do that? Chalmers concludes that there is no escape from rebuilding an alternative through the popular movements that struggle and propose solutions. There is no quick-fix and the task is tremendous.

This is where solidarity movements should stand.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.