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Haiti is Unraveling and No One is Saying Anything

by LARRY BIRNS And SETH DeLONG

Since the de facto overthrow of the democratically-elected Aristide government on February 29 of 2004, the international community, along with the UN peacekeeping force, has either turned a blind eye on the human rights abuses perpetrated by interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue’s regime or, at best, showered favoritism on the hapless, extra-constitutional government. Much of the lawlessness now found in the country is due to the ill-trained and out-of-control police force, particularly when the peacekeepers tolerate brutal raids on pro-Aristide neighborhoods and on those calling for Aristide’s return to the country, as well as tolerating the Gestapo-like tactics of Latortue’s Justice Minister, Bernard Gousse.

The increasing violence being unleashed on the streets of Port-au-Prince and the squashing of political dissent by Gousse’s goons has ranged from the incarceration of Aristide supporters (including the country’s just-released and most highly revered priest, Father Gerard Jean-Juste, as well as former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, former Interior Minister Jocelerme Privert, Senator Yvon Feuille and former Deputy Rudy Herivaux) to shooting protestors in the street without even the pretense of professional restraint. For such abuses, among others, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) all along has refused to restore normal relations with Latortue, while the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Inter-Commission on Human Rights has condemned the ongoing abuses now occurring throughout Haiti with frightening regularity. As one international human rights monitor has observed, “The contrast between the Haitian government’s eagerness to prosecute former Aristide officials and its indifference to the abusive record of certain rebel leaders could not be more stark.”

Yet, despite the growing international condemnation of the Latortue government’s kid glove treatment of the country’s armed rebels–the same cabal that Secretary Powell originally described before the coup as “a gang of thugs”–neither the arbitrary actions of the armed ex-militias nor the repeated violations of due process perpetrated by Gousse have attracted the attention of MINUSTAH, the UN, or the denunciation of the international community.

Surprisingly, not even Annan’s personal representative in the country, the highly regarded Chilean diplomat Juan Gabriel Valdés, has vigorously condemned Latortue and his cronies. To the contrary, Annan and his aides have bestowed a modicum of undeserved political legitimacy on the new government by acquiescing, at every step, to Secretary Powell’s see-no-evil policy regarding the egregious excesses of the Latortue regime and its multiple sins of omission. Annan has shown little intent to protect the legitimacy of the constitutional process nor has he insisted that Aristide be accorded the respect due to a democratically-elected president. Annan also joined Powell in demanding that Aristide negotiate with the opposition (to which Aristide willingly agreed), thereby eventually hoodwinking the former President into exile. Nor did Annan raise questions regarding Aristide’s imposed successor, the expatriate Latortue, who later was to pathetically describe those who Powell earlier had labeled “thugs,” as “freedom fighters.” Of course, these were the same “freedom fighters” who terrorized the countryside during General Raoul Cedras’ 1991-1994 military regime, and were responsible for upwards of 5,000 civilian deaths.

Greenlighting the Coup

The death knell for Aristide’s unruly but democratic regime occurred the moment Powell–soon echoed by Annan–declared that the peacekeeping force would not intervene until a political settlement was reached between Aristide and the opposition. In Powell’s words, “There is, frankly, no enthusiasm right now for sending in military or police forces to put down the violence that we are seeing.” He continued, “What we want to do right now is find a political solution, and then there are willing nations that would come forward with a police presence to implement the political agreement that the sides come to.”

This statement was tantamount to green-lighting the coup because even though Aristide agreed to every stipulation made by Powell and the CARICOM states, the main opposition party, the Group of 184, would not budge from its rigid commitment to the “zero-option” policy, defined as a refusal to negotiate, at any cost, with the beleaguered Haitian President. Therefore, the anti-Aristide opposition knew that once the U.S. took this stand, it would be in de facto control of the country. For his part, even after Aristide’s ouster, Annan would still not denounce the violent opposition and found it difficult to describe the coup d’etat by its rightful name. In Annan’s language, “Haiti was a peculiar situation, but the change in leadership there was not a coup d’etat…It was a deteriorating situation.”

Annan’s Deliberate Disregard and Lula’s Complicity

There is no apparent reason why Annan’s often dissenting voice has been so amenable to Washington’s scandalous coddling of Latortue, whose incompetence is so glaring that he lacks the support of almost all of Haiti’s political movements, regardless of their orientation. However, speculation is rife that the Secretary-General’s days are numbered, depending on how the current oil-for-food scandal plays out. But even before that scandal fully matured, some believed that Annan was anxious to heal the wounds with the U.S. caused by Iraq, and that sacrificing his purity over Haiti was the price he was prepared to pay. Sen. Norm Coleman, chairman of the Senate subcommittee investigating the scandal, along with prominent conservative columnists and political commentators, already has called for Annan’s resignation. While many of these calls are undoubtedly premature, politically motivated UN bashing pot-shots, Secretary-General Annan should, in any case, perhaps consider resigning since he has abdicated his longstanding penchant for principled positions in favor of mere political survival.

As for Lula

The terms under which Lula dispatched his troops to Haiti, namely, that Brazil command the international peacekeeping force, may have been too prestigious a recognition for Lula to resist. But MINUSTAH’s performance, led by Brazilian commander Augusto Heleno Ribero Pereira, looks more like a Faustian bargain struck between Lula and Annan to advance the international standing of the former and to woo Washington on the part of the latter, rather than a sincere attempt to alleviate the suffering of the Haitian people. The operation also seems to be managed by an incompetent and unruly police force. As noted by famed international human rights lawyer Brian Concannon, the UN troops “do not have the stomach to confront the rebels or anybody with a gun, but are very courageous in surrounding radio stations to help the arrest of three unarmed legislators. . . they’re very courageous about going into poor neighborhoods and shooting people.”

Lacking the political will to go after the rebels, MINUSTAH bears an uncanny resemblance to the ineffective “blue helmets” of the UN in the early 90s during the Bosnian crisis. In Haiti, as in Bosnia, the so-called peacekeeping force, far from living up to its mandate, actually made things worse by bestowing a patina of legitimacy over the status quo. Though the Haiti mission increases Brazil’s status as a rising regional star, Lula has in effect given Powell or, in this case, the real puppeteer behind Powell’s Haiti policy, Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega, an escape hatch; for it is now the responsibility of the Brazilians to deal with the wretched mess that characterizes daily Haitian life and, as of yet, they do not seem to be up to the job.

Larry Birns is is director of the Center on Hemispheric Affairs and Seth R. DeLong, Ph.D. is a COHA Senior Research Fellow.

 

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