Haiti: Gang Crisis, An Aspect of the Deepening Capitalist Crisis

Republic, Empire, Kingdom…

Ever since the 1791 Haitian revolution, the state would be plagued by brutal indemnities demanded by France and frequent interregnums.

Haiti was made to pay 90 million gold francs to France in reparations after Charles X sent warships to the island. This devastated the already war ravished economy and took 122 years to repay.

The only viable institution throughout most of the 19th century was the military; the government was a stratocracy dependent on revenues from cash crops, import duties and an irredentist ideology to unify Hispaniola. The US military occupation of Haiti would be preceded by a period of intensified capitalist development, the capitalist economy would remain extremely backwards and would be export-based. In 1889 the socio-political situation in Haiti was described as:

This constitution, thoroughly republican in form, is French in origin, as are also the laws, language, traditions, and customs of Haiti. In practice, however, the government resolves itself into a military despotism, the power being concentrated in the hands of the president. The Haitians seem to possess everything that a progressive and civilized nation can desire, but corruption is spread through every portion and branch of the government. Justice is venal, and the police are brutal and inefficient.

Imperialism: The Outward Expression of a Decadent System.

In the early 20th century, rival politicians would take advantage of peasant discontent and form rebel armies known as "cacos." They would be promised money, governmental positions, and land if they lead a successful revolt against the government. The caco revolts would be a part of the ethno-sectarian conflict between the majority Creole speaking Afro-Haitians and the minority of French speaking, mixed ancestry Haitians, who made up most of the Haitian capitalist class, controlled the military and made up most governments.

From the multiple civil wars starting in 1889 and the caco wars throughout 1911 - 1915 the government was heavily indebted and state institutions including the military were in complete shambles. Between 1911 - 1915 there would be seven presidents, six would be either killed or forced into exile.

In 1914, Haiti was in the center of an imperialist conflict between the US and Germany which began to eclipse France’s influence. German capitalists had been able to take control over a substantial part of the economy. They would marry into the families of estate owners and industrialists. The German Community were very small in numbers, maybe only 200 in 1914, but they would form a consortium to keep loaning friendly governments and factions within to keep fighting revolts against the Cacos. The increasingly chaotic situation and the German advances were too much for President Wilson who would use military expediencies to retake Haiti from the German commercial offense, ensure Haitian debt repayments and overall advance American Imperialism against rivals. It was most likely feared by the US that this would have translated into Germany gaining a militarily strategic position.

In 1930 commissions would be held against the unpopular occupation, which was rife with brutality and massacres against workers and peasants during the multiple anti-Caco wars. The Good Neighbor Policy would later codify the direction already taken by the USA to not directly intervene. Military intervention was mainly replaced by the USA modernizing industry and the military to maintain hegemony in the region. The US Marines would make their final withdrawal from Haiti in 1934, the US would retain fiscal control until 1947. After that period the presidency would still be mired by volatility and a clearly divided capitalist class until the election of François Duvalier in 1956.

Duvalier Regime: When Volunteer Militias Controlled State Politics

François Duvalier would run on a noiriste populist platform in his newly formed PUN (United Nationalist Party) party against Louis Déjoie, a large landowner and industrialist. François Duvalier would win the election in a landslide victory and began to purge the military of "elites" and deport many more leading to the July 1958, "Sheriff's Plot" where exiles out of the US would try to overthrow his regime.

Throughout this period Duvalier became suspicious of the military, in 1959 he’d formed the Militia of National Security Volunteers later the National Security Volunteers (VSN), they'd be commonly known as the Tonton Macoute; this name came from the Boogeyman in Haitian folklore. The VSN would serve alongside other militias as a paramilitary for the PUN party.

A professional military could only be a threat to Duvalier, the government didn't need it since there was no threat of a war by another conventional army. In 1963, due to worsening relations with the Kennedy administration, Duvalier would end the joint training missions with the US. This anti-American turn would be weaved into the PUN’s populist ideology. Duvalier would further empower paramilitaries to serve as the state’s security and intelligence services. This was in order to repress workers striking and demonstrating against the worsening social situation.

VSN militia members never received a salary and would run various illegal rackets, using their accumulated capital to form legal businesses and seize land to distribute amongst militia members. This created a bulwark for the PUN and a great counterweight against the military, many in these organizations would owe their capitalist social relation to the regime. Despite astronomical poverty levels and heading the most repressive regime in the western hemisphere the militias served as a mass patronage machine for the party and they could enjoy a rather substantial support base of a middle strata raised from the semi-permanently unemployed.

The growth of a capitalist and subaltern capitalist class linked to the militias could continue throughout the Duvalier regime. Jean-Claude Duvalier would become increasingly weary of them and try to form a separate anti-terrorist, intelligence agency, supported by the USA during the Ronald Reagan administration.

Throughout the period of 1986-1991 following the collapse of the Duvalier regime they'd continue to enact terror against the anti-Duvalier factions. This is despite the tenuous relations between Duvalier and Tonton Macoute towards the end of his presidency, including plots to kidnap him to prevent him from resigning. The Tonton Macoute retained a great deal of political power and control over the economy, and they'd never be disbanded or disarmed throughout the democratization of the government.


Throughout the 80s’ the social situation was horrid and continued to sink to unknown depths of working-class suffering. Internationally interest rates were hiked up and debts ballooned, domestically the already backwards capitalist economy was now being fought over by gangs of former Tonton Macoute members who now had the support of most of the Haitian bourgeoisie. There would then be a successive cycle of coup d'états until the election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991.

On the 6th of January 1991 the last executive of the Tonton Macoute Roger Lafontant attempted a coup d'état by arresting the provisional president Ertha Pascal-Trouillot and declaring martial law against the Aristide supporters who were mobilized against the coup d’état, which failed quickly. Lafontant was summarily arrested and sentenced to life in prison where he was murdered during the military coup d'état against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s supporters were mainly drawn from the intelligentsia, but could gain some support from workers against the excessive levels of anti-proletarian violence by gangs, the military, etc. His programs tended to be geared towards opening the nation up for investments to modernize capital, clean up (read: improve) the government and crack down on crime. He was removed in a military coup d’état a few months into his first presidency, then restored in 1994 when he disbanded but never disarmed the military. This created the current situation for the gangs in Haiti.

From 1994-2004 the pro-Aristide Fanmi Lavalas party faction would provide support for what started off as self-defense groups against an anti-government insurgency lead by a coalition of gangs. Aristide’s presidency would be marked by the same brand of brutality as in the past, he'd promote extra-judiciary violence against political rivals, demonstrating and striking workers and the anti-government gangs.

In 2004 the various anti-government gangs formed the National Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Haiti. Guy Phillipe was an Integral part of this coalition and as of March 2024 he's one of the leading political figures in Haiti. The revolt led to a multinational force intervention. US, Canadian and French Imperialism had grown tired of Aristide, who’s populist politics threatened Haitian and expatriate bourgeoisie, demanded reparations from France and on top of this was his growing inability to control the social situation.

The USA is always more interested in the latter than most economic considerations. Simply put, the USA is concerned over its geostrategic position in Haiti and the threat of a migrant crisis. NGOs’ and aid distributing agencies would begin to pull their support away from Jean Bertrand Aristide and begin to support his opposition.

The USA, Canada, and France deployed their militaries alongside the UN contingency made up of mainly the Brazilian and Chilean military. They tended to have more regional interest in intervening. It was also known that the Dominican Republic would allow safe haven for these gangs as well. Caricom tended to oppose the ordeal. They'd pressure Aristide to step down and exile himself, and the UN would act to ensure the transitional administration of the former Haitian Supreme Court Justice Boniface Alexandre.

It's no surprise the poorest country in the western hemisphere has never been able to shake off its debts to the richer nations or retain political stability. Haiti has been crippled with IMF debt and has practically been run by the UN since the 2004 coup d'état that killed several thousand people. This left Haiti at the mercy of the international community, which has blocked all attempts to spend UN "investments" on poverty reduction or agrarian development programs and instead redirected it to state security expenditures.

The 2010 Earthquake to the Present Set of Crises

Since the 2010 earthquake and ensuing crisis the gangs connected directly to one or another party have fallen in favor of gangs less connected to established parties. They may develop a political interest or interact with parties, but the order of their development changed from being a direct party-supported intermediary to initially forming as a subaltern faction of capitalist, making the situation all the more volatile. The new generation of gangs also act less as a “para-state” as seen with the earlier Tonton Macoute which took on most functions in order to support the Duvalier regime. Rather they're nearly able to completely supplant the state and have taken over most statist functions as well.

Gangs in Haiti have become integral in maintaining state functions alongside the equally vicious multinational intervention force following the earthquake. The gangs would use aid to repress any spontaneous uprising by workers, the intervention forces would set up shop in resorts and golf clubs and withhold aid for any reason—since aid isn't cost free and without stipulations–to ensure repayment.

These conditions exacerbated the number of casualties from the earthquake. The earthquake crumbled most clandestinely constructed concrete buildings in the Capitol when many were still asleep in the early morning, diseases such as cholera ran rampant, wounds and injuries weren't tended for, and children and mothers faced malnutrition.

Starting in 2017, there were waves of massacres by pro-government gangs. In 2018 there was a vicious attack not dissimilar from a military assault or siege on Port-Au-Prince neighborhoods. For over a decade since the earthquake there's been a cycle of rural and urban migration, many had to leave cities due to natural disaster and state violence and return to wherever family members, friends or the charitable will take them in on their farms that could barely turn a profit as is.


The G9 is the main gang coalition formed by the former police officer Jimmy Chérizier who goes by childhood nickname "Barbeque". He worked closely with the Haitian Tèt Kale Party during president Jovenel Moïse’s administration. Moïse was growing unpopular with the Haitian bourgeoisie and expatriate bourgeoisie, many were heavily involved in drug trafficking. The anti-corruption purges were more of a case of fratricide by a demagogue. The G9 coalition would attack neighborhoods where the rival gang coalition G Pep operated along with political dissidents who were supporting their rivals. The modus operandi remains that many in these gangs or other private security organizations are connected to vying factions of the Haitian capitalist class or security apparatus.

After the assassination of Juvenel Moïse on July, 7, 2021. G9 would help the state hunt down the conspirators. The assassination is speculated to have been organized by mainly Haitian expatriate capitalists throughout the region who are suspected to be involved in drug trafficking. The goal seemed to have been to get Ariel Henry as acting prime minister. The situation has been in constant deterioration since then, with full scale combat between gangs and many gang leaders becoming political leaders. Haiti has become the El Dorado for generations of exiled or detained military men, state security and the gangs all with the penchant for anti-proletarian violence.

Prime minister Henry's administration has been noted as being ineffective and weak. He had to pay gang bribes allowing him to make public appearances. Henry has agreed to step down and is in negotiations to form a transitional government. Right now, upwards of 90% of Port-Au-Prince is under gang control. So too are many of the other cities and even rural areas. The gang coalitions have placed the airports and international seaports under blockade and have been looting resources, demanding bribes, or cutting off oil imports along with medical aid. There are also militarized environmental protection agencies that are now in revolt against the current government due to changes in which parent ministry they're under. They've been ordered to remain in their patrol zones or barracks and have begun to march into towns and cities in the northern part of the island.

The USA has already contributed $300 million to bolster Haiti’s security apparatus. The US is weary about getting fully involved in Haiti and is already stretched out thin from its commitments in Ukraine, the future Pacific theater, the Red Sea, and the dragging commitments in the eastern Mediterranean. The Biden administration has tried to dump the policing intervention onto Canada. Trudeau has opted for a soft Imperialist approach through committing $100 million to Haiti’s security force and sanctioning expatriates associated with gangs or the assassination of president Moïse.

The supranational economic and security block Caricom has committed to deploying some of its military and police to Haiti. But the Kenyan president William Ruto has stepped in mainly to receive future favors as a junior imperialist partner in Africa, but also to give their military experience. Kenyan opposition parties however have kept the fate of the intervention tied up in the high courts who have declared it unconstitutional due to the lack of bilateral treaties, perhaps once these factions gain enough concessions, they'll join in on the adventure.

200,000 have already fled Haiti whose population was around 11.5 million in 2021. Haitians fleeing from the deteriorating social situation would be used as an Imperialist bargaining chip. Until November 2023 Nicaragua would still charter flights to Haiti, most asylum seekers are entering the US through the Southern border. The Sandinista regime was hoping to have some of the harsher sanctions lifted from them. This, however, backfired and they were met with greater visa sanctions.

Throughout most of the 2020s “Haitian Gang War” there has also been the growth of self-defense groups and militias who refer to themselves as “door stops” and the bwa kale groups named after the wood clubs used by vigilantes. They set up barricades in their neighborhoods, force out or kill known gang members, oftentimes by burning them alive. They clash with the state security. Many applaud these groups; they generally lack any political perspective besides adhering to the rationale of capitalism. Like the generations of gangs before them, they began as what appeared to be benevolent self-defense groups. They'll however need money to continue or develop their own political aspirations. Despite the hatred towards the current Haitian government, some politicians will likely put money their way, or rely on contributions from friendly capitalist NGO’s or run rackets themselves to provide their group revenues. There have been reports of vigilantes welding only machetes attacking gang-controlled roadblocks at Haiti’s international airport to lift the blockade.

The US border

No politician will ever support doing away with the brutal borders, their purpose is to manage labor-power and to give concrete content to their nationalist ideology. President Biden has positioned himself as the defender of order, and he's competing with the Republican party and Donald Trump over who's more socially reactionary. His changes have made all asylum seekers ineligible unless they apply on an app for an appointment or be "paroled" by an American sponsor. He may have cleaned up the images of border brutality by not splitting up families at "processing centers" but will keep them out of the USA in Mexico in unsafe conditions. Biden's administration has rolled out legislation to allow for a more summary review and expulsion process for asylum seekers.

The governors in Florida and Texas are themselves competing with the federal government over who can be more repressive towards migrants. Texas has been deploying the national guard to bolster up the borders with new obstacles with the intention to keep migrants out at all costs including drowning and maiming. While Florida is mobilizing their guard to intercept Haitian migrants crossing the ocean. Texas has recently won an appeal with the US Supreme Court to be able to charge asylum seekers with criminal trespassing, while progressives are rallying around California’s governor Newsom for keeping a tight ship, pointing out that virtually no illegal crossings happen there.

After Henry: More competing governments

The plan supported by the US, Caricom, and Kenya calls for a transitional Haitian government. The nine-person council is planned to be composed of Haitian politicians, capitalist and religious figures. This plan requires that the council members not run for president but will be selected. They have will also have to adhere to the stipulations of the multinational security force. They must also never be charged for crimes by the Caricom or Kenyan police forces backed by the US.

Guy Phillipe, the former gang leader and leading figure in the 2004 coup d'état, opposes this proposal. Phillipe and the former Haitian senator Jean Charles Moïse are proposing a rival three-person presidential transitional council. Guy Phillipe would state that “Haitians will decide who will govern Haiti” similarly Moïse has stated that they won't negotiate. They've tied the proposed nine-person transitional council to the rampant gang violence and corruption in Haiti. They're using nationalist demagoguery to gain support for their own presidential council placing themselves in the position to manage Haitian capital, the main reason can be speculated that Phillipe is ineligible to be a part of the nine-person council due to his prior imprisonment. Guy Philipe and the former senator Moïse are just competing over the direction of administering Haiti. Their demagoguery to crusade against gangs and the multinational police forces controlling the transition is a preemptive strike against any potential class activity. The working class and semi-permanently unemployed in Haiti are certainly willing to accept any solution that they believe will end the chaotic and violent situation. Many Haitians have also experienced the often-violent multinational forces responding to the 2004 coup d'état and 2010 earthquake.

Gangs? Demagogic Legalism? Or Communism!

Workers in the slums are being dismembered by the state and gangs-turned-political leaders along with the multinational police intervention forces. There's no perspective for the working class besides more brutality against them by backing any of these bourgeoisie ensembles. From the anti-gang demagoguery, the gang leader with caudillo aspirations to the nine-member transitional council backed by the USA, Caricom, and Kenyan police force; rampant violence against workers will keep recurring and many more will have to flee for their lives. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere and one of the poorest in the capitalist world. There's no direction for the Haitian bourgeoisie nor lesser of two evils to support. The only reality for capitalist conditions in Haiti will be intensified repression to contend with the deteriorating social situation. In all this shameless brutality and privation, the only perspective for the working class is its own independent class-activity; through it developing class consciousness and creating a party to encapsulate their experiences.

It is not therefore in petitioning for protection from the state or forming blocs with political movements operating within the orbit of democracy and mobilising in "defence of the republic" that the proletariat will be able to defend itself against the shameless and unhindered exercise of the violence of the ruling class, but only through the class struggle, that is to say through strengthening the revolutionary party and by restoring class wide organisations, both of which have been missing until now.

Onorato Damen, Bourgeois Violence and Proletarian Defense
Internationalist Workers' Group
March 2024


Image: UN Photo/Sophia Paris (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED), flickr.com

Tuesday, March 26, 2024