Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince looks post-apocalyptic, reflecting the fierce class war which has raged here since last year, if not since 1986.
The dusty or muddy pot-holed streets are covered everywhere with rocks, bricks, sludgy deposits of plastic and organic garbage and the charred steel-spaghetti remains of burned tyres from barricades.
Here is the flyblown corpse of a pig or dog. There is a giant limb or an entire tree, hacked down by machetes, blocking the road. On this street is a battered former tap-tap [bus], perfectly balanced on its side, which walls off a thoroughfare. On that is a makeshift barrier of smashed refrigerators, metal signs, barbed wire, cinder-blocks and plastic chairs.
Small mountains of rubbish have grown every few blocks, picked over by bending paupers, young and old. Trucks with two headlights and a grill are as rare as a wall without graffiti. An odour of burning rubber, sewage, and tear-gas permeates the city. Most businesses are tightly shuttered with wood or steel.
This is the Haiti against which Haitians rebelled on September 30 — 28 years after the bloody 1991 United States-backed military coup d’état against Haiti’s first democratically-elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. That putsch was the single most crucial event — more pivotal than the 2010 earthquake — to accelerate Haiti’s descent into the turmoil it struggles with today.
On this coup anniversary, Haiti’s masses launched “Operation Find Jovenel”. Haitian President Jovenel Moïse has been in hiding for the past few weeks. The masses have long monitored his movements between his home in the hills of Pèlerin 5 above the capital, to the Presidential Palace on the central square, the Champ de Mars.
People on one end of the route would alert those on the other, who would then throw rocks, bottles, and curses at the motorcade of shiny black vehicles speeding the president, with sirens wailing, up or down the hill. But the motorcades have stopped. Nobody seems to know where Moïse is.
On September 25, Moïse made a pre-recorded televised address to the nation that was broadcast at about 2 am. He appealed for calm and national dialogue but reiterated that he would not step down, as the masses have been demanding since last July, when the first spasm of the latest uprising took place in response to International Monetary Fund-dictated fuel price hikes. The government had to back down, and Moïse’s first prime minister, Jack Guy Lafontant, reluctantly resigned.
The second PM, Jean Henry Céant, only added fuel to the fire. The protests grew in size and fury, culminating in an 11-day paralysis of the country from February 7–17, known as “Ayiti Lòk” — “Haiti is locked down”.
Moïse wanted to again sacrifice his PM, but the ambitious Céant manoeuvered to have the president resign, as the people demanded, so he could take his place.
Moïse won that battle, having his allies in the Chamber of Deputies oust Céant in March. But since then, Moïse has not succeeded in having Parliament ratify either of his latest PM nominees: Jean-Michel Lapin or, currently, Fritz-William Michel.
The result is that Haiti is essentially without a government, helping to deepen the masses’ misery. Add to that a petrol shortage resulting from the government’s inability to pay its fuel suppliers.
This makes Haiti’s principal occupation — motorcycle taxis — ever more difficult. Petrol stations are buttoned up, with giant steel boxes encasing the pumps. Along the roadside, black-market vendors sell fuel from clear plastic jugs for 500 gourdes (US$5.22) per gallon. The petrol has been smuggled across from the neighbouring Dominican Republic or siphoned out of the shuttered petrol stations’ tanks. Sometimes the fuel includes coloured water, many say.
Corruption and plunder
When a station does open up, it immediately becomes the centre of a giant traffic jam, with moto-taxis, tap-taps, deluxe SUVs with tinted windows, dented jalopies, and black-market hawkers carrying 12-gallon yellow plastic containers all jockeying for position in a chaotic, confrontational scramble to the pump before the supply runs out.
Moïse is not the only official the population is hunting. Radio Zenith, the principal media guiding and urging on the mobilisation, regularly reads out a much longer list that includes Moïse’s predecessor, mentor, and founder of their Haitian Bald-Headed Party (PHTK) Michel Martelly, his wife Sofia Martelly, their son Olivier Martelly, Martelly’s prime minister Laurent Lamothe, most of Moïse’s ministers, many pro-PHTK parliamentarians, repressive police commanders and a few of the regime’s bourgeois backers.
Based on the capital’s northern fringe in Bon Repos and well-guarded by multiple barricades and scruffy irregulars, Radio Zenith also provides logistical support to the demonstrators, telling them where an ambulance needs to pick up a woman giving birth or a man who has bloodied his head in an accident.
It asks the barricade-guardians to let the ambulance through and also warns them when a vehicle with masked pro-regime paramilitaries and no license plates is circulating in a certain area. It then cuts to a rousing patriotic song by well-known protest singer Farah Juste. “Stay vigilant!” shouts the announcer between stanzas. “Stay strong!”
Such radio motivation and marshalling was pioneered by the Catholic Church’s Radio Soleil 33 years ago during the uprising against President-for-Life, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. On February 7, 1986, he was flown out of Haiti in a US government C-130 with his sports cars.
His departure began a chapter of Haitian history that might be titled: “A neo-colony’s masses struggle for democracy and sovereignty against the bloody counter-revolution by Haiti’s foreign and local ruling classes.”
Each electoral victory of the masses (1990, 2000) has been met by a coup d’état and foreign military occupation (1991, 2004), until finally the empire changed tactics by fraudulently engineering the election of Martelly (2011) and Moïse (2016). Their regimes returned Haiti to a cosy relationship with Washington.
Furthermore, they subverted Venezuelan solidarity. Out of three presidential administrations, Martelly plundered three-quarters of the PetroCaribe Fund, a $2 billion development capital account fed by Venezuelan fuel sales, while by March 2018 Moïse had sunk the PetroCaribe agreement for cheap fuel which Haiti had established with Venezuela in 2008.
An exhaustive audit also found that Haiti’s current president “embezzled” millions of dollars from PetroCaribe projects.
The Haitian people’s outrage over the PHTK’s PetroCaribe malfeasance and corruption is the principal driver of the massive demonstrations against, and now the manhunt for, Jovenel Moïse.
[Abridged from Haiti Liberte.]