Haiti Archives 1995-1996
10/10/95 THIS WEEK IN HAITI October 4 – 10, 1995 Vol. 13 No. 28

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Nationwide demonstrations, speak-outs, and religious services marked the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 30, 1991 coup d’etat this week in Haiti. Although the Haitian government attempted to demobilize popular energy into a self-reflective day of national mourning, popular organizations across the country stood up and launched demonstrations demanding justice, reparations for the victims of the bloody coup, and an end to the Aristide/Michel government’s march toward privatization.

The upsurge of popular anger and action prompted The Economist to title a Sept. 30 article on Haiti “Honeymoon Over” and note that, if last fall “Haitians rejoiced as American (…) power brought back their elected leader,… [a] year later, the euphoria has worn off.”

With only a couple of people tried and convicted for crimes committed during the coup period, condemnation of the justice system and the government’s policy of reconciliation were furious. Groups demanded the “nettoyage” or cleansing of the justice system still riddled with putschists. They warned Haiti’s Truth Commission, whose mission is to produce a comprehensive report on the crimes of the coup, to name the names of the national and international actors responsible for the more than 5,000 murders and tens of thousands of beatings and tortures committed during the coup regime. Popular organizations and human rights groups also denounced the government’s neo-liberal economic program, which is championed by the private sector— the very same sector which financed and organized the coup d’etat.

In the northern city of Cap Haitien, hundreds took to the streets, with between 1,500 to 3,000 in nearby Limbe. Demonstrators denounced the continuing impunity of criminals, “demagogic” judgments in absentia, and the government’s policy of reconciliation.

Some 500 farmers organized a sit-in and march in St. Marc, again demanding justice and reparations. In Leogane, west of the capital, demonstrators demanded the arrest of all the coup criminals in the area. In Jeremie, a coalition of 14 popular organizations threatened to shut the local court-house unless judicial officials began prosecuting coup criminals. In the capital, a commemorative mass at the National Cathedral was followed by a procession to the national cemetery. Women’s groups held a speak-out where witnesses described brutal repression under the coup and demanded a special tribunal to judge rapists.

The popular demands for justice aim at the very heart of the occupation deal struck by the Aristide government, the Clinton administration, the Haitian bourgeoisie, and the “military macoute” sector, which represents Haiti’s reactionary landed oligarchy. That deal seeks to bolster the bankrupt and politically weak bourgeoisie, and the remnants of the military- macoute sector. Macoute judges, for instance, are now being recycled through a $18 million US Agency for International Development (AID) program, just as former army killers were recycled into the new security apparatus, whether as new police, prison guards, or other security personnel. In addition, most of the putschist political parties and figures, many of whom participated in the coup governments, freely participated in the elections over the last few months – in violation of the Constitution which bans Duvalierists from seeking office until 1997 – and received financial support from the US and Haitian governments.

The justice picture further darkened in September when Port-au- Prince Commissaire (or prosecutor) Jean-Auguste Brutus released Marcel Morissaint, an attache who had worked during the coup for Lieut. Col. Michel Francois as well as (surprise!) the US Embassy. In The Nation of Oct. 9, journalist Allan Nairn explains that the Haitian government had charged Morissaint as being one of the trigger-men in the Oct. 11, 1993 machine-gunning of Justice Minister Guy Malary in Port-au-Prince. A government investigative team “had seen [Morissaint] as a pivotal witness who could lead them ‘to the top’ not just in the Malary killing but also those of [Antoine] Izmery and [Jean Marie] Vincent,” Nairn reported. When the investigative team arrived at the prison to question Morissaint, they were therefore shocked to learn that he had been released. According to the article, Justice Minister Jean-Joseph Exume said that “he had been told that the United States paid Morissaint’s legal expenses, that it ‘provided backup’ (in ways he declined to specify) to arrange the gunman’s release, that after his release they gave him ‘total protection’ (at one point bringing him, under guard, to a hotel) and that the United States also ‘made arrangements to have [Morissaint] leave the country.’”

While Exume has attempted to explain away the Morissaint debacle and the glacial advance of justice in occupied Haiti, various coup crime victims, who attended a meeting at the National Palace with President Aristide and Exume on Sept. 27, demanded the minister’s resignation. One victim said that the Lavalas government of 1991, which made a advances in justice, was not at all like that of today. Another victim told Exume to “remove the dark glasses you are wearing” so as to deliver justice. The warning may be futile since sources close to the government assert that Exume will be jettisoned as soon as his replacement can be found.

Exume’s ouster would signify, above all, a sacrifice play by Aristide to forestall and deflect growing pressure. In the past year, popular organizations have spear-headed the assault on the government’s inertia on the justice front. Now, even the famous “civil society,” code for the network of “social” professionals active in the “non-profit” development, education, health, and human rights sectors and upon which the Aristide government drew some support, is beginning to rebel. The Port-au-Prince chapter of the Justice and Peace Commission, for instance, focused this week on the “failure” of occupation forces to disarm the coup sectors and on the anti-democratic nature of the judicial apparatus. In a statement released Sep. 29, they demanded the dismissal of all judges that advised the paramilitary death squad, the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), and for an inquiry into each judge who performed duties during the coup period. They demanded that 3 judges in each juridical district be seconded to work full-time on cases involving human rights abuses.

The Justice and Peace Commission in Gonaives issued a blunt warning to the Truth Commission this week. It said that they will “observe in a very attentive manner how the … final report will be presented: the Haitian people expect a lot from the ongoing investigations and will not be content with a ‘discount’ final report that does not go to the bottom of things.” The Justice and Peace Commission added: “This expectation cannot and should not be deceived: it is a question of bringing to light, completely, the entire, vast and unpitying system of repression with all the cogs in the machine.”

The Platform for Human Rights, a coalition of 9 “civil society” groups, also issued a stinging press release this week, criticizing the government for not consulting human rights groups on the formation of a new police force and the reform of the justice system. It also denounced impunity and the existing judicial structure. “The Platform deplores and is indignant at the manner in which the judicial authorities treat the cases of grave and systematic violations of human rights,” they said. “Justice against justice? Does this opposition constitute a new way to strangle the demands of justice?”

The Platform called on the government to provide the means to convict coup criminals and to reveal all the national and international connections of the repressive apparatus. They said the government, which has thus far denied repeated requests from the human rights sector to be involved in the development of the new police force and the reform of the judicial apparatus, should actively seek participation from rights groups on these questions. The Platform also warned the Truth Commission to take note of the apprehensions of the people as to their intentions and reminded the government that all coup victims have the right to both material and moral reparations.

The Platform also said that the government must take into account other economic strategies and condemned its “pernicious” neo- liberal economic program. “We mustn’t pass from the macoute- military terror to the terrifying law of the market, a sure source of new forms of economic, political and social repression,” said the Platform in a Sep. 28 press release.

For its part, the Haitian bourgeoisie, which has ravaged the country for years and which helped organize and finance the coup, is now benefiting from large US/UN contracts for its buildings, real estate, and businesses. Hundreds of putschists are now employed by the US/UN in various capacities ranging from consultants to chauffeurs to translators to project managers. Moreover, the government’s proposed economic strategy of privatization – dubbed misleadingly “democratization” – will in fact strengthen monopolist families.

Haiti’s international financial overseers are worried about the course of events in the country. In the article cited earlier, The Economist complained that “rather than use his considerable popularity to win support for [privatization], [Aristide] has been ambivalent.” This is because not even Aristide’s popularity now seems enough to stop the anti-privatization ground-swell.

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