[News] Haiti: CARICOM Spurns Latortue Once Again

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Sun Nov 14 12:04:02 EST 2004

Friday, 12 November 2004
Weekend Release
Word Count: 2400
HAITI: A Brutal Regime Shows Its Colors

CARICOM Spurns Latortue Once Again
Violence and Human Rights Abuses Escalate
    * On October 9, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) voted once again to 
postpone the resumption of normal relations with the Washington-installed 
Haitian government of Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, citing the latter's 
campaign of persecution against ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's 
Lavalas Party.

    * CARICOM's diplomatic rebuff is a result of the increasing violence, 
instability, arbitrary rule, and human rights abuses in Haiti during the 
last six months. This economic and humanitarian disaster has pushed the 
country closer to the brink of political chaos than ever before.
    * The UN peacekeeping force MINUSTAH has been fundamentally ineffective 
in preserving basic security and human rights in the country, due to a lack 
of manpower and political commitment to a proactive UN role in Haiti. The 
peacekeeping failure is not the fault of UN representative Juan Gabriel 
Valdés, as much as it can be attributed directly to UN Kofi Annan's office 
and the complete deference that the UN Secretary General has shown 
Washington policy makers.
    * For a speedy return to democracy, a dramatic resuscitation and 
expansion of MINUSTAH is needed. Additionally, the UN, the Organization of 
American States and Washington must act as one in demanding that the 
Latortue government improve its appalling human rights record, instead of 
blaming Aristide loyalists for the country's grievous problems.
    * Serious thought should be given to replacing the inept and 
non-responsive Latortue regime.

In the eight months since the abrupt resignation, under U.S. pressure, of 
former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti, the country has witnessed 
a steadily escalating level of chaos and lawlessness under interim Prime 
Minister Gerard Latortue. Such violence raises fundamental questions about 
the Haitian government's ability to survive, much less retain any domestic 
or international legitimacy, outside the Washington offices of the U.S. 
policymakers, who hand-picked it, and those at the OAS and UN who today 
routinely, even automatically, support Washington's highly skewed vision 
for the island - one dominated by an anti-Aristide motif. Even for a 
country with a history of political instability and violent shifts of 
power, the absence of effective authority and the presence of a brutal 
faction of demobilized soldiers has driven Haiti to the threshold of 
volatility usually associated with failed states such as Somalia, Liberia 
and Afghanistan.

So far, the UN peacekeeping force MINUSTAH has been grossly unsuccessful in 
halting the erosion of central authority, and its stabilization is likely 
to fail entirely without the arrival of promised new major troop units, the 
embrace of a more aggressive role aimed at disarming armed factions, and a 
dramatic increase in pressure by the UN, and Washington, on the Latortue 
government to restore order. The interim government is currently presiding 
over a regime of human rights violations comparable, if not more severe, 
than those perpetrated by the widely denounced 1991 - 1994 military junta. 
All Secretary of State Colin Powell has had to offer at this point are 
unsubstantiated, far-flung charges against Aristide for fomenting violence 
in the country, which are comparable in their quality of scholarship to his 
contribution to the Iraq debate.

Economic Deterioration It is important to note that in a number of crucial 
respects, economic and political conditions in Haiti are even more dire 
than there were during the military junta of the early 1990's. At 
approximately 80 percent, unemployment is higher today than during the 
military rule because of the shrinking of Haiti's export sector, as a 
result of international sanctions first put into effect from 1991-94 and 
the extensive looting that occurred earlier this year after Aristide's 
departure. Rural destitution is even more acute, exacerbated by widespread 
deforestation that has left only two percent of Haiti's arboreal cover 
standing and has produced widespread land degradation, which intensified 
the flooding that devastated southwest Haiti in May and June, and later 
sacked Gonaives as a result of Tropical Storm Jeanne. Neither the Bush 
administration nor the UN have criticized the gross incompetence of the 
Latortue government in either preparing for or later dealing with Jeanne. 
One can only imagine the fierce criticism that would have been visited upon 
Aristide if he or one of his Lavalas colleagues were in office at this time.

A Land Without Plenty The country's already meager agricultural output has 
been further damaged by the government's termination of fertilizer 
subsidies and the flooding of the Artibonite Valley region, Haiti's 
historic breadbasket. Declining production and import bottlenecks have sent 
rice prices skyrocketing, which has led to serious increases in 
malnutrition and infant mortality. Moreover, population migrations, a 
climate of virtual impunity among the country's venal officials and 
increased violence, particularly of a sexual nature perpetrated by 
ex-soldiers and other armed factions, are expected to exacerbate the 
country's already serious HIV/AIDS epidemic. The fight against HIV/AIDS, 
spearheaded by the Aristide government, has been severely jeopardized by 
the ongoing instability. Equally dangerous is the possibility of outbreaks 
of other infectious diseases among the thousands of flood victims from 
Gonaives that continue to be housed in squalid and unsanitary conditions, 
generating a crisis that is certain to rapidly overwhelm Haiti's frail 
healthcare system and meager resources.

Spiraling Violence, Intensifying Human Rights Abuses Given the severity of 
the humanitarian crisis, a surge in refugees trying to reach the Dominican 
Republic and Florida is inevitable, and is expected to be particularly 
severe if the continuous violence between ex-soldiers and Aristide 
supporters, which has wracked Port-au-Prince since September 30 and taken 
more than 80 lives, continues to intensify. While some of Latortue's 
officers have attempted to negotiate the demobilization of ex-soldiers or 
their incorporation into the police, the military faction led by 
Remissanthe Ravix has shown no signs of acquiescence. On the contrary, as 
long as the government continues to ignore their outrageous demands to 
reconstitute and provide back pay for the ten years since the military's 
dissolution in 1995, the ex-soldiers will continue to exert pressure on the 
hapless Latortue through armed takeovers of small towns, particularly in 
Haiti's central plateau. The poorly-trained and demoralized National Police 
already has demonstrated that it lacks the capacity and will to confront 
the well-armed and well-organized ex-soldiers, and it is clear that the 
police will be completely unable to maintain security if the already tense 
situation escalates.

As bands of former soldiers freely wreak havoc across the country, the 
Latortue government has been at the forefront of an appallingly violent 
campaign of repression against Aristide's political allies and supporters, 
unleashing a wave of arbitrary arrests and unexplained killings in the 
overwhelmingly pro-Aristide slums. Such human rights violations and abuses 
of constitutional norms have gone completely ignored. Epitomizing the 
situation is the fact that a notoriously reprehensible figure like Bernard 
Gousse holds the portfolio of Minister of Justice despite his utter 
disregard for law and morality. The government invariably justifies its 
raids as either searches for illegal guns (although a recent "arms search" 
in the poor and pro-Aristide neighborhood of Bel-Air on October 6 produced 
seventy-five illegal arrests but no weapons) or as hunts for 
Latortue-designated "terrorists," defined as anyone thinking, planning or 
somehow linked to others thinking of violence. The government, outrageously 
enough, has also recently arrested and illegally detained a number of 
high-profile supporters of Aristide's Lavalas party, including two 
highly-respected legislators ,Senator Yvon Feillé and former Deputy Rudy 
Hérivaux, nine members of the Confederation of Haitian Workers and leading 
advocates of non-violence, like Reverend Gerard Jean-Juste. These victims 
of Latortue's and Gousse's current reign of terror are in addition to the 
officials of the Aristide government, including former Prime Minister Yvon 
Neptune, former Minister of the Interior Jocelerme Privert and former 
Delegate Jacques Mathier, who disgracefully have been imprisoned without 
any charges for months.

Latortue government internationally condemned Though the U.S. and the UN 
have been appallingly slow in condemning the abuses perpetrated by the 
government that it put in power, other members of the international 
community have become increasingly vocal in denouncing the Latortue 
government for what it is: an illegally installed, repressive and 
undemocratic cabal with scant respect for the rule of law in Haiti. The 
OAS's Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a statement 
expressing concern "over several key areas in which the basic rights and 
freedoms of Haiti remain weak and imperiled," while Amnesty International 
has declared that "illegal and arbitrary arrests" continue in Haiti and has 
named Rev. Jean-Juste a prisoner of conscience. Renan Hedouville, director 
of the Lawyer's Committee for Individual Rights, has denounced the 
government before the OAS for making arrests without warrants and holding 
suspects without charges for longer than forty-eight hours, while also 
reporting that there have been widespread accusations that women and girls 
have been raped by ex-soldiers, a practice tragically reminiscent of the 
1991-1994 coup period, where such acts of sexual violence were frequent and 
almost always went unpunished.

In perhaps the most important international condemnation of the interim 
government, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) voted once again on November 
9 to postpone the restoration of normal ties with the Latortue 
administration, stating that there will be "no compromise on the 
fundamental principles of respect for human rights, due process and good 
governance." If Barbados' Prime Minister Owen Seymour Arthur and Grenada's 
Prime Minister Keith Mitchell had no qualms of conscious in attempting to 
win Washington's goodwill by being Judas to Haiti's precarious situation, 
the same was not true for Guyana's doughty President Bharrat Jagdeo and St. 
Lucia's Prime Minister Kenny Anthony, both of whom took highly principled 
stands on Haiti's status. The latter directly called on the Latortue 
government to put a "stop to the harassment of the political opposition," 
in a clear reference to the campaign of repression that it has waged 
against Lavalas supporters.

Haiti's failure to regain its seat in the Caribbean organization has been 
an ongoing embarrassment to the Latortue government, and is particularly 
important given the persistent relunctance of the UN and the OAS to stand 
up to pressure from Washington and openly denounce the current regime's 
abuses being committed on the island. The CARICOM meeting concluded with a 
commitment to work with other Latin American countries, led by Brazil, to 
facilitate dialogue among the political factions in Haiti. Hopefully this 
promised cooperation materializes and the rest of the hemisphere, under the 
possible auspices of the OAS, takes a more active role in protecting basic 
human rights and the rapid restoration of democracy in Haiti.

MINUSTAH: An Opportunity Squandered While MINUSTAH may well represent the 
best hope for averting the collapse of the current Haitian government, it 
continues to be debilitated by an under-fulfillment of pledged troop 
contributions, a phenomenon that reflects a long-standing trend in UN 
peacekeeping: the assigned forces are chronically under quota, their 
mission is too narrowly defined, and is authorized for too brief a period, 
with donors' pledges frequently not materializing. The World Bank has 
estimated Haiti's reconstruction needs over the next two years to top $1.3 
billion, and a separate emergency appeal for $35 million was subsequently 
made to fund post-flood rebuilding and allocate relief over the next six 
months. Currently, $1.1 billion has been pledged, approximately 85 percent 
of the total, but funds can be expected to arrive slowly, if at all, and 
may be curtailed if the widespread instability which threatens the 
integrity of the reconstruction process persists.

Resource constraints notwithstanding, MINUSTAH also has demonstrated a 
shocking lack of political will in confronting the root causes of the 
spiraling violence, and systematically has attempted to avoid potentially 
dangerous high-profile engagements. In addition, MINUSTAH leaders have 
taken a notably complacent approach towards the Latortue government's 
appalling human rights record - not only have MINUSTAH commanders and the 
UN special representative to Haiti failed to vigorously denounce that 
record, the force has at times provided a supporting role for illegal 
government arrests and other actions that violate the rule of law.

In the arena of disarmament, UN military commanders have declared that 
their mission cannot and will not include the containment of armed gangs, 
despite the fact that its original mandate was to establish conditions of 
basic stability to pave the way for new elections. Such a declaration at a 
time when armed factions threaten the integrity of the Haitian state, 
demonstrate a stunning degree of disengagement from the country's political 
realities. In the absence of a renewed commitment of political will and a 
promise to expand the force's mandate, even an increase in troops will be 
unsuccessful in reinvigorating MINUSTAH. Without such a commitment, which 
has been woefully absent in past attempts to institutionalize democracy in 
Haiti, a serious risk exists that the central authority will continue to 
crumble and that the Latortue regime will continue to be a Mickey Mouse 
government- smug, arrogant and lawless. This facade of legitimate authority 
will bring about an unimaginably perilous crisis, further discrediting the 
UN's already feeble efforts and triggering a new surge of "boat people" 
towards Florida.

It is essential that the UN and particularly the Security Council nations 
immediately provide MINUSTAH with sufficient troops to reach its mandated 
level and separate itself from the Latortue regime, which now must be 
deemed as a failure that requires replacement rather than reform. The 
length of the force's stay should also be extended to at least one year and 
longer if possible, and its mission more robustly interpreted to encompass 
disarming the armed factions that are intimidating Latortue's rule. 
Additionally, there is an urgent need for the Security Council and the US 
to make one final effort to pressure the Latortue government to abandon its 
attempt at rapprochement with the former military faction, immediately end 
its campaign of illegal arrests, halt its persecution of former Lavalas 
party members and bring to trial known perpetrators of human rights abuses, 
including its Minister of Justice.

Perhaps most importantly, Washington should take a leading role in ensuring 
that Haiti receives promised international contributions. Only such a 
long-term pledge has the potential to break the cycle of repression, 
disintegration and deepening poverty that Haiti so frequently has suffered 
in the past, and continues to suffer to this day.

This analysis was prepared by Jessica Leight, COHA Research Fellow.

Additional research supplied by Larry Birns, COHA Director

November 12, 2004

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, 
non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. 
It has been described on the Senate floor as being "one of the nation's 
most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers." For more information, 
please see our web page at www.coha.org; or contact our Washington offices 
by phone (202) 223-4975, fax (202) 223-4979, or email coha at coha.org.

The <http://www.coha.org>Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, 
is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and 
information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as 
being "one of the nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policy 
makers." For more information, please see our web page at 

or contact our Washington offices by phone (202) 223-4975, fax (202) 223-4979,
or email <mailto:coha at coha.org>coha at coha.org.

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