Date: Sat, 24 Aug 1996 20:02:57 -0700 (PDT)
From: Bob Corbett <>
To: Bob Corbett <>
Subject: This Week in Haiti 14:22 8/21/96 1
Message-Id: <>

Insecurity grips Haiti: Duvalierist soldiers growing bolder

This Week in Haiti, Haiti Progres, Vol.14 no.22, 21–27 August 1996

Witnesses around the south-east corner of the Champs de Mars—Port-au-Prince's large central square—first noticed the speeding off-white Toyota pick-up because the men packed in the back of the vehicle were talking boisterously. It was shortly after midnight, and the area was relatively quiet and deserted, with only some prostitutes and street vendors milling.

The pick-up veered down the street in front of Police Headquarters, where a red car waited. About 20 men jumped out of both vehicles, many dressed in the fatigues of the disbanded Haitian Army and disguised with bandannas, and launched an attack for close to one hour on the Police building with automatic weapons, grenades, and rocket launchers.

A young shoeshiner ran toward the headquarters to warn the police inside, but the attackers cut him down with gunfire. The gunmen also turned and fired at the Presidential Palace, about 150 yard away. Policemen in the headquarters returned fire. Not until the attackers were withdrawing did Canadian and Pakistani troops of the United Nation's Military Support Mission (MANUH) arrive. The battle left the shoeshiner dead, and a policeman and another civilian wounded.

This assault on Aug. 19 was the most dramatic to date in a campaign of violence which has rapidly expanded this month. Like guilt to a sinner, insecurity now dogs the Lavalas politicians who have championed Haiti's occupation since September 1994 by foreign military forces implanted precisely to prevent the criminals of the Sept. 30, 1991 coup from being judged or even disarmed.

Violence had risen like a crescendo in the weeks before the attack. Robberies of banks, motorists, gas stations, and money- changers have multiplied, as have home burglaries, murders, drive-by shootings, and bodies dumped in the streets. The police are also being targeted. On Aug. 12, gunmen killed one policeman Garry Lazarre, and seriously wounded another, Jean-Robert Moise, during a highway hold-up in Croix-de-Bouquet, just north of the capital.

Also shortly after midnight on Aug. 19, armed bands fired large- bore weapons at the empty Parliament building, and heavy gunfire resounded near the compound of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Tabarre, just outside the capital.

The MANUH occupation forces that night deployed tanks and troops throughout the downtown area, with helicopters and search-lights overhead. Dozens of pedestrians and motorists were stopped and searched at gunpoint by police.

Ironically, MANUH spokesperson, Eric Falt, downplayed the situation, saying that this was a serious incident, but it did not jeopardize in any way the stability of the government, and the president was never under threat. The U.S. Embassy spokesman also soft-mitted the crisis saying there was not—and it is important—there was not an attack on the National Palace. (The Embassy is probably is trying to exonerate U.S. troops for their non-response during the extended fusillade.)

Barricades of burning tires went up later that morning in the slums of La Saline, St. Martin, and St. Joseph, where people daily feel the lash of Macoute violence. Rather than encourage and reinforce the people's spontaneous mobilization, the Lavalas government has, as usual, sought to smooth the water and minimize popular participation in resolving the problem. The people should remain calm, police spokesman Felder Jean-Baptiste declared. There is no danger, and the authorities are in control of the situation.

Far from admitting that the well-organized attacks represent a serious challenge to the government and that security and order in Haiti are disintegrating, President Rene Preval contended that the incident was, in fact, a sign that the situation was improving thanks to the measures his government was taking since meeting with MANUH officials on Aug. 10 to form the joint Information and Operations Committee (CRO). If the police and government were not doing their job, the events could have been extremely serious, Preval said on Aug. 20 as he prepared to tour the city in a heavily-guarded convoy to supposedly restore confidence. We were on the trail of the perpetrators. It is difficult to understand why the police allowed a prolonged attack on their headquarters by gunmen on whose trail they were.

Preval went on to explain that the Aug. 19 attack was a desperate reaction by former Haitian soldiers who became somewhat disorganized after government authorities broke up an Aug. 17 meeting at the party offices of neo-Duvalierist politician Hubert DeRonceray where they were planning an attack on the Palace for Monday, Aug. 19. About 20 former soldiers were arrested in the raid, including ex-Major Leopold Clairjeune, former head of the Army's infamous Anti-Gang Division during the coup.

Nonetheless, on Aug. 19, former soldiers were able to carry out their coordinated attacks throughout the capital despite the arrests, or, more likely, in response to them. On Aug. 14, the vice-president of the demobilized soldiers called for Preval's resignation and stated that if President Preval dares arrest one member of our committee or one former soldier, they will see what happens... He will pay for that.

Preval has little real power behind him. The MANUH forces are practically in complicity with the rampaging former Haitian soldiers, if only by their inaction. Preval's main backing comes from President Bill Clinton, who is himself heavily leveraged, at least with regard to the Pentagon. The Clinton administration is rotating U.S. military units through Haiti for 10-day training missions to complement the 300-odd Special Forces soldiers already in place, posing as engineers, whose main purpose is to show the [U.S.] flag and be visible in Haiti, as a Pentagon official explained last November. Sixty U.S. Marines were to arrive in Haiti on Aug. 20.

Meanwhile, the police force is corrupt and trigger-happy. It was condemned most recently by the Parliament after police officers beat up Deputy Josue Salomon in Martissant after a traffic altercation on Aug. 12.

But Preval has found lots of silver in this cloud, saying that the police force is being reinforced. First, hundreds of officers—unwilling or deemed unfit for duty—are due to be purged. Secondly, training will continue. This means that U.S. military and Justice Department trainers will continue to form new recruits, despite the poor results, which leads inevitably to reforming old recruits. The situation is perpetual and, of course, lucrative for the U.S. trainers. But it is precisely the U.S. training that encourages Haitian police to shoot first and ask questions later, supplanted Canadian trainers have said.

Despite Preval's forced smile and bravado, it is the police and government which seem disorganized and desperate, and becoming more so, in the face of an unfolding subversion campaign. Patrick Elie, former secretary of state for Interior and National Defense, has been warning for over two months from his jail cell in Virginia, where the U.S. government is holding him, that U.S. conservatives, working with enemies of democracy both inside and outside of the Lavalas government, have been organizing a destabilization campaign to bring chaos to Haiti, thereby soiling President Bill Clinton's most cherished foreign policy victory (see Haiti Progres, Vol. 14, Nos. 14, 15 & 21). This plan, Elie explains, would assist the rise of two historical allies: Republicans in the U.S. and Duvalierists in Haiti.

Rather than heed Elie, Preval and government officials have turned a deaf ear and foolishly sought to use the flare-up of Duvalierist violence to promote their campaign for neo-liberal World Bank-dictated austerity reforms to the Haitian economy. Each time that the government is about to succeed economically, as in 1991, we experience a political disruption to upset the economic success, Preval said. He has been trying to push legislation through the Parliament that would legalize his plan to privatize Haiti's state-owned industries. Ironically, Haiti's popular organizations are the principal opponents to the neo- liberal reforms, as well as the principal victims of putschist violence both during and after the coup. Nonetheless, Preval demagogically blames the campaign of violence on the sector which does not want the country to advance with the economic reforms.