From Sun Dec 8 14:19:45 2002
Date: Sun, 8 Dec 2002 09:00:53 -0600 (CST)
From: Bob Corbett <>
To: Haiti mailing list <>
Subject: 14024: Edouard-News-Former Haitian leader in legal tug of war (fwd)

From: Felix Edouard <>

Former Haitian leader in legal tug of war

By Marika Lynch, Herald, [Wednesday 4 December 2002]

PORT-AU-PRINCE—Prosper Avril, former Haitian president by coup, accused torturer and one-time Miami mamey farmer, sits in the National Penitentiary contemplating his future.

Three times a court has ordered his release, and three times the Haitian government has kept him locked up. In the latest charge, the government says Avril masterminded a peasant massacre in 1990, even though the general had skipped the country by U.S. military jet the day before.

Sitting in the prison courtyard, beneath a banner that reads Long Live Aristide, Avril blames his former political rival for his current circumstance.

I think he has something in his heart against me, Avril said of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The Organization of American States and human-rights groups question Avril’s continued detention, which some see as revenge politics in the feeble Haitian justice system.

A scandal, said Pierre Esperance, director of the Haiti office of the National Coalition of Haitian Rights.

Arbitrary abuse of power, said Luigi Einaudi, assistant secretary general of the OAS. Haiti isn’t Switzerland, but some cases are pretty obvious.

The government maintains that there is no plot against Avril. In this latest legal round, the government says Avril’s lawyers merely asked the wrong court to set him free—an issue of jurisdiction.


His lawyers made a mistake, said Ira Kurzban, the Miami-based lawyer for the Haitian government.

This guy is a dictator and a torturer. I wish Mr. Avril was put in the proper context, Kurzban added.

A confidant and financial advisor to the former ruling Duvalier family and a member of the presidential guard, Avril had an 18-month reign over Haiti. When he took power in September 1988, ousting another military leader, he promised to bring irreversible democracy to the country. But he never called elections. He was forced to flee in March 1990 after protests engulfed the country.

Part of the catalyst was a crackdown on opposition leaders. Six well-known activists were beaten by soldiers, their bloodied bodies displayed on television. One said he overheard Avril directing the beating by telephone.

The events led four prominent human-rights groups, including Americas Watch, to call Haiti under Avril one more prisoner of a brutal despot willing to use violence and terror to preserve his rule.

The activists later sued in federal court in Miami. They won a $41 million judgment for torture in July 1994, after Avril refused to participate in the court proceedings.

While Avril was in power, Aristide was a popular and militant crusader pressing for the country’s first democratic elections. He campaigned for Avril to step down, and for the removal of all Jean-Claude Duvalier supporters from government positions.

After years in exile, including a period in which he bought a South Miami-Dade County farm, Avril eventually returned to Haiti and lived in relative obscurity, until he showed up at a May 2001 meeting of the Democratic Convergence, an umbrella group of anti-Aristide parties.

Two weeks later, Avril was signing copies of his book, The Black Book on Insecurity, at a Petionville restaurant when masked commandos swept him off to prison. The book, still on sale in the capital for $12, blames Aristide’s rule for crime and uneasiness among Haitians. It ends with a list of 554 people killed between 1995 and 2000 when Aristide’s party, Lavalas, was in power.

Avril was charged with plotting against the government and arrested on a 6-year-old warrant signed by a dead judge. An appeals court ruled that his arrest was arbitrary and illegal.


But as he left the National Penitentiary in April, ready to return with his son to his gingerbread mansion in the suburbs, masked guards hauled him back to jail again. The government accused him of masterminding a 1990 peasant massacre in St. Marc, where 11 died in a land dispute.

Days after his arrest, the judge who signed that warrant fled to Miami and told Radio Carnaval the arrest was political and that he had been pressured to sign the warrant.

Avril maintains his innocence, saying he couldn’t possibly have been involved in the slayings, since he had left on a C-130 jet bound for Homestead.

But Brian Concannon, a U.S. lawyer who lives in Haiti and works with the government and family members of the massacre victims, said Avril had planned the killings in advance. Relatives and residents testified to that in court.

It’s an injustice to release somebody who has committed massive human-rights violations without him being tried, Concannon said.

Despite an Oct. 22 appeals court ruling, which said Avril should be released immediately because he was being held without a legal arrest warrant, he remains behind bars, counting out the days with pencil slashes on a notebook.

Though the country’s largest prison is renowned for its deplorable conditions, Avril lives in what he calls the VIP section. He still sports a gold watch and wedding band and freshly pressed cotton slacks.

His family brings him home-cooked meals every day, fried goat and rice and coffee for the morning.

Avril wants out, but he’s not sure he’ll be released soon. Though he says he has no aspirations for office, Avril—who formed his own political party—says Aristide’s government fears he will be a candidate in proposed upcoming elections.

Aristide does not want me as a candidate. He’s afraid of me being in front of his party.

Yet Avril says his eyes are on leaving Haiti. I can’t be safe here, he said. This is a government that creates situations. They invent cases for you.