The Multinational Monitor



Rank and File Resistance

Chavannes Jean-Baptiste is the founder and leader of the Peasant Movement of Papay/National Peasant Movement of the Papay Congress (MPP/MPNKP). With over 100,000 members, the MPP/ MPNKP is Haiti's largest and most powerful peasant organization. Jean-Baptiste is also a close adviser to President Aristide, and served on Aristide's Presidential Commission and participated in the Governors Island negotiations.

Multinational Monitor: Why was the MPP founded?

Chavannes Jean-Baptiste: The MPP was founded in 1973. From the outset, its objective was to defend the interests of poor peasants. Contrary to other government-sponsored organizations, the MPP has maintained its base at the grassroots level, developing a series of local grassroots groups with memberships of 15 to 20.

Our basis of action has always been agricultural production. As peasants, we found it necessary not only to focus on the question of production, but also on the control over the means of production. As such, we are very concerned about the question of land, which is a big problem in the country, and other technical aspects such as fertilizers, stocking, soil preservation and so on. We are equally concerned about over-exploitation of the peasants. That's why we organized around the notion of cooperatives, so that the peasants are not exploited, so that they are the primary beneficiaries of their work. We have a whole network of agricultural credit and the different materials used in producing agricultural products.

MM: What are the basic structures of land tenure in Haiti>

Jean-Baptiste: The question of land is very complex in Haiti. From the beginning, since independence, land was unequally distributed; only the army generals had big plots of land. People who actually worked the land had very little or none at all.

Since independence, selling land has always been done through illegal means, without documentation to prove a transfer of ownership. There are now many cases in the courts dealing with land ownership, since many people, even though they may have paid for their land, have nothing to show for it.

There is also a great deal of uncertainty surrounding land ownership in Haiti. Today, the state is the biggest owner of land in Haiti. The state sub-;eases land to people, often to Ton Tons Macoute, who, in turn, grant the land to small peasants for exorbitant prices.

MM: What is the MPP's position on land reform?

Jean Baptiste: We understand the issue of agrarian reforms as one that is linked to the state, so it is not possible to talk about land reform without talking about changing the structures of government. That's why we are involved with the struggle to change the government.

There are many stages of land reform. For us right now, given the unjust system of government that is in place, the first is to defend land that belongs to peasants. Another aspect is to provide legal assistance to peasants - to show them how to acquire land, how to defend their rights when the land belongs to them and how to take back land that the state has taken from them.

Our long-term conception of land reform envisions the peasants owning the land on which they work. They have security for the land and they are the primary beneficiaries of its products.

MM: What are the effects of foreign interests on agriculture in Haiti?

Jean-Baptiste: We are practically under occupation by foreign interest, as far as land is concerned. Big companies, particularly U.S. companies, are in Haiti, and they own huge plots of land. Companies such as HASCO, the Haitian American Sugar Company, own the best land.

MM: Is Haiti self-sufficient in food production?

Jean-Baptiste: No. At one time, Haiti was self-sufficient. But there has been a long attempt to make the country totally dependent, beginning with the U S. occupation in 1915. One of the biggest challenges of the MPP is to set in motion a process whereby the country can once again be self-sufficient.

Haiti's dependence is rooted in the economic and political domination of the United States. We see this manifested in different ways. One of the most obvious manifestations is the coup d'etat, which was designed to prevent Haiti from setting its own agenda. The United States wants to maintain us as a kind of waste dump- to dump agricultural subsidies that it does not want and to keep us as a market where it can throw away goods that it does not want.

MM: What is the effect of assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) and other foreign aid providers? On balance, is it helpful or harmful?

Jean-Baptiste: If the question is between good and no good, my answer is simple - it is not good. U.S. AID exercises the politics of U.S exploitation, not only in Haiti but throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. The politics of U.S. AID goes hand in hand with the politics of exploitation, so that they can continue to keep us in a state of dependency and prevent us from reaching a state of self-sufficiency.

One clear example of this is U.S. AID's attempt to destroy the local Creole pigs. The Creole pigs were very easy to take care of. They did not require any kind of foreign means of support, food or otherwise. It was a very autonomous system for the peasants. U. S. AID destroyed the Creole pigs.

Another example is the U.S. fixation on building assembly plants in Haiti. It's a two-pronged attack - first they build all these assembly plants to attract the peasants from the countryside to Port-au-Prince, leading to the total deterioration of local agricultural production; second, they have the rest of the population produce goods for export, such as coffee and fruit. In the meantime, we are fed a lot of agricultural surplus from the United States. All of this leads to a deterioration of agricultural production while promoting the assembly industry which, for the most part, is good only for the United States.

U.S. AID is primarily geared to promote the exportation of certain goods and not others that could give a boost to local agricultural production. U.S. AID's agrarian policy promotes products like coffee and fruits for export, with no emphasis on food for the people to consume inside the country.

MM: What has been the effect of peasants being pushed into export-oriented production?

Jean-Baptiste: This policy has had not only severe economic consequences, but cultural ones as well. For example, things that were available for me to eat when I was young are no longer available. There is a whole penetration of goods coming from abroad that have entered the market. It affects the way people interact. Peasants are no longer autonomous. We have seen through this export-oriented policy a penetration of our culture.

MM: What is the basis of the conflict between peasants and the agrarian elite in Haiti?

Jean-Baptiste: The conflict is based on the fact that the agricultural elite own lots of land and that, essentially, the elites want to have a slave-owner relationship with the peasants. Over the last 10 years, particularly since 1986, the peasants have been active in reclaiming the land expropriated from them during the Duvalier dictatorship. This has led to massacres throughout the country of peasants who rise up and claim ownership over land that once belonged to them. The case that highlights this conflict best is the massacre that took place in July 1987 in the northwest town of Jean-Rabel, where over 800 peasants were massacred.

MM: How did peasants' situation change under President Aristide?

Jean-Baptiste: The Aristide government lasted only seven months. It was not possible to change a situation that took over 30 years to build in that time.

The main difference under Aristide was that peasants knew they had the right to reclaim lands that belonged to them, and peasants throughout the country were beginning to exercise that right. And one of the first things that the Aristide government did was to establish a national council on land reform.

Perhaps one of the most significant developments during the Aristide government occurred when a group of peasants submitted to the president their demand that the system of section chiefs in the rural areas be abolished (the section chiefs are a brutal force that suppress the peasants). In May 1991, the Aristide government set in motion a process that would have abolished that system. The coup d'etat came at the time when that process was in full swing.

MM: How has the coup affected your work?

Jean-Baptiste: It has been a near-fatal blow. A goal of the coup was to exterminate organizations such as the MPP. All of the social and economic infrastructure that the organization has put together over an 18-year period, the military regime and the paramilitary forces have destroyed and pillaged. They have forced the grassroots leaders of the organization to abandon their communities, where they would have normally worked. They have killed and tortured many leaders; it is a total carnage against the organization. We understand this attack against the MPP as within a political framework in which the governing classes need a peasantry that is "zombified," a peasantry that is not going to participate in the political affairs of the country.

MM: What strategies does the MPP propose for the economic development of Haiti?

Jean-Baptiste: The question of economic development is linked to changing the system of government that is in place. Until we can change this repressive structure- the repressive government, the army, all of the forces that impede the development of the country - we cannot begin to talk about a strategy for economic development. We have to get rid of this exploitative system. Then we can talk about strategies for economic development.

The strategy we would propose would be "auto-centered" - an economy that has at its base the participation of the popular sectors of the country. One which has as its foundation, above all, self-sufficiency with respect to food and which rests also on the principle of respect for the people's culture. We will have to sit down and give priority to developing South-South relationships, and then, secondly, we can talk about North-South relationships. It's a strategy that is in opposition to neoliberal economic policy. It would rely on technologies that the people would have control over.

MM: Members of the Clinton administration have labelled President Aristide "intransigent" for not being more compromising in negotiations with the post-coup regime. Should President Aristide be more willing to work with the regime?

Jean-Baptiste: It is a total joke when members of the administration say that Aristide should be more flexible. I challenge the U.S. government to present one concession that the military has made. Since the coup, Aristide has been the one that has made concession after concession. The last concession that he has been asked to make is to abandon the mandate that the people have given to him. Because he doesn't want to give up that mandate, they say that he is inflexible.

What they want President Aristide to do now is to accept the plan that was conceived by the U.S. State Department, the Center for Democracy and a group of parliamentarians that has betrayed the mandate given to them by the Haitian people.

One thing must be clear: the U.S. government does not want President Aristide to he restored to power in Haiti.

The strategy that the U.S. government is using is to continue talking and negotiating indefinitely. At a certain point, the government will say that the United States must let go of their support for him, that it is Aristide's intransigence which prevents his return.

In principle, when there's a coup d'etat, that is a crime against the state. And even if there were no casualties, those who were involved in committing the coup d'etat should be imprisoned. In the case of Haiti, not only, were the coup perpetrators involved in the illegal coup d'etat, they also participated in killing more than 5,000 people, forcing more than 300,000 people into hiding, and driving more than 50,000 people: to flee their country on the high seas. They have destroyed the economic base of the country. And, in spite of all this, they still have the protection of the U.S. government.

The U.S. government forced Aristide to sign the Governors Island Accord on July 3, 1993. After tile military refused to implement the Governors Island Accord, instead of putting pressure on the military regime, the United States put pressure on President Aristide. To us, they are playing games with the Haitian people.

MM: Some claim that an embargo of humanitarian aid hurts those most at risk, namely the poor. Should the embargo include even humanitarian assistance, including fuel?

Jean-Baptiste: For the MPP, the embargo, as it is currently implemented, is part of the strategy to destroy the economy of the country. It facilitates the exploitation of the United States over Haiti. In fact, the latest figures suggest that U.S. interests have benefited since the coup. That is because, since the beginning, there has never been a real embargo imposed that would have as its objective to force the military out.

The MPP has stressed the need for a real embargo, an embargo that is total. The people will never ask the international community to lift the embargo. What we are asking for them to lift is the coup d'etat.

The question of humanitarian aid is a total canard. The so-called humanitarian aid does not reach the people. Only the proponents of the coup - the military and its allies - benefit from this humanitarian aid. In fact, they use this humanitarian aid to facilitate the exploitation and brutalization of the people.

We think it is high time for the U.S. government to say either of two things: one, we support democracy, and we are going to seriously support the democratic process in Haiti and the restoration of President Aristide; or, two, we are not for democracy, and we have dropped the case, so that the farce can finally end.

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