Reality of Post-Aristide Haiti. UN force unable to stem violence in chaotic Haiti – Chicago Tribune, December 2004
PETIT-GOAVE, Haiti – Ten years ago, Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide disbanded the Haitian army, which was known for toppling governments and slaughtering opponents.
Today, scores of ex-soldiers armed with aging M-1 rifles and other weapons control this coastal city and much of Haiti in defiance of the U.S.-backed government led by interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue.
Although an illegal force, the ex-soldiers guard roadblocks, patrol sleepy streets and arrest criminals with unchallenged authority in Petit-Goave, 40 miles west of the capital, Port-au-Prince. One self-styled army commander said his forces are the only ones who can bring order to violence-scarred Haiti.
“We are mobilizing throughout Haiti to take matters into our own hands,” said Remissainthe Ravix, whose soldiers rolled into Petit-Goave in August. “Without security, there is no life. We can’t tolerate this situation.”
The resurgence of elements of the old Haitian army illustrates the immense challenges facing Latortue’s government, which has failed to stem violence, improve the shattered economy or unite warring politicians in the 10 months since Aristide fled Haiti under U.S. pressure and amid a growing insurgency.
Signs of anarchy are everywhere. Automatic weapons fire echoes through the night. The streets are deserted, except for stray dogs. The emergency room at Port-au-Prince’s main hospital is filled with gunshot victims, their wounds left untreated for hours.
The owner of a popular Port-au-Prince hotel, the manager of a rental car company and other wealthy Haitians are among a wave of kidnapping victims.
Gunfights between pro-Aristide gangs and outgunned Haitian police backed by UN peacekeepers engulf entire neighborhoods, sending residents fleeing down alleyways.
Human-rights activists have accused the police of massacring Aristide loyalists, including at least seven people in the Port-au-Prince slum of Ft. National in October.
More than 100 people have been killed in political clashes since Sept. 30, when pro-Aristide forces stepped up their violent campaign seeking the return of Aristide from exile in South Africa.
Government’s survival doubted
Some experts question whether the interim government can survive until late next year, when elections are scheduled. Others doubt that holding elections while Haiti teeters on the edge of civil war will ease the violence and instability.
“The [security] situation is really embarrassing. It is of great concern to us,” said Adama Guindo, resident coordinator for the United Nations in Haiti. “You can technically organize elections, but what does it mean, organizing elections in such an environment ? What does it take you to ?”
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell got a taste of Haiti’s anarchy during a one-day visit Dec. 1 when gunfire erupted outside the National Palace as he was preparing to meet with Latortue and other leaders. Four people were killed and nine injured in a gun battle that involved UN peacekeepers, Haitian police and a pro-Aristide gang.
Powell urged the interim government to begin disarming the militias and called for a national dialogue to end the bloodshed. But there is little evidence such a dialogue is possible.
A former UN bureaucrat chosen as Haiti’s interim prime minister by a U.S.-backed council, Latortue has accused Aristide of orchestrating the violence from exile. Aristide has denied the allegation.
At least six top members of Aristide’s Lavalas Family party have been jailed in recent months on human-rights violations and other charges. Gerard Gilles, a Lavalas lawmaker briefly detained by security forces in October, said hundreds of lesser-known Lavalas activists also have been jailed.
A `campaign of persecution’
“There is a great campaign of persecution against Lavalas,” Gilles said. “If this government wants a dialogue, they have to free these political prisoners.”
While Gilles said that Aristide’s return to Haiti is unlikely, more radical Lavalas supporters say they will not lay down their weapons until the former president is back in power.
Latortue, Gilles and others have criticized the UN for failing to stop the violence or disarm the various militias. Only about 6,500 of the 8,300 UN troops and police promised in April have arrived in Haiti.
“The UN has completely abrogated its responsibility and its mission in Haiti,” said Alex Dupuy, an expert on Haiti at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
David Beer, a Canadian who commands the 1,200-member UN police force in Haiti, acknowledged that UN peacekeepers initially were unprepared to face “guerrillalike tactics.”
But he said the UN has bolstered its forces in recent weeks and has helped the Haitian police launch offensives.
“The situation is much better this month than it was last month,” Beer said.
Meanwhile, Latortue is urging the international community to quickly provide the $1 billion in aid pledged in July. Only a fraction of the aid has been delivered, leading to widespread discontent among Haitians.
“I am disappointed and frustrated like everyone else,” said Samedi Robinson, 22, standing with unemployed youths outside the National Palace. “I wanted peace and social change, but I’ve gotten zero.”