by Charlie Hinton, Haiti Action Committee
The people of Haiti held a two-day general strike on Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 9 and 10, as part of ongoing popular mobilizations throughout the country. They also successfully struck the week before on Feb. 2.
The Martelly government responded with brutal repression in various communities such as in Montrouis, north of Port-au-Prince, where massive use of tear gas killed two children and police gunfire wounded a number of community residents. Similar repressive actions and arrests of demonstrators and strikers were reported in a number of cities including Cap-Haitien and Port-au-Prince.
On Saturday, Feb. 7, police and other Martelly agents broke up a large demonstration in Port-au-Prince with tear gas, water laced with skin irritants, batons and rubber bullets – which has become standard operating procedure. Then members of a militarized police unit known for their brutality followed a group of demonstrators to the home of well known journalist and activist Ronald Fareau and attacked them in his courtyard. They shot Rony Timothé, often at the forefront of the protests, in the face, wounded two others and made death threats against Mr. Fareau.
The ongoing demonstrations have demanded the resignation of Haiti’s President Martelly, his illegally appointed prime minister, Evans Paul, and the end of the U.S.-U.N. occupation. The Feb. 2, 9 and 10 general strikes paralyzed Port-au-Prince and many other cities in Haiti. These la vi chè, or “high cost of living,” strikes have united many sectors of Haiti’s trade unions and popular movements.
Teachers have been striking for weeks for not being paid, although the Martelly government imposes a surcharge, supposedly for education, on every money transaction and phone call that goes into Haiti. Transportation workers are striking because Haiti’s Venezuelan-subsidized gasoline still costs over $5 per gallon, as gas prices plummet all over the world. They demand that the price of gasoline be reduced to 100 gourdes per gallon (US $2.17).
The ongoing demonstrations have demanded the resignation of Haiti’s President Martelly, his illegally appointed prime minister, Evans Paul, and the end of the U.S.-U.N. occupation.
Haiti faces a constitutional and profound political crisis. Martelly has refused to call elections since his (s)election as president four years ago. On Jan. 12, the terms of all members of the Chamber of Deputies and all but 10 senators expired, meaning that neither chamber has a quorum to do business.
The Constitution doesn’t provide for a government without a functioning parliament, so Martelly has taken it upon himself to appoint a de facto government. On Jan. 17, he appointed Evans Paul, former mayor of Port-au-Prince, to be prime minister, and the next day he appointed a whole new cabinet.
A virulent opponent of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the Fanmi Lavalas Party he founded, Paul was a key part of the so-called Democratic Convergence, the political face of the destabilization campaign that led to the 2004 coup against Aristide. He was one of the politicians who boycotted Haiti’s bicentennial celebration in 2004, and he gave support to death squad leader Guy Philippe.
After the coup, Paul bragged, “We will need to work with Mr. Philippe and other sectors of the country that played an important role in the great insurrection that swept Mr. Aristide from power.” He called for the arrest of Fanmi Lavalas leaders and then joined the coup government of Gerard LaTortue.
Martelly has sabotaged the electoral process since assuming the presidency. He knows he has little popular support, so he’s tried to rig the electoral procedures in order to control the outcomes.
He’s appointed many mayors and local officials, a practice common during the Duvalier era, which is not only undemocratic, but important because local officials have significant influence in Haitian elections. The people have resisted his maneuvers, and consequently he’s refused to call elections.
U.S. Ambassador Pamela White, along with the French and U.N. ambassadors, tried to strike a deal that would put in place Martelly’s rigged electoral project while allowing the Senate to continue to meet until new elections could be held, but the negotiations failed. The ruling powers may not want an election anyway.
Two Quinnipiac polls have shown that the Fanmi Lavalas Party would win any election overwhelmingly, despite the decades-long U.S. campaign – and the presence of 7,213 United Nations occupation troops and police – to prevent this outcome.
In other news, two high powered international delegations have recently visited Haiti – the U.N. Security Council and the Club of Madrid. The announced reasons for the Security Council visit Jan. 23-25 were to urge the government to hold the long-delayed municipal and legislative elections and to assess the implementation of Security Council resolutions such as the strengthening of Haiti’s police force.
Representatives of the council’s 15 member states met with Martelly and other officials. They also met with opposition political parties, including Fanmi Lavalas. Clearly the Security Council sees the situation in Haiti as critical, but during the visit, Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and co-chair of the U.N. delegation, issued a statement praising Martelly and pledging continued support for his government. Clearly, that was the essential purpose of the Security Council visit – to shore up and legitimize Martelly’s crumbling regime.
The Club of Madrid, which calls itself “the world’s largest forum of former democratic presidents and prime ministers” and which others call “an imperialist pressure group of former world leaders,” sent its fourth delegation to Haiti Jan. 27-29. This delegation was led by former Mexican President Felipe Calderón and former Bolivian President and Club of Madrid Vice-President Jorge Quiroga. They also called for Martelly to hold elections soon. Despite these delegations, nothing has changed.
For months, Haitians have been in the streets. They forced Martelly to fire his corrupt prime minister, Laurent Lamothe, but their greater demand is for the dissolution of the entire government and its replacement with a new government by and for them, not Haitian elites and imperial powers. As former President Aristide famously said at the U.N.: “We are tired of sitting under the table. We want our place AT the table.”
The international governing forces have held two demonstration elections for president since the 2004 coup d’état and prohibited Fanmi Lavalas from running candidates both times. Now they must decide whether to hold completely fraudulent elections again or allow an honest vote and lose. Or rule by decree.
For months, Haitians have been in the streets. Their greater demand is for the dissolution of the entire government and its replacement with a new government by and for them, not Haitian elites and imperial powers.
It’s no accident Haiti finds itself in this constitutional predicament, because the United States government and their professional NGO stringers have been behind every move, with support from France, Canada and the United Nations.
Haiti Action Committee thanks you again for your support and solidarity. Please stay tuned, because the situation is changing rapidly, and we may need to ask for you to take action once again.