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Grassroots Struggles Sweep Haiti

From Weekly News Update on the Americas,
Issue 260, 22 January 1995

On Jan. 17 US defense secretary William Perry announced that Haiti is now safe and secure and that the UN will begin taking over the international military operation in the country in the last two weeks of March. UN officials had already said that they would take charge on Mar. 31. The US will supply about 3,000 of the 6,000 UN troops. [Washington Post 1/18/95 from Reuter] The operation will be headed by a US two-star general, Major Gen. Joseph Kinzer. The White House dropped its original choice, the three-star Lt. Gen. Daniel Schroeder, because his appointment would have required Congressional approval. [New York Times 1/18/95]

A New York Times dispatch from the southwestern city of Jeremie suggests that the US forces may already have overstayed their welcome. For many in Jeremie, the paper writes, the GIs have turned out to be not saviors of the Haitian people, but rather allies of the paramilitary groups that oppressed Haitians for a generation. The Times cites a number of incidents that occurred in the fall but which it had failed to report at the time, such as a UN police group's Nov. 24 arrest of a popular liberation theology priest, whose name is given variously as Joachim Samedi or Jonassaint Samedy [see Update #253]. [NYT 1/17/95]

Reports of abuses by US troops continue to accumulate. During November the occupiers allegedly arrested two peasants at Bocozelles, near Saint-Marc in the north-central Artibonite region, after the peasants had argued with an important landowner. This month four peasants were arrested near Leogane in the southwest in another dispute with landowners. [Haiti Progrès (NY) 1/18-24/95] On Jan. 5 US forces reportedly attacked the hundreds of young men who were lined up at the Justice Ministry in Port-au-Prince to apply for jobs in the new US-trained police force. Several job applicants were injured as soldiers assaulted them with nightsticks and tear gas. It's humiliating, one applicant said. We've been waiting here all night. We have to bring lemons with us to protect us from the tear gas. [InterPress Service 1/9/95]

The New York-based leftist weekly Haiti Progrès charges that the occupiers also used tear gas on crowds waiting for the traditional government handouts on Jan. 1, which is Haitian Independence Day. [HP 1/11-17/95] There were similar charges about a demonstration in Cap-Haitien on Nov. 9 [see Update #251]. The US signed on to the 1925 Geneva Protocol on chemical and biological warfare in 1975. At the time, the Ford administration agreed that tear gas was banned by the protocol. The US reserved the right to use it but only in certain clearly defined circumstances, such as riot situations in areas under direct and distinct US military control, and with the approval in advance of the US president for any use of riot-control agents and chemical herbicides in war. [Arms Control and Disarmament Agreements, from US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) 1990]


Growing Haitian frustration with US troops partly reflects efforts by grassroots organizations to regain positions lost during three years of rule by the Haitian military. Over the past month many groups have been demanding that rightwingers be removed from government posts they took after the 1991 military coup. On Jan. 9 a Cap-Haitien group, the Regional Union of Popular Forces of the North (IFPRN) closed down the water bureau, the post office and three other government offices; these remained closed as of Jan. 13. US troops had tried to block a similar demonstration on Dec. 12, leading an activist to remark that these events are making a number of formerly naive sectors in the population see that the foreign troops aren't doing anything except protecting and reinforcing the enemies of the people.

Similar protests shut down government offices in Petit-Goave in the southwest for the first week of January. In Jeremie a local resistance committee led a demonstration that closed the water authority and other offices on Dec. 19. The offices have reopened, but several are now staffed by volunteers. [During the Dec. 19 demonstration a Green Beret threatened the crowd with his bayonet, as was also reported by the New York Times [1/17/95]. However, another US soldier, a Haitian-American, apologized to the crowd and said he agreed with their actions.]

Meanwhile, land disputes in the Artibonite region have led to more than a dozen deaths since October. Four people were killed and seven houses burned down in a dispute in Desdunes earlier this month. A still bloodier conflict is going on between the hamlets of Blain and Brizard over land Blain residents say was taken from them decades ago. The Brizard peasants are protected by some former Haitian soldiers and by rightwing deputy Eddy Dupiton, who is also the local public prosecutor. At least seven Blain residents have died in the struggle, as have two from Brizard. The Catholic Church's Peace and Justice Commission insists that the only long-term solution to such conflicts is reform of the land court system and then a serious agrarian reform.

Haiti Info
Vol. 3, no. 7, 15 January, 1995