Haiti: Another Lost Story
Amid all of the spotlight about the death toll and damages caused by Tropical Storm Jeanne over the past weekend, which killed at least 1,000 people and left more than 1,250 missing, the story of another tragedy has been lost in the media coverage. For nearly a month now, the true state of affairs in Haiti has worsened but this time it did not get the attention it deserved because the mainstream media have decided to overlook or under-report it altogether. They were there to cheer the so-called rebels as freedom fighters this past February when they concocted with the Group 184, the United States, France and Canada to remove the democratically elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide. Now these individuals are threatening the U.S.-backed government, which they endorsed so feverishly, the news outlets are reluctant to show their complicit stance. The situation has dramatically deteriorated but for the technocrats, it is business as usual because such a fiasco will allow them to go forward with their agenda and with the media on their side, they have managed to evade the attention. But for how long? "Kay koule twonpe soléy men li pap twonpe lapli" (a leaky house can fool the sun but it canít fool the rain), says a Haitian proverb.
At the invitation of the Boniface/Latortue administration, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) — an organ of the Organization of American States (OAS) — conducted a visit to Haiti recently in an effort to obtain information regarding the status of human rights protections following the ouster of Mr. Aristide. The media portrayed the visit as a success for Haiti by alleging that the commission was "pleased with the commitment of Haiti’s interim government to preserving human rights and restoring security." By contrast, on the ground, things are very different and the Commission clearly highlighted that in its report. In one instance, "the Commission is particularly concerned regarding the security situation in Haiti, where armed groups appear to control security in significant areas of the country and where the State is not providing effective protection to the people living in those regions."
The country is descending further into chaos. Former members of the defunct army are threatening the de facto government for failing to meet their demands. These former soldiers preside over much of the country. They want to speed up the reconstitution of the army and ask for 10 years and 8 months back pay. They proclaimed November 18, 2004 as the official date to reinstate the army and warned that they are ready to die in order to defend the military institution. All across the country, they have taken over hospitals, police stations, public schools, radio stations, municipal buildings and converted them into barracks. They are patrolling the streets and are arresting even police officers on drug and corruption charges. In some cases, local police had to flee the scenes to make ways for them. The interim prime minister GÈrard Latortue, whose primary driver was killed by gunmen and chief of staff assaulted last weekend, associates the actions of the ex-soldiers to provocation. Meanwhile, in the slums, people are being gunned down for no particular reasons except for being Aristideís loyalists.
So far the United Nations peacekeepers have refused to intervene. The Head of the UN contingent, General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro, has stated that "the crisis is more political than military and that any attempt to remove the soldiers by force will lead to more catastrophic situations in the country." In his latest report to the Security Council on the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTHA), the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, warns that " armed groups continue to control some parts of the country, however, in particular in the north and the east along the border with the Dominican Republic, and claim to be exercising official security and administrative functions in the absence of a sufficiently strong HNP (Haitian National Police) presence. Isolated instances of violence and gunfire, including killings, home invasions, acts of retaliation, kidnappings, gang activity, confrontation between members of HNP and former soldiers of the disbanded armed forces, vigilante justice and general criminal acts continue to be reported." Following Mr. Annanís presentation, the Security Council issued a statement "stressing the urgency of disbanding and disarming all illegal armed groups." The prime minister said that his administration does not want to use force to remove the soldiers but he is capable of doing so. Acting on the Security Councilís statement, he has established a commission to negotiate with the ex-soldiers. However, when one looks at the composition of the commission, such a move is nothing more than an empty gesture designed to appease the international community over his incapacity to deal with the ex-soldiers. As the UN mission Chief Juan Gabriel Valdés stated recently, disarmament is an essential question that must be part of any negotiation attempt.
The current UN contingent of 2,700 is well below the effective promised — around 8,000. Countries that have pledged to send in troops have become more reluctant to do so in view of the current situation. The peacekeepers have given the U.S.-backed government a false sense of security by their overwhelming presence in the capital but according to latest indications, such security cannot deter provocation from the ex-soldiers. September 15 was the official deadline for all groups to be disarmed without facing arrest but so far, the police are only conducting disarmament raids in the slums.
The prospect of reinstating the army has gained momentum and now the only question remaining is when. In this current atmosphere, the reconstitution of the Haitian army will be a regressive step that will only lead to more sufferings, more rapes, more disappearances, more summary executions and the like that characterized the brutal army over the years. In the north, for example, the former soldiers have already promised to bring back the rural section chiefs. The army will be — as in the past — the ultimate watchdog of the new system that the minority wants to impose on the country. Additional backers of the army include the U.S. Defense Department and the Dominican Republic Army. The Pentagon objected to disbanding the army in 1995 because it was seen as a loss of revenues for the U.S. military-industrial complex. On the other hand, high officials of the Dominican army want the reconstitution of the army as a potential enemy in order to justify their defense budget increases. The return of the army will mark an important turn in the history of the country. It will put to rest all the prospect of establishing a viable democratic state with strengthening institutions capable to uphold the rule of law. The former soldiers will never have to answer to the atrocities they have committed during the two recent coups.
All indicators have shown and continue to depict Haiti as a country in the road to disaster. The technocrats, by crushing a democratic experiment in its infancy and embracing the ex-soldiers, have chosen to follow this path. Their only priority is to pave the way for their masters. Despite not having anything to show for their leadership, they are busy inviting the international community to promote the present chaos as reestablishment of democracy and stability. The current infighting has all the marks of a growing feud between Latortue and his backers who have become so disillusioned about his performance that they have released their dogs to warn him about his impending fate. In the end, the heavy burden will be borne by the majority of the people who will have no one to turn to except themselves. But as the Haitian proverb reminds us, "nan pwen priyé k pa gen amén" (there is no prayer without amen). For more than two hundred years, the Haitian people have been struggling for their dignity and freedom. The independence did not stop the struggle nor will the technocrats with their freedom fighters.
LUCSON PIERRE-CHARLES, a native of Haiti, now lives in Maryland. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org