Haiti Archives 1994-1996
07/02/96 HAITI: Rights Groups Disclose U.S. Support for Extremists by Farhan Haq

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

NEW YORK, Feb 7 (IPS) – The United States’ role in Haiti became the focus of controversy again this week with the release of classified documents showing U.S. ties to extremist right-wing groups during the 1991-94 reign of the military junta there.

As Haiti enacted a peaceful transition of power Wednesday, with President Jean-Bertrand Aristide giving way to his handpicked successor Rene Preval, the disclosure of the cables once more put the spotlight on Washington’s own designs in Haiti.

Thousands of pages of newly declassified U.S. documents, received by the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR), depict a U.S. government that understood the brutal nature of Haiti’s rightist opposition — but denied it in public.

‘’Obviously, they were talking out of both sides of their mouth,’’ CCR lawyer Michael Ratner said of the U.S. government.

‘’They were talking about restoring democracy to Haiti, but at the same time, they were undermining democracy in the coup period— at times supporting a group that committed terrorist acts against the Haitian people,’’ Ratner told IPS.

He contended that U.S. suspicions of Aristide’s leftist populism prodded them to seek support from even the most brutal anti-Aristide elements.

Dozens of cables from the U.S. Embassy in Haiti to the U.S. State and Defence Departments paint a picture of one former U.S. ally, the rightist Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), as a brutal, military-linked organisation.

‘’All over the country, FRAPH is evolving into a sort of Mafia,’’ one cable, sent by the office of the U.S. military attache in Port-au-Prince in spring, 1994, said.

‘’Its use of force to intimidate and coerce is sanctioned by the local military, which derives both political and especially material benefits from their relationship,’’ added the cable, which was excerpted in the Feb 6 ‘New York Times’.

Another cable called FRAPH a gang of ‘’gun-carrying crazies’’ which used violence against all opponents. Another quoted a former FRAPH agent’s descrition of the induction of new FRAPH members: ‘’When they kill and rape people, we are forced to sit and watch.’’

That picture conforms well to that painted by human rights groups, who blame FRAPH for the bulk of some 4,000 murders committed from Aristide’s ouster in a September, 1991, coup until his return with U.S. support in October, 1994.

Despite the information, the State Department and Pentagon chose to call FRAPH a legitimate, anti-Aristide political party. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had on its payroll several FRAPH members, including the group’s leader, Emmanuel Constant.

FRAPH only fell out of favour in Jan. 1995, three months after Aristide’s return. Constant was later arrested in the United States and charged with violating immigration laws, and is currently awaiting deportation to Haiti.

The CCR has acquired more than 100 pages of declassified documents revealing the U.S.-FRAPH connection through its lawsuit on behalf of Alerte Belance, a Haitian woman who was allegedly kidnapped and mutilated by FRAPH before coming to the United States.

Ratner argued that even more revealing information about Washington’s support for FRAPH has been blocked by the U.S. government’s hesitance to disclose documents until they have been thoroughly reviewed and occasionally censored.

‘’They’re only the tip of the iceberg…the least interesting material,’’ he said of the declassified cables. If CCR and the Haitian government succeed in obtaining all the U.S. documents on FRAPH and the Haitian right wing, ‘’it would be devastating.’’

The fact that the U.S. government has maintained such a tight grip on the information, the attorney contended, proves that Washington still wants to protect some of its FRAPH allies.

‘’They’re more interested in protecting some of the killers than in supporting Haitian democracy,’’ Ratner argued.

‘’I think the United States isn’t really supporting the democracy that Haitians voted for,’’ he said. ‘’They still want in place some of the thugs and killers they supported…They still see FRAPH as a kind of counterweight to Aristide.’’

But some groups critical of U.S. involvement in Haiti in the past believe that, revelations of past links notwithstanding, the United States has turned its back on the Haitian right.

‘’I really think it’s over,’’ Bill O’Neill, a consultant for the New York-based National Coalition for Haitian Rights said. ‘’Even the most hardline, anti-Aristide person in the CIA is not going to support a group like FRAPH against Aristide anymore.’’

Although some branches of the U.S. government, notably the Pentagon and the CIA, encouraged FRAPH early on, ‘’within a few weeks or a few months, (U.S. support) was largely jettisoned,’’ O’Neill added.

Still, he noted, the delay in Washington’s dropping of FRAPH may have allowed many of the extremist leaders time to go into hiding or to escape to other countries after Aristide’s return.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the special U.N. representative to Haiti, also dismissed any talk of a continuing relationship between Washington and anti-Aristide extremist groups.

‘’The leader of FRAPH is in jail in the United States,’’ Brahimi noted. ‘’We have no reason to believe FRAPH even exists anymore.’’

‘’There’s no organised resistance in Haiti right now,’’ O’Neill agreed. But he added, ‘’That doesn’t mean there aren’t individuals around who would like to see things go backward…I’m more concerned (with security) a year from now.’’

Ratner also believes that Haiti’s democracy under its new president is safe for now, but perhaps not for the future.

‘’I don’t think the Haitian government can be overthrown,’’ Ratner said. ‘’There is no military left in Haiti. The military were disbanded and are in some disarray.’’ But, he argued, extremist groups are still able to cause isolated acts of terror, killing or wounding some 60 Aristide supporters in recent months.

That rise in terror also worries O’Neill. But the NCHR consultant added, ‘’Haiti is a success, a rousing success, for (U.S. President Bill) Clinton.’’ Given that, he contended, the current U.S. government has a strong interest in the stability of Rene Preval’s government. (END/IPS/FAH/YJC/96)

Origin: Washington/HAITI/ ----

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