Conversation/ Interview with Guerchang Bastia, militant for RASIN party in Haiti

Families for Freedom
12 min readJul 13, 2018

Families for Freedom Operations Director Violeta Múnera was in Haiti last week as the uprising began, sparked by a rapid hike in gasoline prices but rooted in long histories. What follows are some excerpts from a conversation between Violeta and Guerchang Bastia, a militant of the Pati Sosyalis Rasin Kan Pep La in Haiti, in which he discusses the role of left organizations in mass movement building, the state of Haitian politics in an internationalist lens, and much more. The conversation took place on July 9th, during a car ride to Port-Au-Prince. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Violeta Múnera: Can you tell me a little bit about what you were discussing this morning on the radio?

Guerchang Bastia: I was talking about when the president [Juvenel Moïse] made his statement he tried to talk like the people are the children, like trying to say it is other people that use them to protest.

VM: What other people is he referring to?

GB: Maybe the opposition, some other political actors… But for me it is disrespectful because the people are not children; they know what they are doing. Some were killing during the looting — that means they are not children. And the leader of the opposition talks like this as well: “All people don’t burn the cars, don’t steal…”, as if the people were like children. For me this is not the case, for me their actions mean that the people are putting the system into question. They are saying “Fuck the system.” They are saying that the capitalist system in Haiti means nothing to them and they want to change it.

What we need to understand on the left is that we need to build more organic relationships with the people, so that when the people are in the streets, we can give a clear political direction to the movement. Because the people are not organized, they don’t have a clear political perspective. It is the role of the left — the importance of the real left organizations — to build real organic relationships with the people. Which means that when the people are struggling, the left is struggling also, and the left can support their struggle and help them to find a clear political line through the struggle.

VM: Like authenticity in the way that leftist organizations relate to the people in social movements to create a path forward…

GB: Yes. Because it is not in this moment that we can spontaneously build organic relationships in the streets. No. We can’t.

VM: That relationship should have already been there.

GB: Yes. That means that if you try to do it right now, you will fail and you will be seen as an opportunist. They will not understand you, they will not hear you. This means that this is a very important moment for the left to understand ourselves, question ourselves to know what it is that we do. What are we exactly doing as the left? We can just have a political party and different organizations in the left, but the small organizations they don’t link really to the masses, and when the masses are in the streets we are in our rooms, we are in our houses. It means there is no real relationship with the masses, and that means that it needs to be one of our objectives to build a new form of relationship with the masses.

It means being present with the masses, being all the time with the masses, developing real popular education, using the media, music and arts to be present in the masses’ space. So that when the masses are in the streets, they will recognize you as a leader, as a person that can actually bring a proposal for a new society. Because the masses are not necessarily for socialism, the masses just don’t want what they are living now. They don’t accept the system, and they fight against it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are for socialism or communism. That is the work, the purpose of the leftist organization is creating a new relationship with the masses and through this educate them politically in a clear way, direction, political line to say: “We need that, we want to do that.” And through this building the strength to fight against the capitalist system.

VM: Earlier you were speaking about Puerto Rico, I wonder if you could talk more about the comparison between Puerto Rico and Haiti.

GB: We talk about Haiti like a Republic but Haiti is a Republic only for the ruling class, for the politicians. In a neo-colony like Puerto Rico, in an unincorporated territory, you can’t be a Senator or a Deputy in the same way that you can in the Haitian government. Yet at the same time if masses in Haiti were asked if they want to be like Puerto Rico, 99% of the people would vote yes. The people don’t want Senators, Ministers, or even a President! They just want to live. They want to survive, and they can’t survive in Haiti. People just want a better life. It is the reason why they would like to be attached to the US and be a territory.

The masses say all the time that “Haiti is not a country.” In the streets you can hear that everyone says “Haiti is not a country.” Sometimes they explain it differently, saying “In a serious country…,” meaning that Haiti is not a serious country. And it implies that a country cannot be not serious. A country is supposed to be a serious, serious thing. When you talk about a serious country, it means that Haiti is not a country.

So when we talk about a Republic, it is not for the masses. It is the reason for me that we need to understand the case of Puerto Ricans, who have a better life than the Haitian people. Haiti has more than 80% unemployment and in PR it is less than that. It is also the reason why Haitians leave the country and migrate to Chile, to US, to France, to Brazil, to Canada, and what we need to understand is that it doesn’t mean that the people leave because they don’t like Haiti. They like Haiti, they are Haitian, it’s not about love or not love. Haiti is in the people. But there is no life in Haiti for the masses. And sometimes this means that the people get married with someone they don’t really love to go to USA , France, Canada… They take to the sea, like boat people, they make false documents to go to the US embassy to find visa, they lie to the embassy. They try any kind of strategy to leave the country. They go to Dominican Republic to work. And the people just want to work, they don’t want to talk about socialism.

VM: They want to be productive in a society where they can live.

GB: Yes. They just want a better life. They want to find a job, so they can get paid and pay for their children’s schooling, or go to the hospital if they are sick. And this is why it is our job in the left to problematize the needs of the people. Because these needs are not natural needs.

VM: Yes. They are not magical. The needs don’t come out of nowhere.

GB: Exactly: they are political. So we need to politicize their needs and to make sure that people can understand those problems are linked to neoliberalism, to neo-colonialism in Haiti, to the global economic system.

VM: Can you talk about how the IMF pushed for this fuel price hike?

GB: It is the reason why I talked about this before on the radio. Everyone knew what would happen: if the price of gas was raised we would have a problem. You will burn the country. Everyone knew that. Only the president and the prime minister and the ministries and the parliament didn’t know that, or didn’t hear that.

VM: They ignored it.

GB: Yes — they ignored it. But it’s because they don’t hear the Haitians. They only hear the IMF. They only hear the State Department of the US, only the imperialist countries. Only the foreigners. They don’t take the masses seriously. It’s the reason they raise the price of the gas, and you can see the result. Everyone knew that before, but they don’t take the masses seriously.

VM: They think they are children…

GB: Yes. They hear what the IMF says and they raise the price. And that’s the reason we get all the problems in this country. It’s not new. It’s the essence of the Haitian state. They don’t take the masses seriously. For him, the masses are illiterate and they don’t understand anything.

VM: What is the percentage of illiteracy in Haiti?

GB: More than 50%. It’s a lot. This is another point in which we need to be clear that the state in Haiti is not the Haitian state — it is the state in Haiti. You understand? Like Puerto Rico, they have a state but it’s not the Puerto Rican state.

VM: Yes.

GB: We need to be clear on that ’cause all the time we are saying “Haitian state.” No: there is no “Haitian state,” there’s a state in Haiti. Like in the colonial system, we have the colonizers, the state and the colony. And the colony is managed with the direction of the metropoles in the colonizer country. And it is that: the IMF, the neoliberal system giving Haitians direction that they do not want.

VM: So what do you propose as the way forward?

GB: For what?

VM: For the country. For what’s going on right now. What do you think is going to happen in the next few days, what do you think about the US presence in Haiti right now?

GB: Haiti is a US territory, but not officially.

VM: Like Puerto Rico, but worse.

GB: Yes there is a difference, because Puerto Ricans can easily move to the US. Puerto Ricans are US citizens so they can easily move to New York, but Haitians need to take the sea, like everything I said before. And that is a real difference, even if Haiti remains, in my opinion, an informal US territory.

The US does what they want in the country, but at the same time sometimes the masses can say “no.” They can say “No. We don’t want that.” And that’s the reason for me I can’t say really what will happen because we on the left don’t have control on what happens in the country because we don’t have the strong organizations in the country. And the Haitian government doesn’t know what will happen because like I said it is not a Haitian government it’s a government in Haiti meaning it will stay in wait for direction from the US, from the IMF. That means it’s difficult to know what will happen. But one thing is sure: for me, there are two possibilities: either the President leaves the country or he stays and everything goes back to how it was before, meaning —

VM: But the promise was to delay the price hike, and that eventually he will raise it again.

GB: Yes! For sure. That’s why it is very important what the masses are doing right now. The President might now think many, many times before raising the price of gas. Yeah I think it’s that and we need to understand that to be sure.. but what we need to understand is that the situation is a revolutionary situation, but we don’t have organizations that can take the lead to move forward the revolution process.

So I come back with my proposal: leftist organizations in Haiti need to prepare for that kind of situation, because when we are living in a country with this level of inequality, when people are faced with this kind of situation, the people will strike, they will try to make change, they will loot — and all this means it is important for leftist organizations to really link with the masses, so that we can overthrow the capitalist system and build a real socialist project in Haiti, a real project in the history of the Haitian revolution since 1791–1804.

VM: How do you see the legacy of Dessalines in this moment?

GB: The legacy of Dessalines is multiple. You can use it in whatever way you want. For the majority, Dessalines is the father of being against the white people, against the colonial system. We say “Don’t leave Dessalines’ spirit up in my head.” That means that in a very bad situation that Dessalines comes back. When the country is bad, when we talk about occupation, Dessalines is back, because Dessalines is the anti-occupation of —

VM: The spirit of revolution.

GB: Yeah. But Duvalier used Dessalines in his way to say we are against foreigners, against the colonial system, but to establish his dictatorship. We on the left have to clarify: what does that mean, “Dessalines”? Dessalines is a project. Dessalines is a project of freedom. A project for the free life of the human being.

That means Dessalines didn’t believe in the nation-state. For Dessalines, a Haitian is not a person who has Haitian blood, but it is not a person who was born in Haiti, it’s more than that — a Haitian is a person who is fighting for freedom. So wherever you are, for Dessalines, if you’re fighting for freedom you are a Haitian. And Dessalines for us represents a world project of freedom, and the father of socialist thinking in the world.

After the revolution, the mulattos like Pétion and the others said they were gonna take the lands that had belonged to their fathers the colonizers, and Dessalines said “No. The black people, whose fathers and mothers are still in Africa, they will have nothing?” And it’s in this moment that they kill Dessalines, because he talked about all the people, all the people’s needs, wealth needing to be distributed for everyone. And so they said “OK Dessalines is a bad man and we need to kill him, because he talks for the masses.” In our militant life Dessalines is the spirit in our struggle against the ruling class in Haiti, against the neo-colonialist system, against the imperialism. Dessalines is still alive in our struggle.

VM: Viva Dessalines! I want to talk about the World Cup. What was the correlation between the World Cup and the situation in Haiti? You said that the government paid 2.5 million dollars to broadcast the games, in a country where the majority of people make less than two dollars per day.

GB: Yes, the government bought and distributed TVs and cable in many spaces.

VM: What is the significance of the World Cup for the Haitian people?

GB: It’s a very important event for the world, not only the Haitians.

VM: But I see in Haiti that there’s just this euphoria and passion about it. I’ve never really seen that, not in the United States not in Puerto Rico, and it was really surprising to see the excitement of the people.

GB: There’s a reason the state uses that kind of event to take very unpopular decisions. Since Duvalier the strategy of the state in Haiti is to give the pleasure to the people, the entertainment. They make big musical groups play in the street —

VM: When did he announce he was raising the price of gas?

GB: Since Duvalier this has been the strategy. They use the World Cup, they use Carnivals, they use patron saint festivals, they use everything that the people love to make sure they give the people what they enjoy to make them forget the problems.

VM: This is common also in Puerto Rico. And this is why they spent so much money distributing TVs and cables to bring the World Cup to Haiti.

GB: Yes. Because they think that the people are going to look at the World Cup and forget everything. And it’s true. The people just look at the World Cup and forget the problems, forget the state, forget the situation. In Haiti we have two more popular teams: Brazil and Argentina. And Argentina was eliminated and Brazil played the quarter finals. The president thought Brazil was going to win, and that’s the reason he raised the price on the same day, in the moment that the game was being played. And then Brazil was eliminated and immediately after the people took the street.

But we have to also understand that before all that, there’s a space where we had the same kind of protests because the President gave the order to destroy the houses of the poor people who live close to his house, because he says the poor people put —

VM: The people that live in the neighborhoods close to the President’s house made him feel insecure, like he was afraid of them?

GB: Yes. And so he gave the order to destroy them.

VM: Meaning there’s already been a lot of anger building up to this moment.

GB: Yes, of course. And you know what? The capitalist system gives nothing to the people of Haiti. The people live badly, the situation is so, so bad. There’s no life in Haiti. It’s not about the price of the gas, there’s no life in Haiti. There’s no life. No school. There’s no jobs, there’s nothing. That’s the reason the people are in the street. We can see that the situation will calm in the near future, but don’t worry: it will be the same in a few years because the situation is bad.

VM: And things aren’t getting any better.

GB: We fight to that, for a better life in Haiti. It’s the reason we think there is no other possibility. That’s how socialist Haitians think. But it’s hard.

VM: Anything else you want to say?

GB: Viva socialism, viva internationalism, viva!

Guerchang Bastia is an artist musician, sociologist and militant at PATI SOSYALIS RASIN KAN PEP LA based in Haiti.

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