Haiti Archives 1995-1996
06/12/95 U.S.-HAITI: Washington To Return ‘’Hot’’ Papers — But How? by Yvette Collymore

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

*** 06-Dec-95 ***


WASHINGTON, Dec 6 (IPS) – The United States says it will return the thousands of hot documents seized from Haiti last year. But the material must first be screened, and the two countries must agree on just how Port-au-Prince will use the contents.

‘’The U.S. government has agreed to return the material and documents to Haiti,’’ Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Stephanie Hoehne told IPS Wednesday.

But Pentagon sources say privately that it could take a month before Washington hands over the documents, which U.S. forces seized Oct. 3, 1994 from the feared paramilitary group, the Front for Haitian Advancement and Progress (FRAPH).

One Pentagon source said the Haitian request for the documents will be satisfied ‘’once procedures are in place to safeguard the information and see that it is used in an appropriate way.’’

The documents had been the focus of a squabble between the State and Defence Departments here ever since the Haitian government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide issued an Oct. 31 request for their return.

On Tuesday, more than 50 U.S.-based Haitian organisations also wrote to President Bill Clinton, urging him to return the documents.

The Pentagon’s reluctance to hand over the documents comes as FRAPH’s founder and former leader Emmanuel Constant confirmed earlier reports of his secret ties to defence and intelligence wings of the U.S. government.

Rights groups blame FRAPH for thousands of killings under the military regime which ousted Aristide in 1991 and ruled until a U.S.-led multinational force intervened in Sep. 1994. Constant last weekend confirmed reports here that he had been paid by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and met frequently with its station chief in Port-au-Prince.

Constant is in jail at a Maryland detention centre where he is appealing a deportation order. Reports last year by the Nation magazine first disclosed Constant’s ties to the Pentagon’s Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA).

Now, the DIA is holding the FRAPH documents, according to the State Department.

Pentagon sources say about six percent of the documents, including pamphlets and photographs is being screened mainly to safeguard the privacy of any U.S. citizens whose names may appear in them.

Some Haiti-watchers are sceptical.

‘’It would be interesting to see just how much information in the documents is blacked out,’’ said Rachel Nields of the Washington Office on Latin America. ‘’I certainly hope they don’t black out Haitian names.’’

She told IPS there was a real concern that if there was ‘’evidence of certain kinds of ties with the United States, I’m sure that the government of Haiti ought to know.’’

These documents could help identify human rights abusers and lead authorities to hidden weapons, say non-governmental agencies.

The documents — about 60,000 pages — are to be held here until the two governments reach agreement on how they are to be used. Bilateral discussions, according to the State Department, ‘’will begin shortly’’.

This is not the first time release of classified documents pertaining to right-wing activities abroad have caused controversy. Democratic lawmakers and the State Department have also pressed the Pentagon and the CIA to give up documents to investigators in El Salvador and Honduras in the past.

One major consideration in the Haitian documents’ release relates to the Pentagon’s concern that information in the documents be used ‘’within a recognisable justice system’’.

Analysts here say that this particular ‘’concern’’ stems from a view propagated largely by ultra-right-wingers opposed to Aristide.

The Pentagon had earlier said it was concerned that ‘’the information contained in the material could be used to generate hit lists in Haiti and contribute to instability’’.

The new executive director of the Washington Office on Haiti, Marx Aristide (no relation to the Haitian president), argues that the documents should be returned as is and not stripped of any information.

‘’This (screening) shows a total disregard for the government of Haiti,’’ he told IPS. ‘’What the United States is doing here is paying lip-service to justice and effectively giving some people impunity.’’

Republicans and newspaper columnists here who have denounced the Port-au-Prince government’s leftward leanings, have blamed the Haitian president for the continued lack of security and justice in Haiti. They have also tried to tie his government to a series of “commando-style’’ killings over the last year.

His speech at the Nov. 11 funeral of a relative, who was himself the victim of such an attack, fuelled that view. Aristide told Haitians to ‘’Accompany the police when they are going to enter the homes of the people who have heavy weapons.’’

The New York Times in an editorial titled, ‘’Mr. Aristide’s Deadly Rhetoric,’’ said the Haitian leader had ‘’alarmingly reverted to his demagogic political style that scarred his presidency before the 1991 military coup.’’

But human rights agencies have said there has been no serious disarmament process in Haiti and that if U.N. forces leave as scheduled on Feb. 29, the security situation could deteriorate. Observers say the return of the documents could help begin a judicial process that could end the atmosphere of impunity.

‘’These documents could help move the judicial process forward,’’ said Marx Aristide.

Nields of the Washington Office on Latin America agrees: ‘’I would hope the Haitian government sees a good-faith effort here.’’ (END/IPS/YJC/JL/95)

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

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