Originally: Militarisation de la paix en Haïti
On June 23, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1608 adding more than 1,000 troops to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), which already included 7,400 international soldiers and civilian police. In fact, the buildup of violence during the past few weeks in Port-au-Prince had prompted several Haitian personalities to request a reinforcement of MINUSTAH. However, considering the mission?s dismal failure, a question remains: Is a military solution appropriate for Haiti?
Port-au-Prince ? Not a day goes by without reminding us of the climate of terror prevailing in Port-au-Prince. Billowing smoke from businesses on fire is seen from the sloping mountainside neighborhoods overlooking the capital. Radio broadcasts announce the daily number of kidnappings. At the end of the day, sirens and gunfire set a tempo for the rush hour.
Apparently, the presence of the 7,400 member peacekeeping force has not sufficed to control the violence. Worse, it may have fueled tension. In addition, as rumor has it in Port-au-Prince, that force may have discreetly tolerated such violence.
In September 2004, Operation Baghdad was launched by the Chimeres, gangs loyal to President Aristide and armed by him. Their stated objective has been to destabilize the country, expel the occupying forces, and block new elections scheduled for the fall of 2005. This is to go on as long as Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whom they see as the only rightfully elected president, is kept out of the country. It would, however, be a mistake to look at them as a large armed front united against the international occupier. Already, rivalries among bands of Chimeres punctuate life in shantytowns such as Bel-Air and Cité-Soleil. To them, the search for easy gain seems to matter more than loyalty to the deposed president. Kidnapping, racketeering, drug and weapon trafficking, are all becoming excellent money-making ventures. Entire populations are kept hostage. Nowadays, every morning, businesswomen must pay their way out of Cité-Soleil to the neighborhood gang, and repay a “custom fee” upon their return.
As a matter of fact, the present climate of violence is quite to the advantage of the exiled Aristide who constantly presents himself as a victim of a vast colonialist plot. However, whether or not for political reasons, many sectors largely benefit from the established chaos: the Columbian cartels using Haiti as a transshipment hub for cocaine toward Miami; part of the private sector profiteering from the skyrocketing cost of living in Port-au-Prince; and, above all, petty criminals involved in the kidnapping industry. On the average, about ten people are kidnaped daily in the capital, across the social spectrum, and some have been released for as little as four dollars?
Is MINUSTAH an Accomplice?
It is thus surprising that, for civilian and military members of the U.N. peacekeeping force, individuals known in the Haitian population as notorious criminals are perceived instead as genuine community representatives. During MINUSTAH?s internal discussions, Samba Boukman and Ronald Fareau are routinely identified as “community leaders” who remain clear of all criminal activities. In Fort National, used as a military base in Bel-Air for the Brazilian battalion, those “local political leaders” are regularly consulted by MINUSTAH’s civilian and military representatives. “The truth of the matter,” a Catholic priest from that neighborhood told us, “is that those individuals are widely known for their criminal activities, particularly for their systematic use of children as soldiers in Bel-Air.”
“The military should not be involved in politics,” according to some MINUSTAH administrative sources and many protests from among the population. “Many Brazilian colonels are conniving with the likes of Fareau, Boukman, and Ronald St-Jean,” as if it were in fact an inchoate version of the class struggle, where those grassroots leaders, either instigating the armed bands or instigated by them, were to be protected from a plot of the upper class aimed at their destruction.
For Gotson Pierre, a journalist of the alternative media Alter Presse, that is not a surprise. “In Port-au-Prince, representatives of several sectors claim to realize that MINUSTAH plays the game of the supporters of the former Lavalas regime of deposed president Aristide.”
In February 2005, demonstrations by armed Aristide supporters proceeded under tight protection of the U.N. forces, who carefully kept the police away. Bernard Gousse, then minister of justice, even stated that some “escapees from prison” were among the demonstrators.
Weapons, Drugs, and Sex
Word is spreading that armed gangs provide drugs to some troops among the Nepalese, Brazilian, Peruvian, and Jordanian battalions, in exchange for military hardware. The gangs also seem to trade women for weapons. Questioned at a meeting held in June with the Chamber of Commerce of Port-au-Prince, Brazilian General Heleno, the head of MINUSTAH, dismissed those rumors as groundless. “Can you then tell me how I was able to get this?” replied a Haitian businessman as he put on the table a crate of ammunition illegally obtained from the peacekeeping forces.
Operation Baghdad has led to the militarization of several sectors of Haitian society. Fearing for the safety of their stores and inventories, several businessmen promptly organized their own armed gangs. Such is the case of Andre Apaid, a businessman well known for his involvement with the 184 Group?a large coalition of businesses, opposition parties, and community groups who struggled for Aristide?s resignation. In order to protect his business interests in the commercial district, Apaid did not hesitate to use the services of Labanyè, a gang leader opposed to Dread Wilme, Aristide’s supporter who controls Cité-Soleil. In the Petion-Ville suburb, site of several businesses, the number of militia increases on a daily basis.
In such a context, one can understand the repeated calls for reinforcement of MINUSTAH?s mandate. However, by sending an additional 800 soldiers and only 200 civilian police, the UN displays a persistent belief in a military solution. And that, in spite of repeated appeals from Haitian popular movements which widely support a reinforcement of police rather than military forces. Following Resolution 1608, the number of civilian police will reach 1,820 while military forces will rise to 6,600.
“We are facing a problem of runaway crime, not an armed uprising,” said a women’s rights activist who asked to remain anonymous. “The Haitian National Police must be purged of its corrupt elements, strengthened, and supported during its operations. How do you expect them to do their job while the United States has imposed an arm embargo upon them since 1994?”
Meanwhile, machine guns and other Galils continue to arrive on the shore of Cité-Soleil, in spite of the fact that, since Aristide?s return in 1994, US naval forces have been responsible for patrolling the Haitian coast?