News and opinions on situation in Haiti
 
30/1/06

Haiti Report for January 30, 2006

 

   

The Haiti Report is a compilation and summary of events as described in Haiti and international media prepared by Konbit Pou Ayiti/KONPAY. It does not reflect the opinions of any individual or organization. This service is intended to create a better understanding of the situation in Haiti by presenting the reader with reports that provide a variety of perspectives on the situation.

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IN THIS REPORT:
– Elections Still On for February 7; No Polling Sites in Cite Soleil
– Father Jean-Juste Finally Released After Having One Charge Cleared and Catching Pneumonia
– MINUSTAH Uses Excessive Force Against Civilians in Ouanaminthe
– Cite Soleil Protesters Demand Polling Sites and Accuse UN Troops of Shooting Civilians
– Hispaniola Island North Corridor
– UN’s Disarmament Program
– Police Officers Targeted by Bandits in Carrefour
– French Citizens Kidnapped and Released Unharmed

*** An excellent article came out yesterday in the New York Times about US policies towards Haiti. Mixed US Signals Helped Tilt Haiti Towards Chaos

Elections Still On for February 7; No Polling Sites in Cite Soleil:
Juan Gabriel Valdès, Special Representative in Haiti of the United Nations Secretary-General, expressed satisfaction Monday with the level of progress that has been achieved in the electoral process in Haiti. Mr. Valdès praised the understanding and the spirit of collaboration demonstrated, he said, by the various actors involved in the process. MINUSTAH is working hard, he said, to reinforce security in the run-up to the elections. Interim government sources have stated that more than three million national identification cards have already been distributed out of a total of 3.5 million printed. Juan Gabriel Valdès declared that additional efforts are being made to identify and resolve certain problems relating to the organization of the elections. Mr. Valdès also gave his assurance that the first round of the presidential and legislative elections will indeed take place on February 7th.

For his part, the permanent representative of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Adama Guindo, stated that the first and second rounds of the presidential and legislative elections will cost $59 million (U.S.). Mr. Guindo indicated that the Provisional Electoral Council is presently working on the budget for the municipal and local elections prior to contacting the international donor community regarding financing of those expenses. Various sources have affirmed that these elections, whose total cost is estimated to be in the neighborhood of $80 to $100 million, are the most expensive in Haiti’s history, but they also are said to pose the greatest number of problems.

Members of a high-level international delegation including several members of the “Core Group” of countries led by OAS Assistant Secretary General Albert Ramdim on a mission to Haiti January 20 and 21, expressed the support of the international community and its governments for the electoral calendar recently established by the electoral council, which scheduled the first round of presidential elections for February 7th. They emphasized their contention that only the election of a legitimate government can bring about the conditions necessary for a definitive eradication of the violence. The members of the delegation affirmed at the same time their awareness that responsibility for the construction of democracy and the establishment of peace belongs to the Haitian people and their political leaders through the sovereign exercise of the popular will and that the role of the international community is to support them in these tasks. (AHP, 1/23)

The interim government announced this Tuesday that it has created an inter-ministerial commission with the mission of investigating in the country’s 10 geographical departments the irregularities documented in the electoral process. This commission is composed of Justice Minister Henri Marge Dorléans, Interior Minister Paul Gustave Magloire, the Minister for Women’s Affairs and Women’s Rights, Mme. Adeline Magloire Chancy, and the Secretary of State for Youth and Sports, Paul Berne. According to Henri Dorléans, the commission has already looked into the electoral process in the Grand Nord. Irregularities in the printing of national identification cards have been observed, said Mr. Dorléans. He said he has received a guarantee that the citizens affected by the printing irregularities will still be able to vote even if the errors are not corrected. There are also polling stations, he said, that are at least a two hour walk from the voter registration centers. Mr. Dorléans asked the population to make the sacrifice of traveling to these distant polling stations because the electoral council will not have time to move them. He voiced hope that the CEP will go to work to make the corrections that are still possible. For his part, Interior Minister Paul Gustave Magloire reiterated that the government does not intend to support any candidate, but is determined to provide support for the voters during the upcoming elections. He said that the interim authorities will take all the necessary steps to help make the elections run smoothly throughout the country. “Every sector or individual seeking to disrupt the elections will be punished according to the law”, said Mr. Magloire. (AHP, 1/24)

The United Nations, the Organization of American States (OAS) and 13 nations have signed a document to reiterate their support for Haiti’s electoral process,the Argentine Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday. The international community recognizes its duty to help “build democracy and establish peace” in the the Caribbean country in line with the will of the Haitian people, the document said. Besides the United Nations and OAS, the statement was also signed by representatives of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Spain, the Dominican Republic, the United States and Uruguay who met Friday in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince to analyze the country’s political and security situation. The governments and organizations called on Haiti’s transitional government and political movements to respect the Provisional Electoral Council’s electoral timetable, which sets Feb. 7 for the first round of the presidential vote. “Only the election of a legitimate government can provide the conditions needed for a definitive end to violence,” said the statement. It also expressed confidence in the ability of the United Nations’ Haiti stabilization mission Minustah and the UN Security Council to guarantee free, transparent and credible elections. Minustah has been in Haiti since June 2004, as part of an operation designed to restore peace and order there since the overthrow of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004. The election has been postponed three times already. (Xinhuanet, 1/24)

The Assistant Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Albert Ramdin, declared this Tuesday in Washington that preparations for the holding of the upcoming elections in Haiti are going well. Albert Ramdin presented to the OAS Permanent Council a report of the visit to Haiti last Friday of a high-level delegation. He underscored the point that the international community is determined to support the elections. During the session, Antigua and Barbuda Ambassador Izbenz Williams, reiterated the determination of the CARICOM countries to support free and honest elections in Haiti, while insisting on the need to respect human rights in Haiti. The ambassador from Grenada urged adoption of immediate measures relating to the post-election period. He emphasized in particular the need for measures relating to development, support for the judicial system and tourism. The ambassador from Venezuela promised his government’s support for whomever shall be elected because, he said, one can not penalize the Haitian people for the mistakes committed by their leaders. In response to a question from the ambassador from Saint-Vincent and the Grenadines on the degree of progress achieved in the case of former Haitian Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, who has been imprisoned for more than a year, OAS Assistant Secretary General Albert Ramdin refrained from commenting, asserting that he has no information on that subject. The CEP indicated that 80% of the voting cards have already been distributed to potential voters. The Council gave its assurance that the first round of the presidential and legislative elections will indeed be held on February 7th. In Washington, State Department officials said last week that they are ready to cancel the visas of all individuals who choose to disrupt the electoral process. These statements were made during a teleconference with Latin-American and Canadian ministers. (AHP, 1/24)

Haiti’s election authorities have decided not to put voting stations inside the nation’s largest slum, drawing accusations they are discriminating against the troubled nation’s poorest citizens. The teeming Cite Soleil slum, with between 300,000 and 600,000 residents, and other shantytowns in the capital were the bedrock of support for former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. They may now be a significant source of support for front-runner Rene Preval, who served as president from 1996 to 2001. The ability of slum residents — who complained of being disenfranchised by Aristide’s ouster nearly two years ago — to vote in the presidential and legislative elections has become an important issue, with critics denouncing what they see as an absence of voting stations near poor areas. But Rosemond Pradel, secretary-general of Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council, said officials decided to relocate voting centers to help election workers and to avoid intimidation of voters by criminal gangs. “We don’t think the security conditions are met to organize a vote inside Cite Soleil,” Pradel told Reuters this week. (Reuters, 1/25)

Two political coalitions, the Fusion of Social Democrats and the GFCD (Grand Front of the Center Right) announced Monday that they have agreed to form a new front, less than two weeks before the first round of the presidential and legislative elections scheduled for February 7th. Through this agreement, the two political coalitions came to a common understanding that they would support the candidate from whichever of their coalitions makes it through to the second round of the upcoming elections. The Fusion presidential candidate, Serge Gilles, who explained why the coalition had decided to form this alliance, said that for a long time he has struggled side by side with Hubert De Ronceray, notably through the Democratic Convergence, a political alliance set up after the second election of President Aristide in 2001. “I have long understood Hubert De Ronceray and I believe he has understood me as well” said Mr. Gilles, promising that if the elections are held in an atmosphere of transparency and in a democratic manner, the new political alliance is ready to respect the results whatever they may be. For his part, GFCD presidential candidate Hubert De Ronceray, spoke of this agreement as being a sign of the health of the democratic process in Haiti. Nine political groups including the GFCD and the Fusion signed an document last month that was called “agreement for modernity and democracy” by which the parties committed themselves to support whichever of them obtains enough votes to make it through to a possible second round in the February 7th elections. De Ronceray explained that there is nothing unusual about such an alliance consisting of a subset of the parties to the “agreement for modernity and democracy”, observing that Haiti’s membership in the United Nations in no way prevents it from entering into agreements with a smaller number of countries than the entire UN. (AHP, 1/25)

A precarious calm has returned to Ouanaminthe, the border town in North-East Haiti, after two days of tension as René Préval, the Lespwa presidential candidate, continued his campaign in the north of the country. The situation remains volatile in the town, where two armed groups, one supporting Préval, the other hostile to him, could clash at any moment, according to sources on the ground. According to the information received by AlterPresse, the risk of armed confrontation casts doubt on the possibility of holding elections in Ouanaminthe and other parts of the North-East, if the UN are unable to neutralise the armed gangs. A number of people were wounded during the last two days of violence that took place on the fringes of Préval’s visit, reports the Dominican agency, Espacinsular. According to this agency, Préval made a short visit to Ouanaminthe on 25 January where he briefly addressed his supporters. The former president who is campaigning for a second stint, was accompanied by a number of security guards and police officers. (Alterpresse, 1/27)

Father Jean-Juste Finally Released After Having One Charge Cleared and Catching Pneumonia:
A jailed Haitian priest and former adviser to ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide says he was cleared of murder but indicted on weapons charges in a bid to keep him in prison and out of politics. Popular Roman Catholic priest Gerard Jean-Juste has been jailed for more than six months by Haiti’s interim government, which accused him of involvement in the July killing of prominent journalist Jacques Roche. In a telephone interview from his prison cell late on Saturday, Jean-Juste told Reuters a judge cleared him of the murder late last week but indicted him instead on illegal weapon and “criminal gang” activity charges. Jean-Juste also denies the new accusations and says he desperately needs medical attention to treat his leukemia. “My life is in danger. I’ve lost consciousness several times. I’m in a very bad shape,” he said. “I hope the government will give me the permission to travel to get medical treatment, because such treatment is not available in Haiti.”

Amnesty International calls Jean-Juste a prisoner of conscience jailed for expressing his views and members of the U.S. Congress have also called for his release. Jean-Juste, who served as a spiritual adviser to Aristide and was deeply involved in his Lavalas movement, said he would fight the new charges. “I absolutely have nothing to do with criminal gang activities. I’ve never carried a weapon, I’ve never used one and I don’t have weapons,” he said. Jean-Juste noted that presidential candidate Dany Toussaint had recently been caught carrying an illegal weapon but was allowed to go free. “In Dany Toussaint’s case, the corpus delicti was there, they let him go anyway,” he said. “In my case there is no corpus delicti, but they want to keep me in jail.” (Reuters, 1/22)

A popular ex-adviser to ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide whose imprisonment has drawn international criticism was hospitalized on Saturday with pneumonia, an official said. Roman Catholic priest Gerard Jean-Juste, previously diagnosed with leukemia, was suffering from a fever and a cough, said Marc Wilkens Jean, commissioner of prisons in the unstable Caribbean country. “Our doctor said his condition was very serious and recommended that we take him to a hospital to place him under medical supervision,” Jean told Reuters after Jean-Juste was taken to a private medical center in Port-au-Prince. Jean-Juste, imprisoned in July, clutched a picture of the Virgin Mary holding a baby Jesus as he was pushed into the hospital in a wheelchair. “My heart is beating too fast,” he told Reuters, adding that he had been having trouble breathing. Swelling caused by the leukemia was visible on his neck and under one arm.

Haiti’s interim authorities said they would consider allowing Jean-Juste to travel abroad for treatment — the first time the government has opened up that possibility. “We have no objection that he travel if ultimately this is what needs to be done for him to get treatment,” said Michel Brunache, chief of staff for interim President Boniface Alexandre. Jean-Juste and his supporters have called on the government to free him and allow him to seek treatment for his leukemia in the United States, where he lived for many years. “This is a humanitarian matter. It’s a big crime that the government wants to keep me here. They probably want me to die,” Jean-Juste said. Widely viewed as the natural successor to Aristide, Jean-Juste said the government had always wanted to put him behind bars because they believed he wanted to become president. He denies any presidential ambitions. (Reuters, 1/28)

Political prisoner Fr. Gerard-Jean-Juste, “Fr. Gerry” is right now on a plane in the air from Port-au-Prince to Miami. A cancer center in Florida has agreed to treat his leukemia, so he will get immediate attention for the cancer, as well as for the pneumonia he contracted this week. Fr. Gerry was granted a provisional release, which requires him to return to Haiti after the treatment to face the charges still pending against him. The current charges against him are as baseless as the other charges which have been dismissed. Fr. Gerry’s lawyers at the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) have filed an appeal, asking for the charges to be dismissed. The appeals court can rule on the appeal without Fr. Gerry’s presence, so it is possible that the case will be dismissed without requiring him to return to court. If he is forced to return to court, the BAI lawyers will continue to fight the charges. In the meantime, Fr. Gerry will be relatively safe, and will have his leukemia treated. Doctors who have examined him are hopeful that his disease is at a stage where it can be successfully treated, but they cannot be certain without more tests. (Brian Concannon, Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, <www.ijdh.org>www.ijdh.org)

MINUSTAH Uses Excessive Force Against Civilians in Ouanaminthe:
According to eye-witness accounts provided to Amnesty International, at least one civilian died and another was injured last Thursday in the locality of Ouanaminthe (on the Haitian-Dominican Republic border), after shots were allegedly fired from a convoy consisting of a Dominican truck accompanied by vehicles from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). The crowd was demonstrating as the bodies of more than 20 Haitians — who died after being illegally trafficked to the Dominican Republic – were being taken to the Ouanaminthe cemetery to be buried. The demonstrators wanted to prevent the burying of the bodies in a mass grave without a proper identification of the victims or a formal ceremony. They threw rocks at the truck transporting the bodies and at MINUSTAH vehicles escorting it. According to the eye-witnesses, none of the civilians demonstrating was armed. Furthermore, a second person was reportedly injured when hit by a MINUSTAH armoured vehicle. There are also reports that several MINUSTAH peacekeepers were injured. Two journalists from a local radio station were physically prevented from covering the events and had their tape recorders confiscated by MINUSTAH personnel.

Amnesty International is calling on MINUSTAH officials and the Haitian government to launch an urgent, independent investigation into this incident and to make the conclusions public. Those found responsible for using or ordering excessive force should be brought to justice. MINUSTAH has been deployed in Haiti since June 2004. According to reports, MINUSTAH officials recently admitted that an internal investigation concluded that a number of unarmed civilians may have been killed during a UN operation in Cité Soleil on 6 July 2005. Amnesty International urges UN officials to make public its findings. (Amnesty International, 1/16)

Cite Soleil Protesters Demand Polling Sites and Accuse UN Troops of Shooting Civilians:
About 300 protesters, including top gang leaders, marched Tuesday through a bullet-scarred slum on the edge of Haiti’s capital, accusing U.N. troops of shooting civilians and demanding polling sites for Feb. 7 elections. Chanting “We want peace!” and displaying their new voter ID cards, the protesters shuffled through Cite Soleil and past a U.N. military base. Tensions have surged in the vast, seaside slum amid battles between armed street gangs and U.N. peacekeepers sent to restore order. U.N. officials say gangs use Cite Soleil as a base to carry out kidnappings in the capital, Port-au-Prince. Electoral officials have said they plan to move voting stations out of the slum as a security precaution. People in the slum, a stronghold of Aristide allies, accuse peacekeepers of firing randomly during nighttime assaults. “They treat us like animals, not humans. Kids walking down the street are getting shot everyday,” said a gang leader known as General Tou Tou. David Wimhurst, a U.N. spokesman, denied peacekeepers fired into the slum unprovoked. “If we fire, it’s because we’re fired upon, and this is a daily occurrence,” Wimhurst said. (AP, 1/25)

Hispaniola Island North Corridor:
The National Office for the European Development Funds (Onfed) will build a bi-national project between Haiti and Dominican Republic, called “the Hispaniola Island North Corridor,” at a cost of 45 million euros. Onfed director Onofre Rojas made the announcement, and said that the corridor consists of a highway from Cape Haitian to Dajabón and a new bridge on the Masacre river, to be built next to the one already there. The official, speaking while visiting this border city, said that this project includes the construction of a market in Dajabón, because it is one of the province’s most pressing demands. “In the last 12 years this population has been demanding the market as a source for trade between Dominican Republic and Haiti,” he said, and pointed out that Haiti is the country’s second trade partner, after United States. (Dominican Today, 1/25)

UN’s Disarmament Program:
After more than a year in one of the armed groups based in this city’s Bel Air slum, Emmanuel Aristide gave up his gun in the hopes of becoming a plumber. The 21-year-old Aristide and 13 other young men from Bel Air in November became the first to join a program by U.N. peacekeepers offering job training, education or small-business loans to members of armed groups who surrender their weapons. But three weeks ago, Aristide, who is no relation to former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, ousted in a 2004 revolt, was arrested by Haitian police on charges of murder, kidnapping and arson related to his membership in the group. His arrest was the latest setback for the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration program run by the U.N. mission here, a mission already widely accused of failing to quell the bloody violence spread by the armed groups that include both supporters and opponents of the former president. While similar programs have helped disband guerrilla and other armed factions in Sierra Leone, Mozambique and El Salvador, the program here so far has managed to collect only 30 weapons. ‘’This is not the nail in the coffin for DDR, but it clearly doesn’t help,’’ said Desmond Molloy, a former Irish army officer who heads the DDR program here, of Emmanuel Aristide’s arrest.

News of the arrest reverberated throughout Bel Air, where participants in the DDR program say they now fear for their lives. Robert Montinard, a local leader of former President Aristide’s Lavalas party who endorsed the disarmament program, says he has received death threats from armed groups accusing him of betrayal. Molloy complained that the DDR program originally envisioned for Haiti is impossible to execute in part because the current interim government, selected after President Aristide’s ouster to rule the nation until new elections, has refused amnesty for armed supporters of the former president. ‘’I could do my work if we had an amnesty,’’ said Molloy, who ran the DDR program in Sierra Leone before coming to Haiti in 2004. “But there is no political space for an amnesty or for national reconciliation.’’ The interim government instead has gone after supporters of the former president; for example, jailing former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste on what human rights observers say are political charges.

A report published last year by the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey estimated that Haiti’s myriad armed groups — excluding the former military, abruptly disbanded in 1995 — have some 13,000 weapons, mostly leaked from government stockpiles. The U.N. mission’s initial efforts to disarm the former military were undercut in 2004 when the interim government offered ex-soldiers some $30 million in compensation for the army’s abolition, without conditioning the payment to the hand over of their weapons, including guns they took home when the armed forces were disbanded. Molloy later refocused the program to target the armed groups in the slums of Port-au-Prince, many of them loyal to the populist President Aristide. ‘’When I say our DDR program has been blocked, I mean it has been blocked for people who want an opportunity,’’ said Juan Gabriel Valdés, a Chilean diplomat who heads the U.N. mission here. “The case of Emmanuel Aristide is . . . a typical case of a gangster who would like to go back to a normal life, who has been arrested by a state that . . . has put him in prison where he will have no possibility of recuperation.’’

Molloy says Emmanuel Aristide was included in the DDR program because his name was not on a list of 83 wanted criminals given to him by the Haitian police. In early November, Emmanuel Aristide and 13 other members of an armed group in Bel Air handed over four ancient military rifles, a grenade launcher and four handguns. They spent a month at DDR’s Port-au-Prince rehabilitation center where they were given career advice and taught about conflict prevention, civic duties, human rights and HIV/AIDS, among other subjects. But in mid-December, two members of the National Disarmament Commission, the Haitian government’s counterpart to the DDR, publicly accused the DDR program of harboring criminals, citing Emmanuel Aristide’s participation. Less than a week later, Haiti’s judicial police arrested Aristide at his home. Judicial Police chief Michael Lucius said Aristide was wanted since October 2004 and showed a manila folder bulging with witness testimonies implicating Aristide in crimes and a wanted poster with his photo. In a brief interview held in Lucius’s office, Aristide said he was innocent. He said he had been beaten by police and pulled up his pants to reveal a partly healed gash on each of his shins. Lucius denied Aristide was beaten.

Molloy says he is still hopeful the DDR program will incorporate as many as 1,000 members of armed groups in the next two years. But he acknowledges that he cannot give any guarantees that other DDR participants will not be arrested. ‘’There are many more guys out there who would do the program, but everybody is afraid now,’’ said Frantz Lafortune, 22, a Bel Air resident who entered the DDR program with Aristide and hopes to begin studying to be an auto mechanic in mid-January. “If they’re going to do this to us, how will they disarm everybody else? People have lost their trust, and everybody is saying we are sellouts to the foreigners.’’ (Miami Herald, 1/24)

Police Officers Targeted by Bandits in Carrefour:
Widner Talon, a level 3 officer of the Haitian National police, stationed at the Haitian Marines, was shot dead Monday at Lamentin 54 in the commune of Carrefour. This killing, said to be the work of armed bandits operating in the area, brings to three the number of police officers killed over the past 15 days in similar circumstances. An officer with the BRI (Intelligence and Investigation Brigade), Jean Robert Lubin, and a policeman with the Traffic Service, Fritzner Davo, were killed last week in Port-au-Prince. The shooting of Widner Talon provoked a slowdown in activities along the Carrefour Road as far as Martissant, south of the capital. Patrols from MINUSTAH and the PNH had to intervene to restore order. Early Monday morning, residents of Martissant set up barricades of flaming tires and threw stones in all directions, breaking the windshields of several vehicles to protest against the murder the day before of at least four people close to them. The victims were part of the Carnaval group named Soul Rasta and were returning to their base when armed individuals opened fire in their direction. (AHP, 1/24)

French Citizens Kidnapped and Released Unharmed:
Three French citizens and a Haitian who were kidnapped near a volatile slum outside of the capital have been released unharmed, a French official said Saturday. Two hostages were released Friday afternoon and two were freed Friday evening, said Eric Bosc, a spokesman for the French Embassy in Port-au-Prince. They were taken to the French Embassy after their release, he said. The four, including a French priest and a nun believed to be in her 80s,
were abducted Wednesday on a road running between Haiti’s international airport and Cite Soleil, a slum on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince used as a base by heavily armed gangs. U.N. officials have said another may have duel French-Haitian citizenship. The kidnappers initially demanded $500,000 for the hostages’ release, but the four were apparently freed without a ransom being paid, Bosc said.

An anti-kidnapping squad made up of U.N. civilian police and Haitian authorities had been working to win the hostages’ release, but it was unclear if they were freed as a result of negotiations. Haitian police and U.N. officials could not immediately be reached for comment. Bosc said the hostages were held in Cite Soleil and were not harmed during the ordeal. Last month, there were 162 reported kidnap cases in Haiti, compared to 37 so far in January, the U.N. reported. The actual number is probably much higher because victims’ families often prefer to negotiate with kidnappers rather than notify police. (AP, 1/28)

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