[A-List] Interview with Ben Dupuy of the PPN... Haiti
sherrynstan at earthlink.net
Fri Aug 13 21:30:03 MDT 2004
Interview with Ben Dupuy of the PPN
Socialism and Liberation interviews Ben Dupuy, General Secretary of the
National Popular Party (PPN) of Haiti
Q: President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was kidnapped and removed from power
five months ago. Can you give us a sense of what President Aristide
represents for the Haitian people?
We have to start by saying that until the late 1980s, the United States
policy in Latin America was to support military dictatorships. That was
in the context of the containment of the Soviet Union. So the U.S. had
no problem sponsoring coups detat or any kind of dictatorship.
That was the case in Haiti as well. Papa Doc Duvalier, one of the
prominent traditional leaders or politicians, established a particularly
brutal dictatorship in Haiti. Because of his anti-communist ideology, he
was not penalized for the obvious crimes that were being committed.
Later he died and his son Jean Claude Baby Doc Duvalier came to power.
There was a fundamental change, where the U.S. made an agreement with
Baby Doc. Remember the visit [in 1969] of Nelson Rockefeller, who was
instrumental in preparing the transition from Papa Doc to Baby Doc. From
then on, neoliberal policies were implemented in Haiti.
They started a program of so-called foreign aid through USAID. The
idea was to provide the government of Baby Doc with foreign aid in the
form of agricultural products. The whole program was very clear.
Although it wasnt stated, the objective was to destroy the agricultural
economy and self-sufficiency of the economy. And this aid was mostly in
terms of agricultural surplus.
This started the indebtedness of Haiti. It was also the beginning of the
destruction of our agriculture, which eventually made the country
totally dependent on this kind of foreign aid in terms of a market for
whatever surplus production the United States produced. So by the end of
the government of Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986 when he was overthrown,
the country was deeply in debt to international institutions like the
International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, owing more than a
Now in the late 1980s, the United States government realized that in
order to carry out their neo-liberal policy of relocating industries [in
the Third World], the implementation of the capitalist mode of
production in underdeveloped countries was not viable within the context
of brutal dictatorship. So they advanced the concepts of democracy and
human rights. That was a fundamental shift in European and U.S. policy
toward Latin America and the world.
The U.S. tried to recycle Jean-Claude Duvaliers dictatorship into some
kind of democracy, with some form of popular consultation, elections,
etc. But because of the legacy of his father, Duvalier could not fulfill
this objective. The United States government decided Duvalier had to go.
After that, there was a political vacuum in Haiti, in the sense that
under the Duvalier dictatorship, even the bourgeoisie could not organize
themselves politically. The downfall to the Duvalier dictatorship left a
political vacuum. In the meantime, the neoliberal policies in Haiti,
which meant the destruction of the traditional agricultural sector,
caused an exodus from the countryside. Peasants had no alternative than
to come to the city. They lived in ghettos under precarious conditions.
This led to the creation of a huge sub-proletariat.
During this time, Father Aristide was a priest in one of the slums.
Because the Catholic Church had been going along with U.S. policies in
Latin America, it started to criticize the dictatorship. I think that
this opened the door for Father Aristide to start his opposition to the
dictatorship, using liberation theology and an anti-imperialist,
nationalist, and anti-Duvalierist stand. He very rapidly became a
spokesperson for the downtrodden. When the church realized he was going
a little too far, they tried to shut him up and force him out of the
country. But it was too late. The people rose up and prevented him from
Q: How did this popular momentum intersect with the state of the Haitian
ruling classes after the fall of Duvalier?
We can say that Aristide filled a political vacuum. The bourgeois sector
has traditionally been at odds with Duvalierism. Duvalier represented
the feudal sector of our society.
One fundamental thing about Haiti is that the elite is composed of two
sectors: the feudal landowners and the commercial bourgeoisie. These two
have been in political control of the country since 1806, when the
leader of the struggle of independence, Jean-Jacque Dessalines, was
assassinated. He was himself a former slave. As Haitis first head of
state, he started a program of agrarian reform designed to benefit the
vast majority of the population, made up of former slaves. His
assassination was Haitis first coup détat.
The landlords, the big landowners, divided the country into large land
holdings. This sector mostly came from the affranchis freedmen who led
the Haitian revolution and independence struggle. Since then, there has
been a very clear divide between the haves and the have-nots. The former
slaves were relegated to live as sharecroppers, in a semi-feudal mode of
At the same time, because the country exported primary products like
coffee, cocoa, sugar, and certain other agricultural products, a
bourgeois sector very soon emerged. It is essentially a comprador
bourgeoisie and not an industrial bourgeoisie.
These two sectors have been at odds and at war for political power
throughout our history. This explains why you often hear Haiti has a
violent history. In fact, it has been the struggle between those two
sectors for political hegemony.
The only time that these two sectors have come together is when the
masses attempt to rise up. This is what happened in 1986. At first the
bourgeoisie tried to use Aristides popularity in order to establish
what is known in our history as doublure: an uneducated element put in
as president by the bourgeoisie as a figurehead while they control the
whole political apparatus.
In 1986, the bourgeoisie was not politically organized. Having been
forced to be politically impotent for almost thirty years under the
brutal dictatorship of the Duvaliers Tonton-Macoutes, and with most of
their political ideologues either dead or in exile, the first move of
the local bourgeoisie was to try to re-enact their historically
traditional policy of doublure; that is to say a kind of policy where
they would hide behind Aristide, while retaining all the levers of
political and economic power. This explains why at first the bourgeoisie
and the petty-bourgeoisie, the intellectuals, were behind Aristide.
Q: How long did that ruling class support for Aristide last?
After 1990, when President Aristide was elected in a landslide, they
realized that he had not changed his anti-imperialist rhetoric nor was
he about to alienate so soon his constituency. So the bourgeoisie
started to have second thoughts. That is when the United States also
realized that this kind of participatory democracy was not practical.
The army, which was created by the U.S. in 1915 as a tool of internal
repression, realized that something has to be done. They could not
accept this form of participatory democracy.
So seven months later, with the complicity of the CIA and the DIA, the
U.S., that was under the first Bush administrationI would say Papa
Bushsponsored the first 1991coup détat and President Aristide went
into exile, first in Venezuela, then Washington.
Now the U.S. found itself in a contradiction. On the one hand, it was
preaching democracy and human rights. Of course the form of democracy
they had in mind is the kind of democracy we have in the United States:
selling a leader, investing millions and millions of dollars. In the
context of poor countries, that kind of democracy finds itself not
always being feasible.
They find themselves in this kind of contradiction: they were not
supporting the dictators anymore in Latin America, like Pinochet in
Chile, and so the fact of being forced to carry out a coup détat in
Haiti was certainly the wrong message. They had to make some kind of
The idea was: lets bring Father Aristide to Washington, and lets see
to what extent he would be willing to make a deal. To the extent that he
would agree to implement their program, that is the neoliberal program,
and to tone down his rhetoric, then possibly we could re-instate him.
That would let us say to world public opinion that we really are behind
democracy in Latin America.
Q: Did Aristide accept that U.S. arrangement?
Father Aristide, positioned ideologically, is not a revolutionary. In a
way, he inherited the policy or attitude of one of our regional
(original?) leaders and heroes before the revolution, Toussaint
LOuverture. Toussaint was instrumental in the liberation of the former
slaves in the former French colony. During the French Revolution, after
the Jacobins proclaimed the abolition of slavery, Toussaint LOuverture
played a vital role in keeping Haiti in the sphere of Frances colonial
empire. His objective was not independence, but rather to end
slaveryand in fact to keep the colony within the French colonial
But after Napolean Bonapartes coup détat, France sent an expeditionary
army of 40,000 troops under the command of his brother-in-law, General
Leclerc, to re-establish complete French rule in the colony. Napoleon
thought that Saint- Domingue, as Haiti was then known, could not be
ruled by a Black French General, being one of the richest French
Because of Toussaints policy of enabling former slave owners to return
to the colony, he lost the allegiance of most of the former slaves
Therefore, the French expedition didnt have too much trouble
re-establishing French supremacy.
But when the indigenous leaders in Haiti and the masses learned that the
goal of Napoleon was to re-establish slavery and eliminate all people
who have ever been part of Toussaints army, they decided they had
nothing to lose but their chains. The war of independence started, under
the leadership of Jean-Jacques Dessalines.
Now to come back to Father Aristide, his mentor has been Toussaint
LOuverture. His attitude has been to try diplomatically to get the
blessing of the former colonial powers and the United States. He thought
that he could find a middle way, re-enacting in a way the policies of
Unfortunately, the second coup détat in 2004 where he was kidnapped is
a repeat of what happened to Toussaint LOuverture, who was also
kidnapped by French forces and sent back to France where he died in
So today we find ourselves in a situation where the great majority of
the people, the poor people in Haiti, had seen Father Aristide as the
embodiment of their aspirations. But we have to admit that Father
Aristides fundamental ideology and position was reformist, and
therefore he could not have carried out this fundamental and radical
change that is needed to get Haiti out of the clutches of the United
States and France.
Q: How would you characterize the situation after Aristide was returned
to power in 1994 with a U.S. military intervention?
Aristide was caught in a contradiction. On the one hand, he wanted to
make some concessions to the imperialists, but on the other hand, he
would lose his support from the masses if he went completely along with
them. When he came back, he was in an ambiguous position where, on the
one hand, he tried to make some concessions on neoliberal policies, such
as allowing the building of free trade zones all along the
Haitian-Dominican border. Haiti gives up sovereignty in these zones, in
violation of one of the Lavalas movements earliest demands that Haiti
is not for sale, either wholesale or retail. On the other hand,
Aristide kept a nationalist posture since he didnt want to lose his
support from the masses. These contradictory positions and policies
created an opening for the United States. At the same time, the
bourgeoisie and the feudal sectors were totally mobilized to put an end
to this experience.
Q: You are talking about his second elected term, which began in 2000.
Now, about the events leading up to the February coup, we saw here in
the media armed groups in the countryside, demonstrations against
Aristide and so on. Who was the opposition to Aristide? As I understand
it the armed opposition was small, really small groups of 100 people
here and 100 people there. How was it possible for such a small force to
topple Aristides government?
Aristides political ambiguity could be seen by the fact that to appease
the different sectors opposed to his governmentthe bourgeoisie and the
feudal sector represented politically by the Tonton Macoutes, the former
Duvalierists and the former armyhe had some members of those sectors
join his government and his party, the Fanmi Lavalas Party.
Fanmi Lavalas was not structured in a way to create some form of
leadership of the popular masses. It was more a party around a
personality. And the kind of concessions and ambiguity created a
situation where organizing the masses and preparing them for eventual
confrontation with the traditional forces was not possible.
At the same time, the United States prepared the ground by financing the
bourgeois opposition and securing the support of the local media by
financing so called non-governmental organizations, private radio
stations, and anti-Aristide unions. They established an embargo with two
characteristics. On the one hand, there was the weapons embargo, which
had been imposed in 1994 when the U.S. occupied the country for the
On the other hand, an economic embargo was also imposed. The U.S. vetoed
$500 million in loans for Haiti, from institutions like the
Inter-American Development Bank. After the period of Baby Docs
government, the country was highly indebted, the economy was practically
in ruins and Haitis traditional income from exports of agricultural
produce to the world market was practically nonexistent because the
capitalist countries planned overproduction of those commodities in
Third World countries. The country had come to a point where the
survival of its government depended on foreign aid.
The U.S. had veto power within the IMF and the World Bank. The fact that
it managed to cut off aid made it impossible for the Aristide government
to even start to better the social and economic conditions of the
The U.S. also drew on past experiences, like the one they implemented in
Nicaragua when they wanted to oust the Sandinista revolution. The Tonton
Macoutes and the former military, the army that had been disbanded by
Aristide, went into the neighboring Dominican Republic where they were
organized, financed and armed by the CIA. Those people started to make
incursions into Haiti, creating all kind of havoc.
At the same time, there were the psyops, psychological operations,
where the local media were instrumental in creating panic. Elected
officials and the ill-equipped police in the countryside thought that
the so-called rebels coming from the Dominican Republic were a fantastic
army, even though these minimal forces, the so-called freedom
fighters, were not really capable of overthrowing the government. The
demoralization was such that the police were deserting and the elected
officials were leaving the countryside. So it was easy for those forces
to take control of different regions of the country.
When these groups threatened the capital, the masses started to
mobilize, taking up positions to defend the capital. Here again, the
United States representatives in Haiti carried out a massive deception.
They managed to convince Aristide to demobilize, to remove the
barricades, holding out the hope that peace will be restored.
The coup and kidnapping took place in context of South African President
Mbeki responding to the request of the Haitian government to provide the
national police with weapons in order to confront the advancing
so-called rebel forces. As a matter of fact, a plane bound for Haiti
arrived in Jamaica. It was supposed to arrive on Feb. 29 with weapons
and all kinds of police paraphernalia. So the U.S. intelligence services
had to precipitate the coup or the kidnapping on the night of the Feb.
A few days earlier, a contingent of Marines arrived in Haiti under the
pretext of protecting the U.S. embassy. Those were the troops that
occupied the National Palace, the airport and the residence of President
Aristide in the night of Feb. 28. President Aristides security detail
was made up in part of U.S. mercenaries. They were ordered to evacuate
the place, and President Aristide was put in a situation where he had to
take a plane or else lose his life.
Q: What was it about Aristide that would cause the hatred of the U.S.
We think that the reason is that the current U.S. attitude, especially
with the present administration, is very ideologically blind and
intolerant. Their view is that a leader of any particular Third World
country in Latin America should be completely subservient and dependent
on their good graces and not on a popular base, regardless of the
willingness of the leader to make concessions and accommodations. It is
a very black and white vision. They want stooges and people who are not
going to have their own opinion.
Q: Could you describe the present government in Haiti today?
The present de facto government, if we have to compare it to different
situations, we could compare it to the imposed government of Mohammed
Karzai in Afghanistan, or to the U.S. imposed Allawi government in Iraq.
The U.S., in carrying out regime change, is setting up a form of
The de facto Prime Minister Gérard Latortue is practically a foreigner,
having lived most of his life abroad working for the United Nations in
Europe and then retiring in Boca Raton, Florida. He is a U.S. stooge. He
was parachuted in to fulfill this role with the support of the
What is very interesting, in fact a constant in the U.S. approach, is
that even though the U.S. does not intend to re-instate the oligarchy in
power, it keeps it as a necessary instrument in order to fight any kind
of popular response. By oligarchy I mean the feudal sector, the most
backward sector in Third World countries in Latin America.
In other words the bourgeoisie has formal, institutional power, but they
rely on the feudal sectors for the dirty work. This very often creates a
contradiction, and this is exactly what is happening in Haiti. The
so-called rebels are members of this feudal social sector. These are
the ones that are organizing the death squads and self-defense
squadrons, and are usually in tune with the CIA.
But this sometimes causes contradictions. Just like we can see in Iraq
or Afghanistan where the warlords and former feudal elements have been
armed and trained by the CIA, they later become a problem for the
implementation of bourgeois type of government. I think the same
phenomenon is happening in Haiti. Now there is a huge struggle to disarm
those so-called rebels because the bourgeoisie realizes that after
having accomplished the violent phase of the struggle against the
people, they have become a problem.
This is the situation now, where UN forces are trying to neutralize
those forces. But I think the U.S. goal is to keep them alive. They fear
if the people would ever rise up to continue the struggle that those
people would be the ones to be instrumental to this process.
Q: Could you say a little more about the role of the UN in Haiti today?
I think that the UN has become to be more and more an instrument of the
foreign policy of the United States. The U.S. would normally use the
Organization of American States, but the CARICOM countries have made the
use of the OAS as an echo chamber much more difficult. The CARICOM
countries are small, recently-independent countries which feel that the
democratic form of government is preferred for the stability of their
economies. They feel that any kind of extra-legal change of government
could be a threat to their own stability in the future.
That is why the U.S. has had to use the UN, which has been complacent in
this kind of role. We have seen what happened in the course of the
Bosnian situation. We have seen their role in Afghanistan. They have had
some problems with the UN concerning their intervention in Iraq. The
fact that France was also very willing to oust President Aristide
because of his demands for restitution of the 150 million gold francs
imposed on Haiti made it easier for the United States on a moments
notice to get the approval of the Security Council.
So we think that this will contribute to de-legitimize and to expose the
role of the United Nations.
As far as Lula is concerned, along with Kirschner in Argentina and Lagos
in Chile, they have seen fit to go and give this kind of cover for
United States policy in Latin America under the umbrella of the United
Nations, as good social democrats. This shows the clearly the limitation
of social democracy in Latin America.
Q: So the role of the United Nations in Latin America is not to protect
the people against armed thugs as much as to defend the bourgeois
government or to give it some element of stability.
Yes, to give it some element of stability, as well as some form of
We are convinced that they will not really succeed in neutralizing the
feudal representatives like the FRAPH and the so-called rebels. The
U.S. will keep those forces present because they fear that eventually
the people, the masses, will adopt some other form of struggle.
Q: Lets talk about the state of the struggle in Haiti today. What is
the state of the Famni Lavalas now that Aristide has been driven from
The Lavalas Party has been in a way eliminated from the political
process, by not even being admitted into the Provisional Electoral
Council that is supposed to accomplish the so-called election. Their
members are being persecuted not only in Port-au-Prince but also in the
provinces by the feudals so-called rebel forces. Also the Fanmi
Lavalas party being so loosely structured has created a situation where
some of the leaders seem to be willing to go along and try to recycle
themselves within the context of the current bourgeois venture. On this
basis, the large masses may have been left without a clear leadership.
That is where our party, which has critically supported Lavalas, sees
the need to provide this leadership for the masses.
Q: What are the origins and perspectives of your party, the National
Popular Party. What are its outlook and its organization?
The National Popular Party has its origin in a mass organization called
the National Popular Assembly, which was created in 1987 after the
downfall of Duvalier. At the very beginning, we supported the positions
of Father Aristide. We have fought the traditional sectors of the ruling
class, which means the Macoute feudal sector as well as the bourgeoisie,
which was trying to co-opt the popular movement.
We have concentrated our organizational work in the countryside, where
the vast majority of the Haitian masses are. Whereas the Fanmi Lavalas
base is more urban, we have been organizing in the countryside. The
working class in Haiti is a minority, because of the difficulty for the
bourgeoisie to recycle itself as a sweatshop industry and neoliberal
types of ventures.
We have critically supported President Aristides government, warning
them of the severity of a backlash of the elite. We have encouraged them
to take all kinds of initiatives to forestall this kind of undertaking.
We have also tried to establish a positive relationship with countries
that find themselves in the same social bloc, like Cuba.
We object to the coup détat that ousted Aristide. We object the fact
that the U.S., France, Canada and other former colonial powers have seen
fit to reject the choice of the majority of the Haitian people. We have
respected the verdict of the masses and we think that as a process, the
Lavalas government was headed in the right direction.
Q: After a setback like this, there is often demoralization of the mass
movement. What is your sense of the mood among the Haitian masses?
We think that demoralization may affect a certain part of the
petty-bourgeoisie that have joined the movement. But I believe the
masses find themselves in such a situation that they have no alternative
than to struggle. If we make this analogy with the Toussaint LOuverture
experience and the Dessalines experience, the war of independence
started after Toussaints kidnapping.
Q: Does the PPN have a perspective on armed struggle or armed
We think that because the ruling sectors have put an end to the civil
form of struggle, it would be an illusion to think that the normal
democratic approach to political power could be practical in the current
context. So we leave every door open. We think it is duty of any people
to fight illegitimacy, tyranny. It is a universal principle.
Q: Do you have a message that you would like to give to the progressive
movement, the working-class movement in the United States, who want to
support the struggle of the Haitian people?
Yes, I think it is very important for the U.S. progressive forces to
understand the dynamic of the struggle in Haiti and to be aware of the
force of the traditional media in shaping up public opinion. Sometimes
even progressive people fall victim, even unconsciously, to this form of
propaganda. We think that the struggle in Haiti should not be looked at
from a racialist standpoint but from a class struggle standpoint, and as
a struggle for national liberation, which is the only basis that can
create the conditions for a new socialist society.
 Francois Papa Doc Duvalier ruled Haiti from 1957 to 1971.
 Nelson Rockefeller, then governor of New York State, visited Haiti
in 1969 as an emissary of the U.S. government.
 Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is president of Brazil. Nestor Kirschner
is president of Argentina. Ricardo Lagos is president of Chile. The
three South American countries are providing most of the troops for the
UN mission in Haiti.
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