The Lavalas Alliance Propels Aristide to Power

September 25, 2007

Essentially, the movement which formed around President Aristide's candidacy represented an alliance of Haiti's traditional merchant bourgeoisie with an array of The L grassroots worker, peasant and student organizations, commonly referred to as the A lii popular movement. Since 1986, the traditional bourgeoisie was represented politically by the "democ- Prc ratic sector," so called because of its focus on the mainstays of bourgeois democra- Arisl cy-a constitution and elections-while eschewing revolutionary tactics, sharp con- frontation of Duvalierist and U.S. power, PO and radical economic change.' Democracy was, for them, a means to overcome the Duvalierist grip on state power while chan- neling the revolutionary anger of the Hait- ian slum-dwellers and peasantry In this sense, the tradi- tional bourgeoisie has been fighting a war on three fronts. First, the traditional bourgeoisie sought to hold down and harness the popular uprisings of the Haitian mass- es who were demanding radical economic and political change. The Haitian masses had generally, since 1986, followed this bourgeoisie's political lead-most notably in campaigns for the March 1987 Constitution, the November 1987 elections, and the March 1990 appointment of President Ertha Trouillot. But by late 1990, the Haitian people were looking for alternatives. On the second front, the traditional bourgeoisie had a symbiotic rivalry for political power with the land-own- ing oligarchy, called gwandon, going back almost two centuries. The gwandon exploit their parceled land- holdings by means of sharecroppers with whom they have feudal relations of production by collecting rent in the form of crops. The traditional bourgeoisie would then sell that agricultural product on the world market. Historically, whoever controlled power in Port-au-Prince took the lion's share of the profit stolen from the Hait- ian peasant. Trying to protect the oldest and most entrenched semi-feudal economy in the Western Hemi- sphere against the incursions of foreign capital, the Haitian oligarchy is arch-reactionary, opposed to all social, economic, or political reforms, even those advanced by the United States. It is represented on the political spectrum by the Duvalierists-whose armed expression is the league of thugs called Tontons Macoute-and the "hard line" in the Army. Finally, the traditional bourgeoisie, which imports foreign manufactured goods and exports agricultural products, Svalas is also fighting for its economic survival against the onslaught of foreign capital, tnce which seeks to "modernize" and "Puerto Ricanize" the Haitian economy by intro- ducing direct foreign investment, thereby aels cutting out the middleman. Foreign capi- tal, primarily North American, works with a rival sector of the Haitian bourgeoisie, called the "technocrats." This sector is essentially a managerial class tied to the ver assembly industries and agribusinesses. Its political orientation matches that of North American businessmen and the U.S. State Department. Their political chef de fil was Marc Bazin. Haiti's political turmoil since 1986-11 governments and three coups-is basically a map of the struggle between these four key sectors: the technocrat bour- geoisie, the traditional bourgeoisie, the feudal oligarchy, and the popular movement. In October, 1990, as national presidential elections neared, the democratic sector faced a very grim politi- cal scenario. The oligarchy's candidate Roger Lafontant, former head of the Tontons Macoute, was rallying Duvalierists and holding mass demonstrations in down- town Port-au-Prince. The Army refused to act upon war- rants for his arrest, and the Duvalierists were clamoring to be included in the 1990 elections, from which they were constitutionally barred. The principal challenge to Lafontant was former World Bank official Marc Bazin, whose rich, polished, and oiled electoral machine-financed by the United States primarily through the NED-was picking up speed. Bazin was the favorite contender of the U.S. and multilateral lending agencies to loosen the grip of Haiti's Duvalierist landed oligarchy on state power and finances. The corruption, incompetence and backward- ness of the Duvalierist bureaucrats hindered the invest- ment of foreign multinational corporations in agribusi- ness, mining and light manufacturing. The U.S. embassy had a dream ticket in a dream situation, where Lafontant could be the "straw man" for Bazin to con- front in the elections. The democratic sector, meanwhile, was in disarray. Under the banner of the National Front for Change and Democracy (FNCD), it field- ed a lackluster candidate, Professor Victor Benoit, in whom the masses were completely uninterested. Faced with flagging politi- cal fortunes, the traditional bourgeoisie turned to Father Jean-Bertrand Aris- tide, who was identified with the popular move- ment and symbolized the Haitian masses' aspirations. He had up to that point rejected the idea of elec- tions-especially U.S.-spon- sored elections-until there Haitians line up to cast their were structural reforms. Aristide also had close contacts with the traditional bourgeoisie. A few rich Haitian merchants had underwritten his education and travels as a young priest as well as his orphanage, Lafanmi Selavi. Entreated by the bourgeoisie to run and seeing that the result of a Bazin/Lafontant contest would be a U.S./Duvalierist compromise similar to Jean- Claude Duvalier's regime, he took the gamble of enter- ing the race. Benoit was unceremoniously dumped, and Aristide became the presidential candidate of the FNCD. This combination of the people's candidate running under the bourgeoisie's banner unleashed the electoral outpouring that became known as the "Lavalas." The word means the "flood" and is a biblical image which had been evoked by popular organizations since 1986 to convey the purifying and sweeping nature of the popular uprising that would rid the country of the twin evils of Duvalierist terror and foreign domination. The essence of Aristide's promise was democracy and nationalism. He was the living embodiment of anti- Duvalierism, having survived several assassination attempts from the Tontons Macoute. He promised land redistribution and an end to the Duvalierist favoritism, corruption and violence which had so traumatized the Haitian people since Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier's rule began in 1957. In contrast, both the technocrats and the democratic sector had often proposed "reconciling" with the Duvalierists and reuniting the "Haitian family." Aristide also embodied anti-imperialism. "We would rather die standing up, than live on our knees," he often repeated during his sermons as a fire-brand priest at St. Jean Bosco in the Port- au-Prince slum of La Saline. He was a staunch opponent of the U.S. neoliberal prescrip- tions for Haiti which sought to 1) privatize state-run enter- prises like the telephone com- pany, flour mill, and cement factory, 2) reduce taxes, duties, and wages to suit for- eign investors, 3) cut social spending and insure regular debt payments to foreign banks, and 4) foster an export-oriented economy, thereby increasing Haiti's allots in the 1990 elections. already great dependence on foreign food and capital. Aristide's program called for support for Haiti's faltering national industries, a land reform to revitalize Haitian agriculture and increase self- sufficiency, stanching the hemorrhage of contraband imports through regional ports, raising the minimum wage, and overhauling the government bureaucracy. Such a program was revolutionary in Haiti. Aristide's entry into the presidential race only 60 days before the polling allowed him to outwit election strate- gists at the U.S. Embassy, who did not expect his candi- dacy. The result was perhaps the greatest malfunction of all the U.S. election engineering done since the early 1980s throughout Latin America. Despite the money Bazin distributed throughout the country in an attempt to buy votes and the $36 million spent on his campaign, thousands of Haitians poured into the streets during Aristide's gigantic campaign rallies chanting "Lipa lajan, non, se volonte, wi" (I'm not here for money, it's of my free will). Aristide's electoral victory-with 67% of the vote- was one of the most joyous periods in Haitian history. The popular will triumphed-momentarily-with little violence or repression. He dubbed his own inauguration "Haiti's Second Independence." 1. There are also different currents within the "democratic sector," roughly corresponding to those "democrats" more aligned with the traditional merchant bourgeoisie-Father Antoine Adrien. Louis Roy, Emmanuel Ambroise and Gladys Lauture-and those more aligned with U.S.-backed capital- Jean-Claude Roy, Serge Gilles, Jean-Jacques Honorat and Moise Senatus.

Tags: Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, US foreign policy, US intervention, democracy

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