On 1 February 2005, nearly one year after the de-facto coup against Haiti’s democratically elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide, the AP reported that the Lavalas party will not participate in the local and municipal elections scheduled for October, or the legislative and presidential elections scheduled for November.
Lavalas’ decision to not participate is a direct result of the suppression carried out against party supporters by paramilitary factions and gang leaders who get their marching orders from the Latortue government. New evidence reveals interim Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue’s de-facto policy of restoring “Duvalierism without Duvalier.”
Since the first day Washington installed him in power, Latortue has taken a fiercely adversarial position towards Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas political party. By working with the anti-Aristide opposition to extinguish Lavalas, he repudiates his claim that he is for free, fair and open elections..
Where did Latortue obtain the funds to buy off the ex-military, and how can U.S. and Canadian taxpayers know that the funds their governments donated to the Haitian Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) will not be used as payments for military renegades?
The ex-military and former death squads are engaging in terrorist tactics similar to those that were used by Iraqi insurgents to keep the majority from the polls. But unlike the situation in Iraq, the anti-democracy forces in Haiti have the tacit backing of the state.
The Fanmi Lavalas party, which Aristide founded as the Lavalas movement against the U.S. backed Duvalier dictatorship, has decided not to participate in Haiti’s upcoming elections. Its grave decision yesterday is understandable since, in contrast to Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue’s declaration that in the upcoming elections, “this government will not act in favor of anybody or any political candidate [nor will it] work against any candidate who will run,” evidence abounds of state-sponsored terror that has been launched against residents of pro-Aristide slums, such as Cite Soleil and Bel Air, by the ex-military and rebel gangs.
The Council on Hemispheric Affairs repeatedly has called attention to the Latortue government’s brutal suppression and illegal imprisonment of Lavalas supporters. We already knew that, according to the Catholic Church’s Justice and Peace Commission, there are an estimated 700 political prisoners languishing in Haitian jails, including former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and former Minister of the Interior Jocelerme Privert.
The interim government even had the audacity to imprison the country’s most revered Catholic priest, Father Jean-Juste, though he was recently released. We also knew that hundreds of Haitians, mostly from Lavalas neighborhoods, have been killed since the coup. For these reasons and many others, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has refused to recognize the Latortue regime.
But now, new evidence mounts in support of the claim that Latortue and his rogue justice minister, Bernard Gousse, are engaged in an all-out-war against Haiti’s poor, who make up the vast majority of the population and who overwhelmingly support Aristide.
It’s worse than we thought
The University of Miami School of Law Center for the Study of Human Rights has recently published findings from the investigation it carried out in Haiti last November. The inquiry, led by attorney and former law enforcement official, Thomas M. Griffin, included interviews with government leaders, U.S. embassy personnel in Port-au-Prince, U.N. peacekeepers, political prisoners, human rights organizations, and both pro and anti-Aristide groups, among others (for the full report go to http://www.law.miami.edu/news/368.html).
In graphic detail, the document presents some of the strongest evidence yet against Latortue’s mendacious claims that he is a neutral leader with no political agenda and that most of the violence is the fault of Lavalas-inspired groups and individuals. While it does not present any evidence that Latortue himself has directly ordered the almost systematic execution-style killings of pro-Aristide loyalists across the country, the report does paint a blood soaked picture of the interim prime minister as Washington’s ultra right wing servitor and the behind-the-scenes architect of the ongoing suppression of the poor.
It documents the Latortue government’s complicity in summary executions in urban poor neighborhoods by the ex-military (Forces Armees d’ Haiti, or “FADH”), which often works in conjunction with the Haitian National Police force (HNP). According to the University of Miami report, “even well-meaning officers treat poor neighborhoods seeking a democratic voice as enemy territory where they must kill or be killed.” It goes on to state that “As voices for non-violent change are silenced by arrest, assassination, or fear, violent defense becomes a credible option.”
Griffin’s team learned from local residents that, far from the state serving as an impartial arbiter in the country’s bitter political dispute, the Latortue government looks the other way while “members of Haiti’s elite, including political power broker Andy Apaid, pay gangs to kill Lavalas supporters and finance the illegal army.”
Even if Latortue wanted to get serious about the security situation which, as reported by The New York Times reporter Michael Kamber, he apparently does not, sources told the Miami investigators that sweatshop king Andy Apaid, not Latortue or Gousse, is “the real government in Haiti.”
In an interview with the Miami researchers, Apaid even admitted to telling the HNP to “work with” gang leader Thomas Robinson, a.k.a. ‘Labanye,’ who is reported to have received payment from Apaid in order “to destroy the Lavalas movement in Cite Soleil through violence.” Latortue’s tacit approval of this state-sponsored terrorism foreshadowed the interim government’s plan to make it all but impossible for Lavalas supporters to exercise any kind of meaningful participation in the elections.
Justifying Lavalas’ recent decision to not participate, Marguerite Laurent, founder of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership network, stated in an interview with COHA, “the whole purpose of bringing back the soldiers is to prevent the people from going to the polls, to prevent a freely elected president from taking office.”
Latortue: certainly “not another Castro”
Former U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, Brian Dean Curran, in his final address to the island before returning to the U.S. ”“ one eerily reminiscent in tone to Eisenhower’s portentous farewell address of 1961 ”“ warned the Haitian people:
“I have always talked straight about US policy and what might and might not be new policy directions. But there were many in Haiti who preferred not to listen to me, the president’s representative, but to their own friends in Washington, sirens of extremism or revanchism on the one hand or apologists on the other. They don’t hold official positions. I call them the chimeres of Washington.”
Invoking the ambassador’s warning in his congressional testimony in the days following last year’s coup, Professor Robert Maguire, Director of International Affairs and the Haiti Program at Trinity University in Washington, D.C., counseled the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere that, “it is of great necessity that the chimeres of Washington be removed from any real or perceived role in the future of U.S. policy toward Haiti.”
To the grave detriment of the Haitian people, the Bush administration has embraced the counsel of just those chimeres, loosely defined as anyone with sufficiently virulent anti-Aristide boda fides.
That Latortue and Gousse are fervently anti-Lavalas is beyond dispute. Before the ouster of Aristide last February, they had been consultants to the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), which worked with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Haiti.
The chairman of IFES, William J. Hybl, is also a board member of the International Republican Institute (IRI) which, in turn, is funded by the congressionally-mandated National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The NED, an organization initiated during the Reagan era, is known for providing back-door funding to notorious right wing causes throughout the hemisphere.
Not surprisingly, according to a footnote in Griffin’s report, witnesses in Haiti reported Hybl as “extremely close with Vice President Cheney.” The IRI and NED’s longstanding odium for Aristide is established, and it should only be expected that Latortue, with his intimate knowledge of and sympathy for these organizations’ revanchistic worldview, would be selected by the Bush administration to head the post-Aristide government.
Silence is Golden
What is surprising, however, is the extent to which the Bush administration has failed to criticize Latortue’s culpability in the explosion of human rights abuses perpetrated against Lavalas supporters since last February’s de-facto coup. One glaring example was its failure to admonish Latortue for agreeing to the extortionist demands of former members of the army, who had been disbanded by Aristide in 1995, for a payoff.
The public silence the State Department has maintained on the issue is all but deafening. When a State Department official was asked about the administration’s position regarding the payoffs to these notorious ex-military personnel, he said that the reimbursement question “is a legitimate issue that must be resolved, but in the larger context of the demobilization and disarmament program.”
He went on to say, “The Haitian government should follow the list of those who were deserving of a pension and various savings accounts.” The U.S. official maintained that in any event Aristide’s disbanding of the ex-military in 1995 was illegal since the Haitian legislature never ratified the decision. Of course, the point could be argued whether the granting of payoffs were legal since Latortue’s unilateral decision did not have the consent of the legislature either, perhaps because the U.S. had the legislature shut down.
Even if the soldiers had been legally entitled to a pension pay, the five to six thousand innocent Haitian civilians, whom many of those same soldiers murdered under the military dictatorship of Raoul Cedras, should be factored into this equation.
Many of these former members of the FADH are guilty not only of overthrowing the democratically elected Lavalas government in 1991, but also of the thousands of war crimes and egregious human rights violations carried out during the Cedras dictatorship, of which the Raboteau massacre in April of 1994 was only one of many.
When the highly regarded Brian Concannon, Director of the US-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, was asked why the US has been so reticent to condemn the military payoffs and the violence carried out against pro-Lavalas neighborhoods, he replied, “Their plan [IRI, NED, USAID], going back to 1987, has always been to make sure another Aristide is not elected.
They will employ any means necessary to achieve this.” He continued, “it’s all part of the same policy. The Bush administration supported these guys [the ex-soldiers] when they were in the Dominican Republic and it still supports them now.”
When Past is Prologue
What is being seen in Haiti today is the re-establishment of the symbiotic relationship between the ex-military, national police and their joint death squads. Indeed, one of the main reasons Aristide dismissed the army, whose raison d’etre throughout Haitian history has been to foment coups and squash dissent, was to break up that trinity of terror.
By, in effect, bribing the ex-soldiers to come back into the fold of Haitian civil society and hinting that he might incorporate many of these gangsters, whom he outrageously had earlier referred to as “freedom fighters,” into the HNP, Latortue is setting the stage for another round of violence against ordinary Haitian civilians.
But although he has now accomplished his Washington-backed goal of extirpating Haiti’s majority party from the polls, he will still likely seek their participation ”“ in some form ”“ in order to stamp an imprimatur of legitimacy over the elections which, barring a spectacular change in the security situation and Lavalas’ participation, will be a complete fraud.
Some, such as James Morrell, executive director of the anti-Aristide Haiti Democracy Project in Washington, argue that Lavalas supporters should still go to the polls:
“If a decent election can be held, their [Lavalas’] political stock will fall greatly by nonparticipation. Nonparticipation makes sense only if Lavalas is no more than a personal vehicle for Aristide.”
However, Professor Maguire noted that although the elections present Lavalas with the unique opportunity “to maintain its cohesion independently of Aristide, the current insecurity that is found throughout the country makes this challenge even more difficult.”
Regarding the security issue, Concannon takes Maguire’s point a step further and, in defense of Lavalas’ decision, argues that, “in this situation it would be suicidal for Lavalas to participate in the elections. The reason they are threatening to not participate is because that’s the only bargaining chip they have.”
Is there no Exit?
In order for free elections to occur, Latortue and Gousse must halt the state-sanctioned violence carried out against the poor and cease any further payments to the ex-soldiers.
Reimbursing the ex-military, which DeWayne Wickham of USA Today described as a “thinly veiled blackmail payment” that effectively shored up the ex-army as the island’s “shadow government,” only fuels Haiti’s seemingly endemic cycle of political violence.
Speculating on how the Bush administration may view Latortue’s payments to the former FADH, Maguire said, “Perhaps they view it as a way of putting the army out of business once and for all. After all, once they hand out the pensions, there’s nothing left to pay.”
This could be true, given that the soldiers are being paid what amounts to a gold mine by Haitian standards ($5,000 U.S. per soldier), but the problem is that there is no specific quid pro quo for the payments; the FADH’s hidden guns are not being collected in exchange for the checks.
What this amounts to, then, is not just the de-facto re-introduction of the dreaded FADH but a refurbished, enriched and still armed FADH, free to use its newfound wealth to consolidate its potential role in post-Aristide Haitian civil society.
Where does all the Money go?
Of particular interest to U.S. taxpayers should be the $15 million the Bush administration has delegated to the Haitian Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) in order to, in the words of a U.S. State Department press release, “organize, conduct, and monitor elections.” But the following queries need to be pressed regarding this issue. Who will be monitoring these elections?
Will the monitors answer to the Latortue government or to a separate, independent council? How much control ”“ if any ”“ will Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Haiti, Juan Gabriel Valdes, have over these funds? What steps will be taken to ensure that the global total of $41 million donated to the CEP under the leadership of its president, Max Maturin, will not wind up in the hands of the ex-military or any of the rapacious political factions, particularly the Latortue-backed anti-Aristide groups like the Democratic Convergence and Group of 184?
So far, only fourteen U.S. Congresspersons, led by Rep. Maxine Waters, have requested that the administration make sure that “no U.S. foreign assistance funds or other U.S. government funds are diverted as use as payments to [the ex-military].”
In Rep. Waters’ request to the administration, she was only referring to the funds Latortue has doled out to the former FADH, but these inquiries must be extended to demanding how all the funds collected by the CEP will be disbursed and accounted for.
The Canada Connection
Regarding funds given to the interim government, Canadian citizens should also be asking these same questions. Along with France ”“ perhaps also motivated by some desire to make amends with Washington over Iraq ”“ Canada almost mechanically has followed the U.S. lead in supporting Aristide’s removal from the beginning.
A year before the coup in January 2003, at what became termed “the Ottawa initiative on Haiti,” then Canadian Secretary of State for Latin America, Africa, and the French-speaking World, Denis Paradis, met with French and U.S. State Department officials to discuss how to go about removing Aristide.
In an interview with CBC’s, “The Current,” Michael Vastel, who first wrote about the Ottawa meeting in the March 15, 2003 issue of the Canadian magazine L’Actualité, stated: “[The meeting] lasted three days over an extended weekend. Once again, all information that I’m giving you is coming from Paradis and from the French government.
There was a consensus that ‘Aristide should go.’ But, how do you do that? This is the French government…who suggested there should be a trusteeship like there was in Kosovo.”
Now that the agenda set forth at Ottawa (which should be called ‘destroying democracy in order to save it’) has succeeded, Canadians should be asking their government, which has donated $14 million to the upcoming elections, what the foreign office is doing to make sure Canadian funds don’t end up paying the ex-military and others paid to murder Lavalas supporters.
Of utmost importance to the three architects of Aristide’s ouster ”“ the U.S., Canada and France ”“ is the moral imperative to not allow Latortue to disburse these funds willy nilly. For what is needed in Haiti today is not a primarily Anglo-funded and re-constituted FADH, nor an HNP beholden to any faction ”“ as it clearly is now ”“ but a fully professional police force led by a civilian chain-of-command.
Oscar Arias, former president of Costa Rica and 1987 Nobel Peace laureate, couldn’t have phrased the issue better when he stated, “The abolition of the army makes as much sense today as it did in 1995. The Haitian people still need their government to spend its precious few resources on fighting poverty, not buying arms. They need a professional, depoliticized police force to maintain order, not an army that attacks its own people with impunity.”
Washington’s Chimeres are back to Work
Unfortunately the UN peacekeeping force, MINUSTAH, seems determined to ignore this advice. It has rarely confronted gang leaders and has even performed the bidding of Latortue by aiding and abetting the HNP and rebel gangs in their raids against pro-Lavalas slums.
MINUSTAH’s lack of will has been manifest in the words of its commander, Brazilian General Augusto Heleno, who has said, in words that echo the UN’s impotence in Rwanda, “I command a peacekeeping force, not an occupation force.”
Of course, one could retort, since there is no peace to keep, why not force an occupation upon the Haitian ex-military strongholds? But this is, surely, too much to ask, as MINUSTAH has virtually no control in the coastal slums or the countryside, which is run mainly by members of the ex-military and former death squad leaders.
Most of these brigands, such as the convicted FRAPH death squad leader Jodel Chamblain ”“ recently released from prison by the Latortue regime as a direct result of Justice Minister Gousse’s intercession ”“ flooded back into the country from the Dominican Republic and elsewhere following Aristide’s ouster, or were broken out of prison during the coup by anti-Aristide partisans.
Acting as the frontline of “Washington’s chimeres,” they are now chirpily back to their old business of making life miserable for the Haitian people. While comparisons to the situation in Iraq are irresistibly tempting, one crucial difference should be observed: in Iraq, at least the insurgent uprising against the majority, which really did want to have the election, does not have the support of the state.
In Haiti, one could only wish such were the case.
This analysis was authored by COHA Senior Research Fellow, Seth R. DeLong, Ph.D.