[News] Wikileaks Haiti: Country's Elite Used Police as Private Army
news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jun 22 20:32:13 EDT 2011
Published on The Nation (<http://www.thenation.com/>http://www.thenation.com)
WikiLeaks Haiti: Country's Elite Used Police as Private Army
Dan Coughlin and Kim Ives | June 22, 2011
Haitian business organizations and members of the
country's tiny elite used the Haitian police
force as their own private army in the wake of
the 2004 coup that ousted President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide, according to a secret US Embassy cable.
ThenUS Ambassador to Haiti James Foley warned in
the cable "against private delivery of arms" to
the Haitian National Police (HNP) after learning
from a prominent Haitian businessman that "some
business owners have already begun to purchase
weapons and ammunition from the street and
distribute them to local police officials in exchange for regular patrols."
The May 27, 2005, report was in a trove of 1,918
cables that WikiLeaks made available to the
Haitian weekly newspaper Haïti Liberté, which is
on a series of reports  on US and UN policy toward the Caribbean country.
Haiti's private sector elite has been a key US
ally in promoting Washington's agenda in the
country, from free trade and privatization of
state enterprises to two coups against President
Aristide followed by US and UN military occupations.
Fritz Mevs, a member of "one of Haiti's richest
families and a well-connected member of the
private sector elite" with major business
interests in Port-au-Prince's downtown and port,
was the principal source for Foley's report.
Mevs told the Embassy that the president of the
Haitian Chamber of Commerce, Reginald Boulos, had
"distributed arms to the police and had called on
others to do so in order to provide cover to his
own actions." Boulos currently sits on the board
of former President Bill Clinton's Interim Haiti
Recovery Commission (IHRC), which controls the
spending of billions donated to rebuild Haiti
after the January 12, 2010, quake.
The May 2005 cable describes the period after the
February 29, 2004, coup d'etat, which not only
removed Aristide from power but repressed his
Fanmi Lavalas party, set up a US-backed de facto
government, and ushered in a 9,000-strong UN
military occupation known as MINUSTAH (UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti).
De facto Prime Minister Gerard Latortue's interim
government of Haiti and his paramilitary allies
had difficulty stabilizing their unpopular
regime, despite killing an estimated 3,000 people
and jailing and purging from government jobs
hundreds of Lavalas militants and sympathizers.
The regime had particular trouble suppressing
pro-Aristide strongholds like the slum areas of
Bel Air and Cite Soleil, which mounted a fierce
resistance to the coup and the occupation. The de
facto government, US Embassy and Haitian elite
called the resistance fighters "bandits"
or "gangs," the terminology used in the cable.
Titled "Haitian Private Sector Panicked by
Increasing Violence," the cable relays Mevs'
report to the Embassy's political officer that
Haitian "business leaders are exasperated by the
lack of security in the vital port and industrial
zone areas of Port-au-Prince and are allegedly
arming local police with long-guns and ammunition
in an effort to ensure security for their businesses and employees."
Foley wrote that "Mevs says that of the roughly
150 business owners in the area, probably 30 have
already provided some kind of direct assistance
(including arms, ammunition, or other materiel)
to the police, and the rest are looking to do so soon."
Mevs "defended the idea of the private sector
arming the police in general, but he lamented the
haphazard manner in which many of his colleagues
seemed to be handing out weapons with little
control," the cable says. Mevs also worried "that
funneling the arms secretly would only serve to
reinforce rumors that the elite were creating
private armies," which in fact was happening.
Mevs asked the Embassy if "the U.S. would oversee
[a] program" under which the private sector could
legally buy the HNP's guns because "he did not
trust either MINUSTAH or the HNP to properly control the issuance of weapons."
The private army "rumor" was corroborated by
"contacts of the Econ Counselor [who] report from
time to time of discussions among private sector
leaders to fund and arm their own private sector armies."
Security for businesses around the capital's
industrial, warehouse and port districts
reportedly degenerated after the March 30, 2005,
death of Thomas Robenson, alias Labaniere, a
onetime Lavalas leader in Cite Soleil's Boston
neighborhood. He defected to the forces defending
the 2004 coup and provided armed protection to
nearby commercial zones. Labaniere was killed
"allegedly in a plot directed by rival
pro-Lavalas gang leader Dread Wilme," Foley wrote.
After that, the UN force had tried to secure the
commercial areas but "was proving to be a poor
substitute for Labaniere," an adviser to Cite
Soleil's mayor told the Embassy, largely because
"MINUSTAH troops (who, he said, rarely set foot
outside of their vehicles) were unable to
identify the bandits from amongst the general populace as Labaniere had done."
The residents of Cite Soleil did not view
Emmanuel Wilmer (aka Dred or Dread Wilme) as a
"bandit." They saw him as a hero defending them
from pro-coup paramilitaries (who in 1994 burned
many houses in the rebellious shantytown) and UN
occupation troops. Today, one of the main
boulevards through Cite Soleil is named after
him, and murals of his face adorn many walls.
Wilme told the Lakou New York program on
Brooklyn's Radio Pa Nou station in April 2005
that "MINUSTAH has been shooting tear gas on the
people. There are children who have died from the
gas and some people inside churches have been
shot.... The Red Cross is the only one helping
us. The MINUSTAH soldiers remain hidden in their
tanks and just aim their guns and shoot the
people. They shoot people selling in the streets.
They shoot people just walking in the streets.
They shoot people sitting and selling in the marketplace."
But for Foley and the Haitian elite, the UN
military was not doing enough. "According to
Mevs, although MINUSTAH has on occasion parked
armored vehicles near the Terminal with some
success, he said criminals regularly force the
tanks to move (by burning tires or fecal matter
nearby), and as soon as the vehicles depart, the rampage continues."
Foley asked the "Core Group" of international
donors and the UN military for a "swift,
aggressive" response to the business sector's
call for action against the "criminal elements" from slums like Cite Soleil.
"Ambassador Foley warned the Core Group that
MINUSTAH's stand-down in Cite Soleil put the
elections at risk, and that the insecurity around
the industrial zone risked undermining what is
left of the Haitian economy," said the cable.
The UN mission chief Juan Gabriel Valdes
"promised a more robust response from MINUSTAH,"
which sat down with police leaders to develop a
plan in "coordination with the private sector," the cable explains.
"In response to embassy and private sector
prodding, MINUSTAH is now formulating a plan to
protect the area," concluded the cable.
Weeks later, on July 6, 2005, at 3 am, 1,440
Brazilian and Jordanian soldiers, backed by
forty-one armored personnel carriers, sealed off
Cite Soleil and attacked. UN troops fired more
than 22,000 bullets, leaving dozens of civilian
casualties, including women and children.
"It remains unclear how aggressive MINUSTAH was,
though 22,000 rounds is a large amount of
ammunition to have killed only six people" (the
UN's official death toll), wrote Foley in a July
26, 2005, Embassy cable obtained by Professor
Keith Yearman of the College of DuPage through a
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The UN
claimed it had killed only "gang leader Dred
Wilme and five of his associates," the cable
says, while noting, "at St. Joseph's hospital
near Cite Soleil, Doctors Without Borders
reported receiving 26 gunshot victims from Cite
Soleil on July 6, of whom 20 were women and at least one was a child."
By August 1, Foley was praising the Brazilians in
another cable (obtained by Yearman's FOIA
requests), titled "Brazil Shows Backbone in Bel
Air." According to Foley, "the security situation
in the capital has clearly improved thanks to
aggressive incursions in Bel Air and the July 6
raid against Dread Wilme in Cite Soleil.... Post
has congratulated MINUSTAH and the Brazilian
Battalion for the remarkable success achieved in recent weeks."
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