Honduran elections: setback for the resistance / FRFI 213 Feb / Mar 2010

FRFI 213 February / March 2010

In the last issue of FRFI we reported on the campaign of the Honduran resistance to boycott sham presidential elections organised by the coup regime for 29 November 2009. Three days after the election, the Honduran Supreme Election Tribunal continued to withhold the official results and claimed a turnout of 61%. Later the Tribunal had to concede that only 49% had voted, fewer than the 55% who voted in 2005 when ousted President Manuel Zelaya, then standing as a ruling class candidate, was elected. However, the turnout has been sufficient for the Honduran ruling class to reassert its authority, even if the only countries to recognise the outcome have been the US, Colombia, Panama, Peru, Costa Rica, Canada and Israel. In recognition of the situation, Zelaya left the Brazilian embassy where he had sought refuge since returning clandestinely to the country in September 2009, accepting an offer of exile in Dominica.

The coup regime pulled out all the stops to maximise turnout: extending voting for an extra hour, attacking peaceful demonstrations that urged a boycott, shutting down anti-coup media outlets and, as reported by farmers in the town of Magdalena, bringing in Salvadorean supporters of the fascist ARENA Party to vote. Honduran employers also threatened people’s jobs if they failed to prove they voted.

Since the elections Honduras has already taken many steps backwards. On 12 January, Congress voted 122 to 5 to withdraw from the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA). Honduras joined ALBA in 2008, and with its support, President Zelaya had brought 500,000 Hondurans out of poverty, begun a reforestation campaign and was aiming to eradicate illiteracy in the country by January 2010. Rafael Alegria, a leader of the Honduran resistance, summed it up when he said ‘the coup leaders want to return to the past to benefit the empire and the oligarchy.’ Repression continues: on 7 December, a death squad gunned down a group of six known resistance members who were walking down a street in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras.

However, the resistance is defiant: as Gilberto Rios Munguia, a leader of the youth movement Los Necios, says, ‘the popular national identity is fully summarised in one word: Resistance ... Suddenly consciousness has come, youth take their freedom seriously ... injustice is rejected and now we easily associate the two party system with the oligarchy, injustice with capitalism, coup d’état with fascism, hypocrisy with Obama and imperialism with underdevelopment ... We are advancing and we will win.’

Victory to the Honduran resistance!

Luke Lucas

Haiti – a history of oppression / FRFI 213 Feb / Mar 2010

FRFI 213 February / March 2010

In Haiti we see in microcosm the forces that threaten the species with destruction. Not the natural forces that inflicted the earthquake but the social and political forces that magnified its impact and which brought Haiti to ruin long before the fault line ruptured: the forces of capitalism, colonialism and imperialism.

When Christopher Columbus and a band of Spanish gold seekers landed on Haiti’s north coast in 1492 there were perhaps 500,000 Taino Arawak people on the island of Hispaniola. By 1548 there were fewer than 500. The Spanish colonialists enslaved them, forced them to work in gold mines and supply food. Those who refused were hunted down by dogs, mutilated, raped and killed. Others died from influenza, smallpox and typhus.

From the 1520s slaves were imported from Africa. French and English forces preyed upon the island. By the end of the seventeenth century France was in control of Saint-Domingue, now Haiti. Saint-Domingue was described as ‘a mill for crushing Negroes as much as for crushing sugar cane’. By 1789 Saint-Domingue supplied two-thirds of Europe’s tropical products; it was France’s most valuable colonial possession.

The slave revolt started in August 1791. Toussaint l’Ouverture joined the revolt, initially as a doctor then as military leader. A British invasion force landed in 1793. Despite calling up over 40,000 reinforcements they were expelled in 1798 by Toussaint’s forces. The revolt continued and Haiti declared independence on 1 January 1804. The name Haiti was chosen by Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a leader of the revolt, and was a Taiwo name meaning mountainous land. At the declaration of independence Dessaline’s secretary is said to have commented, ‘We will write this act of independence using a white man’s skull for an inkwell, his skin for parchment, blood for ink and a bayonet as pen.’ The US and France refused to recognise Haiti’s independence.

George Washington’s government sent $400,000 to the white plantation owners. The revolt delivered a terrific blow against the slave system in the Americas. In 1825, under threat of invasion and restoration of slavery, Haiti’s ruling elite agreed to pay France an indemnity equivalent to $21 billion in today’s money to compensate for loss of land, equipment and human ‘property’. In exchange, France recognised Haiti. In 1914 US Marines seized the Haitian government’s gold deposits at gun point and deposited them in New York’s National City Bank (Citibank), following a dispute over debt repayments. After a series of coups the US occupied Haiti in July 1915. Haiti’s army was disbanded and replaced by a police force under US officers. Unpaid, compulsory labour was re-introduced to Haiti. US Marines repressed peasant resistance using aerial bombardment. They departed in 1934 but the National Bank remained a subsidiary of the US Export-Import Bank until 1947, when the final indemnity payment was made to France.

Mulattoes were elevated by US racists who saw it as natural that lighter skinned people should rule. US fruit companies were given concessions and mass evictions of peasant smallholders resulted.

The Duvaliers

Backed by the black middle class and medium-sized landowners, Francois Duvalier was elected president in 1957, defeating a candidate from the mulatto elite. ‘Papa Doc’ ruled with the Tontons Macoute, a secret police force that kidnapped, tortured and killed opponents. Duvalier closed down trade unions and the University of Haiti. He invited US Marines to train the Haitian army and offered the US government military bases and missile stations, presumably to target Cuba. When 19-year-old Jean-Claude Duvalier ‘Baby Doc’ was installed as president in 1971, two US warships anchored offshore. A counter-insurgency Leopard force was established, armed and trained by the US. Sustained by US imperialism, the Duvalier regimes turned the country into hell on earth: by 1980, 80% of people were unemployed, 40% homeless and 85% illiterate. Half the children did not live beyond four years. For every school in Haiti there were 35 prisons and for every teacher 189 soldiers. Malaria, pneumonia and tetanus were rife. 1985 foreign debt repayments were almost seven-times expenditure on education.

US multinationals developed a lucrative trade: the blood of surviving Haitians was rich in antibodies, much sought after by wealthy North Americans. Each month five tons of Haitian blood was shipped by Dow Chemicals, Armour Pharmaceutical and Laboratories Cutter to US markets.

Haitians fleeing this inferno were denied refuge in the US. US authorities imprisoned them in concentration camps in Florida, US-held Puerto Rico and later Guantanamo Bay in US-occupied Cuba. US and Bahamian ships sank refugees’ boats, drowning many. A camp was opened in upstate New York where temperatures drop below freezing. Black and progressive organisations in the US and Puerto Rico threatened to tear down the fences.

Some 50,000 people were killed by the Duvalier regimes before ‘Baby Doc’ fled to France in 1986 after mass protests and a general strike against his government. A military junta of six generals took over the government. Former head of the Duvaliers’ Presidential Guard Prosper Avril seized power in 1988 but was deposed two years later. Avril tortured political opponents, trade unionists and even a doctor attempting to practice community medicine.

Reform thwarted

On 16 December 1990 Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide won 67% of the vote to become Haiti’s president. The US saw Aristide as a ‘liberation theologian’; less Christian than Communist. Aristide calculated that France owed Haiti $21 billion that should be returned so that Haiti ‘can build primary schools, primary healthcare, water systems and roads’. He called for a minimum wage of $5 a day! The CIA funded paramilitaries which targeted Aristide supporters and were prominent in the 1991 coup that deposed him. For three years Haiti was ruled by a military junta until the US military intervened to restore Aristide, on the understanding that he would implement US-dictated privatisation and remove import tariffs. Avril planned an assassination campaign against Aristide supporters in the Fanmi Lavalas Party. When Haitian police went to arrest Avril at his home they were met by US soldiers attempting to stop the arrest. Avril fled to the Colombian ambassador’s residence and then to Israel. Aristide was re-elected president in November 2000. Avril returned to Haiti and was arrested to popular acclaim after US troops withdrew from Haiti in 2001.

Aristide continued to call for reparations for Haiti. In 2003 the country sent 90% of its foreign currency reserves to the US in debt repayments. The US again undermined the government, aiding opposition groups. In January 2004 opposition forces surrounded Port-au-Prince and Aristide was forced into exile, taken by the US military to Africa. Avril was in prison when Aristide was overthrown but released a few days later. UN troops were dispatched to Haiti. Rene Preval was elected president in 2006, while Aristide stayed in exile, where he remains to this day.

Trevor Rayne

Enforced poverty

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. 40% of Haiti’s foreign debt, reaching $1.8 billion at its peak, was run up by the Duvaliers. In exchange for loans the International Monetary Fund and World Bank forced Haiti to accept food imports. 30 years ago Haiti did not import rice. Today it imports almost all its rice. Haiti was the world’s main sugar producer. Today it imports sugar. The US dumped subsidised rice and sugar on Haiti destroying much of its farming. The population of Port-au-Prince was 50,000 in the 1950s and 2-3 million today, swollen with people driven from the land. Prior to the earthquake the US Congress granted Haiti preferential treatment for garment imports. Port-au-Prince’s sweatshop workers earn less than China’s clothing workers. Remittances from Haitians who have fled abroad constitute a fifth of the economy.

Life expectancy in 2007 was 61 years. 55% of the people live on $1.25 a day or less and 72% on $2 or less a day. The average income for women is 37% that of men. The richest 10% of Haiti’s people have 48% of income and the poorest 10% have 0.9%! The infant mortality rate is 60 per 1,000 live births. About 40% of the people are illiterate and unemployment has varied between 50-70% for over a decade.

Haiti recolonised / FRFI 213 Feb / Mar 2010

FRFI 213 February / March 2010

The earthquake that struck Haiti on 12 January measured 7 on the Richter scale, releasing energy equivalent to a half-megaton nuclear bomb, 500,000 tons of TNT. By 28 January estimates of deaths reached up to 200,000 people. In Port-au-Prince there are 500,000 homeless people in 447 improvised camps. People around the world, seeing the devastation, have donated generously to help them. But on 23 January Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said that 90% of the people in camps had received no aid. US imperialism has moved quickly to recolonise the country. TREVOR RAYNE reports.

US President Obama responded to the earthquake: ‘This is one of those moments that calls out for American leadership.’ The US ruling class’s credibility and power is tested in Haiti; it must ensure that it and not Europe commands Haiti’s fate and Cuba’s selfless contribution of medical assistance must be censored. For domestic political reasons the US government has to be seen to be responding to the catastrophe following the complete racist failure in New Orleans in 2005. US priorities were quickly demonstrated. By 14 January the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson was moored off Port-au-Prince and troops from the US 82nd Airborne Division had secured the airport. The 82nd Airborne Division is a combat force whose recent record includes suppression of the 1967 Detroit uprising, the invasions of Grenada (1983) and Panama (1989), service in former Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan and in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. On 22 January the US secured ‘formal approval’ from the United Nations to take over all Haitian air and sea ports and to ‘secure’ roads. No Haitian signed this agreement. (John Pilger New Statesman, 28 January 2010). This is the fourth US invasion of Haiti.

Fidel Castro said Cuba was sending doctors not soldiers. By 26 January the US had 15,400 soldiers in Haiti and Cuba had 766 doctors who had treated 26,000 people. There were 374 Cuban medical workers in Haiti when the earthquake struck, assisted by approximately 400 Haitians who were medically trained in Cuba. Two Cuban field hospitals were operational in Port-au-Prince within 24 hours of the earthquake (Hugh O’Shaughnessy, The Guardian 29 January 2010). On 17 January the French government complained to the US about its management of the airport when a French medical flight was turned away. The following day Medicines sans Frontieres complained that several of its cargo planes had been ‘blocked’ from landing, ‘Priority must be given immediately to aircraft carrying life-saving equipment and medical personnel’ and not to military equipment and personnel.

While the corporate media ran stories of looting and gangs, UN tanks were dispatched into Port-au-Prince’s poorer communities such as Cite Soleil, a stronghold of support for the evicted former President Aristide. The Wall Street Journal reported, ‘US officials have blamed security concerns for holding up relief. Yet a team of Cuban doctors were seen on Monday [18 January] treating hundreds of patients without a gun in sight.’ All flights into Haiti were halted for three hours for US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit. Italian official Guido Bertolaso described the US intervention as ‘pathetic…it’s truly a show of force, but it’s completely out of touch with reality’ and referring probably to Bill Clinton’s visit said, ‘Some individuals were putting on a vanity show for the television cameras instead of rolling up their sleeves.’

French doctors accused the US military of causing unnecessary deaths by delaying relief groups from reaching the injured. It was six days before the US Air Force dropped bottled water on people suffering from thirst and dehydration. The Wall Street Journal reported that an estimated 20,000 people were dying each day due to lack of access to medical treatment and on 26 January it carried a letter from three New York doctors who were among the first to reach Haiti after the earthquake: ‘Our operation received virtually no support from any branch of US government, including the State Department.’ They said that they had quickly run out of supplies and ‘Later, as we were leaving Haiti, we were appalled to see warehouse-size quantities of unused medicines, food and other supplies at the airport surrounded by hundreds of US and international soldiers.’

UN troops fired rubber bullets at people milling around food trucks on 25 January. The following day they fired tear gas and pepper spray at crowds in a tent camp and tanks were brought up to threaten the crowd. Elections scheduled for 28 February have been postponed indefinitely and Aristide’s Lavalas party has been prohibited from competing, whenever they take place. This is the recolonisation of Haiti. All socialists must demand the removal of US and UN troops from Haiti, the cancellation of Haiti’s foreign debt and the right of Haiti’s people to self-determination.

UN Conference on Climate Change, Copenhagen / FRFI 213 Feb / Mar 2010

FRFI 213 February / March 2010

ALBA leads anti-imperialist call to save environment

‘If the climate was a bank, they would have saved it already.’ Graffiti in Copenhagen

Days before the UN Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen in December 2009, leading climate scientist James Hansen, of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, stated that no deal would be better than the flawed deal that the talks were heading for. Calling President Obama’s policies ‘half-assed’, he compared Obama on climate change with Abraham Lincoln on slavery: ‘You can’t say let’s reduce slavery, let’s find a compromise and reduce it 50% or reduce it 40%’. In particular, he denounced carbon trading as ‘analogous to the indulgences that the Catholic Church sold in the middle ages. The bishops collected lots of money and the sinners got redemption. Both parties liked that arrangement despite its absurdity’. DAVID HETFIELD reports.

In a foretaste of what was to come, following a visit by Hillary Clinton, the Philippine government dropped its lead negotiator, Bernarditas Muller. She is a veteran of the Kyoto talks who argues that climate change is the overwhelming responsibility of the imperialist countries. Sudan, which chairs the G77 nations, invited her to join the G77 negotiating team.

The first week of the conference saw the emergence of the ‘Danish Text’, a secret draft agreement worked on by a few countries including Denmark, Britain and the US. The text undermined UN democracy and was an abandonment of the Kyoto protocol. Delegates from the oppressed nations reacted furiously. British Climate Change Minister Ed Miliband denounced any criticisms as wasting time on procedure rather than substance.

Outside the conference centre, Danish police reacted brutally to any form of protest, using baton charges and water canon and making preventative arrests; over a thousand people were handcuffed and forced to sit on the freezing ground for hours before being bussed to a prepared detention facility, filled with cages. They were not told what they had been arrested for, nor how long they were to be detained, and were denied access to a telephone call or toilet facilities, and attacked with pepper spray if they complained. Most people were held for around 12 hours before being released without charge. Nine protesters were only released in the middle of January 2010, and two are still in jail at the time of going to press. Democratic rights were suspended both inside and outside the conference.

By the second week the poor nations hadn’t bowed down before the imperialist agenda, so off to Copenhagen went Gordon Brown, two days earlier than planned, to shore up the imperialist offensive. He met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Zenawi had sent Ethiopian troops to invade Somalia on behalf of the US. Now he would help in the climate war against the poor. Zenawi proposed to the conference that the developing countries accept $10bn a year to cope with climate change from 2010-2012. This led critics from Africa to say:

‘We don’t yet know what Zenawi got in exchange for so radically changing his tune or how, exactly, you go from a position calling for $400bn a year in financing [the Africa group’s

position] to a mere $10bn’. Labour has since admitted that Britain’s

contribution will be taken from the existing Overseas Development Aid budget, and would not be new money as earlier promised.

When Obama arrived, the Danish hosts helped turn the event into a US summit; over 160 nations were ignored whilst Obama held meetings with a select 25. This group included the leading imperialist countries, plus China, India, Brazil and South Africa, with Ethiopia and Bangladesh as token poor nations. Rather than deal with the pitiful emission cuts offered by the imperialists, well below the 40% cuts by 2020 demanded by science and the poor nations, Obama instead made a stand on verification of emission cuts by the developing countries. China objected, as under Kyoto developing nations are not obliged to reduce emissions, yet it, India and Brazil had all volunteered to do so. China also objected to the proposed cuts for 2050. Scientists call for the developed world to cut emissions by 80% and global emissions to be cut by 50% on 1990 levels. Imperialist countries would still be allowed to emit at least twice the amount of greenhouse gases that developing countries could. Obama had to concede on these points.

After waiting five hours without explanation, the majority of delegates were informed that the deal had been done and were given one hour to read the document and respond to it. The subsequent debate was to be limited to points of order, but even then some countries had to bang their name plates to get noticed. Ed Miliband made sure everyone understood that the paragraphs on financing would only come into operation if countries signed up to the accord. The US reiterated this position. The small island state of Tuvalu likened the financing to ‘30 pieces of silver’. The Sudanese chairman of the G77 nations stated: ‘What has happened today concerns what we have been suspicious of – that a deal will be imposed by the US with the help of the Danish government on all nations of the world ... President Obama, in acting the way he did, definitely eliminated any difference between him and the Bush tradition’. Comparing the accord to the Holocaust, he said it ‘asked Africa to sign a suicide pact, an incineration pact, in order to maintain the economic dominance of a few countries’.

The ALBA nations were united in their condemnation of the accord. Delegates from Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua all condemned it. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez criticised the lack of democracy: ‘Mr Chairman ... the document [the leaked ‘Danish Text’] that you repeatedly claimed did not exist is showing up now. We have all seen drafts surreptitiously circulated and discussed in secret meetings, outside the rooms where the international community has been transparently negotiating through its representatives’. Further, he pointed out, ‘this document does not guarantee, in any way, the adoption of minimal measures conducive to the prevention of an extremely grave catastrophe for the planet and for human beings’.

Bolivian President Evo Morales and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had already denounced the hijacking of the conference and pointed out that capitalism is to blame for climate change. Evo Morales contrasted the two cultures offered, the culture of death ‘which is capitalism ... exploiting others, plundering their natural resources, assaulting Mother Earth, privatising basic services’ and the culture of life – ‘living in solidarity, in equality’. He ridiculed the paltry sums of money offered for adaptation to climate change: ‘The budget of the US is $687bn for defence. And for climate change, to save life, to save humanity, they only put up $10bn. This is shameful. The budget for the IraqIraq. But directed towards paying the climate debt, $10bn’. Morales pointed out how the imperialists had taken over the atmospheric space with their greenhouse gases, not leaving any space for others to use on their path to development. He condemned them for expelling immigrants who go to imperialist countries to improve their economic situation, and demanded that ‘the rich countries should take in all of the migrants who will be generated by climate change or affected by climate change’. Proposing an International Environmental Justice Court to provide sanctions against nations not meeting targets, he stated ‘Our objective is to save humanity and not just half of humanity’. He suggested a worldwide referendum on climate change to include the questions: war is $2.6trn, to go kill in

? Do you agree to re-establish a harmonious relationship with Nature, recognising the rights of Mother Earth?

? Are you in agreement with changing this system of excessive consumerism and waste, that is, the capitalist system?

? Do you agree that the developed countries should reduce and reabsorb their greenhouse gas emissions?

? Do you agree on transferring everything that is spent on wars to create a budget higher than the defence budget to tackle the problem of climate change?

Hugo Chavez also spoke on the undemocratic nature of the conference: ‘Can we hope for something democratic, inclusive from the current world system? What we are experiencing on this planet is an imperial dictatorship ... Down with the imperial dictatorship and long live people’s democracy and equality on this planet!’ He went on to expose the reality of this imperial dictatorship, ‘The 500 million richest people, 7% of the world population, are responsible for 50% of contaminating emissions, while the poorest 50% are responsible for just 7% of contaminating emissions ... The total income of the 500 richest individuals on the planet is greater than the income of the 416 million poorest people. The 2.8 billion people who live in poverty, earning less than one dollar a day, and who represent 40% of the global population, receive just 5% of the global income ... there are 1.1 billion people who do not have access to clean potable water; 2.6 billion without health services; more than 800 million illiterate individuals and 1.02 billion starving people. This is the global scenario’. Chavez ended by showing the way forward: ‘Stop the aggression and the wars. No more imperial military bases or coup d’états. Let us build a more just and equitable social and economic order. Let us eradicate poverty. Let us bring an immediate end to high levels of emissions; let us halt environmental destruction and prevent climate change catastrophe. Let us join together in the noble objective of being more free and driven by solidarity! ... History is calling us to unite and fight. If capitalism resists, we are forced to fight a battle against capitalism and open the way for the salvation of the human species.’

The conference ended with the delegates noting, rather than accepting, the ‘Copenhagen Accord’. Immediately the imperialists, led by Ed Miliband, started blaming China, Sudan and the nations of ALBA for a deal not being agreed, and called for ‘major reform’ of the UN Framework Convention on Climate change and the way negotiations are conducted. Then they carried on as if the accord was a deal, giving the deadline of 31 January for nations to sign up.

The accord itself states that increases in temperature should be kept below 2°C, but the pledges of emission cuts are estimated to set the world on track to warming between 3 and 3.5°C. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the rich world promises to make cuts of 15-19% in collective emissions by 2020 on 1990 levels, however, once the loopholes are taken into account this could result in an actual increase of 4-10%. Loopholes include carbon trading, carbon offsetting, that airlines and shipping fuel aren’t included in any nation’s emissions and flaws in the forestry management plan.

In January, a group of 450 investors controlling $13trn of assets met at the UN in New York to urge governments to reset their domestic agendas to lay the foundation of a Carbon Market. The Carbon Market is forecast to be worth up to $4.5trn, 45 times the $100bn promised for adapting to climate change by 2020.

Leading the alternative, Evo Morales announced the First World Conference of the People on Climate Change will take place in April in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba, famous for the people’s victorious struggle against multinational companies’ attempts to privatise its water.  Copenhagen showed that on the issue of climate change, you are either on the side of Labour and the imperialists or on the side of the majority of the world’s people, the culture of death versus the culture of life. Join the anti-imperialist fight led by ALBA!

Haiti: troops out! Cancel the debt!

En Français

US troops in Haiti

As the magnitude of the disaster in Haiti becomes apparent – perhaps 200,000 dead, the whole of the capital Port-au-Prince devastated as a consequence of the 12 January earthquake, so anti-imperialists have to hold those responsible for this calamity to account. No-one can prevent earthquakes, but states can create conditions where the scale of destruction that follows is limited, and where there is an infrastructure which can support effective relief operations. It is obvious that neither existed in Haiti so that the consequences of the earthquake were all the more horrific. But the primary responsibility for this lies not with the desperately impoverished Haitian state, but with those who caused this impoverishment: imperialism in general, and US imperialism in particular. Haiti is the epitome of a dependent state, its development deliberately obstructed by the US to keep it and its people in subjection.

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