#1624 Island Fervor: Cuba and Haiti Struggle for Economic and Political Self Determination (Transcript)

Air Date 4/24/2024

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JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [00:00:00] Welcome to this episode of the award winning Best of the Left podcast, in which we recognize that only by understanding the past can we understand the present, and the histories of Cuba and Haiti has very stark lessons to impart about the cruelty of the Cuba embargo, the repercussions of imperial exploitation, and the dangers that arise amid dysfunctional democracy. Sources today include , Deconstructed, Democracy Now!, The Majority Report, and The Real News, with additional members-only clips from Rev Left Radio and Bad Faith.

On Cuba and Haiti The Fight for Liberation & Self-Determination in the Caribbean - Revolutionary Left Radio - Air Date 4-4-24

BREHT O'SHEA - HOST, REVOLUTIONARY LEFT RADIO: Now, you did mention the current protest, and that's a good segue to this next question, because in Cuba recently, there has been this flare up of protests rooted in the dire economic conditions within Cuba, largely, if not wholly due to the multi-decade-long suffocating trade embargo on the island.

The US empire has always had a strategy of sanctions as war, and of making the economy scream, as a way of undermining nations that they want to destroy, and their economic and [00:01:00] political hegemon status has always allowed them the power to do so. 

So I know you touched on it a little bit, but maybe there's more to say here. How do you all think about this situation and where do you see Cuba going in the coming years? 

ONYESONWU CHATOYER: I mean, what's happening now is simply a repeat of what happened in July 11th. Like people in Cuba are legitimately suffering and they're taking to the streets saying, We want power, we want food, we want fuel, and the reason why there is a severe shortage of those things in Cuba is a direct consequence of US policy towards Cuba, the economic blockade, the placement of Cuba on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, which, first of all, is a absurd, but second of all cuts off Cuba from access to global banking. Like they can't even get loans to engage in basic financial transactions on an international scale.

They don't have oil reserves, they import a lot of their food. So if they can't get loans, they literally cannot buy those things. This is like a direct consequence of US policy. 

And it's also very important to understand: this is the intent [00:02:00] of US policy towards Cuba. I think that folks are probably familiar with the memo written by Lester D. Mallory, who I believe was Assistant Secretary of State in the Kennedy administration, where he straight up says that the intent of the US blockade on Cuba is to cause suffering among the Cuban people, to make them so hungry, to make them suffer so much that they rise up and overthrow their government, overthrow their revolution.

So understand when we're talking about the blockade, we're talking about economic sanctions against places like Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Zimbabwe, a third of the earth's population living under some form of economic sanctions by the US. When we talk about those sanctions, we are talking about a strategy which is directly targeting civilian populations, making them suffer as much as possible. 

This is why the Trump administration waited for the COVID-19 pandemic to escalate the US blockade on Cuba. This is why the same thing happened to Iran. The Trump administration escalated sanctions on Iran during the COVID-19 pandemic. They wait for moments when [00:03:00] populations are suffering and they're like, this is our chance to make it even worse, because they want to destabilize the nation, they want the people to suffer so much that they rise up.

And so this is what we have to understand about the intent of US policy, the intent to specifically target civilians. And so if we're talking about wanting to be in solidarity with Cuba, if we're confused liberals talking about human rights in Cuba, we have to recognize the primary criminal, the primary person or entity targeting Cuban human rights is in fact the US government, is in fact US policy towards Cuba in the form of the blockade. 

And I think this is something that as anti-imperialists we have to make people understand. Be relentless about explaining that sanctions are about targeting civilian populations, specifically the most marginalized sectors of those populations.

BREHT O'SHEA - HOST, REVOLUTIONARY LEFT RADIO: Yes, wonderfully said. And I recently left our sister podcast, Guerrilla History, but we've done an entire series over the last three years called Sanctions as War, in which we do case study after case study after case study showing the details of how [00:04:00] this sort of approach is applied to countries, what it does to the countries. And yeah, it's targeting civilians. It's ensuring that people don't have food and fuel and medicine. I mean, they do it to Venezuela, they do it to Cuba, they do it to a million places. And when those places inevitably begin to struggle, they smugly point at them and say, see, socialism doesn't work. It's literally grotesque. 

It's straight up evil, it's beyond mere political terms. It is evil in every sense of the word because, beyond just hurting a political establishment or a political elite, it is meant, consciously meant to terrorize and brutalize human beings. Children who need food, mothers and fathers who need to feed their kids. Those are the primary targets of sanctions, even though they're often presented to us as just a "nonviolent form of pressure campaigns" on, quote unquote, authoritarian governments, et cetera.

So seeing through that and educating people to see through that, I think is absolutely crucial. And you're all doing that really important work. 

Musa, you had something to say. 

MUSA SPRINGER: Yeah, I got a few things on this [00:05:00] question. But one, I think it was on RevLeft radio, I listened to an episode about sanctions as "siege warfare." And I had not given much thought into this notion of siege warfare and what it looks like in contemporary times. But it was a really phenomenal way of thinking about sanctions, because Pan Africanist, we always say that the blockade is warfare. It is a direct form of warfare, economic warfare. It's also a form of underdevelopment. 

But I think I'm always trying to stress to people the urgency of the situation. And I think that in our heads, sometimes we categorize things as this over here is an acute situation, and then this thing over here, oh, it's been going on for 65 years, so they can hold on a little bit longer.

And I want people to really understand what it means to be under a total [00:06:00] dominance campaign under the form of a blockade for over 65 years, what that does to underdevelop the capacity of a state to pave roads, to fix buildings. In hospitals and pharmacies, the shelves are bare. My comrades, they asked me for things like ibuprofen. A condom can cost more than a year's worth of your salary because they're so hard to come by in Cuba.

I know someone who is a psychologist herself, a very renowned Cuban psychologist who had a surgery two summers ago and she had to bring gloves and PPE like a mask for the doctor at the hospital to use because the hospital was completely out and they didn't know when they were going to get their next shipment.

A friend of mine, a really, really close friend of mine, who lives with HIV, he's supposed to get a special meal from the government with his rations, a special [00:07:00] food supply, a diet meant specifically for him. And he has not been able to get that in three years, because Cuba provides rations of rice and coffee and beans and sugar and these things. So there are people, and in their public health system, they create special diets for people who might have HIV, people who are elderly or anemic, or birthing people who are pregnant. And the capacity and ability to do all of this is grinding to a standstill more and more every single day. 

People who I have known for 10 years, every time I traveled to the island, their faces are a little bit skinnier and a little bit more gaunt. And it's something that we're just not supposed to talk about. And You know, I just can't stress enough the urgency. We've had 36 years in a row of the only countries voting against ending the blockade is the US, Israel, and then sometimes Ukraine.

Havana Syndrome How the Biden Administration Is Driving Cubans Into Misery - Deconstructed - Air Date 3-22-24

ANDRES PERTIERRA: The US has tightened sanctions. Trump went [00:08:00] full maximum pressure sanctions, not just in terms of putting Cuba back on the international list of state sponsors of terrorism, which was an entirely, nakedly, disgustingly clear case of politics. They did it right before they left office as a way to impede the Democrats from being able to return to kind of like an Obama era policy. It was like a very, finger in their eye kind of thing. It was politics. But it's also the fact that Trump had activated Title III of Helms Burton and Helms Burton is this law that was passed in the 1990s that really strengthened the embargo and gave the US government the capacity to really go after foreign companies that trade with Cuba but also trade with the US and sanction them. 

And among other things, it had a section which is called Title III, which had never until Trump been activated, even under Bush, even under Bush with Bolton there, the most hawkiest guy you can imagine, even they never activated Title III. Title III allows US citizens [00:09:00] to sue people who trade or benefit from their assets that were nationalized in Cuba. So, for example, if you have a cruise ship and it docks in the port and the heir to that dock is still alive and he's a US citizen, guess what? You're about to get a lawsuit in the millions and millions of dollars by a very litigious, very angry, and very well-funded Cuban American with the full backing of the US government behind him if he wins. 

RYAN GRIM - HOST, DECONSTRUCTED: Some of these judgments have reached into the billions of dollars and they're seizing Cuban assets all over the world. What's been the economic impact of that? 

ANDRES PERTIERRA: Well, there's no more cruise ships, among other things. When I left Cuba in 2013, cruise ships hadn't become big yet. When I visited again in 2018, I knew multiple people who are making a living off of very short term cruise ship tourism. The Americans or the Italians or whatever would be let out at the port. [00:10:00] And every day there was a new ship, a new ship, a new ship. And it wouldn't spend a ton of money individually, but collectively, a lot of people were able to work the tourism trade by serving as guides, whatever. And then of course they took that money and then they consumed and they made jobs for other people. So that was a huge influx of cash for the country. And cruise ships are dead. The hotels, at night you'll see one or two rooms in use, but they're mostly empty in what's supposed to be part of a high season.

It's been devastating because that's a source of key foreign currency and Cuba imports 60 to 80 percent of all of the food it consumes. That's bad. 

RYAN GRIM - HOST, DECONSTRUCTED: And so the Trump administration did this maliciously on the way out, trying to reverse the Obama administration's policy. And I've done some reporting on this particular piece, the Biden administration indicated to Democrats in Congress that they were reviewing whether Cuba actually belonged on [00:11:00] this state sponsor of terror list that the Trump administration put them on right before he left.

Not that long ago in a private meeting, the state department informs some members of Congress, oh, actually, that review hasn't even started.


RYAN GRIM - HOST, DECONSTRUCTED: Which just absolutely shocked everybody in the room, because once it starts, then other things kick in. Statutorily, it has to take six months and you got to do this that and the other thing So by saying that that it hadn't even started, the Democrats were just reeling having heard that. I asked the State Department about that and they more or less confirmed it in their answer without confirming it.

But do you have any sense of why Biden would continue this malicious policy, given the impossibility of him winning Florida, he'll be lucky to come within 10 points in Florida. So it's hard to say that the Miami Cubans down there are so central to his political strategy that he has to [00:12:00] just drive this country into the ground for them.

What is your sense as a kind of Cuba watcher, why Biden just has refused to buck Trump on this? Just jealousy of Obama or something? 

ANDRES PERTIERRA: I don't think that anyone has a clear cut answer just yet. I can give my theory, but I do think this is a case where we need a Bob Woodward-style deep dive into the deep politics of it because I'm sure it's a very complicated story.

But my big theories on this are, number one, the curse of Cuba since 1991. It doesn't matter enough. It doesn't matter enough for Biden to use his precious political capital, time and energy, and also potentially risk turning Florida even more red to do it. I don't think he cares enough is number one. He's got domestic and foreign issues that are far higher on his list. And that's not unique to Biden. It's something that has plagued Cuba since 1991. Cause like [00:13:00] I said to your listeners, after 1991, Cuba gets off the front burner, gets on the back burner. And that's why Florida has such a lock on it, because not enough people care to reverse the policy, even if most people, even in the State Department, know that, as a policy, it doesn't make much sense. 

Number two, it was only a few months into Biden being in office when July 11th happened, the protests, the massive protests and the state response to them. And that made Cuba radioactive for a while. Because if he starts to do a reform in the middle of that context, he could be seen as being soft on communism or whatever. And so it looks bad and Cuba was already not a priority. So they just put it into not even not a priority, but even lower on the list. 

I think that that's kind of started to change. Sometimes there's been movements here and there to slowly bring back some stuff from the Obama era. But I think it's been much more transactional. I think part of it is the fact that Cuba has [00:14:00] allowed a large number of people to migrate from through Nicaragua to the US via Mexico, to the point that the traditional triangle of immigrants, which is Mexico and Central America or whatever, were displaced at one point--I'm not sure if it's still true--but were displaced at one point by Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Cuba. So immigration has pulled Biden back to the table, and that was, I think, part of the intent of that strategy on the part of the Cuban government. And it's an older strategy: we will collaborate with you on immigration, on drug stuff, on this and that and another thing, as long as you're reasonable with us. And if you guys aren't reasonable with us, we have no reason to help you out on your priorities either, right? 

This brings me to point three, which is, I don't think Biden sees this as part of his legacy. He seems to treat it as, that's Obama's legacy. And it's come to become a problem. So he's trying to distance himself from it and be very transactional, but I don't think he sees it either as a priority or [00:15:00] as something he really needs to or wants to burn political capital on, since it can be reversed again in the future and it becomes a cycle of like two different people sharing a wheel and they drive right and they drive left and nothing gets done. So it's back to the back burner, I guess.

Havana Syndrome How the Biden Administration Is Driving Cubans Into Misery Part 2 - Deconstructed - Air Date 3-22-24

RYAN GRIM - HOST, DECONSTRUCTED: And no government is perfect. I'm sure the current Cuban government could make some different decisions, but how much room do they have? What could they do, you think, differently, within the context of these lawsuits by Americans around the world, the state sponsor of terror designation, the treasury sanctions, the embargo, what policy room for maneuver do they have that they're not using? 

ANDRES PERTIERRA: There are very clear reforms that they could do here that I think that would make life better. One of them is they really just need to give up on the ag model, the agricultural model that they've been using for years. It doesn't [00:16:00] work. They really have to shift to something like the Vietnamese or Chinese models. Or adapt it to Cuban conditions, but do it. And they've been doing experiments for years on a more market-oriented economy, and don't just have this system where you have to produce so much and everything above this quota can sell for the market, but everything under this quota, you have to sell to us at a price we determine. That model just does not work. Flat out. And you've gotta liberalize the agriculture. You've gotta shift to a small farmer model, where people own the land again, and then can reinvest in it, and then can import directly, not having to depend on the state and its institutions, fuel, tractors, inputs, that kind of thing, that they can potentially also export and get hard currency for that.

I think that that would be a huge help because Cuba is an extremely agriculturally rich island. 70 percent of it is arable, 90 percent of it in a pinch. That is an insane surface area to arable ratio. [00:17:00] And there is no good reason why Cuba needs to be importing 60 to 80 percent of its food, especially when it doesn't even export sugar anymore.

Now, with all that said, I think that's a clear example of a domestic reform that they need to do. But on the other end, part of the problem I think is there's a lot of reforms that would have been extremely delicate and extremely difficult, even under the best circumstances, like political reforms, and they were put off, and they were put off, and they were put off. And now to do them under these circumstances might be seen as a repeat of what happened in the USSR. What is the lesson a lot of these socialist countries drew from Gorbachev? Gorbachev reformed the economy and politics at the same time. He also mismanaged the economic reforms. People were very miserable, they were discontented, blah, blah, blah. But if you first reform the economy, maybe then you can reform the political [00:18:00] system with people who are by and large, if not In love with the system, at the very least they're like I can work with this. I don't want change because change can be scary. This is the devil I know, whatever, right?

But now, how do you do those kind of really deep political reforms or seeming potentially dangerous economic reforms in ways that don't just fuel the fire? That is, I think, the kind of the Catch-22 that they're in right now. 

RYAN GRIM - HOST, DECONSTRUCTED: And the Soviet leadership also thought that if they surrendered in the Cold War and did these reforms that the West wanted, that the West would embrace them and lavish a new Marshall Plan, basically, on the post-Soviet world, which was just a fundamental misreading of the West's posture toward Russia. We were not going to suddenly turn them into friends. It was much more intractable. They believe that it was ideological--and it was obviously partly ideological--but it was also [00:19:00] just geopolitical and imperial. 

And so I would imagine that the Cuban leadership understands the same thing, that just giving up is going to lead to probably the same looting that you saw post-Soviet collapse. 

Empire's Laboratory— How 2004 U.S.-Backed Coup Destabilized Haiti & Led to Current Crisis - Democracy Now! - Air Date 3-11-24

AMY GOODMAN: Her recent article for NACLA is headlined “Haiti as Empire’s Laboratory.”

Professor Pierre, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you start off by describing what you understand is the latest on the ground, who the armed groups are, and the different sectors of Haitian society that are joining together with those armed gangs and calling for the resignation of the unelected Prime Minister Henry?

JEMIMA PIERRE: Good morning. Thank you so much for having me, Amy.

One of the things that we need to just start off with is just these are paramilitary forces. [00:20:00] I think “gangs” is an insufficient name for them, because a lot of them are former military and former police officers, and they’re heavily armed. What’s happening is a bunch of different groups coming together to say—and they call themselves now “Viv Ansanm,” which is “Live Together,” a bunch of different various armed young groups, young men in groups—to say that they want to get rid of Ariel Henry.

Now, we hear that there are negotiations happening around the clock. And apparently, there are supposed to be negotiations going on today, I think, in Jamaica or by the CARICOM countries, that include the U.S., France and Canada. The problem, though, is the fact that there are all these negotiations going on outside of Haiti by many foreigners with no main participation from the Haitian masses. And I think we have to go back to understand that the root of this [00:21:00] crisis is not last week, it’s not this week, it’s not even Ariel Henry, but we have to go back to 2004 with the coup d’état.

AMY GOODMAN: So, take us on that journey back. If you’ll give us the historical context? In your piece, it’s headlined “Haiti as Empire’s Laboratory.” In it, you write, “Haiti has been and continues to be the main laboratory for U.S. imperial machinations in the region and throughout the world.” Explain.

JEMIMA PIERRE: Yes, definitely. We say the crisis in Haiti is a crisis of imperialism. In 2004, as has been revealed and admitted to, the U.S., France, and Canada got together and backed a coup d’état against the country’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. And the U.S. Marines flew into his home, put him on a plane with his security officials, his wife and aide, and [00:22:00] flew them to the Central African Republic. And people can actually go to the Democracy Now! archives, which covered this live. And I remember listening to this happening live.

And the point of this was that this coup d’état, which was led by two permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, was then sanctioned by the U.N. when these same two members of the U.N. Security Council—and that’s the U.S. and France—basically pushed the U.N. Security Council into sending a multinational military force to Haiti armed under Chapter VII deployment. And that itself was illegal, because the original coup d’état was illegal. The U.S. ambassador to Haiti and the deputy ambassador were in the process—they’re the ones that named who the interim president would be, put together a Council of Sages, and basically restructured Haiti’s elected president. And back then we had 7,000 elected officials; [00:23:00] today we have zero. And over time, I say Haiti has been under occupation, because it is this military occupation, the MINUSTAH occupation, that went from 2004 to 2007, that established the Core Group, that—it’s an unelected group of Western officials, including Brazil, which led the military arm of the occupation in 2004 under Lula, which has been controlling all the actions in Haiti, down to naming who the prime minister would be, Ariel Henry, after the assassination of Jovenel Moïse.

I have to quickly say, though, one of the key things that happened is, in 2010, after the earthquake in Haiti that killed hundreds of thousands, when the U.S. pushed the sitting president, René Préval, to have elections, and the WikiLeaks papers revealed to us later that Hillary Clinton actually flew to Haiti and changed the election results, where Michel Martelly of the PHTK political party did not make the first [00:24:00] round, but the U.S. forced the Haitian election council to actually put him in the second round. And so, establishing the PHTK, Michel Martelly, a neo-Duvalierist, as Haiti’s president with under 20% of the people voting, with the largest political party in Haiti, Lavalas, not being able to participate, we set the stage for what we see today.

So, by the time we get to Ariel Henry being imposed on the Haitian people by the Core Group, we had no elected officials, because Michel Martelly, basically, under him, we lost a lot of — we didn’t have many elections, and then he put in his protégé, Jovenel Moïse, who was also unpopular and didn’t run any elections. So we actually haven’t had any elections in Haiti since 2016, when Jovenel Moïse was selected for us by the Core Group.

And so, to understand what’s going on in Haiti, we have to understand how the original moment of the 2004 coup d’état led us [00:25:00] to the complete destruction of the Haitian state. And if we don’t do that, we don’t understand these current flareups, where people are saying that they want their democracy back and saying that whatever negotiations that are happening outside of Haiti has nothing to do with them because it has not included them.

What's Happening In Haiti w Brian Concannon - The Majority Report - Air Date 3-16-24

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: What are the mechanisms—and we should also probably talk about the intent, too, with the U.S. But what are the mechanisms when they prop up a guy like Henri? What are the mechanisms that are used there?

Is it just basically —how does that happen? You know, what does that mean? Is it just basically within Port au Prince or is it within 20 percent of Port au Prince? What does it mean for the U.S. to prop up a leader there? And then we should also probably just touch on what is it that they want out of Haiti that the effort to prop up a leader is expended. 

BRIAN CONCANNON: The U.S. have been propping up [00:26:00] Henri by sending him money. They've been propping him up by providing international diplomatic support and making sure he gets loans from the international monetary fund and other international financial institutions.

And they've been propping him up by insisting that Henri be in office and be part of Haiti's solution. What has happened over the last couple of years is Haitian civil society keeps coming up with alternatives—with broad based platforms that would move Haiti towards fair elections. The U.S. keeps giving Henri a veto by saying, "Well, he has to be part of it, or we're not going to let it work."

What that does is it completely distorts all of the incentives. Henri—as long as he has U.S. support, he has no incentive to compromise towards fair elections because he could never win fair elections. By not compromising, he's been able to stay in office for 30 months, which is the longest prime ministeral term in at least 40 years in Haiti. So basically—with [00:27:00] no constitutional or popular support—he's Haiti's longest serving prime minister. Because he got the U.S. support. 

Another big part of how the U.S. has been supporting him—back in 2021 when there were widespread protests against Henri's rule, he called for an international force basically to prop him up.

The U.S. has been trying very hard to make that work ever since. It hasn't yet happened, but there's currently a proposed U. N. Security Council- authorized mission led by Kenya that the U.S. is still trying to get to come to Haiti, and the U.S. actually made accepting that force a condition of anybody who wanted to play a role in Haiti's government after Henri resigns.

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: All right, so as far as what's been going on with this, in fact, Henri was in Kenya, is that not right? Just 24 hours ago. That's where—he was [00:28:00] heading back, and he's been out of the country—but the idea is that the U.S. is basically saying Kenya and Haiti had no relations, and —

BRIAN CONCANNON: They had not had a diplomatic relations until September. No relations at all, yeah. 

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: So, it was basically the U.S. shopping around for an African country so that it would ostensibly be black soldiers in Haiti. One who had a I guess a competent enough military that also was interested in U.S. aid. The U.S. is going around saying, "We'll pay you to come in and basically be our proxy military so that we won't have white faces down there with guns telling the Haitians what to do. You will be our military. We will pay you. And there were problems in Kenya with this because there was a lot of Kenyans who are like, "We don't want to do this," but the U.S. is coming in with an offer you can barely refuse. 

BRIAN CONCANNON: Yep. And the U.S. [00:29:00] first tried to get Canada. Canada refused and said this is a bad idea. It's not going to work, propping up a hated government. They asked CARICOM—the Caribbean countries—they refused. They asked Brazil. Brazil refused. They asked countries in West Africa. They refused.

And it was really Kenya who had no interest in Haiti, but did have interest in hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars—that finally got Kenya to agree. But once they agreed, Kenya sent an exploratory mission to see what was happening. The exploratory mission said, "No, we're not going to do that. We're going to revise the mission to where it's much less combative."

The U.S. said, "No. Wrong answer," and forced them to retake it. Just in the last two hours, we've heard another report that Kenya is saying, "Well, maybe we're not going to do it after all." We don't know if they're just trying to get more money out of the U.S. or they're serious about pulling out. That's a developing story.

Haiti's real crisis isn't gangs—it's foreign occupation w Jafrik Ayiti - The Real News Network - Air Date 4-1-24

JAFRIK AYITI: There are a few things that I will say here that will require folks to go and dig to understand further what [00:30:00] supports these assertions. For instance, the first thing I'd say is that what we are watching is an international crime scene. Okay? That doesn't mean the local actors are not really doing what they're doing. But if you're only looking at the local actors, you will not understand what is happening. Because, of course, like, it is surreal. Like, how could a small group of criminals hold a whole country hostage like that for so long? Okay? And the only reason that it happens is because they are not really alone. Their backing is from powerful states—the United States, Canada, Europe—and they're playing both sides of this conflict. 

Another thing people need to realize is that although you've heard that the so-called gangs, which are really paramilitaries, they are US-armed [00:31:00] militias, have been fighting Henry's government, there's been no casualties on either side. Okay? None of the big gang leaders have fallen and no member of Henry's government have been hit, or hurt himself. 

In reality, the game that's being played here is to force decent Haitians, who want to establish a social justice reform program in their country, to accept accommodation with the criminals that have been running the country for the past couple of decades. Now, this is a way to say it very briefly. But when you go and look into the details to talk about the forces that are really making decisions in Haiti, a name that people need to Google and search is the Core [00:32:00] Group. The Core Group is an informal structure, but don't let the word informal fool you, because they make all the real decisions in what's happening in Haiti. It's composed of the ambassadors of the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Brazil, the representative of OAS, the Organization of American States, and the United Nations. 

Now, someone might ask, What does Germany, Brazil, what do they have to do with... you know, France, for crying out loud. Well, it's because Haitian independence has never been accepted. Okay? And another term they usually, improper term, they usually use for the Core Group when they're talking about the decisions of the Core Group, for instance, the Core Group is the entity that named Ariel Henry prime minister. Okay? It's not any Haitian entity. [00:33:00] They published a tweet and that's how he became prime minister. And it sounds surreal But that's how it's been happening. 

So, people need to understand that haiti is under occupation. That's the reality. And if you compare it with the 1915 to 1934 occupation of Haiti, there is no real difference in how it happened in the sense that the occupiers pretend that, No, there's no occupation. Haiti has a president. We had a president back in 1915. Our presidents even declared war to Japan. Well, another one was so bold he declared war to Japan, Italy, and Germany at the same time. Of course, what it meant was that the U.S. had declared war to these countries and since the U.S. occupied Haiti, the fool that they had imposed as president of Haiti, you know, issued statements of solidarity with the American position. 

So, people need to understand, the current [00:34:00] mess is Haiti under occupation. This is one of the things that they're trying to hide. The fact that the disaster that you are observing is the result of what is called the Ottawa Initiative on Haiti. What is the Ottawa Initiative on Haiti? It's a meeting that took place in the town where I live, Gatineau, Quebec, which is, I guess, a twin town with Ottawa, which is the capital of Canada. There on January 31st - February 1st, 2003, a set of White men and women met—and you will see why I emphasize that it was White men and women—and they had two days of discussions on the future of Haiti. Who participated in that meeting? Now their names are known, at the time it was secret, but you had foreign ministers of France, there was one lady from El [00:35:00] Salvador, the other ones were from the United States, and from the Organization of American States, Luigi Einaudi was there, all White men and women, and they decided that the government of Haiti at the time had to be overthrown, the country put under UN tutelage. And the country was then being led by Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former priest, a liberation theologian who came to power for the first time in 1990 when he won the election, a landslide election. 

Now, the reason why they wanted to overthrow him is that the policies that he was applying in Haiti were what these people consider socialist. Really modest reform. He doubled the minimum wage. He and the legislature at the time came up with new laws to protect all children, including the street children, built a lot of schools [00:36:00] and things like that, and hospitals, like, nothing revolutionary, really. But even that was considered unacceptable. To whom? To Washington, their cousins in Ottawa and in Paris, but also, and importantly, and these people never make it to the front pages of the New York Times or CNN, Radio-Canada, or BBC, but they are the ones running the economy of Haiti. That's what I call the 15 White mafia families. Okay? The richest person in Haiti does not look like Haitians. The second richest person in Haiti does not look like Haitians. The third, the fourth, the fifth... I mean, you know, I know there are other countries in the Caribbean where that reality can also be observed, but you have to understand Haiti gained its independence [00:37:00] from White supremacy, and there was a law instituted as soon as the revolution was successful to say that no White man shall set foot on this territory as owner. Okay? So that means that something must have happened after the revolution to make it so that the richest people on the island are all White. 

MAXIMILLIAN ALVAREZ - HOST, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Well, let's talk about that. 'Cause this is, like you said, even the sort of shadow-puppet decision-makingng body that is controlling Haiti now, comprised of White people, like—and it's an international sort of cohort that's determining what this country and its future and its people is going to be—that is not an exception. That is, like, basically the struggle that Haitians have been engaged in since the very beginning, right? Since the slave revolt for freedom in Haiti, for which the White Western world has never forgiven Haiti. And it's shown [00:38:00] even from the time that the revolution was won and immediately Haiti was slapped with trade embargoes from the United States. It was paying just, you know, for over half a century, all of its wealth back to France for the crime of claiming independence. It was occupied by the United States less than a century ago. Like you said, you cannot understand the crisis you're watching now, the poverty, the violence, any of that, that you're watching now, only looking at like the sort of local context and trying to piece something together. You cannot tell this story without like telling the other side of the story about how Haiti has been pillaged and punished since it's beginning.

On Cuba and Haiti The Fight for Liberation & Self-Determination in the Caribbean Part 2 - Revolutionary Left Radio - Air Date 4-4-24

BREHT O'SHEA - HOST, REVOLUTIONARY LEFT RADIO: Now, the next thing. I want to move on and do a little bit of a topic shift here. The Black Alliance for Peace and other partner organizations have launched what is called the Zone of Peace Campaign.

Can you tell us what that is, what its core demands are and what its objectives are? 

ERICA CAINES: Yes, I can. This January 29th makes 10 [00:39:00] years since the heads of states and governments of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean states, which is CILAC met in Havana, Cuba and declared Latin America and the Caribbean— that they should be seen and respected as a Zone of Peace.

But again, that's been 10 years and this declaration from government representatives has not translated into a people(s)-centered movement across the region. So on April 4th of 2023 BAP alongside key partner organizations launched a Zone of Peace campaign in Port au Prince, Haiti, Washington, DC, and Havana, Cuba.

 This was an effort to activate the popular movement element of this state-centered declaration by reinvigorating the declaration and building support across the region. We are committed to building an international Zone of Peace in our Americas [00:40:00] informed by the Black radical peace tradition, which is an understanding that peace is not the absence of conflict, but the achievement rather by popular struggle and self defense of a world liberated from nuclear armaments and proliferation, unjust war, and global white supremacy.

So as part of this, we understand the extent of US imperialism in the Americas and work to join our peoples in the organizations in a coordinated anti-militarist, anti-imperialist struggle and push for people(s)-centered human rights. And what PCHR is—it's a way to help guide how we can maneuver through the rhetorical hypocrisy of the West's use of human rights because it's a politic of being whole.

So this framework is an approach that views human rights as an area, or an arena, rather, of struggle that, when grounded and informed by the needs and aspirations of the oppressed, [00:41:00] becomes part of the unified, comprehensive strategy for decolonization and radical change. And it distinguishes itself from the erroneous and prevalent use of the West's human rights by requiring an epistemological break with a human rights orthodoxy grounded in Eurocentric liberalism. It's a reconceptualization of human rights from the standpoint of oppressed peoples—a restructuring of prevalent social relationships that perpetuate oppression and the acquiring of power on the part of the oppressed to bring about that restructuring.

So, again, BAP is leading this effort to revive the civil society element of the state-centered declaration by popularizing the declaration and building popular support across the region. And the objective, of course, is to build a people(s)-centered campaign that coordinates anti-imperialist, anti-war and pro peace organizations, political parties, [00:42:00] labor and social justice organizations, as well as movements across the region to move our America towards building alternative institutions and centers of power. We also want to strengthen America's wide consciousness among the peoples of the region, which includes making sure that people within the US, Africans in particular—especially in the southern region—understand ourselves as part and parcel of the Americas. Establishing a people(s)-centered Americas-wide coordinating structures that will facilitate the successful expulsion of the US/ EU/ NATO acts as a domination from our region. This includes Operation Trade Winds, which is military combatant activities that occur across the Caribbean.

Training that is partnered with NATO nations like France, like the Netherlands, like Canada. Most recently they just held one in Guyana, [00:43:00] I believe. Also the Global Fragilities Act and, you know, other soft power institutions like NED and the USAID which, is very busy in areas like Cuba, Nicaragua, et cetera.

And then some of the initial core demands are to dismantle SOUTHCOM and the US/ NATO military exercises, disband US sponsored state terrorist training facilities like the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. And for those who don't know, that's formerly the School of the Americas.

And a lot of what we do in this campaign is likening that to cop city and the training facility —a cop city—and the type of training that will be occurring is very similar to how we understand the School of the Americas. Also opposing military intervention in Haiti and the return of Guantanamo to Cuba.

Those are just a few of the initial [00:44:00] demands that we have for the Zone of Peace. Most recently, there was a strategic meeting held in Colombia to discuss how we move this forward. This was done with a plethora of grassroots organizations across the Americas in nations like Nicaragua, in nations like Brazil, the US, obviously, we had Guyana represented. So a lot of what we did there as well was leave with a declaration in support of Haiti and in support of self- sovereignty and self-determination and reasserting an emphasis on the call of the Zone of Peace from the CILAC community. 

Haiti's real crisis isn't gangs—it's foreign occupation w Jafrik Ayiti Part 2 - The Real News Network - Air Date 4-1-24

JAFRIK AYITI: Yeah, and there's a statement that I'm going to share with you that came from a meeting that a set of Haitians from many different cities organized the other day, which essentially summarizes [00:45:00] what we are looking for. And so essentially, this is a group that is organizing demonstrations in the coming months and this would be global days of solidarity with Haiti. They're planning three, coming up at the end of March, April, and May. And they say, "We declare the Haitian people’s sovereign right on their territory is absolute and sacred. Foreigners who violate this right are enemies of the nation. Haitians who help the enemy to violate Haitian sovereign are traitors who will be punished as our ancestors and the laws of our country comment". 

And to support this declaration, I added three bullet points: a) the Core Group, which is the ambassadors of foreign countries, is declared persona non grata. Kenyan, Senegalese, CARICOM, Spanish, and other mercenaries [00:46:00] better remain in their own territories. Michel Martelly, Michel Martelly, Gilbert Bigio, Reynold Deeb, Johnson André or Izo, Dimitri Herard, Jimmy Chérizier Barbecue, Vitel’Homme Innocent, André Apaid, Guy Philippe, all criminals who broke prison walls and spilled the blood of innocent people must get arrested or be punished. The only transitional government we will recognize is the one that comes from Haitian leaders who do not have the blood of the people on their hands. So, this is to support the first declaration. 

The second declaration states: "To defend the life of honest Haitians, we will fight against all wickedness until we disarm all criminals, foreigners and Haitians alike, and rebuild the legitimate defense forces of our nation". To support this declaration, we have decreed ongoing [00:47:00] mobilization to rebuild all legal forces, police, and army established to guarantee safety for everyone on our homeland as required without discrimination; b) abolish all private militias that currently protect and serve criminal oligarchs, White imperialist forces, and their accomplices; c) we seek due application of international law to force the United States and the Dominican Republic to stop invading Haiti with deadly weapons while these countries are harboring major criminals who have Haitian blood on their hands in their territory, in particular, Gilbert Bigio and Michel Martelly. 

And three, the third declaration: "We declare relentless mobilization to expose and counter all malicious forces which gangsterized Haiti with the PHTK [00:48:00] militias". To support this declaration, we demand restitution and reparations from the government of Core Group member countries, the United Nations, the OAS, for multiple crimes they've committed against the Haitian people in history, as well as in the present era; b) we open our arms to receive and offer solidarity to all struggling peoples, such as those of Cuba, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Palestine, Venezuela, who are facing the malicious actions of the same clan of colonizers, land thieves, who form the Core Group. Stand for Haiti; judge Bill Clinton; justice, dignity, reparations for Haiti. 

So, this is the statement, and in the document that will be on the web, people [00:49:00] will be able to click on the names of the people that we've identified in this document to find out what is the charge against these individuals. 

BONUS On Cuba and Haiti The Fight for Liberation & Self-Determination in the Caribbean Part 3 - Revolutionary Left Radio - Air Date 4-4-24

BREHT O'SHEA - HOST, REVOLUTIONARY LEFT RADIO: Wonderful. Zooming out a little bit, I'm just interested in your experiences in Cuba, just being there on the ground. Obviously you're engaging with a lot of Cuban people and a lot of other organizations, but just the country as a whole, the state of the country, what were your experiences like in Cuba and what stands out to you about your time there?

MUSA SPRINGER: I love this question because even though we were at a conference, we were certainly not divorced from the larger island around us and the people. And myself, I've traveled to Cuba many times, often with small group delegations. Onye has traveled many times with the Venceremos Brigade.

Erica a few times with me as well. And I can say without any reservations that the blockade is the worst that I have personally ever seen it. Things [00:50:00] like food shortages, oil and gas shortages are hitting the island really, really, really severely. You know, when we were walking around, we would pass lines for the gas station and the cars would be piled up for maybe three or four blocks.

I spoke with somebody who said they had waited, they literally had parked their car there for two nights and they would just leave their car and walk home and then come back the next morning and it hadn't moved at all. And so the situation is dire. Something that stands out however, is despite the humongous difficulties proposed by the blockade the Communist Party and the organizers of this conference were able to fully accommodate us—we re able to pull off a conference that featured, I think it was like 37 different countries, two or three hundred people. And it really, it took an immense example of people's power of organization [00:51:00] and of discipline as well.

And so from, from myself as an organizer in the US, that was definitely something that I noticed and learned was how they even were able to put an event like that together. Second, we had a bit of a delegation within the delegation, where in some of our free time, I was able to help organize encuentros between Onye, Erica, myself, another comrade, and my comrades in the Red Barrial Afrodescendiente.

We were able to distribute several suitcases full of donations to them, as well as just have robust groundings where we talked with them about what grassroots organizing looks like in Cuba currently, how they're sustaining and surviving. And we got to build really strong connections there as well.

 Then additionally, I'll just say we got to see friends and loved ones in Cuba and have a good time, too, and it's a testament to the Cuban spirit. [00:52:00] I mean, they had every right in the world to see some people from the U S on the streets and be mad at us because it's the US in our name, that's causing these conditions. Instead they showed us love and solidarity and brought us in to say, "This is how you can support our struggle."

That was the overall sentiment at the entire conference the whole time we were there as well. 

BONUS Cannibals, US INVASION Imminent Haiti Myths Dispelled (w Dan Cohen) - Bad Faith Podcast - Air Date 4-1-24

BRIAHNA JOY GRAY - HOST, BAD FAITH: Okay. This is fascinating. Let's get to Jimmy Chérizier. Jimmy "Barbecue" Chérizier was all over the headlines. This alleged cannibal leader of Haiti that played into every kind of stereotype. You'd want to know about who Haitians are and what kind of people are behind the various kinds of dysfunction that have played the island.

Who is Jimmy Chérizier, and what do you make of this allegation that he is called "Barbecue" because he, in fact, eats his victims? 

DAN COHEN: Jimmy Chérizier, aka "Barbecue," [00:53:00] is a former cop. He's a guy from, basically, the gutter who worked his way up through the Haitian National Police to be a highly respected officer in an anti-gang unit called UDMO.

He really believed in his job and he's also kind of a social leader in his neighborhood. Long story short, he was—basically, he was burned by the system. Essentially, what happened is the US wanted to destabilize the government of Jovenel Moïse because he started trying to assert himself and Jovenel Moïse also started to look—like I said—outside of the unipolar US order. He went to Turkey, he started talking to the Russians, you know, doing things that a good president of Haiti—a good puppet—should not do. And it's time for him to go. They basically invented a massacre, and they took an incident that was basically an anti-gang operation that [00:54:00] Jimmy Chérizier led and called it a massacre.

 This was basically a disinformation campaign done by the leading so-called human rights group. It's called the RNDDH, which is very infamous in Haiti. Basically, this hit job by this human rights group led to Jimmy Chérizier getting fired and that radicalized him.

 He basically said, this whole system is garbage. What I have to do is unite the different armed groups, the different poor neighborhoods, and we need to have a revolution against the people who are keeping this country down. Then there started to be all kinds of smears and disinformation against him.

One of them being, "his name is because he likes to burn his victims." And that's like what you'll see in Vice, for example. Vice has actually really led the way with all this disinformation on Haiti and Chérizier and they take [00:55:00] this whole NED-funded human rights group very, very seriously.

 So the reality of his nickname is that, when he was a poor kid in the street, there were a whole bunch of other "Jimmies". His mother sold grilled meats on the street, and so he got to be called "Jimmy Barbecue." And if you go into his neighborhoods— like Lower Delma where that's his area—people say "Barbecue" with love. You know? It goes from this kind of like sinister name, "Barbecue!" to where it's a cute name, and they, like, love him and they call him "Ba Bey "and it sounds very much the opposite. 

Final comments on the dangers of unrepresentative, unresponsive government

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today, starting with Revolutionary Left Radio looking at the impact of the US embargo against Cuba. Deconstructed, in two-parts, dove into some of the details of the embargo followed by proposed reforms that may help Cuba. Democracy Now! looked at the historical context of Haiti that helps explain the paramilitary action happening now. The Majority Report explained to the US involvement [00:56:00] in sending military aid from Kenya to Haiti. The Real News laid out the legacy of the Ottawa initiative and the history of wealth inequality in Haiti. Rev Left Radio discussed the Zone of Peace Campaign, and The Real News shared the "Haiti Statement on Self-determination". 

That's what everybody heard, but members also heard bonus clips from Revolutionary Left Radio sharing more experiences from the blockade in Cuba. And Bad Faith described the background of the paramilitary leader in Haiti. 

To hear that and have all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly to the new members-only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show bestoftheleft.com/support, or shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership, because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information. 

Now to wrap up, I just want to point out that talk of civil and political unrest in poor nations is often received by Americans, I think, with a sense of sort of pity and maybe gratitude that we're not in [00:57:00] danger of such scenarios ourselves. And it's still true that the US and Haiti are on opposite ends of the power and wealth spectrum. But there's really no cause to be overconfident right now. There's been a steady drum beat in the last few years from the far right calling for a civil war and renewed calls from the pretty much regular right for some states to start seceding from the nation again. 

After January 6th, the idea of political violence in the US in the modern era can not be considered merely hypothetical anymore. But the most dangerous underlying factor has been with us for a long time and has been getting significantly worse in the past 15 years: out of control wealth inequality, coupled with campaign finance that has basically legalized corruption to its core. In an effectively failed state like Haiti, corruption looks a lot more like you think it does, with the wealthy kleptocrats pocketing aid money to fund their [00:58:00] European villas and the like. The result is an impoverished country with a governing structure that doesn't represent the will or interest of the people. 

In the US, corruption is legalized through campaign finance. So oligarchs receive their money through legitimate businesses, but then use their wealth to control the government, to minimize needed taxation and regulation to make their businesses as wildly profitable as possible. The result in the US is on a different scale than Haiti, but the unresponsiveness to the public is similar and has been shown in studies that track the greater likelihood of legislation passing if it's supported by the rich, rather than if it's supported by simply a majority of the population. And although we still can't be considered a poor nation, we certainly allow people to remain impoverished and we spend huge amounts of money on things that do not help our own people, while allowing millions to, for instance, go bankrupt from healthcare costs. [00:59:00] 

This disconnect between government and governed is the same basic mechanism that spurs most uprisings that seek to violently overthrow an existing power structure. The pattern can be seen in our own founding revolution through to Haiti's current paramilitary violence. The violence endemic to unstable countries shouldn't be focused on as pitiable, but rather as a warning: this is what can happen when the political structure is allowed to be seen as illegitimate by the population, whether because it was installed by a coup or propped up by a foreign powers, as in Haiti, or because the Supreme Court has legalized political corruption on a level never before seen in the US. 

Remember, before Donald Trump was riding a wave of authoritarian, xenophobic support, one of his primary arguments in the 2016 election was the corruption of all of the other candidates and his supposed incorruptibility, thanks to his extreme [01:00:00] wealth. It was an argument that was both laughable because it was coming from Trump, but it was also based in a widespread, deeply held, extremely legitimate belief that money in politics has corrupted the fundamentals of our democracy and some major change is needed. 

Now, for some who voted for Trump, they may have thought that he was the answer. I certainly never thought that, but I agreed with this sort of desperation for a major change. So, when I think of the current threat of political violence from right-wing fever dreams of a new civil war and the dangerous facing our election system from conspiracy theorists who consider any electoral loss to be illegitimate, I recognize that those issues are extremely urgent and need to be addressed first, but I really don't want to lose sight of the underlying causes that have brought us to this point. And when I think of the breakdown of political functionality anywhere—Haiti, Cuba, or elsewhere—I think: There, but for the [01:01:00] perpetually-sustained efforts to maintain a functioning democracy, go us. 

That is going to be at for today. As always keep the comments coming in. I would love to hear your thoughts or questions about this or anything else. You can leave a voicemail or send us a text at 202-999-3991 or simply email me to [email protected]. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to our Transcriptionist Quartet, Ken, Brian, Ben, and Andrew for their volunteer work helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work behind the scenes and her bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to all those who already support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships. You can join them by signing up today bestoftheleft.com/support, through our Patreon page, or from right inside the Apple podcast app. Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good and often funny bonus episodes, in addition to there being extra content, no ads, [01:02:00] and chapter markers in all of our regular episodes, all through your regular podcast player. You'll find that link in the show notes, along with a link to join our Discord community, where you can also continue the discussion. 

So, coming to you from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay, and this has been the Best of the Left podcast, coming to you twice weekly, thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show, from bestoftheleft.com

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