Rezistans, by Annette Auguste (So Anne), a Haitian folksinger, Lavalas activist and former political prisoner (2004-2006).
The Lavalas movement is the living legacy of the Haitian Revolution. And, its organizers are the descendants of leaders such as Jean Jacques Dessalines, Tousaint Louverture and thousands of other historically anonymous maroons who fought for freedom. "We are never afraid, we continue to fight. The most important thing is to share our message," explains a Haitian journalist in Port-au-Prince.
Thousands of international non governmental organizations built on so called good intentions have invaded Haiti since the 2010 earthquake. Many Haitian organizers consider NGOs "our worst enemies," as they absorb funds and distract from grassroots efforts.
NGOs occupy Haiti's political landscape and eclipse the past and present history of popular movement led initiatives to provide education, housing, medical care as well as encourage spaces for youth and women's empowerment.
The Haitian people denounce the daily devastation of their country at the hands of Michel Martelly's government, the United Nations and an overwhelmingly absent international community. In the wake of all this, the Haitian people continue to build alternatives under politically repressive conditions. In honor of the 256th anniversary of Dessalines' birth, here lies some of the voices and visions from the grassroots and a popular account of Haitian history.
"We have been fighting for 208 years, we are the first free black nation"
In August 1791, the Haitian Revolution began after a series of anti-colonial rebellions by Africans determined to achieve liberation. The uprising in the name of a free Ayiti, an indigenous and African term meaning 'home or mother of the earth' in Taino-Arwak as well as 'sacred earth or homeland' in Fon, instilled fear into France and other colonial empires at the time.
Countless freedom fighters sacrificed their lives in the effort to declare Haitian independence. The final battle at Vertieres in today's Cap Haitien led to the definitive declaration of Haiti as the first Black republic of the western hemisphere on January 1, 1804.
As such, the Haitian people were punished and shunned out internationally by global powers and states in the region. Today, Haiti still suffers the consequences of being a Black nation that defied empire. Dessalines became the first emperor of Haiti in 1804 and was assassinated October 17, 1806, representing Haiti's first coup d'état.
An Era of Achievements and Assaults, Lavalas from 1991-2004
Jean Bertrand Aristide's rise to power in 1991 on the shoulders of the Haitian people represented Haiti's revival as a revolutionary nation. During Aristide’s grassroots led government, the people organized the most progressive policies in the island nation’s history. Before the revolutionary and left practices of governments like Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela and Evo Morales’ Bolivia, Haiti forged the path toward more recent decades of change following Cuba’s revolution in 1959. Aristide, who the people refer to as ‘Titid’, won the presidential elections with 67 percent in 1990 and 92 percent in 1999.
Lavalas’ achievements during Aristide’s unfinished two terms span wide. Haiti built more schools from 1994-2000 than between 1804-1994, created a women’s ministry, recognized Haitian creole and vodun (a religion based out of African Yoruba and Bantu belief systems) as the national language and religion respectively, doubled the minimum wage as well as disbanded the Haitian military responsible for countless atrocities under the Duvalier dictatorship.
However, following the 1991 coup in particular, thousands of Lavalas militants were arrested, tortured and murdered. Thousands fled as the coup government and the Tonton Macoute death squad persecuted community leaders across the country. More than 5,000 people were killed in the aftermath of the coup against Aristide from 1991-1994.
Subsequently, the United States arranged for the installation of United Nations troops in 1994 to take over foreign occupation in the country following the coup. In addition, after Aristide refused to privatize state owned enterprises upon his return to Haiti, the Clinton administration withheld its aid package. These trends in militarization and targeted economic sanctions continue to materialize, disfranchising the Haitian people.
Several years later, in 2000, after Lavalas swept the parliamentary elections, the United States and a variety of European aid and loans were cut off. However, the Haitian government and people continued to build together, with limited economic resources, inspired by strong popular will. In response, Aristide initiated a campaign to collect the elite class’ unpaid taxes in order to fund social services and projects.
During his second term, Aristide guaranteed a number of constitutional rights and formally established how elections should be carried out in the country. Other constitutional guarantees include state ownership of Haitian resources and the redistribution of land among Haitians.
These guarantees threaten exploitative ventures by transnational mining and oil companies interested in gold, petroleum and uranium among other minerals.
Aristide’s popular government addressed the two century decay of Haiti's infrastructure by investing in social services. He welcomed Cuban doctors and established an exchange program for Haitian medical students. In 2002, Aristide's administration renovated the School of Midwifery and rebuilt 40 health clinics, hospitals and dispensaries.
Aristide also provided the country’s first public school transportation program and implemented universal education and literacy campaigns. Education continues to be at the forefront of Aristide and Lavalas' efforts.
On the 200th anniversary of Haitian independence in 2004, Aristide demanded reparations from France in the amount of $US21.7 billion dollars; the equivalent of what Haiti had to pay over 100 years in 90 million francs for their independence. Aristide's demand jolted the United States, Canada and France. And, along with international accompaniment from the United Nations, they halted such progressive advances by militarily disposing Aristide and unconstitutionally exiling him from the country in 2004.
Haitians Demand Overdue Justice
In the last year, the Haitian people have taken to the streets following a devastating earthquake and the installation of a politically corrupt and repressive government. The Haitian people have called for the resignation of Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, the removal of all UN troops and have demanded their national sovereignty.
The Haitian people have denounced the blue helmets for committing rape, torture, murder and fostering the cholera epidemic over their two decade long occupation. Inconsistent with Latin American efforts of regional integration, Brazil has led the UN occupation since 1994 and other Latin American nations such as Bolivia, Ecuador and Uruguay continue to participate in the recolonization of Haiti.
Currently, Haitian police are training in South America with Ecuadorean military. And although Uruguayan President Jose 'Pepe' Mujica has promised to withdraw Uruguay's troops by the end of this calendar year, meanwhile the Legislative Assembly of Bolivia unanimously approved to dispatch more military troops to Haiti this year.
Despite their overwhelming presence, one Haitian woman remarks, "The UN troops are like dust, we will blow them away."
While efforts at the hands of global powers such as France, United States and Canada continue to paint Haiti as a country in need of charity and unable to rebuild their own nation, Haitian people know otherwise. "They say we are a tiny country to keep us down, but they know we are not," explains one Haitian organizer of a woman’s rights organization.
Organizations such as the Aristide Foundation for Democracy, recuperated after the UN illegally occupied the school and used it as a base of operations, sheds light on a piece of Haiti's grassroots approaches. Haitians hold weekly assemblies, debates on democracy and provide basic services for their communities. Haitian organizers run mobile schools, clinics and carry out projects with peasant farmers and strengthen women's economic opportunities through micro-credit programs.
In Haiti, Lavalas the political party serves as the country's finger and not the guiding hand, explains one Haitian politician and long-time organizer. So, as global powers continue to attack former President Aristide and exclude Lavalas' political participation, the Haitian people lend their struggles to Latin America and the Caribbean's growing movement toward self-determination.