Haiti: Rebellion in Bel Air

Revolutionary Worker #1255, October 17, 2004, posted at http://rwor.org

We received the following correspondence from a reader of the RW. For background on Haiti--in particular the U.S.-backed removal of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February of this year--see the articles online at rwor.org/s/world.htm#haiti. Since aristide's ouster, Haiti has been occupied by U.S. and UN troops. In September, shortly before the events described in this correspondence, nearly 2,000 Haitians were killed when Tropical Storm Jeanne caused huge floods.

From a rooftop in the Bel Air neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, 14-year-old Gerald stood guard with two plastic buckets full of rocks. As police, heavily armed with U.S.-supplied equipment, entered his street, Gerald tossed rocks onto the tin roofs of his neighbors to warn them of impending attack and then began heaving heavy rocks off the roof onto police vehicles below.

Within minutes, residents surrounded the police cars and, in a hail of rocks and trash, forced the Haitian National Police--now a major instrument in the government's campaign of terror against the people--out of the area.

Gerald is one of tens of thousands of ordinary Haitians who have joined forces in recent days to resist the continued occupation of their country by imperialist UN troops and the repressive policies of the Latortue regime.

"We are sick of seeing people die. The other day, police murdered Wendy and they will kill more of us, because to the bourgeoisie our lives are worthless," Gerald explains, referring to the killing of Wendy Manigat, 15, murdered by police on Oct. 1. "Working within the system doesn't work for us anymore. We are voiceless because when the Americans took away the president we voted for, they slit our throats."

"We see now that there is no way the bourgeoisie will let us have a fair chance to make a decent life for ourselves. My generation and the generation of my parents is standing now and saying `no more.' We know that working through the ballot box and diplomatic discussions between politicians only benefits those in power and those with the wealth, so now we are looking for a different way, one that benefits ordinary people."

In the past week, residents of Bel Air, one of the most populous neighborhoods in the capital and a hotbed of anti-occupation sentiment, have begun to physically resist police incursions into their neighborhood. Haiti has been occupied by foreign troops since February. The capital's impoverished majority have been under siege from the Haitian National Police, many of whom are members of the death squads which murdered thousands of peasants during the 1991 coup and then forced Aristide from power earlier this year.

Since the U.S.-backed death squads overthrew the government of Jean Bertrand Aristide in February, and American Ambassador Foley installed Florida businessman Gerald Latortue as prime minister, protests against the new government and the occupying American and UN forces have been primarily peaceful.

However, as each march was met with swift and violent repression on the part of both police and foreign troops, Haitians have been forced to create a nascent organized resistance that, using any available weapon, protects their neighborhoods from those who try to squash the popular protest. This is a huge departure from the stance previously taken by anti-occupation leaders who urged calm, peaceful protests.

"We can't stand by any longer and watch while our lives are destroyed. We've come to the end of our rope. It is unethical, it is wrong, for us to peacefully protest while the white military comes into our homes and murders our children," said one community leader.

In the past six months foreign military troops--some American--were responsible for the brutal murders of dozens of people, most of whom were peaceably going about their business when they were killed. Many others have been illegally arrested, disappeared or shot down in cold blood by CIA-trained and funded death squads as well as the Haitian National Police.

Those killed last week include Marguerite Saint-Fils, 35, who was shot in her home by police; high schooler Wendy Manigat; Roland Braneluce, 28, who was shot by police during a demonstration at Rue Tiremasse; Maxo Casséus, a leader of a grassroots organization in Cité Soleil who was killed by death squads on September 30, and Piersine Adéma, an elderly woman who was reportedly assassinated by the same group that killed Casséus, while she was sitting on her front porch.

The Latortue regime is falling over backwards trying to stifle popular dissent. Hundreds of anti-occupation protesters have also been arrested without warrants or charges, including more than 75 youth arrested in Bel Air on Oct. 6. Radio stations have been silenced by government orders. Dozens of journalists have been arrested, killed or disappeared.

Hundreds of leaders of popular organizations are in prison. Each day at 4 p.m., radio stations read a list of names supplied by the Ministry of Justice, announcing that the named individuals are prohibited from leaving the country and may be arrested. Death squads have taken the list as permission to go after and beat or kill those named.

On September 30, thousands marched through downtown Port-au-Prince to protest brutal acts against the people committed by the Haitian National Police. Masked members of the Unite de Securite Presidentielle (USP), a special security unit assigned to Interim President Boniface Alexandre, responded by firing into the crowd of unarmed demonstrators, killing six. The people then departed from their peaceful stance and fought back, arming themselves and attacking USP cops. At that moment, an armed resistance to the oppression was born.

Pitched battles continued in the streets. On the night of Oct. 1, police, who attempted to raid several homes of anti-occupation activists, surrounded Bel Air. When police drew their guns, the people responded, shooting back at the Haitian National Police and, after a fierce three-hour battle, forcing cops to withdraw.

On Oct. 2, former Deputy Roudy Hèrivaux, Senator Yvon Feuillè, and Senator Gerald Gilles participated in Ranmasé, a talk show broadcast on Radio Caraibes. All three are members of the former government and are moderates, supporters of Aristide, who have urged Haitians to work "within the system for a peaceful resolution." The three were on the air to decry the Sept. 30 attacks on unarmed protesters by police and to criticize the repressive policies of the interim government.

Before the show was finished hundreds of heavily armed CIMO riot police surrounded the radio station. All three--and a fourth, Lawyer Axène Joseph who arrived to defend them--were arrested on order of Minister of Justice Bernard Gousse who maintains that Hèrivaux and Feuillè are the "intellectual authors" of the people's rebellion.

Radio Caraibes suspended broadcastsing in protest, but other radio stations continue to be used as an instrument of terror by the Latortue regime. On the morning of Oct. 2, a police spokesperson asked listeners to stations Radio Metropole and Sweet FM to "notify us if you suspect there are chimere living in your neighborhood. We will come and arrest them." Chimere is a derogatory term used both to refer to unemployed young men from the slums and to militants who either support the deposed president Aristide or protest the occupation.

But those rebelling against the Latortue regime were undeterred. On Oct. 2 the resistance spread to Martissant, an impoverished area spanning the western section of the capital city. At 10 a.m. the police ringed the neighborhood, using the bogus excuse of an attack on the local police station (which never happened), to arrest anti-occupation militants. According to witnesses, police killed several bystanders and wounded at least a dozen before arresting 24 men. But the people fought back, shooting in the air and eventually at police, who were forced to withdraw.

"We're prepared. We're going to fight back now. We know there's a possibility that the foreign military or the police could come for us at any moment. We know that our very lives depend on fighting back and building to a moment when we can seize power," says Margaurette, 22, who organizes her block's supply of homemade weapons.

"The October 2 arrests follow a sharp upturn in attacks against critics of the interim government's human rights policies," reports human rights attorney Brian Concannon from the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, which provides legal advocacy for anti-occupation protesters who have been attacked by police and paramilitary forces. "On September 16, police officers raided the offices of the Confederation of Haitian Workers (CTH) labor union and arrested nine union members, all without a warrant. Hours later, masked men in military attire attacked the office of the Committee for the Protection of the Rights of the Haitian People (CDPH)." Both organizations have encouraged public resistance against the U.S.-installed regime.

There is currently no revolutionary party in Haiti, but the Haitian people themselves are beginning to articulate a vision for something that moves beyond the confines of bourgeois democracy which has been their focal point since the departure of U.S.-backed Baby Doc Duvalier, a dictator who was forced from the country under popular protest in 1986. The resulting pro-democracy movement brought Aristide to power, but, hampered by U.S. intervention and the limits of capitalist democracy, he was unable to bring about lasting change for the Haitian people.

The U.S. government and the international media has tried to discredit the resistance, portraying those protesting as few in number and describing them as "machete-wielding Aristide supporters" who, they claim, decapitated innocent policemen. In a country where the media has easy access to morgues and hospitals, no decapitated bodies have been located and police spokespeople haven't been able to produce the names of those supposedly killed and decapitated by the resistance.

Who are the resisters? They are men and women, some as young as 13 and as old as 69. Most are former peasants who were forced from their land by the economic downfall of the IMF-mandated structural adjustment programs that drove small farmers out of business. They brought their families to the capital in the last 10 to 20 years, desperately searching for jobs that didn't exist. Most live in neighborhoods such as Cité Soleil and Bel Air where two or three families share one small room in a concrete or tin shack.

From his perch above Bel Air, Gerald pointed out raw sewage running through the streets between towering piles of garbage. "I'm not even an adult yet, and even I know that I don't have anything to lose by resisting the new government. This is no kind of life to live for, and we youth know that it's only by fighting for a different kind of world that our lives will be better."