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The UN takes over

By Sally Burch, Latin American Information Agency (ALAI)
April 1995

The first visit to Haiti by a US president took place on March 31, when Bill Clinton attended the relief of his country's military forces by the United Nations Mission in Haiti (MINUHA). [Editor's note: Actually, the first US President to visit was F. Roosevelt, who came for the end of the occupation in 1934] Despite the repeated declarations of the international powers about the atmosphere of security and stability that has been established in this Caribbean country, this step coincides with an increase in violence and crime on the one hand, and a rise of social protests on the other.

To a certain degree, the change of command is mostly symbolic, since of the 6,000 Blue Helmets (UN troops) and 900 policemen from the 37 countries that compose the MINUHA, around 2,500 are North American, including the mission chief, General Joseph Kinzer. The mandate of the MINUHA is to ensure the purity of the municipal and legislative elections set to occur in June and the presidential elections foreseen for December; its mission will terminate in February 1996, after the presidential inauguration.

Present at the change of command, besides Presidents Bill Clinton and Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali, who pointed out that the Mission cannot ensure the country's security and that the Blue Helmets would not intervene in conflicts except in self-defense.

Attention has focused on the issue of this year's elections, while the popular sectors are demanding Aristide's staying in office for three more years, since he would then fulfill his complete term after three years in exile.

Boutros Ghali took advantage of the opportunity to insist that the private sector is not disposed to invest in Haiti before the election results are known, which is why they should not be postponed. On his part, President Clinton met with the Provisional Electoral Council, which he offered his support.


The coming elections will take place in two rounds, June 4 and 24, under the surveillance of the UN. Recent weeks have seen intense activity by the political parties to seek alliances.

President Aristide himself has organized meetings since January to seek a political agreement among the popular democratic sectors closest to him. In March, three organizations identified with the Lavalas movement we able to elaborate a common electoral program: the Lavalas Political Organization (OPL) led by Gerard Pierre-Charles; the Movement for Organizing the Country (MOP); and the Louvri Barye Party (PLB), headed by Renaud Bernardin, a member of Aristide's private secretariat. The slogan of the alliance, in Creole, is Randevou Bo Tab la (A Date Around the Table). Various of the country's popular organizations have joined the Platform.

Other parties that supported Aristide's candidacy in December 1990, such as the National Front for Change and Democracy (FNCD - which later distanced themselves from him), have said that the alliance is not what they had hoped but remain open to dialogue.

On the other hand, the Duvalierist camp and the parties that supported the coup d'etat have shown little capacity for unity.

Many sectors fear that conditions of stability and security still do not sufficiently exist to guarantee democratic elections. The atmosphere of increasing social and political violence is a factor that recalls earlier elections during the 1986-90 transition period, which on more than one occasion turned into a bloodbath. Significantly, the Provisional Electoral Committee (CEP) is having many logistical problems because they cannot rent polling locations, since their owners fear they will be burned.


During the month of March, there were more than 30 assassinations around the country. International police estimate that they are 50,000 armed civilians. The majority are former members or friends of the military and paramilitary forces, which distributed numerous weapons during the last weeks of the dictatorship.

Under circumstances of a sharp economic crisis, increasing unemployment and a social fabric deteriorated by years of dictatorship, it is difficult in many cases to distinguish between criminal violence and political violence; nevertheless, no one doubts that the anti-democratic sectors seek to take advantage of this situation to destabilize the elections.

On the other hand, facing the rise of crime aggravated by the permanent electrical blackouts that nightly leave the shantytowns in shadows, the virtual disintegration of the security forces and the inaction on the part of the international forces in restraining the violence, the indignant population has begun to take justice in their own hands, to the extent that there have been at least ten popular lynchings in the streets for thievery.

Additionally, there have been some assassinations of a clearly political character whose origins are still unknown. The most noted was the assassination of a leader of the opposition to Aristide, Mireille Durocher Bertin, which occurred on March 28 in the middle of the day. Bertin was the cofounder of a new political movement, the Movement of National Integration, which was created the previous week.

The US FBI has been entrusted with the investigation. But rumors have already been circulated accusing the Interior Minister, Mondesir Beaubrun, of having had information before the assassination, and even of having supplied the vehicle in which the crime was committed. President Aristide has denied these accusations and reasserted his confidence in the minister.

In recent issues, the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times have reported that there is new evidence of Beaubrun's guilt (without giving details); The LA Times, citing a US official, said that: This makes one ask if Aristide is really seeking reconciliation or is following another program. Nevertheless, some analysts are not ruling out that this offensive could be a new CIA maneuver to destroy the president's reputation.

Meanwhile, some human rights organizations have expressed their concern over the international presence in Haiti, whose purpose, in their view, is more to seek to influence the results of the elections than to support the CEP and contribute to the realization of free and fair elections.


While the government's hands remained practically tied by the international presence and the lack of resources, since the greater part of promised aid has yet to arrive, the Aristide regime has been able to move forward on some of the fundamental reforms of his program for democratizing the country.

In this regard, the president's International Liaison Office points to the meeting of six central goals: the majority of the military leaders who led the coup d'etat have been forced to leave the country; the civilian leaders of the coup regime has been expelled from power; the president, cabinet, parliament- elect and elected officials have returned to Haiti; the army has been virtually dismantled as an institution and the majority of officers cashiered; the government has cleansed the judicial system of some corrupt functionaries and begun a reform of the system, installing mechanisms to evaluate cases of human rights violations; and finally, the separation of the police from the army and the creation of a civilian police force under the command of the Justice Ministry.

This official source points out in a communique that the current challenge is to procure and guarantee an atmosphere of peace, reconciliation and justice, while recognizing that this task will be quite difficult due to the presence of the [zenglendos], armed bands that sow terror and threaten political stability, noting that the consolidation of a state of law will logically result in the elimination of the impunity that has protected the traditional antidemocratic sectors.

In this sense, he underlines that disarmament is indispensable and asks the support of the international community to accomplish it. On the other hand, he recognizes that in recent weeks, the US government has taken a stronger position against paramilitary groups like the FRAPH (Front for the Advancement of the Country, the architect of the majority of the human rights violations during the dictatorship's last year) and that the international forces have reactivated their search for arms after months of government pressure over the slowness of the operation. He also points out the US ambassador no longer recognizes the FRAPH as a legitimate political entity.

Among the actions carried out by the government, according to the communique, are starting to evaluate the capability of judges and court functionaries and firing those without the necessary qualifications. Forty-three high army officials have been fired and the others were retired with pay in return for their arms (the highest rank is currently major). The government also has created the National Commission for Truth and Justice to investigate cases of human rights violations committed under the dictatorship.


An increase in popular discontent occurred in Haiti during March. Protests of different types have occurred almost daily. On Friday the 24th, demonstrations we held against the government of Prime Minister Smarck Michel, over the high cost of living and the IMF policies that he is implementing.

In fact, in the middle of March, the IMF announced a standby credit of US $31 million in recognition of the economic reforms that have been initiated. In a press release of March 8, the IMF made known the first steps of an agreement with the Haitian government that includes the elimination of tariffs, abolishing regulations that restrict private investment, a gasoline price rise, wage restrictions and the first phase of privatizations (the cement and milling industries).

Nevertheless, on March 23, the government proceeded to lower the price of fuels in line with a new policy of real costs of imported petroleum products. The price is thus subject to fluctuations, so that while this measure might palliate popular discontent for the moment, it might also lead to new increases in the future in conformity with neoliberal recipes.

For the US, meanwhile, the time for collecting the bill for the intervention is nearing. For the moment, this is expressed by a massive increase in visits to Haiti by businessmen, bankers, bureaucrats, etc., to exploit investment possibilities. The total cost of the Pentagon operation in Haiti this year is estimated at $1.5 billion, which to be justified must be translated into better opportunities and guarantees for business.