Lawlessness Brings Call for New U.S. Military Role
by Kody Emmanuel
Since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in March 2004, Haiti has largely disappeared from the headlines. But the country remains torn by violence and deep in political crisis. The United Nations has now called on the United States to send more troops to Haiti to support the 7,500-strong peacekeeping force, the United Nations Stabilization Mission for Haiti (MINUSTAH), which one year ago formally took over from the joint US-French force that occupied the nation upon on the ouster of Aristide.
Haiti is currently experiencing a crime wave that is effecting all segments of the population. Reports of kidnappings, reprisal killings and robberies are becoming a normal part of Haitians’ daily realities. Behind these crimes are often semi-organized armed groups–former members of the Tonton Macoutes, the fearsome paramilitary force of the old Duvalier dictatorship; remnants of rebel forces that ousted Aristide; gangs tied to Aristide’s Lavalas party; and formerly incarcerated deportees from the United States. But desperate youth–often as young as sixteen–are also committing crimes at a frequency that rival these groups. Many of these young people are not from families with a history of crime–but simply from homes that are despairingly impoverished. The high level of poverty and lack of any economic alternatives is forcing young people into a life of crime.
One young Haitian asks us to imagine a life of bathing in sewage-contaminated water, eating only one meal a day at best, growing up angry, envious and desperate. “What do you expect him to do but hustle, or if it’s a young girl to sell her body? You now put a gun in his hand and instantly he has the one thing that he’s been lacking: respect. I consider myself lucky; both of my parents are working, but there are days when I eat only on one meal… This a vicious cycle that we are living.”
Felipe Donoso, former Haiti delegation chief for the International Committee of the Red Cross, with years of experience in the Port-au-Prince slum of Cite Soleil, says: “Gangs are not people that you can just define as the bad guy. No, you have all kind of people in [the gangs]… This is a product of a system that is not working.”
The streets of Port-au-Prince are overcrowded with young street vendors. Haiti’s economy declined by 0.4% annually throughout the 1990s–largely due to two decades of political upheaval, cuts in financial assistance by the United States, mismanagement in agricultural production, and trade barriers from rich countries for Haitian goods. It has never recovered. This economic downturn impacted all of Haiti’s economic classes–but especially Haiti’s street children and vendors, rural poor and small-scale enterprises. Along with the country’s economic malaise, many of the youth programs started by President Aristide, such as Radyo Timoun, Haiti’s first youth-based radio station, were looted and burned during the violence that ousted him last year–along with the Aristide Foundation for Democracy, in which the station was located, and which oversaw other community development programs.
Haiti’s young people are increasingly the victims of random shootings by neighborhood gangs, the Haitian police and even the UN peacekeeping force–which has an official mandate to maintain law and order and aid the government in demobilizing armed groups and protecting civilians from violence. MINUSTAH–made up largely of Brazilians, with smaller military detachments from several other countries–is also responsible for helping the transitional government restructure the police and organize fall elections.
Critics of MINUSTAH claim that it has failed to distinguish between the general population and gang members, leading peacekeeping troops to kill many innocent people. Evel Fanfan, president of the Association of University Students Committed to a Haiti with Rights, has brought charges against MINUSTAH soldiers, accusing the peace-keeping force of killing 15-year-old Fedia Raphael of Cite Soleil. According to the charges, Fedia was shot on the morning of April 9, 2004 by MINUSTAH soldiers on patrol in the troubled neighborhood of Cite Soleil. The shooting came at a time when the area was relatively calm; still, emergency units only reached Fedia after she had died in a pool of her own blood. According to Fanfan, numerous cases such as the shooting of Fedia–along with those of thousands of young people held in abysmal conditions in Haiti’s National Penitentiary–have yet to be reviewed by Haitian courts.
Haiti’s poor neighborhoods, such as Cite Soleil, have become virtual prisons for their residents. UN peacekeepers stormed into Cite Soleil on July 6, 2005, killing two supporters of former President Aristide. According to Haiti Police Chief Leon Charles, longtime well-known Aristide supporter and community activist Emmanuel Wilme, known as “Dred Wilme,” was killed during several hours of gunfights between the 350 peacekeepers and Aristide supporters.
Since the forced departure of Aristide from office last year, Dred Wilme had repeatedly denounced the interim government of Prime Minister Gerard Latortue for killing Aristide supporters. He also accused Andy Apaid, a business leader who prominently supported the anti-Aristide rebels, of hiring known criminals to murder residents of Cite Soleil. He has also accused MINUSTAH of neglecting its peacekeeping mission and behaving more like an occupation force.
Said Dred Wilme during a recent interview with the New York-based Haitian community radio program Lakou New York: “They [MINUSTAH] shoot people sitting and selling in the marketplace. MINUSTAH must understand that the people in the streets are the masses of the people. They say that these people are ‘chime’ [pro-Aristide militia] but they are not ‘chime.’ They are the masses of the people fighting for their rights and demanding the return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to Haiti. Inside Cite Soleil today we are facing a very serious climate of terror where many people have been killed and many children have been shot. We are asking for support because President Aristide must come back for peace to reign in Haiti.”
While Aristide’s supporters continue to be the target of police raids, random killings and arrests, members of the disbanded army and well-known human rights abusers are beginning to seek positions in mainstream politics.
Says Marguerite Laurent, founder of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network: “Dred Wilme was announced dead on July 7, 2005, the same day that US CIA asset and the real killer and Haitian bandit, Guy Phillipe, announced his candidacy for president of Haiti. Guy Phillipe is a terrorist to the majority of Haitians; thus, naturally he’s a ‘freedom fighter’ for [US assistant secretary of state] Roger Noreiga, [US ambassador to Haiti] James Foley, Haiti Democracy Project, NED [National Endowment for Democracy], IRI [International Republican Institute] and their Group 184 lackeys.” Group 184 is Andy Apaid’s anti-Aristide “pro-democracy” formation. Guy Phillipe was the most visible leader of the armed rebellion against Aristide.
In a series of raids in early June, over 20 residents were killed and their homes put to the torch by the Haitian National Police in the poor Port-au-Prince district of Bel-Air, a stronghold of Aristide’s Lavalas movement. The attacks were officially part of an anti-crime sweep, but residents accused the police of targeting Lavalas supporters. Nobody has been held accountable for the killings. Meanwhile, Aristide’s former prime minister Yvon Neptune has been jailed since his government was overthrown in March 2004, accused of overseeing a massacre of Aristide opponents at the village of St. Marc three weeks earlier, during the destabilization campaign. He was only formally charged this May, and he rejects the accusations.
Many Haitians are increasingly skeptical of calls for MINUSTAH to take more robust actions on handling gangs and crime, given the peacekeeping force’s own involvement in lawless violence. And many are more cynical still about calls for a renewed US military role in Haiti.
The US and France, responsible for the military intervention that led to the departure of President Aristide, appear to be gearing up for a return to Haiti, with the rationale that MINUSTAH is not capable of ensuring the degree of security required to hold elections in October-December this year. But military action will not be enough to contain the growing resentment and resistance against what majority of Haitians view as the re-occupation of their country by France and America, either directly or through their proxies: MINUSTAH member countries and the interim government.
Lakou New York interview with Dred Wilme, April 4, 2005 http://www.williambowles.info/haiti-news/2005/wilme_interview.html
Global Security page on international military operations in Haiti http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/haiti-background.htm
Amnesty International 2005 report on Haiti
Haiti Action Committee
“Haiti’s Silent Agony,” WW4 REPORT #103
Our last blog post on Haiti
Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, July 10, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution