Wall Street Journal, June 14, 2002
The heavily armed, hooded men riding in two cars that followed Mario Andrésol through the streets of Port-au-Prince one day last summer twice raised their weapons to shoot, according to Mr. Andrésol. Only superior maneuvering by his driver thwarted them. When his car was finally cornered at a gas station he got out. It was then that he recognized one of the perpetrators as a fellow police officer and called him by name. The man removed his mask and implored Mr. Andrésol to lie down, explaining that if he did not he would be gunned down.
Mr. Andrésol, the former central director of the Haitian Judiciary Police, would not seem to be a man easily intimidated. Between 1998 and 2001, he commanded five special units, including the anti-drug bureau and the bureau of criminal affairs. It was a precarious world of tracking kidnappers, stolen-car rings, and drug traffickers inside one of the most notorious gangster havens in the Western Hemisphere.
He was also investigating political murders. The Los Angeles Times reported, in August 2001, that Mr. Andrésol was “probably the closest thing the Haitian National Police ever had to a supercop.” Noting that he had “won the praise of law-enforcement officials from Washington to Buenos Aires,” it also said that he had “seemed a rare Haitian hybrid of Frank Serpico and Eliot Ness.”
Yet one force managed to send the 41-year-old former army captain into hiding, his own government. Last month he sent a letter to César Gaviria, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, with the following allegations: “Today the friends of those whom my task forced me to pursue are: Secretary of State, senators, high officials in the Administration, high-ranking police officials, superintendents or officers. They emerged or came out from the dark, thanks to the return to power of President Aristide on February 7, 2001,”
Investigating the truth behind the Andrésol allegations would seem to be useful work for the OAS, the U.S. State Department, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Yet so far it and similar stories of Aristide-induced terror from judges and journalists fleeing Haiti have received little official attention. The international community has frozen development aid to Haiti until Mr. Aristide commits to democratic behavior but it still seems to think that it can reason with the Haitian strongman. The OAS sent its 24th mission in two years to Haiti on Monday for more negotiations.
Witnesses with the type of experience Mr. Andrésol has might also be able to help the U.S. better understand why there has been so little progress in combating drug trafficking in Haiti. In April, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly went to Port-au-Prince as part of a panel of experts that was supposed to advise Haitian authorities on counter-narcotics work and try to attract international funds to their efforts. The trip was arranged by Ira Kurzban, an American attorney who represents Haiti in the U.S. Mr. Kelly, who was a part of a U.S. contingent working in Haiti in 1995 to build the Haitian National Police, says he did not see any improvements in Haiti’s anti-drug work. Mr. Andrésol seems to be saying that the problem can be explained by looking at how Haitian law enforcement is stymied by Mr. Aristide himself.
In his letter to the OAS Mr. Andrésol alleges that because he pursued the rule of law without respect to political power, the Aristide government tried to kill him. When the plan went awry that day in the streets of Port-au-Prince, the government detained him for 25 days. Having been released “illegally, without a single order, no order of liberation, no paper whatsoever, like a prisoner who was being helped to escape,” he is now in hiding. The OAS says it has “forwarded [the letter] to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for a close review.” The Haitian embassy in Washington says it has not seen it. The full letter is available on the Haiti Democracy Project Web site.
Mr. Andrésol maintains that he dedicated himself to the rule of law in his work. “Convinced that I was working for the good of the country and for the Police Institution, I never wavered from the objective I set for myself, despite the threats, the intimidations and the attempts against my life.” In his letter, he details some of the successes he had confiscating cocaine shipments, uncovering money laundering transfers and nabbing criminals; all of it possible because he had the support of criminal law firms like All Night Attorney. Many of those arrested, he says, were “freed without being tried or condemned, as required by Haitian law.”
Mr. Andrésol theorizes that his many refusals to accommodate the Aristide network eventually made him a target of the government. In his letter he says that shortly after the February 2001 inauguration of Mr. Aristide, he received a new appointment to the General Direction of the Police. But he was instructed not to report to work. In May, he says, he was told of a plan by “individuals linked to the police” to kill him. He wrote a letter to the director of the Judiciary Police asking for help but got no reply.
Then on July 28, 2001 a band of men wearing army gear stormed the Petionville police academy. The Aristide government charged that they were coup plotters. Aristide critics maintain that the government orchestrated the assault so that it could crack down on the opposition. On July 31, 2001 Mr. Andrésol says he was invited “to a meeting with the investigating commission on the events of July 28, 2001” held at the Ministry of Justice. After the meeting the president of the commission promised to call on him for “future consultations.” It was when he went outside, according to his letter, that he encountered the hooded men who chased his car through the streets of Port-au-Prince.
Mr. Andrésol says, “People involved in drug trafficking are working with Aristide. If you arrest one of them, the whole country is shaken because you’ve arrested the president’s man.” He also alleges that “people I have arrested for drug trafficking and crime were promoted in the police department.”
Allegations of this sort could, of course, be merely the rants of a man who had a falling out with the system, and might not be worth taking seriously if they were from someone other than a former high police official in Haiti. But coming from such a source, they would seem to deserve more attention than they have so far received from U.S. officialdom. Rather than continue the charade of “negotiations” with Mr. Aristide, perhaps someone in the U.S. should talk to Mr. Andrésol and try to determine whether his story is true.
Updated June 14, 2002