Haiti Archives 1995-1996
13/10/95 HAITI-U.S.: Aristide stands as political punching bag on key anniversary by Yvette Collymore

Copyright 1995 InterPress Service, all rights reserved. Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

WASHINGTON, Oct 13 (IPS) – Amid the sound and fury of political rivalry here, Haiti’s reconstituted democracy offers many faces. But while reviews of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s past year may vary, there is little quarrel that clandestine paramilitary units should be disarmed with urgency.

As the administration of President Bill Clinton touts its success in returning Aristide to office, Haiti is turning into a punching bag for the Republicans in the run-up to the 1996 presidential elections.

But one year after Aristide’s return, human rights groups caution that attention — from both Washington and Haiti — should focus on disarming secret paramilitary forces if the original goal of ensuring a ‘’safe and secure’’ environment in Haiti is to be achieved.

‘’We do believe that there has not been enough disarming of clandestine paramilitary groups,’’ says Juan Mendez of Human Rights Watch in New York. ‘’We don’t believe that there’s been a full effort to prosecute FRAPH (the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti),’’ a group blamed for thousands of killings under the military-backed regime.

His and other human rights groups here suggest that the United States should share any information it may have on the terrorist group and its founder Emmanuel Constant, who had reportedly been in the pay of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) at one time or another.

Haitian Foreign Minister Claudette Werleigh, who visited Washington this past week, said Haiti has repeatedly requested assistance in disarming clandestine forces and in gathering information on FRAPH and its members. ‘’If the United States cannot get information, who can?’’ she demanded in an interview with IPS.

The Foreign Minister had just attended a forum at the Organisation of American States (OAS), at which President Bill Clinton made an unexpected visit to thank ‘’partners in the hemisphere’’ for being part of ‘’that remarkable coalition’’ that returned Aristide to power Oct. 15 last year.

‘’It was the right thing to do,’’ he said Thursday night. But ‘’we have a lot more work to do there.’’

The Haitian government has its own list of priorities. One of them is to move the population from 85 percent illiteracy to 85 percent literacy in a few years. But there are other equally pressing problems, relating to rebuilding the economy and creating democratic institutions.

According to the Centre for International Policy (CIP), a Washington-based think tank, there should be faster training of new police, more speedy disbursement of emergency aid to create jobs, ‘’and a more concerted effort at disarming rather than merely scattering the enforcers of the former regime’’.

Since Clinton first deployed some 20,000 U.S. troops in Sep. 1994 to clear the way for Aristide’s return, Haiti has held elections to fill more than 2,000 parliamentary and municipal seats. The government has also dissolved the armed forces and begun replacing an interim police force with professionally trained units under civilian control.

But the CIP says the multinational force, which took over the largely U.S. operation this year, has long since stopped disarming paramilitary units. As a result, ‘’security remains the number one concern of Haitians, coming ahead even of economic development.’’

Werleigh is worried. When U.S. troops mounted the operation to return Aristide to office after his three-year exile, ‘’the population was at that time eager to help, telling people who had arms and where the arms were kept in secret,’’ she said. ‘’The United States certainly has information about who has the arms, what kind of weapons, and even where they are.’’

‘’We have always asked — not only for the information — but for the disarmament,’’ she said. ‘’At the beginning, they told us they couldn’t go every single place and it wasn’t their responsibility. They said they had destroyed most of the heavy weapons. But we can see the problem is not totally resolved.’’

To complicate things, reports are increasing that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other sectors of the U.S. intelligence community have been closely tied to Haiti’s violent past.

The U.S. weekly, the Nation, disclosed this month that Haitian gunman Marcel Morissaint worked with U.S. intelligence while serving as an attache under former police chief Lt. Col. Michel Francois — one of the leaders of the 1991 coup that deposed Aristide.

Morissaint, who is charged with the 1993 murder of Haiti’s Justice Minister Guy Malary, was recently released from jail, reportedly with the help of U.S. officials. Haiti’s current justice minister Jean-Joseph Exume told the Nation that Morissaint had been under the protection of U.S. agencies.

Morissaint, who told investigators of the 1993 murder that he had been on the payroll of the U.S. embassy, is but the latest in a list of culprits — including FRAPH’s Constant — linked to the U.S. intelligence community.

One U.S. congresswoman said this week she hoped the full story on the extent of the U.S. intelligence community’s involvement will unfold.

‘’I hope information will unfold of the history if Haiti that will show CIA involvement there,’’ said Rep. Maxine Walters. ‘’Five thousand people have died at the hands of FRAPH,’’ she said pointing out that Clinton ‘’was undermined by the CIA’’ in his efforts to reinstate Aristide last year.

Republican right-wingers appear to be carrying on that campaign. They have sought to highlight what they see as a continued lack of security and justice in Haiti, claiming that Aristide, with U.S. consent, is consolidating its power and ruling by terror.

Senator Majority Leader Bob Dole, the Republican frontrunner for the 1996 elections, has joined the attack. ‘’The human rights situation in Haiti is not something America should be proud of,’’ he told his colleagues recently. ‘’The Joint United States- Organisation of American States International Civilian Mission in Haiti has identified some 20 cases of ‘’commando-style’’ executions in which theft does not seem to have been a motive.’’

Burt Wides, a U.S. lawyer retained by the Haitian government here, poses a number of scenarios to explain the killings in Haiti.

‘’They could be right-wing rivals — including old Duvalierists and FRAPH members — killing each other or framing Aristide’s government.’’ He told IPS that former members of the Duvalier dynasty may be ‘’searching for a moderate, acceptable-looking person to lead the presidential election next year.’’

Wides also says there has been no move to dismantle evidence of a huge drug trade ‘’which ballooned onto the (1991) coup’’. The killings could be the result of fights over turf in this trade, he said.

Though Dole and others seek to implicate the Aristide government in recent killings in Haiti, human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, say they have no evidence to make this connection.

But Dole and others are trying to tie the disbursement of critical U.S. aid to thorough investigations of these cases, even requiring Haiti to bring in U.S. experts to track down the perpetrators.

Asked recently what exactly the United States was doing to provide intelligence on groups like FRAPH, Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck was vague: The United States ‘’is providing investigative assistance in a number of cases and is certainly working very closely with the Truth and Justice Commission’’ set up by the government of Haiti to look into past abuses. (END/IPS/YJC/JL/95)

Origin: Washington/HAITI-U.S./ ----

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