[News] Wikileaks Haiti: Country's Elite Used Police as Private Army

Anti-Imperialist News 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.

Then–US 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 
with The 
on a series of reports [1] 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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