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17920: (Ives) Haiti celebrates 200 years of independence (fwd)

From: K. M. Ives <kives@toast.net>

Haiti celebrates 200 years of independence
By G. Dunkel
Reprinted from the Jan. 15, 2004, issue of Workers World newspaper

Tens of thousands of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's supporters came out
Jan. 1 in Port-au-Prince to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Haiti's

Given the country's tense political climate--fueled by an opposition that
intends to drive Aristide from power through violent street protests like
those that have killed 40 and injured hundreds in the last six
months--organizers said the turnout was surprising and encouraging.

Twelve international delegations attended the celebration. President Thabo
Mbeki of South Africa explained: "We celebrate the Haitian Revolution
because it dealt a deadly blow to the slave traders who had scoured the
coasts of West and East Africa for slaves and ruined the lives of millions
of Africans."

Mbeki also acknowledged the "heroic struggle" still being waged against
poverty on both sides of the Atlantic.

Mbeki was scheduled to go to Gona´ves, the city where independence was
proclaimed, but his visit was canceled after his helicopter was reportedly
fired on.

"Our biggest job is to avoid a coup d'etat here," said U.S. Rep. Maxine
Waters, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus who attended the
ceremonies. She criticized the lack of U.S. economic aid to Haiti.

Aristide listed 21 goals he hopes will be accomplished by 2015, from
stabilizing the HIV infection rate to reducing poverty. He pushed for $21
billion in reparations from France, the former colonial power, and "respect
for the Constitution."

U.S. and French media coverage focused on a counter-protest by a motley
collection of groups, lumped together in the so-called Democratic
Convergence and Group of 184.

Every report noted, however, that the official celebration outdrew the

The convergence, openly funded by the U.S.-based International Republican
Insti tute, calls itself the "democratic" opposition to Aristide but refused
to participate in the 2000 presidential and senate elections. They claimed
the elections were rigged, but Aristide's supporters say their lack of
support would have been exposed if they had run.

The U.S.-backed opposition includes major business associations, landowners,
Catholic and Protestant lay groups, some labor unions representing more
high-paid workers, university students from conservative disciplines like
business administration, ex-military officers and former members of the
Macoutes death squad.

Andy Apaid, who coordinates the Group of 184, owns a manufacturing plant and
boasts that he pays his workers $4.50 a day, or two-and-a-half times the
legal minimum wage.

Thanks to the legacy of French and U.S. domination, Haiti is by far the
poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with a life expectancy hovering
around 50 years--18 to 20 years lower than its Carib bean neighbors.
Unemployment is over 50 percent.

The massive numbers of poor people in Haiti's cities are Aristide's main
base of support.

Haiti's struggle against slavery

The first modern war of national liberation was fought in Haiti from 1801 to
1803, against France's genocidal attempt to reimpose slavery in Haiti.

In 1804, Haiti became the second independent state in the Western
Hemisphere, after the U.S. It was the first Black state formed by a slave
rebellion. It could even be considered as one of the earliest examples of a
successful general strike.

The Haitian people and their army, under the leadership of Jean-Jacques
Dessalines, crushed the French. Napoleon later called it his greatest

The success of Haiti's revolution completely flummoxed the 19th-century
slave owners and their bourgeois competitors, who relied on wage slavery and
were equally racist.

The imperialist powers have spent the last 200 years tearing down Haiti,
lying about it and smashing its economy, occupying it militarily and
installing pliant regimes--all the while blaming Haitians for the results of
this neocolonial campaign.

In 1990, the Haitian people shocked the world bourgeoisie again when they
first elected Aristide president. While formally an election, it was really
a mass movement of the Haitian people that rolled over the U.S.-approved
and -financed candidate, Marc Bazin, a former World Bank official.

Since then, first by a coup and later by economic and political
strangulation, both Democratic and Republican administrations in Washington
have been trying to rid themselves of Aristide and the movement he

So far, they have not succeeded.

Reprinted from the Jan. 15, 2004, issue of Workers World newspaper