Protests have shaken Haiti and demanded the president, Jovenel Moise, step down.
He has not gone, yet, but has been forced to make concessions including “a wide range of measures” to alleviate poverty.
But Haitians know from centuries of bitter experience not to trust those who claim to act in their name.
Moise has used brutal force to put down the protests.
When protesters threw stones at his house earlier in February police opened fire, killing at least one person.
Many more have been killed over the course of the protests, and police have been killed in retaliation.
A scandal about the Haitian ruling class’s corrupt use of funds from an international oil deal is at the centre of the protests.
The PetroCaribe agreement was signed between the Venezuelan government and 17 other countries in the Caribbean and Latin America. It allows these countries access to Venezuelan oil and cheap loans.
The deal was an attempt to break the US strategy of isolating Venezuela and forge bonds between countries that suffered under the yoke of US imperialism. It was at least partially successful.
In Haiti the agreement allowed the state to access Venezuelan oil without having to pay for all of it for 25 years. The Haitian state could then sell the oil internally and use the money to fund infrastructure projects.
This is how it worked for the five years after 2006 when Rene Preval was elected as president. Preval had been a protege of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the former president who was twice removed by US-backed coups (see right). After a devastating earthquake in 2010 the US effectively took control of Haiti.
Preval’s preferred candidate was pushed aside to make way for Michel Martelly, who quickly went to work creaming off the PetroCaribe account.
The money from the scheme was central to the Haitian economy. Once it started drying up it had a ripple effect, playing an important role in the economic crisis gripping the country today.
In 2017 two investigations ordered by members of the Haitian senate implicated Martelly’s prime minister Laurent Lamothe.
The investigations found that states of emergency had been used to push through laws which did not require full transparency when dealing with PetroCaribe money.
This meant there were two opportunities for corruption—in distributing the oil and in allocating the money generated. Over £3 billion is missing—a huge figure in a country as desperately poor as Haiti. And Moise’s government has so far refused to prosecute anyone involved in the scandal.
It has gone on scams to line the pockets of crooks—£15 million for an airport no one can land on, for instance.
And almost £3 million went on 100 new police vehicles—money that came from a fund specifically set aside for disaster relief after successive hurricanes since 2006.
A history of US invasions, violence and interference
The spectre of US intervention and invasion is a constant threat in Haiti. Successive administrations have attacked the country in opposition to democratic movements (see right).
In 1915 US president and well known racist Woodrow Wilson ordered an occupation of Haiti. It came after a huge movement overthrew the US-friendly dictator Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam.
The revolutionary wave threatened US interests in the country. The purpose of the invasion was to “re-establish peace and order,” according to Wilson.
Wilson also wanted to rewrite the Haitian constitution, which banned the foreign ownership of land. The occupation went on until 1934.
One century later it should come as no surprise that the US is up to its old tricks, and that the same excuses are used.
On Wednesday of last week eight heavily-armed men were arrested in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince. Most of them were US citizens. Among them were ex-Navy Seals and special forces-types. Satellite communications equipment was found in the pickup truck they drove.
The eight men reportedly told Haitian authorities when arrested they were “on a government mission”.
This was an attempt by the US to capitalise on the chaos created by the protests against Moise to push its own agendas.
The eight were put on a plane back to Miami, where they faced no charges and were debriefed by the FBI.
Coups and blackmail
Why was the US so keen to get rid of Jean-Bertrand Aristide?
There’s a hint of how dangerous he was for the US in a 2007 interview he did with the Marxist philosopher Peter Hallward.
“It isn’t a matter of struggling for the people, on behalf of the people, at a distance from the people—it’s a matter of struggling with and in the midst of the people,” he said.
Aristide was a part of the movement in the 1980s which swept the dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier—“Baby Doc”—from power in 1986.
Aristide was overthrown by coups both in 1991 and 2004.
The coup in 2004 was backed by the US—Aristide was flown out of Haiti on a US plane in what he described as a kidnapping.
It followed his demands in 2003 for reparations from France, Haiti’s former colonial owner.
From 2001 right wing paramilitary groups based in the Dominican Republic, next door to Haiti, launched raids into the country. They are alleged to have received training from US and French special forces.
A conference held in Canada in 2003 discussed the future of Haiti—with no Haitian representative present. According to one report of the conference, regime change was discussed openly.
The coups, violence and restrictions forced Aristide to accept an economic programme that made Haiti’s people even poorer. His party came to rely on violence to put down dissent.