Haiti Is the Victim of Orchestrated Chaos That Prevents It From Setting Its Own Course, Says Camille Chalmers
Haitian scholar Camille Chalmers rejects yet another international intervention and says Haiti’s issues have deeper roots which much be addressed.
Haiti was once self-sufficient in grain production. In the early 1970s, it produced almost 100% of what it needed. Five decades later, the country buys 82% of the rice its population consumes from the United States. The causes are the structural adjustment policies imposed on the country, which encourage imports and prevent the state from financing the peasant economy. Among the consequences is unemployment, which today affects 70% of the population.
This is the assessment of Haitian scholar Camille Chalmers, leader of the Rasin Kan Pèp la (Socialist Regroupment for a New National Initiative) party. According to him, Haiti is the victim of “chaos orchestrated by imperialist organizations” that want to continue to pursue their commercial interests. To do this, they need to prevent the Haitian people from achieving self-determination and choosing their own course of development.
For this reason, Chalmers is opposed to any international intervention in Haiti, such as the one approved this week by the United Nations Security Council. “We have already suffered several interventions. Each time, the situation gets worse,” he says. “The current situation is the result of an imperialist intervention,” he adds, referring to the peacekeeping mission led by Brazil from 2004 to 2017.
The political leader, who spoke to Brasil de Fato by a videocall from Port-au-Prince, cites a list of economic activities in which this logic manifests itself. “From the beginning of the 20th century, imperialism invested in structuring the sugar industry in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, and put Haiti with the task of providing cheap labor for these industries. In order to maintain this, it is important that employment conditions and social levels are terrible.” He also mentions that Haiti is strategic due to the existence of essential resources for transnational companies, such as the gold found in the north of the country.
“Many say that Haiti is rich in precious metals, but none of this has been proven to date. It’s a gray area, which is part of an ideological discourse,” says Professor Ricardo Seitenfus, who holds a PhD in International Relations, is a former OAS representative in Haiti (2009-2011) and has written books about the country.
As for the drop in rice production, there was in fact a US incentive for Haiti to reduce tariffs and thus encourage the import of rice produced in the state of Arkansas—former president Bill Clinton (1993-2001) even publicly apologized for this, acknowledging how damaging it was for Haiti. This preference for imports, by reducing job opportunities in the countryside, led to migration to the cities, which ended up becoming “a [ticking time] bomb, with slums everywhere”, says Seitenfus. “However, nothing has been done [by Haiti] since then to stop this.”
In addition to the extremely high level of unemployment, Haiti has suffered economic recession for five consecutive years, 50% annual inflation and a population with very low purchasing power, data that illustrates the serious crisis scenario experienced by the country, whose clearest and most media-friendly expression at the moment is the rampant violence. Haiti is experiencing a collapse of institutions and a large part of the capital city is under the control of gangs. At least 2,000 murders and 1,000 kidnappings were recorded in the first half of 2023 alone, according to UN estimates.
Another example of how the US government contributes to this scenario, in Camille Chalmers’ view, is the fact that Washington has done “everything possible to combat” PetroCaribe, the oil sales program created by Hugo Chávez when he was president of Venezuela (1999-2013) and which supplied essential fuel to 16 countries under “exceptional” financial conditions.
Here again, Seitenfus validates the historical argument, but with another caveat that places part of the responsibility in the lap of the Haitians. “It’s true that the US tried to prevent [PetroCaribe from coming to fruition]. There are documents showing this resistance. But the problem is that 3 billion dollars have been embezzled,” says the professor. “One day this will have to be settled with Venezuela.”
According to Seitenfus, the US has two major foreign policy failures in the Caribbean: Cuba and Haiti. The first, because of the Cuban Revolution, which endures despite the embargo imposed by Washington. The second “pays the price for being close to Cuba,” he says. Jean-Claude Duvalier, ‘Baby Doc’, who led Haiti from 1971 to 1986, was a dictator, but a dictator accepted by the US because “we couldn’t accept a second Cuba in the Caribbean.” And so “they turned a blind eye to Haiti’s problems.”
Camille Chalmers says that the US wants to maintain control over Haitian politics because it fears a possible alliance between Cuba, Venezuela and Haiti, “which would produce a change in the relationship of forces in the Caribbean.” As examples of how such an alliance could take shape, he mentions the aforementioned PetroCaribe, which the Venezuelan government showed interest in reactivating last year, and the work of Cuban doctors in remote areas of Haiti, which has reduced maternal mortality indicators and represents an example of what could be “true solidarity with Haiti.”
But this doesn’t work, according to him, because in addition to international pressure, there is the complicity of leaders who, he believes, are appointed by international missions, without the participation of society. This is the case with the current government of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who took office after the assassination of Jovenel Möise in 2021.
“The entire current political administration in Haiti should be considered illegal from a constitutional point of view,” emphasizes Ricardo Seitenfus. While the constitution establishes that in the event of the president’s death, the prime minister must exercise power until a new ruler is elected, Henry has neither been sworn in nor approved by parliament.
However, he says, if there is anyone with a modicum of legitimacy to govern Haiti, “it is Ariel Henry, because he was chosen as prime minister by the assassinated president.” And he, in turn, had been democratically elected.