What Haiti Needs Are Some Good Friends Like Brazil

According to contrasting reports from Port-au-Prince, another police raid on Bel Air and other pro-Aristide neighborhoods of the capital city has left anywhere from two to 23 dead, with over 35 reported missing.

The police raid came in retaliation against an attack on a police station and market by unknown vigilantes, which claimed ten victims.

Much to the consternation of international observers (although all but unacknowledged by U.S. authorities), police brutality has become commonplace since the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in an U.S.-authored script in February 2004, which was carried out by armed rebel groups and ex-soldiers allied with the country’s discredited “peaceful opposition.”

On June 15, Minister of Justice and Public Security Bernard Gousse delighted the nation and the world by resigning without an explanation, but coincident with a spate of kidnappings that claimed many foreign nationals and amidst growing criticism over his failure to prosecute perpetrators of the record crime wave now scourging the country.

Gousse’s critics also point to his ministry’s illegal detention of former prime minister, Yvon Neptune, who was accused by Gousse, with no evidence being cited, of ordering the execution of the former president’s enemies.

Gousse was also responsible for apprehending other high Aristide aides in a reign of terror, as well as having close ties with brutal former members of the military. Some of his critics saw him as a reincarnation of Torquemada. In any event, he was the antithesis of a responsible public servant.

Gousse’s resignation does not come as a great shock to Washington, as many in the Bush administration have taken to referring to Haiti, under U.S. jurisdiction, as the hemisphere’s failed state par excellence.

Hopefully, this may lead to a purge of the ineffective Gerard Latortue government, including interim Prime Minister Latortue himself.

Further setbacks in the country’s road to elections include an announcement made by General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro, Brazilian head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission to Haiti (MINUSTAH), that he will not seek a second tour of duty in this strife-torn nation.

There remain few bright spots in Haiti today, with its chronic pandemonium, leaving any hope for the free and fair local and national elections scheduled for later this year, a veritable piece of mythology.

The EU Has Some of the Answers

Today, the European Union (EU) is the primary source of loans and grants to Haiti, with US$ 368 million pledged over a three-year period. This includes US$ 91 million for post-crisis rehabilitation and economic stimulation, $35 million for basic services and US$ 13 million to support elections.

The Humanitarian Aid Department of the European Union (ECHO) also allocated US$ 20 million in 2004 for other human development programs. However, the EU declared in September 2003 that it would cancel aid to the impoverished nation if the ongoing state of lawlessness did not dissipate.

Haiti found itself in a paradox in which aid was being held hostage by elections that could not take place successfully without outside assistance as well as cooperation from the country’s political opposition.

Needless to say, a resolution was not achieved after the EU, blindly following the U.S. lead, suspended its aid over a somewhat flawed, but certainly not indefensible senate election held under Aristide.

One would think it would be fortunate for Haiti’s future that on May 12 the EU’s Haiti delegation chief Marcel Van Opstal signed the first installment of a total of US$ 22 million in aid aimed at helping Haiti mount general elections as well as US$ 3 million to disarm previously demobilized troops, who were holding out for little better than a payoff.

The U.S. role in Haiti has been less obvious than that of the EU even though both decided against contributing troops to MINUSTAH when it was being created.

Washington’s relationship with the Caribbean republic has constantly shifted. Clinton initially took a wary stance toward Aristide, but due to public pressure resulting from the growing number of refugees now in the U.S., and rising anger among the Congressional Black Caucus, the Clinton White House decided to restore Aristide to Port-au-Prince in 1994, by force if need be.

The following year, now under a Republican-controlled Congress, U.S. aid to Haiti was terminated and federal funds were channeled to Haitian non-governmental groups as well as factions opposed to the democratically-elected Aristide.

Again in 2000, the incoming Bush administration pressured the Inter-American Development Bank to take the lead in canceling over $650 million in development assistance funding in order to undermine Aristide’s presidency.

Since the latter’s expulsion, Washington, after superimposing an extra-constitutional interim government on Haiti, has lifted its weapons ban on the island and now has given the corrupt and ill-trained local police force the firepower to terrorize peaceful demonstrators.

As of now, the U.S. has basically left Haiti to its own devices, offering little aid and no technical assistance in registering voters.

Fortunately, Haiti has not been abandoned by all of its friends, with Brazil in the leadership role of MINUSTAH, providing a mixed blessing in seeking to help alleviate the country’s woes.

After a very slow start, which included muddled UN involvement and President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva seemingly being more interested in winning over Washington’s esteem than in affording security to the average Haitian civilian – particularly members of the pro-Aristide Lavalas party – MINUSTAH has settled down to play a more constructive role.

However, Haiti’s problems go well beyond planning for the upcoming elections. The country’s troubles include rectifying its legacy of government instability, fobbing off U.S. intrusiveness and a parade of military dictatorships over the decades.

Nevertheless, it is universally agreed that in order to create a viable and flourishing country, more aid will be needed to construct a stable, democratic Haiti.

Steps Toward a Stable Government

The present hapless Haitian government desperately needs to be reorganized and reformed as Latortue’s inept provisional authority has an appalling lack of witnessed no improvement since Aristide’s ouster.

Even the State Department and international human rights groups have been far too slow to point out some of the abuses taking place in Haiti.

The latter group attributed much of the blame to the interim government’s “failure to bring perpetrators to justice to establish accountability [which] contributes to this climate of impunity, insecurity and lawlessness that prevails now in the country.”

But many outsiders maintain hope, but remain dubious that the elections scheduled to take place before the end of the year will reestablish effective government control and stringent new standards of accountability.

Louis Michel, the European Commissioner responsible for development and humanitarian aid, pledged the support of the EU for “the political transition process and the holding of presidential elections with broad participation in a climate of security before the end of the year.”

Moreover, in order to restore security, Haiti now must rebuild its shattered infrastructure. Roads, hospitals and schools have been left in shambles since anti-Aristide rebels marched on Port-au-Prince last year.

The situation has become so anarchic that patients were kidnapped from dilapidated hospitals and 481 prison inmates escaped from a woefully guarded prison after a mere six gunmen had sought to storm its gates.

The UN and the Inter-American Development Bank have pledged US$ 5 million to Haiti to help repair, and in some cases rebuild, roads in the north and northwest areas of the country, some of them devastated by tropical storm Jeanne, but it is doubtful that this effort will be enough to renovate the grave infrastructural crisis that still plagues the island.

However, EU aid will help to improve Haiti’s transportation system as well as abate increasing crime levels by providing jobs for disadvantaged Haitians, who have resorted to looting in the absence of any other way to earn a living.

The final pillar in Haiti’s transformation into a stable democracy, where the rule of law is respected and upheld, will only be achieved with the rejuvenation of the country’s basic institutions – beginning with the courts and the civil services.

For example, the courts experienced extensive problems even before Aristide was overthrown. In May 2002, some of Haiti’s 500-member Bar Association went on a one-day strike to protest the interference of the legislative and executive branches in the trial of former dictator Prosper Avril.

Haiti’s shabby police force has been in particularly poor shape ever since the ouster of Aristide. The professional police overseer in the justice ministry, the inspector-general, the head of the judiciary police, and other top personnel accompanied the president into exile.

The Haitian Democracy Project, an anti-Aristide U.S. group, has maintained that Latortue inherited what was little better than a tattered regime and has had little luck and even less success in repairing it.

Haiti’s Uphill Struggle

An important step in Haiti’s attempt to secure an end to strife and seek respectability would be its reinstatement to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Haiti was dropped from active CARICOM membership following Aristide’s departure from the island, when the Caribbean body labeled the Latortue administration as unconstitutional and said that Haiti’s full membership would not be restored until national elections were held.

Nevertheless, on May 19, Caribbean Net News reported that “Haiti is set to become an active member of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) […] Though Haiti has been barred from attending the ministerial and leaders’ councils of the 15-nation CARICOM, [Compton Bourne (CDB’s president)] said strife-torn nations should not suffer financial isolation.”

Caribbean Net News further stated that even though Bourne did not mention how quickly Haiti would be able to borrow from the bank, he assured other nations in the region that Haitian membership would not weaken the bank’s ability to serve its other members.

Bourne explained that “large non-borrowing members of the bank outside the region would help to contribute funds to a ‘special window’ for that impoverished country.”

There is little doubt that these “other non-borrowing members” that he referred to were the EU countries.

In a January 15, 2004 statement released by the then president of the EU, part of that aid to Haiti was suspended due to the escalating violence occurring throughout Haiti, and in accordance with Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement.

Signed in June 2000, while Aristide was in power, the trade accord represented an arrangement between the EU and the lesser developed countries of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

Its main goal was to provide a framework in which these countries, with marginal economies, could integrate into the world economy as well as to reduce and eventually eradicate existing poverty.

Under Article 96, recipient countries that violate fundamental principles laid out in the document could risk facing appropriate actions taken against them by the EU. When Haiti was found to be in violation of the agreement, the EU later reduced its level of aid.

However, the EU decided to resume sending assistance to Haiti in order to help register voters and to disarm gangs that might seek to disrupt national elections.

A Future Without Aid?

Haiti’s fate today lies in its ability to secure a predictable flow of financial support until it is able to stabilize its government, rebuild its infrastructure and transform its institutions.

Haiti is unlikely to achieve any of this under the present ineffectual government. The current reality is that assistance is far from guaranteed due to the island’s record of poor governance and the high probability of corruption at almost every level of public transaction.

This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associate Shelliann Powell. The Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) – www.coha.org – is a think tank established in 1975 to discuss and promote inter-American relationship. Email: coha@coha.org.


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    There is no political persecution in Hai
    There is no political persecution in Haiti

    by Haiti Information Project

    On June 11, Special Representative and Head of the U.N. Mission in Haiti Juan Gabriel Valdes, made a statement on Haitian radio stations declaring he had lived through the Pinochet dictatorship and, “compared to that experience, there is no political persecution in Haiti.” Although his comment was broadcast throughout Haiti’s capital, it was ridiculous enough to be ignored by the mainstream international media. More ominously, Valdes comments mirror those of Haiti’s traditional economic and political elites, the very forces that are working to close the door on national reconciliation and to exclude Aristide’s Lavalas party from participating in the upcoming elections. His words also represent a dangerous shift in U.N. policy in Haiti following what appeared to be a period of acknowledgement of the daily reality of political repression against Lavalas supporters.

    For a short time there was hope that the U.N. was serious about checking the rabid hatred of Haiti’s elites towards Lavalas and addressing the human rights violations of the Haitian police. The commander of U.N. forces in Haiti, Brazilian Lt. Gen. Augusto Heleno Ribeiro, protested after the Haitian police fired on a peaceful demonstration by supporters of ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Feb. 28. According to the Associated Press (AP) Ribero said on March 1, “police killings had poisoned an atmosphere that peacekeepers had been working to improve for two months.” Ribero continued, “But police went there and killed six people on Friday … now we’re being received with a completely different attitude.” On March 4, Valdes himself was quoted in the Miami Herald, “We cannot tolerate executions-we can’t tolerate shooting out of control. We will not permit human rights abuses.” According to the Herald, Valdes also promised that, “U.N. peacekeepers will intervene – and use force if necessary – if Haitian police attack unarmed civilians again.”

    After the police killings of Feb. 28, the U.N. reacted by barring the Haitian police from security duties during demonstrations the following week. This U.N. policy is short-lived as interim Justice Minister Bernard Gousse claims that the limits placed on the police by the U.N. are illegal and usurp the rights of the Haitian state. The U.N. backs down to the pressure and allows the Haitian police to resume the killing during another peaceful demonstration on April 27. This attack prompts another outcry by human rights organizations and finally forces U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to echo their demands for an official investigation. The U.S.-installed government of Gerard Latortue dismissed the allegations and the statements of Ribera, Valdes and Annan despite video footage taken by a local television station confirming the unprovoked attacks. The video footage also showed members of Haiti’s police force planting guns on corpses to justify the slayings on April 27.

    Valdes reportedly asked Leslie Voltaire, a former official in Aristide’s administration before his ouster, about the existence of this video footage. According to Voltaire, Valdes was not even aware that the footage had been broadcast several times on a local television station. According to Voltaire, “He didn’t even know that the television station existed.” Since then, Valdes and the U.N. have completely ignored the evidence of extra-judicial killings committed by the Haitian police and have failed to launch an investigation.

    The U.N.’s inaction for holding the police accountable sent a clear message throughout Haiti society that impunity for crimes committed by the Haitian police would be tolerated. It was exactly this message of impunity that set the tone and context for the recent wave of kidnappings and violence plaguing Port au Prince. It also served to confirm for Lavalas supporters that the U.N. was itself complicit in the killings, especially after its military forces were seen to resume collaboration with the police in subsequent deadly raids against poor neighborhoods of the capital.

    In the absence of holding the police accountable, the only thing lacking was an official justification for the U.N.’s continuing collaboration with the police and turning a blind-eye to their human rights record. On May 27, this justification was provided by the Haitian elite and delivered by the President of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dr. Reginald Boulos. During this meeting between the business community and Haiti’s Chief of Police Leon Charles, Boulos demanded the U.S.-installed government of Gerard Latortue allow the business community to form their own private security firms and arm them with automatic weapons. This was clearly a demand to legalize the business community’s own private militias to kill what Boulos, and others in his circle, have referred to as “Lavalas bandits.” Boulos also suggested the Latortue regime allow businesses to withhold taxes for one month and use the money to buy more powerful weapons for the police on the international market. These statements served the dual purpose of pressuring the U.N. with the image of government sanctioned private militias killing off Lavalas supporters while providing another pretext for the Bush administration to lift the 14 year-old arms embargo against Haiti. “If they don’t allow us to do this then we’ll take on own initiative and do it anyway” Boulos threatened.

    Following Boulos statements, Chief of Police Leon Charles addressed the business leaders and further politicized the issue of violence and insecurity casting it as a “war against urban guerillas” bent on destabilizing the Haitian government. Without saying Lavalas, Charles used the code word that has come to describe Aristide’s political party among Haiti’s entrenched elites, “bandits.”

    In the days following May 27, other members of Haiti’s business elite began to criticize the U.N. for being too soft on the “bandits” demanding they take harsher action. Industrialist and virulent Aristide opponent, Charles Henry Baker, took to the airwaves on May 30 and pushed it one step further by accusing U.N. forces of providing protection to the “bandits.” Baker stated on Radio Metropole, “Yesterday morning, when I saw MINUSTAH [UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti] troops positioned on the Airport Road, I told myself we were in big trouble. Because the presence of MINUSTAH troops is, I believe, a form of protection for the armed bandits and nothing more. The bandits are indeed at work in these places. As for the police [pauses] and as for the MINUSTAH troops, once they hear shooting, they just get inside their tanks for protection and do nothing. Meanwhile, the bandits do whatever they want.”

    The pressure campaign by Haiti’s elite reaches critical mass as the U.N. and the Haitian police launch a major offensive against the poor neighborhood of Cite Soleil on the morning of May 31. According to residents, the U.N. and the police entered the area and began shooting indiscriminately in the street and at homes without provocation. Elie Theodore was running from the gunfire when a bullet struck him in the back of the head. He did not die instantly and writhed in pain as blood and brains flowed out of the back of his head. Solange Emitide ran for cover into her house and hid under the bed when two bullets struck her in the back. Solange managed to crawl out to the front of her house where she died in a puddle of her own blood. Panicked children fled their schools to return home through plumes of black smoke as automatic weapons fire hit propane tanks used for cooking and set several buildings ablaze. None of this received any mention on Haitian radio stations in the capital or in subsequent reports filed by the international press. What did catch their attention was an attack by unidentified gunmen on a large market on the outskirts of Cite Soleil called Marche Te Bouef. Several people are burned to death in the market after the same gunmen reportedly throw Molotov cocktails setting the structure ablaze.

    The next day the Haitian elite, echoed in the international press, accuse the now infamous “Lavalas bandits” of striking again. The rhetoric calling for U.N. military actions against the poor neighborhoods intensifies in the Haitian press as accusations of human rights abuses by the Haitian police are conveniently forgotten.

    “There is no justice in Haiti today!”

    Ironically, on the same day Sanel Joseph is laid to rest in a funeral conducted by Father Gerard Jean-Juste in Cite Soleil. Following another peaceful Lavalas demonstration on May 18, the Haitian police gunned down Joseph as he returned home. During the homily Jean-Juste declared, “Sanel died standing up for the Haitian constitution. He believed in the law but now the law has been turned against the poor and those who stand for justice. There is no justice in Haiti today!”

    On June 3, the Haitian police begin four days of operations against the population in the neighborhood of Bel Air. Journalists entering the neighborhood were shown huge pools of blood where victims were reportedly shot without warning and residents indicated that more than 30 people have been killed during the police raids. More than 12 homes were reportedly burned to the ground in what many human rights observers have described as a “scorched earth” policy being used by the Haitian police. Residents also reported being unable to flee indiscriminate shooting by the police without running into roadblocks and checkpoints set up by U.N. forces surrounding the area. Many complained of arbitrary arrests of relatives by U.N. forces collaborating with the Haitian police as they tried to escape the gunfire.

    The U.N. backed raids and killings in Bel Air, meant to assuage Haiti’s elite, were apparently not enough to insure compliance with the plans of U.S. policymakers. On June 5, a Sunday editorial in The Washington Post reports that the “U.S. Embassy in Haiti had recommended sending a small force of U.S. Marines to secure elections scheduled for October and November.” Michel Brunache, Haiti’s Cabinet chief responded in the Associated Press on June 6, “We hope the U.S. government will move quickly with any plans because the situation is very grave, and 1,000 Marines would make a difference.”

    The U.S. government also announces on June 8 that it plans on lifting the 14 year-old arms embargo against Haiti. During a ceremony at which the U.S. Embassy donated $2.6 million worth of equipment to the Haitian police, U.S. Ambassador James B. Foley stated, “Those weapons are a very important element in the capacity of the Haitian police to ensure security.” To emphasis the U.S. policy of further militarizing Haiti’s police, US assistant secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega arrives in Haiti the same day. Echoing the criticisms of Haiti’s elite Noriega says to the international press; “We regard it as extremely important that the United Nations take the necessary measures to fulfill their mandate.” Without considering the death toll in Bel Air prior to his visit Noriega continued, “It is urgent that they respond to the wave of violence and to the insecurity to assure the Haitian people that they are safe.”

    The international community and the U.N. forces are on the ground in Haiti to prepare for new elections and “restore democracy.” Given the tremendous human tragedy left in the wake of the overthrow of Aristide, elections are the only process left to legitimize the carnage. The U.N. is hostage to Haiti’s ultra-reactionary elite and U.S. foreign policy that dictates that elections can only be held if violence is eradicated by military force and more guns. Any attempt to address the underlying causes of violence in Haiti today is inconvenient because it means recognizing the political repression being meted upon Lavalas. It means confessing that the Haitian police have been given carte blanche to kill peaceful demonstrators with impunity. It means recognizing the plight of Lavalas political prisoners being held without charges in Haitian jails. It means admitting that Haiti’s largest political party is justified in not participating in the next elections. It means admitting that Juan Gabriel Valdes is lying and knows better when he says, “there is no political persecution in Haiti.”

    For story with photos visit haitiaction.net

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