Haiti: the fight against dictatorship and the revolutionary struggle for democracy

The despotic President of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse, is refusing to step down, while the impotent bourgeois opposition appears incapable of forcing him out. The Haitian masses must break with the rotten bourgeois regime altogether, and establish a revolutionary constituent assembly.


According to the main Haitian opposition groups and now the Supreme Court, Jovenel Moïse’s presidential term ended on Sunday, 7 February. Despite repeated calls to step down and mass protests demanding his resignation, as anticipated, Jovenel has refused to leave office.

Despite Jovenel’s claims that “he is not a dictator”, the reality of the situation is that he has ruled by decree for over a year in the absence of a functioning parliament, which he dissolved after elections could not be organized last year. He has strengthened the executive powers of the presidential office by limiting the powers of the courts through decree. He has established a National Intelligence Agency that in effect creates a secret police agency accountable only to the president. He has expanded the definition of “acts of terrorism” to include routine acts of protest and strengthened the police and the armed forces. He has forged an alliance between his regime and the murderous urban gangs, whom he has unleashed on popular neighbourhoods, terrorizing his opponents. He plans to expand his presidential powers even more through proposed constitutional reforms, taking a page out of the Duvalier playbook.

If Jovenel talks like a dictator, if he acts like a dictator, if he clings to power like a dictator, perhaps he is a dictator? The reality of the situation is that Jovenel has been consolidating his power and establishing an open dictatorship for months. The opposition has denounced him and the masses have protested, but Jovenel remains in power. Jovenel must be stopped. The masses can not wait for democracy to be delivered to them. They must take their destiny into their own hands and fight to defend their own interests.

The opposition and the masses

For several years there has been a sustained mass movement against Jovenel’s regime. The people have come out onto the streets to protest his counter-reforms and authoritarian moves at every turn. The masses have demonstrated their determination to decide their own fate and overthrow the hated Jovenel regime.

At various times, it looked like the mass movement might actually succeed in toppling the Jovenel regime. However, the leadership of the main opposition groups is deeply divided and has ultimately proven incapable of taking the movement forward. A fractured opposition, with various groups and parties unable to see past their own pursuit of power, has squandered the power of the mass movement.

In recent months, the main opposition groups have been trying to mobilize the popular movement to force Jovenel to resign. Jovenel remained defiant as he unleashed a bloody wave of gang violence to terrorize the people and silence his opponents. The opposition put great effort into mobilizing the popular movement for sustained mass demonstrations for the past several months through to 7 February. If Jovenel would not willingly resign, the opposition hoped to use the pressure of the masses to force him to step down.

Yet, Jovenel remains in power. Part of the problem is that none of the opposition groups has had no clear plan to remove him from power, nor to overcome the deep economic, political, and social crisis. The masses have demonstrated time and time again that they are willing to fight. They know they want to fight against the Jovenel regime, but they cannot find in the opposition parties a political programme to fight for, nor a clear plan of struggle.

The opposition has not inspired confidence on the part of the masses, and has proven incapable of uniting the mass movement around a coherent political programme. The Jovenel regime has taken advantage of this situation. As the opposition appeals to the constitution, calls for demonstrations and demands that Jovenel resign, as they discuss the finer points of an illusory transition, Jovenel stays in power and responds with increasing police repression and by unleashing the gangs, consolidating his dictatorship even further.

The constitution

One main problem at the moment is that the bourgeois opposition, centered around the Democratic and Popular Sector, has allowed Jovenel to turn the political crisis surrounding the legitimacy of his regime into a debate on the constitutionality and legality of his presidential term. Afraid of actually mobilizing the masses and terrified at the prospect of a real popular uprising to overthrow Jovenel, the bourgeois opposition has sought constitutional and legal ways to justify removing Jovenel from power rather than relying on the masses.

According to the constitution, presidential terms are five years. The constitution states that “The term of the President is five (5) years. This term begins and ends on 7 February following the date of the elections.”

If Haiti had maintained a regular electoral cycle, Jovenel’s term should have ended on 7 February 2021. However, a regular electoral cycle has not been maintained. Former President Martelly’s term ended in February 2016. The winner of the 2015 elections to decide his successor should have been sworn into power in February of 2016. Jovenel was declared the winner of the first round of the 2015 elections, but with evidence of massive electoral fraud and in the face of mass protests, the run-off election was postponed numerous times. It was finally decided to re-do the elections altogether in 2016. Continued mass protests against Jovenel and electoral fraud, spurred on at that time by the unfolding PetroCaribe corruption scandal, eventually forced (along with Hurricane Matthew) the postponement of these new elections on several occasions. The election was finally held in November 2016. Despite the evidence of massive fraud in this election too, Jovenel was declared the winner in the first round. He was then sworn into power in February 2017.

Petrocaribe manifestation Image MedyalokalThe Jovenel regime is corrupt to the core, but the bourgeois opposition presents no road forward / Image: Medyalokal

There are two sides in the constitutional debate. The bourgeois opposition argues that Jovenel’s term ended this year because the electoral process that put him in power started in 2015. According to the regular electoral cycle, he was supposed to assume power in 2016. Despite the electoral fraud, and the fact that repeatedly cancelled elections and an interim government prevented Jovenel from assuming power until 2017, his term should have started a year earlier and so, according to the opposition, his term ends this year.

On the other side, Jovenel and his cronies have argued that he was sworn in for a five-year term that started in 2017. According to Jovenel, in (fraudulently) winning the presidential election in 2016, he was given a constitutional mandate of 60 months that started with his inauguration in February 2017, not 2016 as should have been the case. According to Jovenel, this means that he has used 48 months of this mandate, and that he has 12 more through to February 2022.

What remains of the Senate has been unable to agree on a unified position on the question of when Jovenel’s term ends, proving its impotence. However, early on 7 February, the Superior Council of the Judiciary Branch (CSPJ) weighed in and ruled that Jovenel’s term had ended on 7 February 2021. Placing itself firmly in opposition to the Jovenel’s regime, the CSPJ’s statement urged the people, in the tradition of their ancestors, to make great sacrifices to stop the brutality of the Jovenel regime.

The Biden administration has weighed in and officially agrees with Jovenel, as do the Organization of American States (which is nothing but a US Ministry of Colonies as Che Guevara said), the International Organization of the Francophonie (representing French imperialism), and the United Nations. They all agree that Jovenel’s term ends in February 2022. For the imperialists, this is really a matter of expediency: who will protect their interests in Haiti? From their perspective, the opposition is very fractured and is not considered a credible alternative. If they could not even agree on how to replace Jovenel or who should replace him, the imperialists are not confident they can run the country and protect their interests.

The imperialists fear that, if the cracks continue to widen in Haitian society, i.e. that if the political situation continues to deteriorate and the government is overthrown, there will be massive instability and the situation will escape the control of the opposition. What they really fear is the masses taking matters into their own hands. For now, they calculate their best line of defence is Jovenel. While the role of the imperialists will be important as events play out, the masses can have no confidence that the imperialist countries will do anything to resolve the crisis or defend democracy in Haiti, which is rapidly disappearing. The imperialists’ desire to protect their interests in Haiti has led them to support Jovenel through the electoral fraud, the PetroCaribe corruption, his usage of gangs to silence his enemies, and his moves at establishing a dictatorship. Jovenel is their man in Haiti and as he is prepared to defend the interests of the bourgeoisie and the imperialists at all costs, they have decided to support him at all costs.

In reality, the debate is not on the question of Jovenel’s presidential term. The question of the legitimacy of his regime was never about the official start and end dates of his presidential term. The argument that Jovenel’s term ended this year was used by the opposition as an excuse to call for him to step down in the face of his violations of the constitution and the consolidation of his dictatorship, which are reason enough to remove him from office.

The real question was thus whether his regime was legitimate at all. Jovenel “won” the 2016 election as a result of massive electoral fraud in an election that only had an official turnout rate of 21 percent. His regime had no democratic mandate from the beginning. At the time of his fraudulent electoral victory in 2016, the bourgeoisie and so-called “civil society” were tired of the political instability. They were tired of cancelled elections, mass protests, and the lack of government. Despite the evidence of the fraud, the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) certified the results. In fact, ignoring the electoral fraud and disregarding of the will of the people in the 2016 election were the first steps in the establishment of Jovenel’s dictatorship.

Since coming to power, Jovenel and his cronies have been directly implicated in the theft of funds in the PetroCaribe corruption scandal. He has violated the constitution by not organizing the election last year, by dissolving parliament, and ruling by decree. His proposed constitutional reforms are themselves not constitutional. Jovenel has allied his government with the urban gangs, terrorized and murdered his opponents, and is attempting to establish a dictatorship. These are fundamental reasons that Jovenel’s presidency is illegitimate and why he needs to be removed.

If Jovenel’s presidency is illegitimate, then it is not about when his term started and ended, and it doesn't really matter when he is removed from power. He should have been prevented from coming to power in the first place, but the leadership of the opposition backed down. After that, there was no reason for the leadership of the opposition to wait to call for him to resign in February 2021. By arguing that Jovenel’s term ended in February of this year, the opposition is indirectly legitimizing the results of the fraudulent elections and Jovenel’s regime in general, weakening their main justification for removing him from power. If 7 February was to be the day Jovenel was removed from power, then serious preparations for a popular insurrection should have been made. But this would have meant mobilizing the masses for revolution. This was not done precisely because the bourgeois opposition fears such a development and is in fact trying to prevent such a thing from happening.

By focusing on constitutional and legal arguments to justify removing Jovenel from power, the bourgeois opposition was trying to avoid truly mobilizing the masses for an insurrection, which is what will be required to remove Jovenel from power. Removing Jovenel from power because of his violations of the constitution and his encroaching dictatorship would shift the debate out of the realms of the constitution, parliament, and the courts, i.e. out of realms of respectable bourgeois politics, and into the realm of the politics of the street, of revolution and insurrection. This explains the rather timid approach of the bourgeois opposition in the face of Jovenel’s consolidating dictatorship. What they would like is an orderly transition or transfer of power at the top, rather than a clean break. The bourgeois opposition politicians want to keep the role of the masses limited to one of exerting pressure, rather than taking power into their own hands.

A judicial or presidential coup?

Jovenel Moise Image VOA Creole ServiceJovenel has control of the state's armed bodies of men, and is using them against the judiciary and bourgeois opposition / Image: VOA Creole Service

In the days leading up to 7 February, the Democratic and Popular Sector, the main coalition of bourgeois opposition parties, released its plan for a transitional government to replace Jovenel for when they believed his term ended this February. While the proposal contained democratic niceties and fine phrases about the need to restore justice, human rights, and the need for the refounding of the state, the Sector’s plan was fundamentally undemocratic. In fact, what the Democratic and Popular Sector is proposing is a judicial coup, putting themselves in power, unelected, through the courts.

The Sector’s plan called for the creation of a National Commission for the Implementation of the Transition (CNT), which would then appoint a Supreme Court judge to act as interim president and also appoint an interim prime minister. The CNT, along with the interim president and prime minister, would then form a provisional government. Enormous power to manage the transition and the crisis would be invested essentially in a council of wisemen, elected by nobody.

The Sector’s plan has apparently been set in motion. Late on 7 February, Joseph Mécène Jean-Louis, a Supreme Court judge, announced that he had accepted the decision of the opposition and civil society to act as the provisional president of the interim government. Jovenel and his cronies denounced the attempt at establishing a parallel government as an “illegal and unconstitutional” move.

The division between the executive and judicial branches of the state reveals a deep split in the ruling class. The big bourgeoisie and the corrupt layers of the petty bourgeoisie have gathered around Jovenel Moïse. The slightly less corrupt wing of the ruling class and the civil service have grouped around the opposition and the courts, who are trying to present themselves as respectable democrats. However, the choice before the masses is in reality between a presidential coup organized by Jovenel, or a judicial coup organized by the Democratic and Popular Sector and the judiciary.

Armed bodies of men

The judiciary and the executive branches are essentially at war over the question of state power. However, the question of who controls the state power cannot be resolved by the constitution. All sides in the crisis appeal to the constitution and accuse the other side of violating it. Yet, all sides also acknowledge that the constitution is broken. Jovenel’s regime itself is a violation of the constitution, but so are the moves of the bourgeois opposition and the Supreme Court.

Moreover, the constitution has no power in and of itself. The power of the constitution lies in the ability of the ruling class to enforce it, through the armed bodies of men and the institutions of the state. The state is organized class violence, used by the ruling class against the other classes in society in order to guarantee and perpetuate its rule. The political power of the ruling class rests on its ability to enforce that rule–through legislation, the courts, the jails, and finally the police and the armed forces. These institutions and armed bodies of men make up the state. They are the physical components of which political power is composed.

The Haitian state is divided, the ruling class at war over the question of who ultimately controls it. At the moment, Jovenel controls the police and the armed forces. He controls the state’s armed bodies of men. The head of the Haitian Armed Forces has already stated that he will support Jovenel, and the Armed Forces have already been deployed against protestors across the country. Jovenel can also make use of the urban gangs, who are well armed and act as reserves to the state’s regular forces.

The bourgeois opposition has the support of the courts and large portions of civil society, but currently has no means of physical defence, i.e. it has no armed bodies of men of its own. The media reports that calls for protests by the bourgeois opposition have largely gone unanswered. There are indeed protests taking place across the country and there are confrontations between protestors and police and the gangs. However, the protests appear to be spontaneous in nature and more about opposing Jovenel rather than supporting the regime of the opposition and the courts. In fact, it is being reported in the media that there has been a lack of large protests, and that the bourgeois opposition has failed to mobilize the people to support their new regime under judge Jean-Louis. This shows that the masses do not trust the bourgeois opposition, and are not willing to defend it or fight for its program.

Jovenel has been taking advantage of his superior forces. On 7 February, the very day the main opposition groups and the courts declared his term to have ended, Jovenel announced that police had arrested more than 20 people that he claimed were trying to assassinate him and overthrow his government.

The arrested included a Supreme Court judge, Yvickel Dabrezil and the Police General Inspector, Antionette Gauthier. No details of this alleged plot have been released, although some recordings have been circulating on social media that are supposed to prove that an attempted coup was underway. In any case, many in Haiti remain deeply skeptical of this story and believe it was a false flag operation to give Jovenel the excuse to take political measures against the courts and the opposition. Indeed, the police and army patrol the streets and a ban on political meetings has been announced.

The Democratic and Popular Sector denounced these arrests in the alleged coup plot. Sector spokesperson Andre Michel called for protests and demanded that Jovenel be arrested. But here again the bourgeois opposition shows that it does not have the physical forces to act. If Jovenel controls the police, who is going to arrest him, and under what authority? The reality is that the Sector cannot arrest Jovenel, as they do not have the means to take him into custody.

The Sector’s challenge as a rival state power to the Jovenel regime may already be running out of steam. If the Sector does not have the physical forces to take political action against Jovenel and cannot defend itself, it will not be able to remove Jovenel from power or establish itself as the state power in the country.

The current balance of forces in this showdown between the judiciary and the executive is such that on Monday, 8 February, Jovenel sent police and armoured vehicles to surround the Supreme Court. The police changed the locks and prevented the justices from entering the building. Later that day, Jovenel issued a decree removing three Supreme Court judges who were on an opposition list of potential presidential replacements.

It should be noted that, according to the constitution, the Supreme Court judges cannot be removed. But this only shows how far the situation has moved beyond constitutional debates. If the Jovenel regime has the forces to physically remove the judges, they will be removed, regardless of what the constitution says.

Jovenel is taking the fight to his opponents in the opposition and the courts, who appear unable to respond in kind. Moreover, Jean-Louis, the bourgeois opposition’s chosen interim president, has gone into hiding. Jovenel, though he apparently is extraordinarily isolated and cannot even leave the National Palace, is still effectively in power. This tells us two things: that Jovenel is currently in a more powerful position than the opposition, but also that he fears the masses, the most powerful players in this conflict, who have not yet decisively intervened in events.

A program for revolution

With no control of the armed bodies of men of the state, and no physical forces it can rely on, the bourgeois opposition and courts will be unable to defend their parallel government or challenge the power of the Jovenel regime. Their only other possible option would be to mobilize the masses to overthrow Jovenel and to support the regime of Jean-Louis. This terrifies the leaders of the bourgeois opposition because they understand that, while the masses could possibly be mobilized to overthrow Jovenel, their support for the opposition’s interim regime cannot be guaranteed. Moreover, the Haitian masses have no reason to support this parallel regime of Jean-Louis. The masses have too often been used as pawns in the political games of the ruling class and won’t be inspired simply by vague calls for protest.

More than that, the masses can sense that the bourgeois opposition’s political program for their interim government is fundamentally unrealizable. The main objectives of the transitional government, among other things, include the conducting of a proper investigation into the PetroCaribe scandal and holding those involved accountable, combating corruption and smuggling, combating the extreme poverty and high cost of living, the implementation of an emergency measure to create temporary jobs for the unemployed, the creation of social security system and making basic healthcare available to as many as possible, negotiating with the private sector to increase wages, etc.

Of course, this is only a partial list of the reforms that are desperately needed in Haiti. But such things have been promised before and never materialized. Rather than the promised reforms, the Haitian people receive only increasing misery and corruption. Even this program of modest reforms cannot be achieved on the basis of capitalism and without the expropriation of the ruling class. The ruling class, including many in the bourgeois opposition and the civil service, will resist these measures until the last drop of their blood, because such measures challenge the interests and profits of the bourgeoisie. Thus, the struggle to achieve social and economic reforms in Haiti will also inevitably be a struggle against the bourgeoisie.

The struggle against the Jovenel regime is also fundamentally a struggle for democracy on the part of the Haitian masses. However, democratic rights are never simply granted by the ruling class. They must be fought for and won, wrested from the ruling elite. The Haitian slaves were not granted emancipation, they fought a revolutionary war for their freedom.

Likewise, the democracy the Haitian people are fighting for today will not be handed over to them without a fight. Democracy in Haiti will certainly not be the fruit of a judicial coup. The Haitian people will need to fight for their democracy, and establish it themselves.

In Haiti, there is a de facto dictatorship. At the very least, there is a regime that has remained in power without any legitimacy and which is operating outside the norms of democracy. There is no real way of removing the Jovenel regime by constitutional means or through parliamentary or judicial procedure. In the absence of the ability to physically enforce its program, the attempted judicial coup has revealed the impotence of the bourgeois opposition.

Neither side in the bourgeois civil war for control of the state power provides a way forward for the Haitian people. The Jovenel regime must be defeated and overthrown, that is clear. However, at the same time, the democratic and social reforms promised by the bourgeois opposition will not be delivered through a judicial coup.

The entire framework of bourgeois rule in Haiti, including the entire state and administrative apparatus, is corrupt and rotten to the core. This is graphically revealed when the executive and the judiciary branches of the state resort to using the weapon of the coup against one another. Real democratic and social reforms will not be sucked from the corpse of Haitian bourgeois democracy.

The Haitian masses must overthrow the Jovenel regime and reject the interim government proposed by the bourgeois opposition. Jovenel must be stopped from establishing his dictatorship, but replacing his dictatorship with the bourgeois opposition’s unelected interim government is hardly a better alternative.

Any negotiated settlement between Jovenel and the opposition groups must be rejected as well as any process involving the imperialists. This has been the path followed since the 1980s at the time of the fall of the Duvalier regime, with disastrous results. The bourgeoisie has proven itself incapable of developing the country. Replacing one corrupt bourgeois regime with another corrupt bourgeois regime will not solve the crisis. Ending the endless cycle of corruption, incompetence and misery can only be achieved through a complete rupture with the rule of the bourgeoisie.

To overcome the crisis, the Haitian masses must forge their own path, fight for and create their own democracy. They must create a regime of genuine, popular, revolutionary democracy. To achieve this, what is needed is not only a rupture with the dictatorship of Jovenel Moïse, but a rupture with the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, which has left the country in ruins.

The Haitian masses must fight for a fundamental break with the rotten bourgeois regime, represented by both Jovenel and the bourgeois opposition, and establish a revolutionary constituent assembly. This will be the only way to break with the rule of the bourgeoisie and their regime and establish a genuinely popular democracy. The program of the movement must combine the struggle for democratic demands with the struggle for jobs, bread and land.

Revolutionary action committees should be established by the popular movement in the neighbourhoods and workplaces to organise the movement to overthrow Jovenel and establish a revolutionary constituent assembly. Armed self-defence organizations, accountable and organised by the revolutionary action committees should be created to defend the movement from potential attacks from the rotten bourgeois state, the police and the gangs. The revolutionary action committees must begin to coordinate all the activities needed to overcome the economic and social crisis: organising the collection and distribution of basic goods such as food, water and fuel, the organisation of transportation, education, and healthcare. Sources of fuel and other resources needed by the people should be expropriated and distribution organised by the committees. The revolutionary committees should coordinate their activities through a network of elected delegates recallable at any time, at the level of every neighbourhood, town and city, and ultimately in a national revolutionary council. In this way, the struggle for democracy would have an organised channel. The revolutionary committees would be able to coordinate the struggle through mass demonstrations and an all-out general strike to bring down the regime.

The establishment of a revolutionary constituent assembly, based on the popular movement and the organizations of the masses themselves, will be the only way for the masses to defeat Jovenel’s dictatorship and establish a genuine democratic alternative to the bourgeois opposition’s interim government. Committees for revolutionary action and defence will not only help to give the movement an organized structure, but it will also provide the physical forces allowing the movement to protect itself and its achievements. It will also provide the physical forces allowing the revolutionary constituent assembly to act politically and enforce the rule of the masses.

What is lacking in Haiti, indeed what is lacking around the world, is a mass revolutionary party armed with the program of Marxism and equipped with a decisive leadership. This will be key in the victory of the revolution. Without such a party, the revolutionary struggle ahead will be long, with many ebbs and flows. There will be defeats and victories along the way. The revolutionary party of the Haitian masses will be built through learning the lessons of defeat and victory in revolutionary struggle. Thus, one of the key tasks as part of this revolutionary struggle for democracy in Haiti will be the building of a powerful Marxist tendency, with deep roots in the working class and the masses, capable of leading the movement to victory, eradicating capitalism, and launching the socialist transformation of society.

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