International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International Vol. 15 No. 1 (March 1988)

Haitian Massacre: Made in the USA

The US-backed military junta of General Henri Namphy has clearly emerged as the principal author of the November 29 election massacre in Haiti.

The US State Department has concentrated its verbal fire on the tontons macoutes, the former political police and terror apparatus of the Duvalier regime, and has urged junta leader Namphy to restore “stability” and ensure “democracy.” The fact is that the Haitian Army which Namphy commands played the central role in turning the elections into a bloody slaughter.

The gangs of tontons macoutes were given free rein by the military to carry out their hideous attacks on men, women and children lined up at polling places. In many of these attacks, the thugs were openly joined by army troops. In several areas, the army acted alone to drive off voters with gunfire, ransack voting places and destroying ballots.

The army’s role was unmistakably revealed in the contrast between its actions before and after the aborted elections. In the weeks before the elections, as the tontons macoutes carried out a rampage of violence often in broad daylight and in the center of Port-au-Prince, the troops were confined to their barracks and the army lifted not one finger to interfere.

But in the week after the elections, when opposition politicians and union leaders called a general strike to protest the disruption of the elections, large numbers of heavily-armed troops were deployed throughout the capital.

In the wake of the two-day strike, the Namphy junta announced plans for another round of balloting on January 17. It has made it clear that the army intends to exert tight control over this fraudulent election, ensuring that a candidate acceptable to the military wins.

The official spokesmen of US imperialism have done their best to obscure the real role of the military and to salvage the tattered myth that Namphy is a “soldier’s soldier” and “above politics.”

This is hardly accidental. Namphy was installed as chief of the National Governing Council (CNG) through the direct connivance of Washington and Jean-Claude Duvalier, shortly before the dictator was airlifted out of Haiti on a US Air Force plane in February 1986.

Throughout the last 20 months, the US State Department has insisted that Namphy and the army represented the faithful guardians of democracy in Haiti and would ensure the transition to an elected government.

During this same period, the Reagan administration has repeatedly provided its certification of progress on human rights in Haiti, a precondition set by Congress for the release of military and economic aid to the Namphy junta.

As recently as last August, Secretary of State George Shultz, on behalf of Reagan, provided the figleaf required by Congress to send more arms to Haiti by asserting that the junta had made great strides in bringing democracy and human rights to the Haitian people. Among the claims made by Shultz were that the junta had:

(1) Prevented the involvement of the Haitian Armed Forces in human rights abuses; (2) Begun reorganization of the armed forces consistent with respect for human rights; (3) Ensured freedom of speech and assembly; and (4) Taken steps to disarm the former tontons macoutes.

When the Reagan administration made this certification, the blood was barely dry from the hundreds massacred in Haiti over the previous months. During a series of eight general strikes conducted last summer against Namphy’s first attempts to seize control over the elections by stripping the Election Council of its powers, scores of workers and youth were shot to death by security forces.

In the month that followed, one presidential candidate was hacked to death at a political rally and hundreds of peasants were slaughtered by tontons macoutes working in collaboration with the army outside the town of Jean-Rabel.

While both the White House and Congress knew full well that the human rights certification was a grotesque fraud, the military aid continued to flow, adding to the more than eight million dollars in arms and equipment which have been dispatched to the junta since it came to power. Although each certification is only supposed to free a portion of the funds appropriated for military aid, congressional officials freely admit that in its desperate bid to bolster the Namphy junta, the Reagan administration had already sent out 99 percent of this aid.

Thus, through their support of the Haitian military over the past several months, the hands of the Reagan administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress are dripping with the blood of the victims of the November 29 election massacre.

But US imperialism’s responsibility for the bloody events in Haiti does not flow merely from the vicious policies of the Reagan White House and the present Congress. Historically, the Haitian Army, which was responsible for the killings, was created, trained and armed by the US. The attachment of the Democrats and Republicans to Namphy and the army did not arise yesterday. It is rooted in more than 70 years of US imperialism’s semicolonial rule over Haiti through direct military intervention, puppet regimes and savage despots like the Duvaliers. A military force which was “made in the USA” has served as the bulwark of repression and native reaction throughout that period.

US Marines first invaded Haiti in 1915 under the Woodrow Wilson administration. The intervention took place during an intense inter-imperialist rivalry between United States and European capital over control of the Caribbean. In Haiti, as elsewhere, America presented its intervention as a well-intentioned rescue mission to protect American lives and save Haiti from sinister European domination. In this way, it tried to cover up the real objectives of Yankee imperialism to assert unrestricted hegemony over its “own backyard.”

First, the US invaders declared martial law and seized control of Haiti’s treasury and customs houses. This accomplished, Washington was thereafter able to use Haiti’s own funds to pay for the country’s occupation. At the same time, the marines, most of them whites from the Deep South, introduced a form of slave labor among the Haitian peasants.

Resistance to the US occupation was powerful. Under the leadership of Charlemagne Peralte, a former army commander from the town of Leogane, the movement of kako resistance fighters gained the support of broad layers of the population. Peasants fleeing the slave labor and brutality imposed by the marines continuously swelled its ranks.

In response to the resistance, US imperialism introduced methods which it would pursue for decades to come throughout the oppressed countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

For the first time, aerial bombardments were joined with ground attacks, aimed not at the resistance fighters, but at their base among the peasantry. Massacres by the marines became common.

One of the most infamous of these took place in the southern village of March-a-Terre, where peasants had staged a demonstration against the occupation authorities’ imposition of taxes which threatened their ruin. Marines confronted the protest with a merciless hail of gunfire. According to Haitian accounts, as many as a thousand people were killed.

Through this systematic policy of extermination, the imperialist occupiers were able to break the back of the kakos movement. Peralte himself was captured and savagely murdered by the marines in 1919. His body was crucified and set on display in an attempt to terrorize the Haitian masses.

After carrying out its “pacification” campaign, the marines set about creating a Haitian military to prop up the interests of Yankee imperialism in the country. By 1928, the gendarmerie which was created at the beginning of the invasion was reorganized into the Garde d’Haiti, a combined police and military force. The US proceeded, in the following years, with the “Haitianization” of the occupation, promoting some of the members of this guard to the ranks of officers and regional commanders, while senior command remained in the hands of the marines.

The guard ruthlessly repressed any hint of opposition to US domination.

In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered an end to the occupation, placing Haiti in the hands of the Garde d’Haiti. This was part of US imperialism’s attempt to present a “democratic” and “friendly” face under Roosevelt’s “good neighbor” policy.

Significantly, Roosevelt himself in 1915, as secretary of the navy, first ordered the marines to invade Haiti. Washington’s intentions had not changed. It had merely replaced one instrument of domination and repression with another.

Before embarking from Haiti, the US occupation force created, trained and armed the 500-man Tactique Bataillon as a strike force to put down internal rebellions. The army, which has continued to control both police and military functions under the guidelines established by the US occupation force, has remained the decisive power in Haiti.

Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier himself came to power with the army’s backing in 1957. While by all accounts, he lost an election to his rival Louis Dejoie, the Army Chief of Staff Antonio Kebreau intervened to hand the power to Duvalier.

Duvalier immediately set about consolidating his relation to the army, sacking those sections of the officer corps which had supported his political opponents and replacing them with loyalists. He created a Presidential Guard, which was directly under his personal control.

The Eisenhower administration soon initiated the US support to Duvalier which would be maintained until the US Air Force was compelled to rescue his son Jean-Claude from the country. A 60-man US Marine unit was dispatched to Haiti to train the Haitian troops and a two million dollar military aid pact was implemented. Washington poured in military aid on the pretext that Haiti’s proximity to Cuba made it a target for “Castroite subversion.”

Duvalier used the funds to build up the repressive apparatus of his tyrannical regime. He founded the Volunteers for National Security, better known as the tontons macoutes, as his own private security force, employed in the systematic murder of his opponents and terrorizing of the masses.

During the Kennedy administration’s renewal of “democratic” demagogy in US imperialism’s domination of Latin America and the Caribbean, with the so-called Alliance for Progress, military aid was cut off to Haiti.

But by 1969, the Nixon administration conducted a demonstrative renewal of the old friendship with Duvalier, dispatching Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller to Port-au-Prince for a state visit to the dictator.

The ban on military aid was lifted and weapons began pouring in again. Between 1971 and 1976 over four million dollars worth of arms and training were lavished on the dictatorship. This included sophisticated weapons such as armored vehicles and military helicopters.

In the midst of this resurgence of direct US military power in Haiti, “Papa Doc” died. US warships were dispatched to the Haitian coast and US Ambassador Clinton Knox, an unabashed admirer of Duvalier’s bloodsoaked regime, played the leading role in organizing the succession of his son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc.”

To bolster the regime against the masses of Haitian workers and peasants, Washington organized and trained a new elite counterinsurgency force known as the Leopards. Its specific mandate was to fight against “guerrillas, invaders and communist subversion.” Under a covert CIA operation, a Miami-based front company, Aerotrade, hired former marines to provide for the arming and training of the force. The Leopards continue in operation and have been responsible for many of the recent killings under Namphy.

The buildup of US military operations in Haiti was intimately bound up with the increasing penetration of the country by the US multinationals. Between 1970 and 1976, the same years as the dramatic expansion of military aid to Duvalier, US-based corporations set up 230 new industrial plants in Haiti.

Between 1975 and 1978, US investment in Haiti tripled to an estimated $60 million. The multinationals were attracted by what is euphemistically known as a “favorable business climate.”

In the 1970s, this included one dollar-a-day wages for workers, 70% unemployment and a “union-free environment” guaranteed by the killers of the Haitian Army and the tontons macoutes, who were armed and trained by the Pentagon and the CIA.

By 1981, the Pentagon was offering Haiti $300 million in military sales credits and $199 million for military training.

The army’s function has not changed since the flight of Duvalier. Maintaining the same structure and purpose established by the US occupation force more than 70 years ago and refined under the bloody rule of the Duvaliers, the military has taken control of the country, installing “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s closest collaborators in the leading positions of the National Governing Council. The military has, in fact, been killing people at a far higher rate than occurred under Jean-Claude Duvalier’s rule.

What has changed is the emergence of a powerful and militant movement of the Haitian workers and peasants determined to put an end to “Duvalierism without Duvalier” and liberate the masses from decades of semicolonial backwardness and oppression.

The Haitian masses can only free themselves from the grip of imperialism and its servants in the native bourgeoisie by smashing the capitalist state and dismantling the military and repressive apparatus, replacing it with a workers’ militia.

No section of the Haitian bourgeoisie is capable of carrying out the demand of the masses for the “uprooting” of Duvalierism, precisely because this requires the uprooting of the entire system of exploitation upon which its own social position rests.

This task can only be achieved by the working class itself, leading the masses of the peasantry behind it and winning the support and collaboration of the workers in the US and the other advanced capitalist countries.

This is what poses the necessity for building a revolutionary party of the Haitian working class based on the theory of permanent revolution.

Only such a party, fighting for workers’ power, can guide the Haitian revolution to victory. The present crisis has created the conditions in which this party can and must be built as the Haitian section of the International Committee of the Fourth International.