Disarming: "It's Never Too Late"
At this time of a transition in power, the Haitian people continues to be concerned about their security and about the stability of their democracy. One of their principal worries is the terrorists associated with the form coup regime, who keep their arms illegally. What responsibility does the U.S. have in this situation?
Haiti-Latin America Encounter
René Préval took office as Haiti's new President on February 7. A member of the Lavalas Platform Aristide's party Préval won 87% of the votes in the December 17 elections.
Rene Préval received his diploma in Agronomy from the Faculty of Jembloux, Belgium. In 1963 he was forced to leave the country due to problems with the Duvalier dictatorship. Upon his return in 1975, he worked at the National Mining Resources Institute (INAREM). After Duvalier's fall, Préval participated actively in various grassroots and social promotion organizations. He was President Aristide's Primer Minister until the military coup on September 30, 1991, and served in Aristide's personal cabinet in exile. With the return of the constitutional government, he was named director of the Social and Economic Assistance Fund (FAES).
In this period of the transition of power, Haitians are still deeply worried about their own security and the stability of democracy. One of their main concerns is the terrorists associated with the coup regime who have illegally kept their weapons and are using them to try to destabilize the country through violence. What is the US responsibility in this?
Although the July 15, 1994, report of the United Nations Secretary General on the mandate of the UN Mission in Haiti explicitly states in point 9 (III) that one task of the multinational forces consists of "assisting Haiti's legitimate authorities to assure public order, including the disarming of paramilitary groups," neither the UN nor the United States has adequately fulfilled this mandate. The groups that terrorized Haitian society for the three years of the military regime continue to act with complete impunity.
A Secret CableThe details surrounding one of the bloody incidents that preceded the December elections serves to better understand the gravity of the situation. As part of a campaign of terror against of President Aristide's supporters, two congressional deputies representing the Lavalas political organization were ambushed on November 7. One was killed and the other seriously injured.
Almost three weeks later, The Washington Post revealed that on October 26, 1995, US Secretary of State Warren Christopher had cabled William Swing, the US Ambassador in Haiti, to inform him of US intelligence service reports detailing how the Red Star Organization led by ex military dictator Prosper Avril (1987 88) "is planning a campaign of attacks and assassinations against President Aristide's supporters and the Lavalas party. The campaign," said the secret cable, "is prepared to begin in early December 1995. Although the information related to the assassination plans has not been corroborated, available information suggests that Avril has continued meeting with extreme rightists to extend his political base." Ambassador Swing never shared that significant report with the Aristide government.
How did the ambush take place? On November 7, Jean Hubert Feuille de Port Salut and Gabriel Fortune de Les Cayes were attacked while returning from a ceremony in the National Palace nominating Claudette Werleigh as Prime Minister. A taxi blocked their way and its occupants opened fire with automatic weapons. Radio Metropole and Agence France Presse immediately announced that the two deputies had been killed. Learning of the news, youths in Lesayes, in the southern part of the country, put up barricades and attacked the symbols of the defeated repressive system. A collaborator of the military regime died in that incident and a number of houses were set on fire. During the night, youths spontaneously organized vehicle inspections in various zones of Puerto Principe to confiscate arms from the paramilitaries.
A Demand: DisarmamentOn November 8 it was reported that Gabriel Fortune was not dead, only seriously injured.
That same day, the Haitian Platform of Human Rights Organizations denounced the continuing climate of violence that the armed organizations created in the country and held the Haitian government partly responsible for not having disarmed the paramilitary groups created during the three years of dictatorship.
The National Police got a court order to search Prosper Avril's home, where they confiscated arms and munitions. Avril took refuge in the Colombian embassy.The Washington Post reported that a US Embassy diplomat had visited Avril the morning of the search, possibly with the goal of preventing it, but supposedly in the context of the US policy to maintain links across the political spectrum. A US court had earlier found Avril guilty of "personal responsibility in a systematic pattern of atrocious human rights abuses." He was fined US$41,000 in damages, but never paid anything.
Members of Haiti's House of Deputies expressed their indignation at the criminal attack against their colleagues, called for total disarmament and questioned the UN Mission's role in Haiti. Their messages were broadcast on radio and television and people demonstrated in the streets of Puerto Principe, demanding that the paramilitary groups be disarmed.
"It's not too Late"The funeral for Deputy Feuille was held on November 11 in the Puerto Principe Cathedral. When President Aristide, a cousin of the deceased, spoke, he commended the police for the professional way they had upheld the law in recent days and ordered them to carry out a national disarmament campaign with the assistance of UN Mission forces, as established in Resolution 940 of the UN Security Council.
Aristide called on the people to accompany the police in their legal disarmament efforts: "With our Constitution and our laws, calmly but firmly, with respect and dignity," said Aristide, "I order that all of us Haitians march with the international community so that disarmament will be total and legal." He added that "Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated and the international community expressed its determination to work for peace. Here in Haiti we should do the same. It's not too late. It's late, but not too late."
Haitians participated in the disarmament campaign in an ordered and pacific manner in most cases. Their active participation reflected a general commitment to establish a peaceful and safe country. Some isolated acts of violence sensationally exploited by the international press did not undermine the discipline and tolerance demonstrated by the majority of the population.
President Aristide, Prime Minister Claudette Werleigh, Justice Minister Rene Magloire and other members of Haiti's government condemned the isolated acts of violence and reaffirmed that the disarmament can only be carried out in a legal framework. Government officials at all levels organized efforts to investigate incidents, seeking ways to overcome the lack of technical and human resources.
Distorted ReportsWithout taking this context and willingness into account, The New York Times described the disorder as terror by rabble rousers deliberately provoked by Aristide.The Miami Herald quoted John Tierney, of the conservative Heritage Foundation, as saying that Aristide was entrenched in power in a country dominated by one party, Lavalas, where street shootouts are a common occurrence. Despite the tension in the streets of various cities during the disarmament campaign, calm was being reestablished, even though The Washington Post continued to report disturbing incidents two weeks later.
The UN Secretary General's special representative in Haiti, Lakhdar Brahimi, criticized the population's direct participation in "illegal acts," but promised that the UN forces would help the Haitian police in legal operations to disarm vehicles and houses, according to Resolution 940.
An incident in Cite Soleil, Puerto Principe's largest poor neighborhood, reopened the disarmament controversy. It began on November 23 with a dispute between a policeman and a public transport driver. A girl and a woman were accidentally killed in confusing circumstances, but some neighbors attacked the police post and a group of strongly armed youths took advantage of the situation to control access to Cite Soleil for several days, terrorizing the population.
Despite these and other incidents during the campaign, the Justice Ministry made significant strides in developing guidelines for control procedures in accord with Haitian law.
An Unanswered QuestionEven though the United States has deployed a wide electronic and human "intelligence" network in Haiti, and even though voluminous archives exist on the ex armed forces and the FRAPH paramilitary, none of this has helped in the recovery of illegal arms hidden by paramilitary groups. Nor has information assistance been offered to the new Haitian police, still lacking an intelligence service.
In September 1994, the United States confiscated photographs, cassettes and 60,000 pages of documents from the FRAPH office. It also confiscated some 100,000 pages of documents from the Armed Forces' office. Although all of these materials are the property of the Haitian government, they were transferred to the Defense Intelligence Agency in Washington. Many Haitian officials consider it indispensable for the United States to hand this documentation over to Haiti, to further disarmament and the trials of the previous regime's human rights violators, both of which are seen as necessary to restore the country's political stability.
"The Haitian government has been pressuring for disarmament even before President Aristide's return to Haiti," Ira Kirzban, the government's legal counsel, told The Washington Post. He said that the United States had promised to look for the arms if the Haitian government would say where they were, but pointed out that the United States is the one with all the intelligence information. "Why hasn't the US government shared this information, so crucial to disarmament? Why are those documents, so important to the human rights process, still not returned?" Questions with no answer.
Ultra Right BulletinBut this is not only an act of omission. The US sabotage of disarmament and of Haitian government stability was laid open in The Resister, the internal bulletin of a clandestine, ultra right faction of the US Special Forces deployed in Haiti. According to the bulletin, whose contents were revealed by The Washington Post on December 8, 1995, members of this faction have actively helped FRAPH and ex members of the armed forces hide their arms and escape from Haiti to the Dominican Republic.
The Resister explains how its members support and provide information to ex armed forces personnel and to FRAPH attaches and members to continue their illegal activities: "We have initiated a clandestine offensive against Lavalas," says the bulletin, "that has forced us once again into clandestinity in our operational regions."
In a telephone interview with The Washington Post, the head of President Aristide's Cabinet declared, "We cannot comment on the authenticity of The Resister. However, the ramifications of its information, if true, are so serious for the future security of the Haitian people that we consider it to merit careful investigation. Sadly, there is a correlation between the details cited in this document and incidents that took place in Haiti in 1995."
USA: Return the DocumentsIn a letter to Bill Clinton, several members of the US Congress have requested him to order that the FRAPH and ex Armed Forces documents confiscated by US intelligence services be returned to the Haitian government. They specify that the documents "should include everything that refers to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), or any other dependency of the US government." Their letter argues that there is no justification for the material to be in US government hands now that the legitimate Haitian government has been restored. Nongovernmental development and human rights organizations have made the same request to President Clinton.
It is a serious problem that not one document has been shared with the Haitian government, or used to disarm and control those who possess illegal arms, despite continuous demands by the Haitian government, the Truth Commission and the country's human rights organizations. And it appears to be intentional, considering the connections that have existed between the US intelligence service and FRAPH members. A New York Times editorial on December 8, 1995, recalling the confusing autumn of 1993, said, "It is all too clear that the CIA did not play a constructive role in Haitian politics." The editorial argues that, while the CIA is not obliged to produce intelligence reports that agree with administration views, it is obliged not to obstruct the execution of US foreign policy."