Haiti Democracy Project, Not So Democratic

On May 4, 2005 a privately funded NGO, the Haiti Democracy Project published on its website (haitipolicy.org) a “fact-finding report” carried out during mid February of 2005 in Haiti.  The fact finding mission, while visiting Haiti, met with nine members of Group 184 (a coalition of the wealthy elite) and 26 others, ranging from Coup Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, to U.N. and Haitian Police officials, U.S. Ambassador James Foley, and the Brazilian, Argentinean, Canadian, and Dominican Republic Ambassadors to Haiti. In the report the Haiti Democracy Project’s executive director James R. Morrel along with other members of the "fact-finding" delegation, including three former U.S. Ambassadors, conclude that, “Monitoring the election will likely be easier with polling stations reduced to six hundred or so from the twelve thousand of previous elections”.  The report also mentions the “utility of a voter registration card”.  Both of these measures will work to exclude large swaths of the Haitian population from the upcoming vote and allow the interim government of Gerard Latortue and the former military to better censor the role of Lavalas and the poor.  95% of all the polling stations used in previous elections will be excluded in the upcoming election. This is not surprising when the HDP was one of the primary groups lobbying in the United States for Aristide to step down and organized protests infront of the Haitian Embassy.  

While there was violence and corruption perpetrated by some within Aristide's government (example: some former officials face jail time in the United States over drug related charges) the HDP uses this to argue against the legitimacy of the entire governemnt and Famni Lavalas as a whole. The HDP’s report provides clear statements of advice to the U.S. overseers of Haiti on how best to guarantee the stability of its client state.  The HDP advises that the United States government work to create a “psychological sense of momentum and excitement” towards the upcoming election.  The HDP also advises that the United States “implement a fast track..for the purchase of appropriate armaments, helmets and protective gear for the Haitian National Police”.  This statement coming just weeks after Haiti Information Project journalist Kevin Pina exposed a massive illegal shipment of $7 million worth of armaments to the Haitian government from the United States, a violation of the 13 year arms embargo on Haiti.  These are also the same Haitian National Police forces that on April, 29th 2005 were accused by Amnesty International of using “lethal and indiscriminate violence..to disperse and repress demonstrators..”  The Amnesty report states that after police officers opened fire against Lavalas demonstrators “at least 5 people died..and 4 others are reported to have died later on as a consequence of their wounds.”

The HDP “fact-finding” report, while claiming that President Aristide’s Administration was “predatory” and “murderous”, completely neglects to mention the hundreds or possibly thousands of deaths that have occurred over the course of the last year at the hands of the Haitian National Police under the Latortue government, which has been well documented in such reports as the University of Miami’s Haiti Human Rights Investigation during November of 2004 (http://www.law.miami.edu/news/368.html).  

Under a subsection of the HDP “fact-finding” report entitled, “Haitian views on the police” the only view provided is that of the Haitian National Police themselves.  In this “viewpoint” section the Haitian police stated to the HDP that “the U.N. mission needed to be more aggressive.”  Meanwhile, on April 29, 2004 citizens of the Port-Au-Prince slum Cité Soliel accused the U.N. forces led by the feared Jordanian contingent of surrounding their community and lobbing at them fragmentation and incendiary type bombs.  While heavily armed and violent U.N. incursions into and around Cité Soliel have been well documented (http://www.haitiaction.net), the HDP and the Haitian police want more.

The HDP argues that a “triple threat” of drug traffickers and Aristide supporters (“chimères” & ex-FADH) provide a potential threat to which “U.S. policy must respond”.   In meeting only with the highest echelons of the Haitian government and international presence in Haiti the HDP's "fact-finding" mission provides an extremely skewed report.  Knowledge or information based on real occurrences (facts) is difficult to ascertain in reading the report because of its extreme bias.

The Haiti Democracy Project on its website, states that it is “an independent research group promoting the cause of settled, responsive government in Haiti and U.S. policies conducive to this end.”  Founded in 2002 as an independent organization approximately 2 years before the downfall of the Aristide government, the HDP board of directors is made up of former U.S. ambassadors, wealthy members of the Haitian-American community, and policy analysts well connected to think tanks in Washington D.C..  The HDP has clear links and friendships with the Latortue government, the Groups of 184, and the opposition to Aristide.  

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More on that illegal arms transfer

The news of this winter’s arms shipment to Haiti, ignoring a 13-year embargo that the U.S. itself imposed, has begun to make a few ripples. (The embargo was imposed on the previous 1991-1994 military dictatorship, but was not lifted when democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide returned to power.) If you missed it, our friend Reed Lindsay filed a great report in the Washington Times touching on many of the issues. Last week, Congresswoman Maxine Waters condemned the State Department’s actions:

I am deeply disturbed to learn that, over the weekend, the U.S. State Department admitted that the United States shipped thousands of lethal weapons to Haiti last year, in violation of our government's 13-year-old embargo on arms shipments to Haiti and despite the dreadful human rights record of Haiti's unelected interim government.

I call upon the United States Senate to investigate these arms shipments to Haiti, which occurred while John Bolton was serving as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs. It is critical that Senators determine why John Bolton allowed the arms embargo on Haiti to be violated before they vote on his nomination to the position of United States Ambassador to the United Nations.

Yesterday, former Haitian government attorney Ira Kurzban published a scathing attack on this arms transfer in the opinion pages of dictator Gérard Latortue’s hometown rag, the Miami Herald.  

Just this week, Amnesty condemned the Haitian police for their “use of lethal and indiscriminate violence” to “disperse and repress demonstrators.”

The Bush administration’s response has been to place more weapons in the hands of these police. During Haiti's democratic administrations, the U.S. government imposed a full-scale arms embargo on nonlethal as well as lethal weapons to the Haitian Police. They could not even buy bullet-proof vests or tear gas to disperse crowds. In November 2004, however, John Bolton, as under secretary for arms control in the Department of State, signed off on providing the current police, under a nondemocratic government, more than 3,635 M14 rifles, 1,100 Mini Galils, several thousand assorted 0.38-caliber pistols, 3,700 MP5s and approximately one million rounds of ammunition, according to the Small Arms Survey, an authoritative resource published by the Graduate Institute of International Studies, located in Geneva.

It is no surprise that Bolton is at the center of this controversy as well. He has been one of the hard-liners in the State Department who sought the overthrow of Aristide and who bullied intelligence analysts on Haiti who were trying to provide a more-balanced picture.

All this came to light as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traipsed around South America criticizing both Venezuela’s arming of its own military and the countries poised to sell those arms. Venezuela, of course, has a functioning democracy and a public force that has, at least since President Chávez came to power, not killed dozens of people in raids on slums and suppression of political demonstrations. (The State Department has claimed over and over again that Venezuela’s arms purchases could result in weapons and ammunition “ending up” in the hands of Colombian guerrillas, without any evidence of cooperation between Chávez and the rebels, in a revisit of its WMD “big lie” strategy from Iraq.)

The Haiti arms story has major relevance to both Rice’s Venezuela comments and Bolton’s U.N. nomination. However, mainstream media coverage has been very uneven. As far as I can tell, many large U.S. newspapers have not picked up the story, and since it broke not a single question has been asked by reporters at the State Department’s daily press briefing.

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