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12/9/06

Haiti Report for September 12, 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. 

To make a donation to support this service: Konbit Pou Ayiti, 7 Wall Street, Gloucester, MA, 01930.

IN THIS REPORT:
- New Government Commission on Disarmament
- Impromptu Ceremony Kicks off Disarmament
- UN Troops Take Over Volatile Areas in Port-au-Prince
- New Government Appointments
- Lancet Launches Investigation Following Publication of Human Rights Survey
- OPINION: Kurzban on Latortue
- OPINION: Latortue Responds to Kurzban

New Government Commission on Disarmament:
Haiti’s government appointed a new commission on Thursday to oversee a U.N.-backed initiative to disarm hundreds of gang members by offering them economic aid and job training. The seven-member commission will decide who can enter the long-awaited program, which seeks to persuade up to 1,000 rank-and-file gang members to give up their weapons and rejoin society. Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis told reporters the commission — made up of people from various government sectors — will replace the one appointed by the 2004-2006 interim government. That commission never successfully launched a program to disarm gangs, which are blamed for a surge in kidnappings and other violence in the impoverished Caribbean nation. ”We had a disarmament commission before and the United Nations recognized that it did not produce results,” Alexis said. The new commission’s president, Alix Fils-Aime, said the program “will serve as a step forward to end violence.” Fils-Aime, also a Preval adviser, said he did not know what criteria the commission would use to select participants, who will receive ID cards, money, food for their families and job training in exchange for disarming. Special U.N. Envoy to Haiti Edmond Mulet said this week that top gang leaders and human rights violators wouldn’t be eligible for the “Disarm, Demobilize and Reinsertion” program. Business leaders this week offered tepid support for the plan and urged peacekeepers to forcibly disarm gangs if the bid fails. The 8,800-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission will launch radio and television ads about the program in coming days. (AP, 9/7)

Impromptu Ceremony Kicks off Disarmament:
Three gang members surrendered their guns Monday in the first handover of weapons in a U.N.-led effort to disarm hundreds of Haitian criminals. The men held the guns above their heads as they approached Brazilian peacekeepers to the cheers of supporters during the handover ceremony in the gritty Port-au-Prince slum of Solino. They agreed to disarm after peacekeepers promised they would not be arrested. Haiti’s government and U.N. peacekeepers are trying to persuade up to 1,000 gang members to lay down their arms with offers of money, food and job training. The impromptu ceremony marked the start of what officials acknowledge will likely be a lengthy campaign to disarm the gangs, which are blamed for a recent wave of kidnappings and shootings in the capital, Port-au-Prince. A U.N. spokesman declined to comment on the weapon handover.

The men handing in guns — one gang leader and two followers — said they were tired of fighting with rival gangs in the slum, a warren of crumbling cinderblock homes, dirt roads and open sewers only a few blocks from the National Palace. ”Now we want the freedom to go where we want without being arrested by police,” said the gang leader in Solino, known as “Bibi.”  The guns and about two dozen rounds of ammunition were splayed out on a table in front of a mural of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the former Haitian president who has retained the loyalty of some gangs. A government commission was appointed last week to oversee the U.N. disarmament initiative. The U.N. special envoy to Haiti, Edmond Mulet, has said only gang members not wanted for killings, human rights abuses or other serious crimes would be eligible for the benefits after they give up their weapons. (AP, 9/11)

UN Troops Take Over Volatile Areas in Port-au-Prince:
U.N. troops took over several areas that had been held by illegally armed gangs in the volatile slums of the Haitian capital on Monday, according to a U.N official who pledged to bring gang leaders to justice. U.N. Special Envoy Edmond Mulet said some of the 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers sent to stabilize the troubled Caribbean country had been moved from calm provincial cities and redeployed to surround gangs and block their getaways in hot spots around the capital of Port-au-Prince. ”We began to surround the bandits who control Cite Soleil and other neighboring slums,” Mulet told Reuters in an interview. ”These criminals are wanted by the police and they will have one day or another to face justice,” warned Mulet. “They should know that we are progressing and we are going to nab them.”

U.N. troops had conducted operations in Cite Militaire and other neighborhoods near the country’s most dangerous shantytown of Cite Soleil, in the metropolitan area. They set up 32 new checkpoints in parts of the capital where armed gangs were forced to flee for their lives, Mulet said. ”We have taken over some of the territories occupied by the bandits,” including a Cite Militaire building that had been used as a gang base and a hiding place for kidnap victims, he said. Several armed groups are believed to be loyal to former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was forced from power in February 2004 by an armed rebellion and by pressure from the United States and France. U.N. peacekeepers were deployed four months later to stabilize the impoverished country. Some gang members said their movement was politically motivated and rejected accusations they were bandits. ”We are not criminals, we are political militants who had to take up weapons to defend ourselves,” said gang leader William Baptiste, known as Ti Blan.

U.N. officials said gang leaders who committed atrocities against innocent citizens will be considered criminals. ”If someone kidnaps for economic ransom, kill, shoot at innocent victims, I don’t see any political motivation behind that,” said Mulet. He said U.N. forces continue to come under attack from recalcitrant gangs, and called on gang members to immediately surrender their weapons. (Reuters, 9/11)

New Government Appointments:
Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis presented 13 new directors general and two secretaries of state at the Prime Minister’s secretariat building.  Attorney Josué Pierre Louis, former government prosecutor, has been named director general of the Ministry for Justice and Public Security, Henry Voltaire has been appointed to that position at the Interior Ministry, Dr.  Gabriel Timothée will be director general at the Public Health Ministry,  Stéphane Malbranche will manage the Culture Ministry,  Pierre André Damba will hold the position at the Commerce Ministry and Alix Broyer was named director general of the Social Affairs Ministry.  Mr. Serge Raphaël, former Minister of Public Works under the first government of René Préval, is appointed director general of  Electricité d’Haïti (the national electric utility) Jean-Jacques Valentin returns to the position of general customs administration,  a post he held before the arrival of the interim government in March 2005,  Sandro Joseph, formerly a senior cadre of the national telephone company (Téléco), has been named director general of ONA (National Office of Old Age Insurance).  Joseph Leprince Augustin, former deputy director general at ONA, has been named director general of the Ministry for Haitians Living Abroad,  Nixon Myrtil will be the director general of the Foreign Ministry, Pierre Michel Laguerre will hold that position at the National Education Ministry, and Daniel Pierre Charles will perform the job at the State Secretariat for Sports, where he was formerly executive director.  The new director general of  Teléco, Michel Présumé, who is presently outside the country, has been appointed to replace Guy Bauduit, and is expected to take up his post in the next few days. The government also nominated two new secretaries of state. Karol Joseph has been appointed Secretary of State for Literacy and Jonas Gay is the new Secretary of State at the Ministry of Agriculture and took the oath of office this Thursday.  The other appointments are expected to be announced Friday.   (AHP, 9/7)

Lancet Launches Investigation Following Publication of Human Rights Survey:
The Lancet, a prestigious British medical journal, is investigating complaints about a potential conflict of interest involving the author of a recent article that found systemic human-rights violations in Haiti despite the presence of a Canadian-led United Nations police force and peacekeeping mission. The study, co-authored by Athena Kolbe, found that 8,000 Haitians have been slain and 35,000 women and girls raped since the ouster of president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in early 2004. Ms. Kolbe said that according to local Haitians, Canadian peacekeepers made death threats against them during house raids, and sexual advances against women while the peacekeepers were drunk and off duty. However, Ms. Kolbe herself is now the subject of controversy after revelations that the 30-year-old master’s degree student at Wayne State University’s school of social work in Detroit used to be an advocacy journalist who wrote under the name Lyn Duff and worked at a Haitian orphanage founded by Mr. Aristide.

“How can Kolbe/Duff’s research into the issues of human-rights violations be regarded as objective when she herself states that for 3.5 years she worked with the Lafanmi Selavi centre for street children, where she befriended Aristide himself and presumably some of the boys who later left the centre . . . [who] then acted as armed enforcers?” Charles Arthur, co-ordinator of the British-based Haiti Support Group, wrote this week in a letter of complaint to The Lancet. ”There is a concerted international campaign to distort news and manipulate information about Haiti with the apparent aim of repairing the reputation of Aristide. I am concerned The Lancet has unwittingly been used as part of the pro-Aristide propaganda campaign.” Nobody from The Lancet was available to comment yesterday, but Ms. Kolbe said the magazine is investigating, and she is confident it will find no conflict of interest.

“The Lancet would have appreciated hearing it from me and not from an outsider,” she said in an interview. ”But it’s not like they wouldn’t have published the article. The findings aren’t at issue.” Ms. Kolbe said she used to write articles under the name Lyn Duff — an old nickname and her mother’s surname — but wanted to go by her father’s surname and her real first name once she entered academia. She also said that from 1994-1997, she worked at an orphanage founded by Mr. Aristide, met him several times, and was an admirer of the then-president. Some of the children at the orphanage maintained links with him. “I am not a supporter of Lavalas [Aristide’s political party]. I have warm feelings toward Aristide, but I am critical of some of his decisions.” She and her co-author, assistant professor Royce Hutson, defended the results of their survey, which has prompted some groups to call for a parliamentary inquiry into Canada’s role in Haiti.

The Lancet peer-reviewed study of 5,720 randomly selected Haitians living in the capital found that in the 22-month period since Mr. Aristide’s ouster, 97 had received death threats, 232 had been threatened physically and 86 sexually. According to survey respondents, one-third of those who issued death threats were criminals, 18 per cent were Haitian National Police and other government security agents and another 17 per cent were foreign soldiers. Only 6 per cent were Lavalas. Mr. Arthur said these findings contradict independent human-rights investigators who report that many of the violations have been committed by criminals, Haitian police and anti-Aristide groups — as well as Lavalas supporters. “My concern is that either the conduct or interpretation of the research was skewed or biased in order to exonerate Fanmi Lavalas/Aristide supporters from accusation of involvement in human-rights violations,” he said in his letter. Nicholas Galletti, with Rights and Democracy, a Montreal non-governmental organization, said the author’s background further calls into question a study “based on flawed methodology” whereby responsibility for crimes is attributed to groups without a proper criminal investigation or trial.

However, Prof. Hutson says the study acknowledges the limitations of having to rely on subject recall. ”The charges of bias are baseless. We were aware Athena had written under another name and found no conflict. Our concern is the way UN soldiers are interacting with Haitians.” (Toronto Globe and Mail, 9/7)

Astrid James, a deputy editor of The Lancet, said the journal is investigating the allegations “as quickly as we can,” but still stands by the report, which also said up to 35,000 women were sexually abused while the interim government ruled the troubled Caribbean nation. ”We’re obviously concerned by what we’ve heard and we’re conducting our investigation and we have asked for more information from the authors,” James said from the journal’s London headquarters.

Kolbe said she had written articles about Haiti for several San Francisco publications under the name “Lyn Duff.” She said her full name is Athena Lyn Duff-Kolbe, but that she only uses Athena Kolbe in her academic work. The Lancet report cites two articles by Lyn Duff as references, but doesn’t disclose that Duff and Kolbe are the same person. Doubts about Kolbe’s work were raised by Britain-based human rights activist Charles Arthur, who sent a letter to The Lancet expressing concern that the study tried to exonerate Aristide supporters even though independent human rights workers say they committed killings and rapes after the revolt. ”How can the survey be regarded as objective if the main person coordinating the survey hides her very pronounced political sympathies by using a different name?” Arthur wrote. (AP, 9/7)

OPINION: Kurzban on Latortue:
On Feb. 29, 2004, former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forcibly removed from Haiti by the Bush administration. Several days later, Gerard Latortue was airlifted into Haiti and named the prime minister with barely a fig-leaf as a process. Latortue was a radio announcer in Boca Raton. His major qualification, as with many Iraqi advisors to the Bush administration, was his strong ties to the U.S. intelligence community and neoconservatives in the White House. Having fed the administration what it wanted to hear about how unpopular and dictatorial Aristide was in Haiti — similar to the disinformation campaign waged by Ahmed Chalabi regarding Iraq — the unqualified Latortue was rewarded by being anointed prime minister.

The results of his tenure are now in. A study published this week in The Lancet, the respected medical journal of the United Kingdom, scientifically analyzed the brutality of the regime. In the last two years, reports have documented the gross human-rights violations in Haiti, but these abuses were sadly ignored by most mainstream media. The University of Miami School of Law’s Center for Human Rights, led by the prominent human-rights author and professor Irwin Stotzky, Harvard University’s Human Rights Clinic and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti all detailed executions and systematic human-rights violations after Aristide’s removal. The Lancet report, however, confirms everyone’s worst suspicions. It concludes that in the 22 months after Aristide’s removal there were 8,000 murders and 35,000 sexual assaults in the greater Port-au-Prince area alone. More than 50 percent of these murders were attributed to anti-Aristide and anti-Lavalas factions including armed anti-Lavalas groups, demobilized army members and government security forces.

Similarly, almost 30 percent of the sexual assaults were attributed to anti-Lavalas and anti-Aristide forces. The remaining murders and sexual assaults were due to common criminals or of unknown origin. Although a sustained disinformation campaign by Latortue and the Bush Administration claimed that violence was due to Lavalas ‘’gangs’’ — the study finds just the opposite. No murders or sexual assaults were attributed to Lavalas members or partisans during the 22-month period of Latortue’s regime. As in Iraq, the other lasting legacy of the Bush administration’s policies in Haiti has been rampant corruption. More than $900 million in aid was provided to the Latortue regime at the request of the United States, France and Canada. But no visible major projects warranting such huge expenditures have been recorded. In a country where the average annual income is less than $350 per year, the newly elected legislature is investigating this rampant corruption, including $6 million that disappeared from Latortue’s Foreign Ministry.

Latortue also paid a U.S. law firm $250,000 a month retainer solely to bring against Aristide a civil suit that was ultimately dismissed. In a parting shot to the Haitian people, Latortue awarded himself two new luxury automobiles, which he took to Florida until the misappropriation was discovered. The Bush administration legacy of terminating democracy under Aristide and allowing gross human-rights abuses and corruption to fester during Latortue’s regime will take many decades to reverse. Nor was the administration successful in terminating the Haitian people’s desire for the return of Aristide, who is as popular as ever in Haiti. [Ira Kurzban was the general counsel for Haiti for 13 years during the governments of René Préval and Jean-Bertrand Aristide.] (Miami Herald, 9/7)

OPINION: Latortue Responds to Kurzban:
Kurzban column gets it wrong: I was dismayed and surprised by Ira Kurzban’s Sept. 7 Other Views piece, Latortue’s disturbing legacy, and comments on my tenure as Haiti’s interim prime minister during the last two years. The basis for Kurzban’s allegations is a now-discredited study published in The Lancet and purporting to reflect on the brutality of my government. A quick search would have revealed that The Lancet, a prestigious British medical journal, already is investigating complaints about potential conflicts of interest involving the article’s author, Athena Kolbe. She is a student at Wayne State University’s School of Social Work. Kolbe also has been an employee of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide at one of his centers where street children were alleged to have been trained to terrorize Haitians during his regime, often in view of Aristide’s police. Their despicable practices continued under the leadership of Aristide, Kurzban’s employer. For obvious reasons, Kolbe used the pseudonym Lyn Duff to sign her article. Kurzban’s piece is simply part of a well-funded pro-Aristide campaign to distort news and repair Aristide’s reputation. Aristide has the funds to do it. Over the years, he has collected more than $10 million from the Haitian treasury, which he left empty. This is why the lawsuit to look into Aristide’s tenure was withdrawn. It has never been dismissed by the trial court, as Kurzban alleges. The $250,000 a month referred to never was paid to the law firm. However, Kurzban has already collected. Finally, even though I have had the honor and the privilege to hold various posts during my long career, I have yet to be a ‘’radio announcer in Boca Raton,’’ as Kurzban claimed. [GERARD LATORTUE, Boca Raton] (Miami Herald, 9/9)

  
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