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Haiti's Ex-Military On Rampage

by Judith Scherr
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(PNS) -- A recent State Department bulletin blames "Aristide thugs" for "the violence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti that began on Sept. 30."

The United States is blaming the victim. Haitian police target supporters of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, ransacking homes and churches, making arbitrary arrests and taking part in extra-judicial killings. Former military men and death squad members control parts of Haiti. UN "peacekeepers" stand by passively while chaos reigns and in some cases actively work with ex-military personnel.

When I visited Haiti in August, I saw firsthand the brutality wrought by the band of ex-soldiers. (In 1995 President Jean-Bertrand Aristide disbanded the military, which had overthrown his first government in 1991 and was responsible for more than 3,000 deaths between 1991 and 1994.)

One of the people I interviewed near Cap-Ha•tien in northern Haiti was Ralph Hyppolit, whose 14-year-old niece was murdered by ex-soldiers and former death squad members Feb. 22.

On that day his niece and wife were packing, preparing to join Hyppolit, who was hiding in the mountains. The teenager was upstairs and his pregnant wife was below. The ex-soldiers "were asking for me," Hyppolit said. "My wife screamed, 'I don't know.' They shot up the house and tied up my niece. They blocked the door and sprayed gasoline on the couch." His wife escaped, but his niece burned to death.

Why was Hyppolit a target? "I'm Lavalas; I'm like President Aristide. They don't want President Aristide for five years. (His full term in office.) They don't want anybody fighting for Aristide."

Not far from where I spoke to Hyppolit, I viewed a charred police station, torched courts, the remnants of a radio-TV station, empty shells of school buses and scorched or bullet-ridden houses -- the work of the ex-military, according to more than two dozen people I interviewed.

Pascal Miller was one of the people I talked to. His brother, an Aristide supporter, was killed by the former soldiers; Solido Gason, a pro-Aristide carpenter, was shot in the leg and survived. I met police chief Charles Chilly's parents; their home was riddled with bullets when the paramilitaries came looking for Chilly, now hiding out of the country.

In a Port-au-Prince prison, I visited folk singer and fierce Lavalas supporter S˜ Anne, arrested without a warrant by U.S. Marines in May. I interviewed Lolo Reagan, once a journalist with the now-shuttered children's radio station Aristide founded. Reagan spent three months in a jail so crowded that inmates could not lie down to sleep.

What I saw in August is the backdrop for today's reality: prisons are bulging with Lavalas supporters. Aristide's prime minister, the minister of the interior and the mayor of Port-au-Prince are the prominent ones among the hundreds who have sat in jail for months. On Sept. 7, a union hall was raided and union activists arrested. On Oct. 2, three former Lavalas parliamentarians were arrested after a radio broadcast in which they criticized the government. Their lawyer was jailed as well. On Oct. 13, priest Fr. Gerard Jean Juste was arrested while serving food to needy children.

In this climate of fear, with their president ousted by foreigners Feb. 29 (U.S. officials say they saved Aristide from the ex-military at his request) and their democratically elected mayors and councils removed by the U.S.-backed government, Lavalas has responded with a number of marches calling for the rule of law and the return of Aristide.

On Sept. 30, Lavalas militants took to the streets to memorialize the overthrow of the first Aristide government in 1991, a coup perpetrated by many of the same individuals who now make up today's marauding paramilitaries.

According to Leslie Voltaire, former member of Aristide's cabinet, the Sept. 30 violence began with the police shooting at demonstrators. Two people died. After the shooting, Lavalas supporters "began acting like hooligans because they were furious," Voltaire told the Washington Post. Dozens of people have been killed since then: police officers, Lavalas supporters and those caught in the crossfire.

Now the appointed prime minister has joined the State Department propaganda assault, blaming Aristide for the post-Sept. 30 violence, as well as the South African government, which has given Aristide exile. And, as the ex-military increases its public presence and firms its ties with the appointed government, the United States has lifted an arms embargo to Haiti, ostensibly to boost the firepower of police to put down those the State Department calls "thugs."

If America truly wants democracy in Haiti, it should start by insisting that the interim government free people imprisoned illegally and jail those who have committed crimes, restore the freedoms of assembly and speech guaranteed by Haiti's constitution and unlock the door to popular governance. That includes paving the way for the return of the country's democratically elected leader.

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Albion Monitor October 25, 2004 (

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