Haiti is home to the slave rebellion that became arguably the great revolution of the modern world. For its trouble, totally not-racist liberal democratic nations punished it systematically until it was one of the poorest nations on the planet. Except the past tense is a lie; we keep fucking Haiti over at every turn. In 2009, Barack Obama’s State Department, led by a future presidential candidate, applied the leverage available to the world’s wealthiest nation to suppress the minimum wage in the hemisphere’s poorest, overturning parliamentary policy so Haitian textile workers could be kept to 31 cents an hour, because cheap T-shirts.
In short, a US–led coalition of the willing has immiserated Haiti into perpetual political volatility. There have been about 20 heads of state since it became a republic. That’s an average term of 19 months per president since the 1986 fall of the Duvaliers. Ten prime ministers in the last decade. So from our safe distance it can be easy to shrug when another one goes, as Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant did on Bastille Day, sacrificed by President Jovenel Moïse in hopes of preserving his own position.
What brought down Lafontant? The government had withdrawn subsidies on fuel prices, burying the news during a World Cup game in hopes it would pass smoothly. Instead days of rioting followed, especially in the capital of Port-au-Prince; the subsidies were restored, the prime minister removed. Rioting works and don’t let anyone tell you different. People hate it when you mess with fuel, especially gas, especially transportation. It is the era of circulation struggles. How swiftly Haiti has forgotten the broad militancy last year against the gasolinazo in Mexico (a massive increase in gas prices) that helped end the rule of Peña Nieto. Or the astonishing anti-government mobilizations that gripped Brazil for months in 2013, set off by an increase in bus fares.
Of course they have not forgotten. They have been given no choice by the IMF, who compelled the price increase in return for assistance without which the nation would starve. International aid is not simply about imposing austerity and preserving dependency but about guaranteeing volatility in ways that lead to widespread suffering. You and I gain from that. But volatility is opportunity. We must not just ask what a contemporary slave rebellion would look like—we must be on its side. It will not involve the mere replacement of heads of state but an entire transformation of the social order. And that will mean being against the IMF, against the United States, and against capitalism. Treason is the only political choice.
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