In the following, FAIR‘s Janine Jackson interviews Black Alliance for Peace‘s Chris Bernadel about the Haitian presidential assassination for the July 16, 2021, episode of CounterSpin. This is a edited transcript.
Janine Jackson: As we record July 14, there is still uncertainty about what exactly happened in the early hours of last Wednesday, July 7, when Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was killed and his wife wounded. Reports have it that the assassins included 26 Colombians—some likely trained, as many Colombian military, are, by the US, and deployed as mercenaries around the world—and two Haitian Americans, possibly with ties to Haitian oligarchies, possibly misled about the nature of their mission.
It’s also said that Moïse’s own guards had to have been involved. That the assailants yelled “DEA!” as they attacked. And that a Miami-based doctor might be at the core of it all. Much will be made in US news media about these particulars, and the murkiness around them.
What we know more clearly is the century-old history of US intervention in Haiti, the reasons routinely offered for such intervention, and the results.
That narrative is reflected in the New York Times July 8 report, with a thumbnail telling readers that Haiti’s “morass has for decades put it near the top of a list of nations, such as Afghanistan and Somalia, that have captured the world’s imagination for their levels of despair.” That’s coupled with a dramatic image: a shadowy silhouette of a woman “receiving a box of food aid,” as the caption tells us, “after the 2010 earthquake.” In case you missed it: The world gives; Haiti takes.
And yet, despite being “propped up,” as the piece had it, by “vast amounts of humanitarian assistance,” Haiti continues to be a chaotic mess, explaining why, as the Miami Herald editorial board put it, the US “has no choice but to take the lead to stabilize Haiti.” The Washington Post called for a “swift and muscular” intervention.
So far not in evidence in US media coverage: regular Haitian people, who might have something more complicated to say, outside of the acceptance of the brutish midnight murder of officials and acceptance of the brutish intervention of outside governments.
Chris Bernadel works with the Black Alliance for Peace Haiti and the Americas Committee. He joins us now by phone from Los Angeles. Welcome to CounterSpin, Chris Bernadel.
Chris Bernadel: Hi, thanks for having me today.
JJ: A Guardian piece describes fears that Haiti is now “lurching into a new phase of political and social upheaval.” Not that there can’t be ever-new flavors of upheaval, heaven knows, but it’s not a matter of things in Haiti suddenly taking a turn for the bad. I wonder if you could talk about what was going on in Haiti on July 6, before these events, that listeners might understand as context for what came after?
CB: Yes, the Black Alliance for Peace released a press release on July 6 regarding the United States, the OAS and the UN support for unconstitutional actions that were being taken by the de facto government of Jovenel Moïse, the illegitimate government in Haiti at the time. We released that press release to shine a light on the US’s support for Jovenel Moïse, even though he had been ruling the country by decree since January 2020, and had been trying to push through with the referendum that had been rejected by every sector of Haitian civil society, and by the masses of people.
The people in Haiti had been protesting consistently, starting in 2018 with protests against Jovenel Moïse because of the PetroCaribe scandal, which we can talk about, where billions of dollars were embezzled, dollars that were meant to go to the development of Haitian infrastructure—Haitian public health and public safety infrastructure.
So the situation in Haiti on July 6, when we released that press release, was one where the United States had been supporting their ally, the de facto ruler Jovenel Moïse—who had been ruling by decree in a country where the parliament had been dismissed, where the supreme court or high court judges had been arrested, and where there had been numerous massacres and killings of human rights lawyers, activists.
And over the days between June 25 to June 30, Haiti was subjected to increased state-sponsored violence, increased gang violence; there were killings in the capital city of Port-au-Prince of up to 60 people. A notable and prominent human rights activist and feminist, Antoinette Duclair, was murdered, as well as Diego Charles, who was a journalist.
So the situation in Haiti, up until that point, was a volatile situation, and the people in Haiti were, up until that point, rising up and struggling against a de facto regime that had been acting unconstitutionally, and that had been sponsoring massacres throughout working-class and poor neighborhoods in the capital city.
JJ: Before we talk about the US role there, maybe take a minute to explain the PetroCaribe scandal and the role that that plays, and continues to play, in terms of the Haitian people’s understanding and relationship with officialdom there. What was that PetroCaribe story?
CB: The PetroCaribe fund was the result of a deal between Venezuela and Haiti in 2008, between Hugo Chávez and René Préval. Basically, the PetroCaribe fund was funded by Venezuelan oil sales to Haiti that were given at a very good rate, and also allowed Haiti to use much of that money to develop the country, and only have to pay it back at a very low interest rate, over a long period of time.
So this fund was meant to help the Haitian people develop the country, and could have been used to really support the country and help the country recover from the 2010 earthquake that rocked the capital.
But after that earthquake, after the destruction that it caused in the country, the political situation in the country was also in a difficult situation. And most notably, for this story, we have to look at the way that the United States State Department intervened and exercised control over the Haitian political situation, where Secretary of State (at the time) Hillary Clinton was directly involved in selecting Michel Martelly to be the runner-up, or to be the second-place candidate, in elections.
And Michel Martelly and the PHTK party came to power. Jovenel Moïse was handpicked by Michel Martelly. So if we look from that time, in that situation, up until now, we can see directly how the US was involved, and played a major role in setting up the political situation that we have now in Haiti.
JJ: It’s really hard to overstate. Politico once had a headline calling Bill and Hillary Clinton the “King and Queen of Haiti.” She was Secretary of State, as you note, in 2009, and in charge of—among many other things, under the auspices of development and help—suppressing a rise in the minimum wage, to encourage, specifically, garment manufacturers to invest, but basically trying to call for foreign investment as the way forward in Haiti. But we have receipts from that; we understand how that intervention paid off.
And Bill Clinton, of course, was in charge of the so-called humanitarian response to that 2010 earthquake. We saw what happened. Whether we call that intervention “humanistic,” “humanitarian” or “military,” it didn’t do what it claimed it was going to do, by any stretch of the imagination, in terms of actually helping, or developing, or supporting Haitian civil society.
So it is what it is, but to hear, now, the idea of US intervention being the automatic response to problems in Haiti…. I don’t know to ask for your reaction, but the very idea that military intervention, or intervention at all, from the United States would be the first recourse in this situation, in the wake of the assassination, what do you even make of that?
CB: When we see in the media that “Haiti is calling for US intervention,” or “Haiti is calling for US troops.”… First, you have to recognize that the government that’s in place in Haiti right now is not a legitimate representative of the Haitian people. Like I mentioned before, Jovenel Moïse had overstayed his constitutional mandate, and had been ruling the country by decree for some time; the Haitian people were rising up against that.
And after his assassination, the United Nations special envoy for Haiti, Helen La Lime, on July 8, released a statement saying that Haiti’s prime minister—who was due to be replaced that week before Jovenel Moïse had been assassinated; he was due to be replaced by Ariel Henry–she put out a statement that Haitian Prime Minister Claude Joseph would be the new president, just one day after the assassination of Jovenel Moïse.
And now, normally, constitutionally, the head of the Haitian supreme court, the high court in Haiti, is supposed to replace the president in situations like this. But that gentleman died, supposedly of Covid-19, just recently, so this was an extra-constitutional situation. But there was no constitutional precedent for the US to come in and say that Claude Joseph would be the president until elections. So the US was involved directly with supporting Claude Joseph taking that position.
But then also, when Claude Joseph comes out and calls for US support, US troops, we also have to remember what’s been recently reported on as well: Claude Joseph has ties to the United States, going back to 2003, 2004, in the time of the coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, where Claude Joseph was a member of a student group that was created with the support of the NED, the National Endowment for Democracy. So this is someone who the US seems to be comfortable with and supports, and they stepped in and supported that he would be the president upon the assassination of Jovenel Moïse.
And that decision came after a closed-door UN Security Council meeting that had been called on Haiti. And at the Black Alliance for Peace, we put out a statement questioning, “Who gave the United Nations special envoy the kind of power to make that kind of determination for the people of Haiti?”
CB: So this is more of what we’ve seen throughout the history of Haiti, going back to 1915, where, under a similar pretext, the United States invaded Haiti and occupied the country for 19 years.
JJ: These closed-door meetings in which leaders are tapped, this is presented as “developing democracy.” It’s bizarre. It’s a bizarre understanding of the word, and what it means.
OK, so Brett Wilkins, at Common Dreams, brought together some of the history that a lot of US listeners might not know about: how Haiti was the site of the world’s only successful nationwide revolt of enslaved people, the first Black republic, an inspiration around the world. And an alarm to, among others, George Washington, who wrote to the French minister in 1791, promising to aid the French “to quell the alarming insurrection of the negros.” The US didn’t recognize Haiti until 1892. And then, of course, as you’ve just mentioned, Woodrow Wilson ordering an invasion, in the name of “stability”–familiar terms–in 1915, an occupation that went on til 1934.
And I just say all of this to say that when you only learn about Haiti from US news media, it’s a country of weak and despondent, chaotic people. And yet there’s such a history of Haitian civil society, and resistance, and support for one another, and mutual aid. And I just wonder if you could answer: What would support from the diaspora and from US citizens—real support for Haitian civil society—what would that look like, now and in the coming days?
Folks are going to be barraged with a lot of information and names that they’ve never heard. And I just wonder, what questions would you have folks keep in mind, as they absorb this coverage now, of Haiti as a country that’s perpetually in chaos, where no one knows what they want, no one knows how to do anything? What would the Haitian people, civil society, like, just for example, US citizens to hear, or to know, or to think about?
CB: First off would be exactly like what you said: just to be vigilant, and to fight against, stand up against, and call out these calls for US occupation and further US intervention in the country, because, like we talked about before, the US has been directly involved and occupying Haiti sporadically since 1915. And we can look at 2004, the MINUSTAH mission of the UN, and today, the BINUH mission of the UN, where they have direct involvement in the Haitian political system and over Haitian society.
So people here, if they’re allies of the Haitian people, have to support them in their calls to be allowed to come up with their own solutions, independently of US intervention, of UN intervention, of OAS intervention.
The Haitian people are organizing, they have been organizing, for the past couple of years intensely. And there have been demonstrations and protests in the country that have been organized by grassroots organizations that have ties to the working-class people of Port-au-Prince, have ties to the agrarian workers in the provinces, and are developing a movement that has threatened United States interests, imperialist interests, in the country.
So we have to stand up against these calls for occupation, these calls for intervention. And we have to support the Haitian people’s right to self-determination, and for them to be allowed to develop their own process, democratically from the grassroots, to come up with solutions and a just transition.
This current government is illegitimate. And the Haitian people are not looking for foreign countries, for foreign powers, to impose a new system, or impose elections, or impose a new constitution on them. The Haitian people are trying to organize solutions on their own. And us here in the belly of the beast, here in the United States, we have to stand up and fight, so that the Haitian people can have the space to do that.
JJ: We’ve been speaking with Chris Bernadel of the Black Alliance for Peace. They’re online at BlackAllianceForPeace.com/Haiti.
FAIR counts on your support to do this work — please donate today.