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17325: (Chamberlain) Washington Post on Haiti (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
(Washington Post, 18 Nov 03)
Armed Attacks Increase Pressure on Haitian Leader
Groups Extend Reach Into Provincial Areas
By Scott Wilson
GONAIVES, Haiti -- President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is facing an escalating
armed threat to his fragile government that is sowing deep political
instability and daily violence across a desperate country.
>From Haiti's central plateau to this coastal city that was loyal to
Aristide during his rise from resistance leader to president, small
collections of men are attacking police stations and government buildings
in the hopes of destabilizing his nearly three-year-old administration.
Many of the participants are either former members of Haiti's military,
which was dissolved after the 1994 U.S. invasion that restored Aristide to
power following a military coup, or they belonged to a paramilitary force
that opposed the president's return.
The groups have increased the tempo of their attacks in recent months, and
are showing signs of coordinating military efforts around the country.
Government officials say the groups pose no immediate threat to the
popularly elected president, beloved by much of Haiti's poor majority. But
the groups have added a potent new element to a civilian opposition
movement that had failed to generate much interest beyond the capital,
broadening its reach for the first time into provincial regions
traditionally supportive of the president.
Opposition political leaders have declined to condemn the armed attacks,
although they deny having political or financial connections to them.
Instead, they blame Aristide for the deteriorating security situation,
which has complicated government efforts to hold new elections that are a
condition for the lifting of U.S. aid restrictions.
The uprising here in Gonaives, 70 miles north of Port-au-Prince, the
capital, has centered in the seaside slum of Raboteau. About 30 armed men
have sealed off the neighborhood since September to protest the killing of
Amiot Metayer, the leader of a pro-Aristide community organization, whose
body was found on a roadside south of here. His eyes were shot out.
Metayer's followers say the armed group once regularly received money from
Aristide's Lavalas party, as well as dozens of guns to defend the president
following a December 2001 coup attempt. They have since turned the arsenal
against their former patrons, whom they accuse of killing Metayer.
"We want him to go," Butteur Metayer, the 32-year-old brother of the slain
man, said as gunfire rang out last week between his men and the police.
"He's killed too many people," he said. "Goodbye, Aristide, forever."
The violence is deepening Haiti's political crisis at a time when
Aristide's government, stunningly short of resources, is largely powerless
to stem it. Aristide is a former Catholic priest whose defiance of the
Duvalier family dictatorship helped force it from power in 1986. In 1990,
he became the first freely elected leader in Haiti's 200-year history, only
to be deposed within seven months by a military junta.
A U.S. force of 23,000 troops restored Aristide's government in 1994, part
of a $2.3 billion attempt at nation-building. Roger Noriega, assistant
secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, recently characterized
the effort as "a complete failure due to the Haitian leader's inability and
lack of willingness to move the country along a democratic path."
Since his reelection in November 2000, Aristide has pushed with mixed
success a populist agenda of higher minimum wages, school construction,
literacy programs, higher taxes on the rich and other policies that have
angered an opposition movement run largely by a mulatto elite that has
traditionally controlled Haiti's economy.
The United States has enforced a freeze on international loans totaling
$500 million to Haiti over that time because of the government's failure to
address fraudulent legislative elections held before Aristide took office.
Last year, the Bush administration agreed to unfreeze a $146 million
Inter-American Development Bank loan for roads, water systems, education
and public health programs. But after paying more than $30 million in back
interest, Haiti is still waiting for the first disbursement.
Government officials say the effects of that policy have hampered their
ability to address poverty, which afflicts 80 percent of Haiti's 8 million
people, or effectively deal with U.S. concerns over Haiti's role as
transshipment point for Colombian cocaine and illegal migration to the
United States. Instead, they say, U.S. policies have empowered the
Before new elections, which could free up the rest of the money, can be
held, the Organization of American States has called on Aristide to create
an impartial elections board and improve security in a country where
partisan gangs are part of a winner-take-all political culture. The
12-party opposition coalition known as the Democratic Convergence, created
with the help of the U.S.-funded International Republican Institute that
continues to advise the group through seminars in the Dominican Republic,
has declined to participate in selecting the panel, citing security
Last week, a coalition of civic organizations known as the Group of 184,
headed by a U.S.-born businessman named Andre Apaid Jr., organized a rally
in Port-au-Prince. The event was ostensibly arranged to outline what the
group refers to as its social contract, which calls on Aristide to turn
over power to a "council of wise men" appointed by an impartial elections
But the rally ended in a haze of tear gas and rock-throwing clashes between
groups of Lavalas supporters and the opposition. Waving open hands in a
five-fingered salute representing Aristide's five-year term, Lavalas
members turned out in far larger numbers than the opposition. Apaid, whose
brother-in-law and nephew were arrested for gun possession during the
rally, said the event was "confirmation the government is lowering the mask
of its dictatorship."
Yvon Neptune, Haiti's prime minister, said the rally was part of a broader
opposition strategy to create "a psychosis of insecurity" in the country
and make municipal and parliamentary elections, scheduled for early next
year, impossible to hold.
"Our information is that there are links between some elements of these
armed groups with the opposition on every level -- financial as well as the
political goal of ousting President Aristide," Neptune said. "We're trying
to show that this is all a pretext for not wanting to participate in
The first armed group appeared last year along the Massacre River that
defines Haiti's border with the Dominican Republic. Members of the group
now slip across the border for refuge. The leaders were 10 former Haitian
army soldiers, none of higher rank than sergeant. The roughly 7,000 former
members of the military have been a constant source of resistance since the
army's dissolution, increasingly so as the national police force created by
the United States to replace it has shrunk from 5,000 to 3,500 members
because of financial difficulties.
Armed groups, none larger than 50 people, have also emerged in Petit-Goave
on the island's southern finger, in the northern city of Cap-Haitien, and
here in Gonaives, a city of 200,000 people where a chalky coastal plain
meets a turquoise sea. The government's one helicopter has been shot up and
repaired repeatedly over the past year as the groups have stepped up
attacks, including the killing of six members of an Interior Ministry
delegation to the central plateau and the wounding of the police chief
"What they are trying to do is divide our forces," said Franz Gabriel,
Aristide's security adviser.
Neptune denies that Lavalas passed out weapons following the December 2001
attack on the National Palace, which Aristide characterized as a coup
attempt. But Raboteau, the site of a 1994 massacre directed by the military
that killed 15 people, is awash in guns. The men carrying them say the
weapons came from Lavalas.
Burning tires, rusting car chassis, and piles of garbage block the roads
into the slum. Passing police patrols draw and return fire along rows of
flimsy houses made of tattered wood, cement blocks and sheets of tin. Conch
shells, bleached by the sun, run along the tops of walls.
The young men manning the barricades claim to be part of a pro-democracy
movement. But during a break in a gun fight with police, a handful of them
broke down the door of a house owned by a man named William Joseph. They
tossed chairs, tables, a chest of drawers, a television set into the
street, then set the pile on fire. Joseph, they said, was an informant for
"I don't know who the police are after," said Jacques, a 26-year-old
unemployed mason afraid to give his last name. "But the police are only
trying to do their job."
Metayer's group was called the Cannibal Army. As its name suggests, it was
not a benign force. Police officials say it exacted "taxes" from cars
passing through the slum, and boats that docked at the port. It may have
had a hand in drug trafficking, police say.
The group's turn against Aristide began with Metayer's arrest in July 2002
after he was implicated in the death of an opposition member. Until then
Metayer had been the conduit for Lavalas patronage, the slum's economic
lifeblood, that made him a big man in a country where politics are
dominated by personalities.
A month later, a group of his followers plowed a tractor through the wall
of the Gonaives prison, freeing Metayer and 159 others. Among them was Jean
Tatoune, a former leader of the anti-Duvalier movement who was serving a
life sentence for his role in the Raboteau massacre. Police have issued a
$17,000 reward for Tatoune's arrest, but no one has delivered him so far.
"He's a heavyweight in this," said Dieujuste Jeanty, who calls himself a
leader in the Cannibal Army. "This is not just a movement sitting here in