Haiti: new violence in Cite Soleil

UN troops and armed gangs exchanged gunfire in Haiti’s Cite Soleil shantytown late June 7, leaving at least three dead. Cite Soleil, on the northern edge of the Poart-au-Prince, was the scene of routine gunfights between gangs and foreign troops last year, but had been relatively peaceful since before Haiti’s Feb. 7 presidential election.

A bastion of support for former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Cite Soleil was rife with violence after he was pushed from power by a bloody rebellion in February 2004. The peacekeepers, now numbering about 8,700 soldiers and police, were sent to Haiti after Aristide’s ouster to support a US-backed interim government. The violence in Cite Soleil diminished when Rene Preval, an Aristide protege, emerged as the front-runner for the presidency. Preval won the February election and took office in May. (Reuters, June 8)

See our last post and our last report on Haiti.

  1. New government takes over

    Two years of interim government that began with the ouster of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Feb. 29, 2004, ended officially with the May 14 inauguration of Rene Garcia Preval in Port-au-Prince. An ex-president (1996-2001) and former close friend of Aristide, Preval has said he plans to stimulate Haiti's economy by reducing fertilizer prices to help small-farm families, who represent two-thirds of the population. In brief remarks at the ceremony, he promised to build roads, schools and hospitals. (Washington Post, May 14)

    The new National Assembly took office on May 9, with 27 of the 30 senators and most of the 99 deputies; new elections need to be held for the remaining seats because of irregularities in the earlier voting. The country has been without a legislature since Jan. 12, 2004, because Aristide and opposition leaders were unable to agree on conditions for the 2003 legislative elections. (AP, May 10; Agence Haitienne de Presse, May 9)

    No party, including Preval's Lespwa ("Hope"), was able to win a majority in Parliament, but the legislators overwhelmingly approved Preval's choice of agronomist Jacques Edouard Alexis as the new prime minister. The Senate confirmed Alexis on May 24 with the votes of 22 of the 24 senators present; one abstained, and Sen. Joseph Lambert did not vote because of his position as National Assembly president. The Chamber of Deputies approved Alexis on May 25 with 79 votes in favor and two abstentions. Alexis was prime minister for the last two years of Preval's first presidency. (AHP, May 24, 25)

    The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), a 9,000-member military and police operation, is continuing but with a new head. On May 16 United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan appointed Guatemalan diplomat Edmond Mulet as his envoy, replacing Juan Gabriel Valdes. Mulet was Guatemala's ambassador to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg; he has also served as ambassador to the US. (AP, May 16)

    Preval is counting on foreign aid for his plans to develop the economy. On May 14, the day he took office, Preval and Venezuelan vice president Jose Vicente Rangel signed an accord making Haiti the 14th Caribbean state in Petrocaribe, Venezuela's energy cooperation plan. Haiti buys 7,000 barrels a day under the agreement; it pays market prices but will be able to finance up to 60% of the bill over 90 days, while the remaining 40% is to be financed over 25 years, with a two-year grace period and annual interest rates of 1%. Haiti already gets 4,000 barrels a day from Venezuela under the San Jose agreement, an older accord with different conditions. (HSG, May 15 from BNamericas)

    Arrests and New Violence

    Rene Civil, a supporter of former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the leader of the militant organization Popular Power Youth (JPP), was arrested at the Dominican border as he was trying to enter Haiti at the Malpasse-Jimani border post on May 13, the day before the inauguration of president Rene Preval. According to the New York-based leftist weekly Haiti Progres, Civil had been a refugee in the Dominican Republic since Aristide's ouster in 2004.

    Shortly before Preval took his oath of office on May 14, prisoners reportedly rioted in Port-au-Prince's National Penitentiary, a prison built for 800 detainees which now houses 2,000. Haitian police agents and members of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) stormed the prison wearing gas masks. A group of about 100 prisoners stood on the roof of the prison holding up signs and displaying the bodies of two prisoners they said had been murdered by prison guards; some prisoners told reporters 10 prisoners had been killed. Penitentiary Administration director Jean Marc Wilkens denied that there were any deaths, saying 11 prisoners and six police agents were injured. "It was a situation that was resolved through negotiation… Not even tear gas was used." (HP, May 17)

    On May 22 the police arrested Jean-Yves Noel, the head of the government's Central Financial Information Unit (UCREF), at his office in Port-au-Prince. Noel has issued two reports charging the Aristide government with major corruption. Investigative judge Jean Perez (or Peres) Paul issued a warrant for Noel's arrest based on an incident in November when Noel allegedly held a court process server for about one hour against his will to keep him from unblocking $6 million in frozen funds belonging to the Aristide Foundation, a non-governmental organization set up by Aristide. Noel's attorney, Carol Chalmers, said the arrest was politically motivated. UCREF employees have suspended their investigations to protest their director's arrest. (Haiti Support Group News Briefs, May 24 from Miami Herald; AlterPresse, May 26)

    From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 28