Haiti Since the Coup

Thousands killed or in hiding as coup government consolidates power with the help of paramilitaries and U.S. and French troops

Since the February 29th coup d'etat against Haiti's constitutional president, the forces that brought the coup have killed more than one thousand political adversaries and poor Haitians.  Paramilitary groups, many of which took control of entire cities in the run-up to the coup, are the source of most of this violence.  The U.S. armed forces, which physically removed president Jean-Bertrand Aristide from the country and have since, with French troops, defended the coup government, did little to protect civilians.  Haitian police arrested many government officials close to Aristide and also worked with paramilitaries in raids and battles in pro-Aristide slums.  Meanwhile, the government sought legitimacy and loans from other nations, Haiti's economy worsened, and most paramilitaries expected the Haitian army to be reactivated and employ them. From March 1 through March 9 at least 300 Haitians were killed, AP reporter Anthony Mitchell wrote, but this may be a low estimate even for the capital alone.  The Port-au-Prince morgue dumped 800 bodies in the first week of March, the U.S. National Lawyers Guild's fact-finding delegation reported (PDF document).  Though some were killed before the coup, reports from the morgue, combined with reports from the streets of Port-au-Prince and from fields with burned bodies and sporadic reports from the reporters or international witnesses who have visited the other towns and cities of Haiti, indicate well over one thousand people have been killed in this country of more than 8 million in the two months since the coup.  Most murders and arsons took place in the first week or two, but killings are still occuring and the perpetrators are all still in power.

"Heavily armed and often dressed in US Army surplus uniforms," rebels completing their move from the north dominated the capital after the U.S. removed Aristide, reported Susan Milligan in a March 2 Boston Globe front page story.  Thousands greeted the rebels, Milligan wrote, and joined a victory caravan from the extremely wealthy mountain neighborhood of Petionville to the poorer city center.  Meanwhile, the governments of the United States and France protected the coup government the rebels helped bring to power.

Hundreds of US and French soldiers deployed around government facilities, Milligan wrote.  This force quickly grew to include about 2,000 US troops, more than 900 French, more than 500 Canadian, and more than 300 Chilean, American Forces Press Service's Jim Garamone wrote.  The United Nations Security Council had refused to intervene when requested by Haiti's government under Aristide, but the day after he was gone, with US and possibly French troops already deployed, it approved this presence as a Multinational Interim Force, "acting unusually quickly," UPI's United Nations correspondent William M. Reilly wrote.  The people of Haiti can know the international community has not forgotten them, said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.  "I know some of them may think that it's a bit late, but it's always better than never."

More than 10,000 demonstrated against the coup in Port-au-Prince, marching on the U.S. Embassy, on March 5.  People opposed to the coup had held off protesting these five days until paramilitaries withdrew from Port-au-Prince – as leader Guy Philippe promised to disarm, a promise still unfulfilled – and U.S. and French troops began to patrol the capital, wrote Ibon Villelabeitia and Jim Loney (with Joseph Guyler Delva) in a March 5 Reuters article (on-line at Indymedia and New Zealand Herald).  "U.S. military vehicles mounted with machine guns and missile launchers rumbled through the streets."

"Bush terrorist! Bush terrorist!," chanted the crowd, many of them waving Haitian flags and wearing T-shirts bearing photos of Aristide, as they passed a contingent of battle-equipped U.S. Marines guarding the embassy.

Protestors blamed the U.S. and French governments and the Haitian elites for the coup.

"The bourgeoisie joined with the international community to occupy Haiti and get rid of President Aristide," one demonstrator screamed.  "The bourgeoisie never did anything for us, the masses. Now they took away our president."

"If Aristide doesn't come back, life will be hell here."

People living in Bellair, a very poor and pro-Aristide Port-au-Prince neighborhood, "where glass and debris litters the streets and the stench of sewage hangs in the air," said gunmen raid nightly, Villelabeitia and Loney wrote.

"At 6 p.m. we all have to go and find a hole to hide," said Hubert Louis, 31, referring to the nightly curfew. "If the foreign troops want to show they want to support the people, they should protect us from the soldiers who are chasing us."

Reportedly, the opposite occurred.

Lavalas leaders told a fact-finding delegation that US Marines had recently slaughtered, in one night, 78 people in the very poor Belair neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Anthony Fenton, wrote in an April 6 article on Znet.  They said occupation troops had brought ambulances with them and carried away in them all but two of the people murdered.  All in this group of Lavalas leaders were in hiding, and none had seen their families in days; one had recently been abducted, beaten, and held captive for fifteen days with several other people before being released and told to immediately take his family and leave home, never to return, Fenton wrote.

Followers of the news might ask themselves why demonstrations against the occupation abruptly stopped after March 11th. The 'alleged' massacre in Belair should be considered against this, since it occurred around this time.

Susan McLucas, part of the same March 23 to April 2 fact-finding delegation organized by the Quixote Center, also noted this connection in a personal press release (Word document) dated April 5:

The group heard from a number of sources that one neighborhood where support for Aristide and the Lavalas party is very strong had a big demonstration, supporting his return.  The crowd of thousands apparently taunted Marines with outstretched fingers indicating that Aristide's term was for five years and also showing their dislike for the occupation.  A few days later it was reported that Marines came into the neighborhood, Belair, with tanks, firing in the middle of the night.  They were followed by Haitian police.  Between them, they killed dozens of people, whom they took away in ambulances.  There have been fewer demonstrations for Aristide's return since that time.

Fear and worsened living conditions

Generally, if you're a Lavalas supporter, you're afraid.  We had met with about 30 members of popular organizations, which are just grassroots organizations that formed to basically help neighborhoods and communities to interface with the government to get things done such as literacy programs and orphanages,

said attorney Thomas Griffin, who traveled to Haiti between March 29 and April 5 with a fact-finding delegation from the National Lawyers Guild.
Every single one of them has been in hiding since March 1st.  And many of them are not hiding with their families or their children so they haven't seen their wives or kids for a month.  So they're very afraid.

Griffin spoke Democracy Now to Democracy Now on April (my own transcription).

Then you have the general population, that may not have been actively pro-Lavalas, who are just afraid.  There's a curfew in the city of Port-au-Prince, and different curfews, for different times, throughout the country, but in Port-au-Prince it's 10 o'clock at night.  There's just a general tension in the city because of that.

"There's a super lack of electricity," Griffin said.  Electricity wasn't consistent before but now it's near-complete blackout, he said.  No electricity means no water, which requires electric pumps.  Haitian National Police officers at one police station, Commissar a De La Cruix-des-Bouquets, told sergeant Shawn Johnston of Weapons Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion that the government still has not delivered new equipment and vehicles stolen or damaged in February.  They also are without electricity and running water, reported Sandra Jontz of Stars and Stripes in an April 10 article.

U.S. troops face hostility that is far from their joyous 1994 welcome, AP reporter Paisley Dods wrote in an April 10 article.

"The difference is we asked for American help in 1994," said Rodny Jean-Baptiste, a 32-year-old gas station attendant. "Today, the U.S. troops aren't bringing anybody back, and they're not really helping."

Also, Dods wrote, "the interim government installed with U.S. support is seen as an elite in a shady alliance with the ex-soldiers, including convicted human rights violators."

U.S. Marines engaged in heavy firefights during the first two weeks of the occupation, with the sole casualty to a Marine who suffered a gunshot wound, but attacks against them have all but ceased, Jontz wrote.  Haitians, including those in the police, continued to face violence.  "The police are routinely attacked while out on patrol," reported Johnston.  "They've been held at knifepoint, their weapons stolen, they've been stabbed and shot. They're afraid."

A local doctor reported to Marines that he often treats gunshot patients.  "I don't ask any questions, I don't ask names. I'm afraid," he said.  His name is not being published, Jontz wrate.  The general health of the local population is not good, as resident suffer from respiratory problems, rashes, and dehydration because of stomach ailments, he said.  "I pay out of my pocket" for medical supplies, he said through a translator, because as of April 10 the government still has not provided any.

Attacks on grass-roots organizations

The interim government, led by the US, has the "intent to destroy popular organizations," activists told the observation mission, Anthony Fenton wrote.

"Right now there is a political climate in Haiti where anyone can get on the radio stations and accuse anyone else of a crime or with being associated with violent Lavalas gangs. It means that without proof they can say this about you and immediately you have to go into hiding, and immediately you have to be concerned with your own welfare; and immediately the death threats begin. That's the political climate that you have in Haiti today."

"Daily around 4:00 P.M, lists of names are read over the elite-controlled radio stations," Fenton reported.

By sundown those whose names are read on these lists (and others) are quick to find a suitable place to hide. We witnessed this phenomenon first hand during our recent stay. Dozens of people risked their lives coming to see us - from hiding - in order to share their stories. Many of these people testified to the fact that close friends have already been 'disappeared' or killed.

Two people with Lavalas connections were murdered in separate incidents on April 3 and 4 in the Port-au-Prince slum Martissant, Amnesty International reported at the end of a 15-day fact-finding mission in an April 8 press release.  Two members of KOMIREP, a grassroots organization that included victims of the 1991 coup d'état, were kidnapped off the street on April 4, one in Martissant and one in Cité l'Eternel.  Amnesty International also received reports of other killings and kidnappings of persons belonging to pro-Aristide grassroots organizations in poor neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince, the press release stated.  Among those responsible are alleged to be prisoners jailed for rapes and other common crimes, freed in the rebellion, and now working with the Haitian police and the foreign occupying forces to identify people associated with the Lavalas regime.

No disarmament

Many people accused the foreign occupying armies of only seeking to disarm militants who oppose the coup and letting paramilitaries carry and use their weapons freely.

The only raid one rare Creole-speaking marine was asked to participated in was in the poor, pro-Lavalas Port-au-Prince slum Cite Soleil, Sandra Hernandez of the Florida Sun-Sentinel reported April 21.

"My job was to go in front of the raid and tell those inside to come outside," marine James J. Beauvais said.  "I've never done anything like that but I was attached to the unit because of my language skills."  The raid turned up little and no one was hurt.

Mostly, though, guns aren't being taken away from anyone on any side.  No disarming has occurred, Amnesty International reported on April 8.  Fewer than 150 weapons have been collected since the first U.S. Marines arrived Feb. 29, AP reporter Paisley Dods wrote in an April 10 article.

The words of one paramilitary suggests time is on their side.  "The weapons aren't the problem," Peter Calixte, leader of a group of wealthy Haitians who raided slums of Port-au-Prince to do battle against pro-Aristide militants.  "It's the munitions.  They got a lot of bullets.  This is going to take a couple of weeks," the Boston Globe's Steven Dudley reported March 2.

Police bias against anti-coup groups

While disarmament may be more non-existent than focused on opponents of the coup, the actions of the police since the coup show a very clear bias against Lavalas supporters.  The new director general of the Haitian National Police, Leon Charles, warned the jails would be packed in coming weeks, wrote Michael Christie in the March 14 Reuters article "Haiti police round up Aristide associates":

While Charles and other police officials insisted the arrests were not politically motivated, all six new detainees being held on Sunday at the station in the upscale Port-au-Prince suburb of Petionville were from Lavalas.

Andrew Reding, senior fellow for hemispheric affairs at the World Policy Institute wrote in an April 16 article about a widely reported event:

In a March 20 visit to Gonaïves, Latortue praised the rebels as "freedom fighters."  He stood beside Jean-Pierre Baptiste (alias Jean Tatoune), freed in a jail break while serving a life sentence for his role in a 1994 massacre of unarmed civilians in that city. Also on stage was Louis-Jodel Chamblain, convicted in absentia of taking part in the same massacre, and accused of participating in the assassinations of Justice Minister Guy Mallary and a businessman, Antoine Izméry, in the early 1990s.

(On April 22 Chamblain voluntarily turned himself in to Latortue's government, purportedly to face a new trial, to which he is entitled under Haitian law regarding in absentia convictions, Michelle Faul wrote in an AP article.)

Police did not go after any paramilitaries until April.  On April 3 US and French forces helped Haitian police arrest Jean Robert, a gang leader accused of terrorizing Aristide supporters in northeast Haiti, and on April 6, French soldiers and Haitian police briefly detained "Ti-Wil" in Gonaives, French military spokesman Maj. Xavier Pons said, reported in an April 9 AP article.  

The United States government did not encourage arrests of paramilitaries who are convicted of past human rights abuses or suspected of current ones, nor did it try to discourage prosecution of officials of the elected government.  To the contrary, on his April 5 visit to Port-au-Prince, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the US is considering a possible criminal indictment of Aristide, wrote Reding.  The next day Interior Minister Jocelerme Privert was placed under Marine guard at the National Penitentiary after Haitian police arrested him on charges of conspiring to assassinate opponents during the February uprising.

"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," said Joanne Mariner, deputy director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch, quoted in an April 7 AP article.

Raids in Port-au-Prince's poor neighborhoods

Politically motivated arrest can only be considered preferable to the more widespread politically motivated killing.  "Hospital officials say 30 to 40 bodies a day have arrived at the capital's main morgue since the revolt began on February 5, and they are continuing to show up," wrote Christie in his March 14 Reuters article.

Tom Griffin of the National Lawyers Guild delegation to Haiti provided more information.  "We had gone to the morgue to check on the number of bodies coming in, in Port-au-Prince," he told Democracy Now on April 12.

Typically the morgue will keep a body for 22 days before it will dispose of a body.  As of February 29th, they claim, this is the morgue director talking, that the motor from the refrigeration broke in the morgue and bodies are now being dumped within five to six days of arriving.

He also told us that normally the morgue doesn't dump and bury any more than a 100 bodies in a month.  But on March 7th, one week after the coup, 800 bodies were dumped by the morgue.  And two weeks later another 200 bodies were dumped by the morgue.

And the director of the morgue admitted to us that many of the bodies that were coming in had their hands tied behind their back, and had black plastic bags over their heads, and had been shot.

(This type of murder was also reported by the AP on April 7.  Although an earlier AP article estimated 300 deaths in the first 9 days of the coup, this one would only confirm "at least a dozen former Aristide supporters have been slain - most shot execution style with their hands tied behind their back."  Other articles by the AP, Reuters, and major newspapers have similarly avoided estimating a number of people killed.)

The National Lawyers Guild looked into dead not processed by the morgue as well, Griffin reported.

We had also heard from different groups we had interviewed that about 60 bodies were found in a field in Port-au-prince near a very poor neighborhood.  The group rushed down there to see what we could see.  Didn't find any bodies where we were told we would find them, and interviewed some neighbors near the field, and they told us that the bodies had just been moved two days before to about a quarter mile away and were burned.  So we headed down there and found a massive pile of ashes, pigs eating human flesh off human bones that didn't burn.

No one knew who had done this, Griffin said, "except that big trucks had been used to dump and to move the bodies," suggesting the resources of

Tom Reeves, another of the 24 people from the U.S. and Canada on the Emergency Haiti Observation Mission coordinated by the Quixote Center in Maryland, wrote in an April 14 Counterpunch article of an attack in Belair on the night of March 17.  U.S. helicopters came with blinding lights and heavily armed U.S. soldiers fired into crowds, killing between five and twenty persons, eyewitnesses and relatives of victims told members of the observation mission.

Among Aristide's accomplishments targeted for destruction by the paramilitaries was Radyo Timoun (Children's Radio) 90.9 FM in Port-au-Prince.  This child-run radio station, at the Aristide Foundation for Democracy, was trashed, wrote Reeves, quoting a young man who grew up working at it.  This 21-year-old said he later fled his house when three former military came, and they fatally shot his aunt, with whom he lived.  People at the station were beaten, and the library at the foundation burnt while U.S. Marines stood by, said another young man who grew up working at the station, a former street child, now 18, who talked to Pacifica News Service contributer Lyn Duff by telephone.  (Thanks to the Black Commentator for reprinting this.)

Two radio journalists were abducted by ex-soldiers, detained with the aid of police, then released on separate occasions in late March and mid-April, Haiti Support Group reported.  In the latter case of Jeanty André Omilert, the Radio Solidarité correspondent in Mirebalais, no reason was given, but in the earlier incident the men responsible criticized Lyonel Lazarre, the Radio Solidarité correspondent in Jacmel, for having reporting on their alleged abuses, wrote Haiti Support Group.

Outside of Port-au-Prince, Paramilitaries rule towns

Outside of Port-au-Prince, it's worse, though few reporters are there to report it.  Some Lavalas members or Aristide supporters targeted by paramilitaries in the towns and other cities fled to the capital.

The mayor of Milo, a suburb of 50,000 outside the city of Cap Haitien was in hiding "in the woods" when he spoke to Pacifica  News Service contributors Lyn Duff and Dennis Bernstein by cell phone.

The situation is different here from what I hear about in Port-au-Prince, where you have the multinational force of American, Canadian, Chilean soldiers. In Cap Haitian you have the former Haitian military. There are no police any more, so they are the ones who are law. They come into your home. They take you, they beat you up, they kill you. They burn down homes. They do anything they want, because they are the only law in town.

The journalists are in Port-au-Prince, but here in the north no one is reporting what's going on, that the former Haitian military is killing people. They are killing about 50 people a day in Cap Haitien. It's happening not just in the northern department but also in the central plateau, in the Artibone region.

(I would not have known of the Moise interview, or the Carrier interview cited later, had not both been quoted by Justin Felux in an article at Znet.)

In Gonaives, Haiti's fourth-largest city with about 200,000 people, paramilitaries run local government and insist they have things under control, Susannah A. Nesmith wrote in the March 13 Miami Herald article "Gunmen setting the rules in Gonaives."  They call themselves the Resistance Force, and first seized the city on February 5 in the rebellion that culminated in the February 29 coup.  The local police were killed or fled, Nesmith wrote.

Many of the fighters are from the Gonaives seaside slum Raboteau, a long-time home to a rebel gang once loyal to Aristide and known as the Cannibal Army.  The leader of this gang, Butteur Métayer, is the top rebel leader in Gonaives, Nesmith wrote, but refused to be interviewed.  Many other paramilitary leaders in Gonaives, such as convicted death-squad leader Jean Tatoune, have taken for themselves positions in local government, Haiti Support Group stated.

"Wilford Ferdinand," known as "Ti-Will," was appointed police chief of Gonaives by his militia, the AP reported.  The Herald's Nesmith described him as "Ferdinand 'Ti Wil' Wilfort, wearing sunglasses and a 9mm pistol in a shoulder holster," and quoted him: "I promised to put my guns down, and I will, but first I want to clean up the streets. We can handle this."

Another paramilitary, who gave his name as Valentino Joseph and said he lived in Florida before he was deported back to Haiti a year ago, agreed.  "The schools are open, the businesses are open; we don't have any problems here," Nesmith quoted him.

Other people, longer established in community service, do have problems with paramilitary rule.  The director of Gonaives' hospital, Dr. Paul St. Gilles, said its warehouse was looted of food on February 24.  "Then on March 5, people with guns threatened the workers.  No one would work overnight."  Another person Nesmith talked with, at another institution, went into more detail.

"These guys in the Resistance Force, a lot of them are into drugs and killing, not all, but a lot of them," said a Roman Catholic nun whose convent was robbed five times by rebels. "The money that sponsored them is not coming in anymore, so now they're stealing. And they accept anyone who wants to join."

The nun was nervous talking to strangers, even inside the gated compound where the local bishop lived until he fled to the capital, Port-au-Prince. She wouldn't give her name and said she couldn't speak about politics or anything having to do with the U.S. forces who have pledged to stabilize the entire country.

"I've been so frustrated and stressed about what is happening," she said. "We stopped sleeping here and they beat the people here, asking, 'Where are the nuns?' The old man who works at the gate, he doesn't want to work for us anymore because they beat him badly."

And as Haiti Support Group pointed out, it was from Gonaives' port, which rebels controlled from February 5, that a freighter left on March 10 for Miami $1.8 million worth of cocaine US customs officials found hidden in its waste system.

About 40 paramilitaries traveled 45 miles north from Gonaives to the coastal city of Port-de-Paix in early March, an April 11 Miami Herald article reported.  They came to deal with pro-Aristide thugs, they said.  The former rebels have been patrolling the streets, arresting and jailing alleged criminals.  They readily admit going after Aristide backers, the Herald wrote.  "That's our main objective," said one of the group, Tony Francois.  "We want to find Aristide people to put them in jail."

Haitians in the port town of Les Cayes, population about 50,000, are still terrified to venture out on the streets a month after the coup, Associated Press reporter Stevenson Jacobs wrote in an April 9 article.

A gang of about 20 civilians and some ex-soldiers from Haiti's former army patrols Les Cayes' shantytowns and dispenses punishments on the spot, Jacobs wrote.  The group, calling itself "the Front," has executed at least five people accused of stealing, usually sacks of rice or sugar, said police Inspector Joseph Avril.  Avril said police have no resources to investigate, Jacobs wrote.

Jude Silias, a 32-year-old Front member, defended the executions as the only way to maintain order in Les Cayes.  Businesses needing protection have donated guns to the group, he said.

"The police are too frightened to go out, so we have to do their jobs for them," said Silias, wearing an old camouflage ball cap, a soccer jersey and a gold watch. "We're fighting for our country."

Vast majority of deaths the responsibility of forces supporting the coup

Virtually all the killing has been done by allies of the coup government.  By contrast, the most serious allegation against anti-coup militants is an attack by gunmen on an anti-Aristide celebration that killed at least five demonstrators.  (The BBC said 10,000 were present, the Miami Herald 5,000.)  The BBC reported:

Witnesses said pro-Aristide gunmen known as Chimeres had come out of the slums around the square and opened fire from buildings or the top of a hill.

A Spanish television journalist, Ricardo Ortega, was among those killed.

At least 20 people were also said to be injured - among them other foreign reporters.

The excellent subscription-based Weekly News Update on the Americas, drawing on additional commercial media (New York Times, AHP, Miami Herald), presented evidence of another source for the shooting:

Aristide supporters blamed "Guy Philippe's men," referring to the former Cap-Haitien police chief who heads the rightwing rebels and was a leader of the demonstration.  Investigators are reportedly looking into both possibilities.  After the shooting a radio personality arrived and called for Guy Philippe to restore order.  A "source close to the investigation" told the Miami Herald: "It was strange that this guy rolls in when everyone else was scattering and starts saying Guy Philippe was the only one that can restore order. It's something we're looking at."

Anti-Aristide political groups without remorse, some seek power within new government

Many political and grassroots groups were extremely anti-Aristide before the coup, and some of their leaders are receiving government positions.  Tom Reeves, of the 24-person Emergency Haiti Observation Mission coordinated by the Quixote Center, wrote in an April 14 Counterpunch article about meeting with these groups, which he'd met with before the coup, again now.  They are unapologetic for the current situation.  Women's groups he met with insisted conditions under Aristide were worse than now, under the Duvalier dictatorships, or even under the 1991 to 1994 coup government, when these same people were in hiding for fear of their lives, Reeves wrote.  One important group, Platform to Advocate for Alternative Development, or PAPDA, had called for Aristide's ouster for his corruption, human rights violations, and compromises with "U.S. imperialism."  PAPDA functioned openly under Aristide, though at least one PAPDA member was killed, allegedly by "chimere."  A PAPDA coalition leader on environmental issues, Yves Wainwright, has accepted the post of Minister of the Environment in the coup government, Reeves wrote.

Together, some 40 similar anti-Aristide "left" groups have formed the RDP (Popular Democratic Regroupment) to put forward an alternative opposition program to the government, even while some work within that government.

The largest popular group that was anti-Aristide is probably the MPP, a large peasant group in the Central Plateau.  The MPP's leader, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, broke with Aristide and Lavalas by the 2000 election and joined the opposition, first the nearly all-oligarch Democratic Convergence and later the broader Group of 184.  Reeves wrote that a dissident peasant from Mirabalais in the Central Plateau told him that most of the weapons and men moved from the Dominican Republic to start the early February rebellions in Gonaives and Cap Haitien came through Chavannes' area, and that another source told him the MPP leader was on friendly terms with the leaders of the rebellion.

US set up the coup government

The U.S. chose the people and processes to choose Haiti's new leaders, Reuters reported.

"There's going to be a tripartite commission, made up of the opposition, the government and the international community, who will form a sort of 'council of elders,'" said a State department official, who asked not to be named.

This council chose Florida resident Gerard Latortue to be Prime Minister.

The U.S. government seems to expect to continue making important decisions in Haiti for a long time.  Assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere Roger Noriega said the U.S. government would encourage "the Government of Haiti to move forward, at the appropriate time, with restructuring and privatisation of some public sector enterprises," Paul Fenton wrote in an April 20 article on Znet.

The coup government seeks international legitimacy and aid

While the UN treats the US- and France-backed government as legitimate, the Caribbean community of nations, CARICOM, in a March 3 press release refused to recognize the new government, MercoPress reported.  The African Union followed suit on March 9, stating it desired "no action be taken to legitimize the rebel forces," Anthony Mitchell of the Associated Press reported.

The United Nations gathered just $7 million of the $35 million it has budgeted for aid programs in Haiti, said spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs, AP reported April 17.   "Unless we get additional funding quickly, we will begin to see malnutrition rates, especially among children and poor families headed by women, rise in the next few months," World Food Programme Executive Director James T. Morris said, according to an April 15 press release.  His UN agency was $8 million short for an emergency program helping mostly mothers with young children.

Likewise, the United Nations Security Council lay plans to replace the U.S.-led interim forces with a UN security force starting June 1, UN officials and diplomats said the requested 6,700 peacekeeping troops and 1,622 French-speaking police officers are proving hard to get, wrote Christopher Marquis in a May 2 New York Times article.  The circumstances of Aristides removal may be deterring some nations from contributing forces.  On April 20, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva offered some 1,100 troops to lead the UN mission, Xinhua China View reported, "conditional on the effective commitment from the international community for the reconstruction of this country," he said.

Economic plight of the poor worsens

Haitians suffered high prices as businesses restricted imports during the run-up to the coup and its aftermath and less income as the coup government temporarily cut off government spending.  Because the interim president, Supreme Court chief justice Boniface Alexandre, froze spending when he took office, the government spent only 200 million gourdes ($6.2 million) in March, according to the Professional Bankers Association of Haiti, compared to between 800 million gourdes and 1 billion gourdes (about $25 to 31 million) in a normal month, the Associated Press reported in an April 9 article  The government is Haiti's largest employer and most of its spending resumed only in the first week of April.

Haiti's economy had contracted since 2000, but stabilized in 2003, and the IMF had, before the coup, expected slight growth in absolute terms in 2004, State Department stated.

"Life has gotten really hard," said Christela Pierre, 33, a mother of two who sells bananas in the street. "Nobody is buying anything and prices have gone up."

Paramilitaries expect employment as a new army

Paramilitaries expect a re-constituted army, and with it, paid work.  Some, like thousands of other Haitian men, hope to become police officers.  Others seem willing to accept nothing less than becoming the military.

The Haitian National Police dropped from about 5,000 officers to around 2,000 since the revolt broke out in early February, according to the Organization of American States (OAS).  Roger Noriega, assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, told Reuters April 14 that the multinational force would stay a year or more in Haiti to oversee a process of "shadowing" and "mentoring" a new police force as it is being created.

Noriega did not reject a plan of the coup government to incorporate armed rebels into the police force.  Members of Haitian security forces should be subject to a "very close vetting," Noriega said.  "Participating in a rebel group, for example, would not necessarily disqualify a person but it wouldn't automatically move him into the security force.  That's not an acceptable formula."

Vetting or no vetting for the police force, paramilitaries expect to become Haiti's new military, an April 11 Miami Herald third-party copy article reported.

Louis Jodel Chamblain, convicted in absentia for the 1994 Raboteau massacre, spends much of his time in Cap Haitien with his men. Their fight against Aristide won, the men, most of them 20 to 35 years old, have a new long-term objective: to serve in a new version of the Haitian army that Aristide abolished in 1995 as a coup-prone machine responsible for human rights violations.

The paramilitaries have reasons, public and private, to believe this ambition will be achieved.

Prime Minister Gerard Latortue has said he favors the appointment of a commission to study resurrecting the military. But his appointment of Hérard Abraham as minister of the interior and security, a former general who has indicated his support for a new military, is seen as a strong pro-army signal.

While the politicians discuss the issue, former rebels told The Herald they've been told the army's return is a done deal.

"It's not a matter of if," said Tony Francois, 27.  "It's a matter of when."

Francois is one of about 40 former rebels who came from Gonaives, 45 miles to the south, to run the northern city of Port-de-Paix in early March.

The interim government said it would let rebel ex-soldiers into the police force, but would screen them to determine if they had been involved in serious human rights abuses.

"We are the Haitian army and we exist," said former army Col. Remissainthe Ravix, insisting that he and his men be paid to be a new military, and not incorporated into a police force, wrote Joseph Guyler Delva in an April 20 Reuters article.  Ravix led paramilitary forces in the rebellion and claims to command 1,681 former soldiers.

Ravix said Aristide's decision to dismantle the army was unconstitutional and called on interim authorities to pay the former soldiers 10 years' back salary.

"They have to pay us because the army never ceased to exist," said Ravix, who fought alongside top rebel chiefs Guy Philippe and Louis Jodel Chamblain.

Surrounded by heavily armed men in camouflage uniform, Ravix said none of his men will join the police.

"We are a constitutional force just like them," he said.

A recent incident suggests the possible strength of future employment as a motivation for those willing to kill to help the coup government come to power and consolidate power.

Thousands of youngsters waited in front of the police academy's gate all day April 19 and 20 trying to register to fill 800 open slots, Delva wrote.  "I just want to get a job," said Paul Gelin, 24, who was at the gate of the academy since 4 a.m. April 20.

That day, the first day of the police academy's recruiting drive, as many as four thousand people showed up to apply, the Associated Press reported April 22.  "Police fired tear gas and beat back applicants with batons as thousands of job hunters rushed the academy on Tuesday, crashing through the gates and past French guards.  U.S. Marines blocked the academy entrance with Humvees."  One person died and 23 were reported injured in the crush to apply.

These men did not enjoy the confidence of future employment expressed by paramilitaries like Francois or Ravix.

Others in paramilitary groups are clearly driven to protect what they have.  Steven Dudley of the Boston Globe reported March 2 on a group that did not take part in the rebel advance in the capital, but began patrolling Port-au-Prince immediately after the U.S. removed Aristide ("Paramilitaries hunt pro-Aristide Gangs," page A10):

These paramilitary volunteers are businessmen.  Nearly all of them speak English from time spent in Miami or New England.  Most are from Haiti's light-skinned elite, the tiny fraction of the population that actually owns something.

The group's leader, Sean St. Remy, 32, who went to school in Boston and Miami and owns an auto parts store, said they put in a new police chief, claiming to have defended the police station from looters, Dudley wrote.

Yesterday, this new paramilitary group continued working closely with police.  They patrolled and fought together in Cite Soleil against the chimeres.  When it appeared that the chimeres had gained the upper hand, the paramilitaries went to the local police station to seek backup.  Throughout, the two kept in constant radio contact.

One visitor's view

Paramilitaries "are driving around with guns drinking rum, drunk.  People disappear in the night. People are raped. It's living under terror,"
Father Paul Carrier, a University of Fairfield chaplain who visits Haiti regularly, told Connecticut's WTNH on March 20 after returning to Connecticut after a one-week stay in Haiti.  People are very afraid, he said.

They can't talk to each other because they don't know what side people are on and people literally disappear.  Rebels take them, they're killed and bodies wash up on the seashores.

There's no police no government.  Each town in Haiti is being run by little armies and they're all armed.

Although we get all these press reports that the us is there and disarming people and everything is fine.  There is no disarmament.  The rebels are still in charge and they're in for the long haul.

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About Benjamin Melançon

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Student-on-hold, ex-stocker and failed union agitator, ex-white-collar consultant and now co-founder and developer at Agaric Design Collective, making web sites with open source free software.

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