Originally: Warning of Political Storm in Haiti


Friday September 19, 2003 


The Observer 63

Warning of Political Storms in Haiti

By Raymond A. Joseph

Civil war in Haiti is a distinct possibility as the embattled Haitian regime
intensifies repression to deal with defiant citizens calling for the
resignation of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The situation is so
unstable that the outgoing French ambassador has called for “vigilance,” in
preparation for “the hurricanes”,  political hurricanes that is.

For the second time in two weeks, last Sunday pro-government thugs backed by
the politicized police, dispersed a mammoth citizens’ demonstration in Cap
Haitien, Haiti’s second largest city. Reportedly one person was killed and
15 were injured. The assault on the regime’s opponents could have been more
deadly if ordinary citizens hadn’t opened their homes to hide several
leaders who had been targeted.

By 10 a.m. last Sunday, thousands of citizens had reached the starting point
of a march that had been announced a week earlier. This was the response of
the “Northern Opposition Front,” a civil society group known as FRON, to the
violent dispersal of its August 30 meeting by the police allied to
rock-throwing and tire-burning supporters of the regime. Two weeks earlier,
the government said there were not enough policemen to give security to the

Unable to advance the same pretext this time, it prepared a different
scenario. Several busloads of “chimeras,” from chimerical as the
pro-Aristide bandits are called, came from Port-au-Prince, about 120 miles
away, to reinforce the locals. Government officials, including Deputy
(“Congressman”) Nahoum Marcellus, were leading the charge. Other officials
had even warned in radio broadcasts that “the funeral homes had better get
ready, because it¹s going to be ugly.” Despite the reinforcements from the
capital, the pro-government group numbered less than a thousand.

Two days in a row prior to the September 14 march, representatives of the
FRON met with the police in front of officials of the Organization of
American States to suggest that the pro-government people schedule their
activity at a different time, even on another day. The police refused.
Instead, the local police commissioner, Charles Chily, said the
pro-government demonstrators would start their march at a different location
and would turn at a street before reaching the opponents. But as planned,
the inevitable happened. Armed with stones, sticks, and even bones of
skeletons unearthed from the cemetery where they had camped, the
government-sponsored thugs charged into the unarmed citizens. It was havoc,
and Mr. Chily said, “We had to use tear gas” to disperse both

Under a barrage of criticism from the opposition, the Canadian diplomat who
heads the OAS special mission in Haiti, David Lee, gave a press conference
Tuesday. Speaking in French, he said, “Lavalas Family [the ruling party] had
a plan to stop the demonstration of the opposition. The police should not
have allowed the two groups to have the same itinerary.” He added, “Such
behavior goes against the principles of democracy, the Haitian constitution
and the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights.”

The European Union weighed in with its own statement on Wednesday. Deploring
the recent violence in Cap Haitien, the E.U. said it is “dismayed by ever
more frequent and serious violations of human rights and freedoms ” by the
Haitian government and the “brutal intervention of the police.” The
15-member E.U. reiterated its official position expressed earlier this year
calling on the Haitian government to implement OAS Resolutions 806, 822 and
1959 calling among other things for a secure environment in Haiti as well as
the arrest and prosecution of the thugs.

For some reason, neither the State Department nor the White House issued any
statement regarding the disturbing events in Cap Haitien. A Capitol Hill
source who closely monitors the Haitian crisis said the new ambassador
arrived in Haiti last weekend and his superiors in Washington are probably
waiting for his assessment before they say anything. He added, “Anyway, all
that needed to be said was already said at the swearing-in ceremony” on
September 2 of James D. Foley.

At that time Secretary of State Powell expressed his frustration about the
turn of events in Haiti and said that President Bush had chosen the able Mr.
Foley who knows how to “build coalitions for democracy.” Mr. Foley himself
said he was ready to work with “a government” that can, among other things,
“organize free and honest elections” and that can also “disarm the gangs”
that have caused so much harm in Haiti. Additionally, the assistant
secretary of state for Hemispheric Affairs, Roger Noriega, told an audience
at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington that the
Haitian government had “weeks, not months,” to take “the small steps toward
restoring confidence in the security situation” to induce people to “engage
in some sort of electoral process.”

By violently disrupting a peaceful demonstration in Cap Haitien, the
Port-au-Prince authorities have given their response to the American
officials. As if to make perfectly clear their determination to continue in
their chosen path, Nahoum Marcellus, the Lavalas deputy, said “no opposition
demonstration will be allowed.” After the breakup of the Sunday march, he
barked into the microphones of the news people, “We are going to take over
the streets until the next elections, to stop any demonstration against our
constitutional president.”

On Tuesday, during his visit to the Welfare Office of the Ministry of Social
Work in Port-au-Prince, President Aristide said, “Come what may, we’re going
to have the elections later this year.” Obviously, these will be his own
kind of elections with only his party and its appendages, under the
leadership of an illegitimate electoral council that Mr. Aristide himself
had officially disbanded and replaced.

It is in that context that the French ambassador in Haiti for the past four
years, Yves Gaudeuil, had a farewell reception Tuesday night at the Manoir
des Lauriers, as the French chancery is called, to say he sees “hurricanes”
on the horizon. “I feel that things are going to be very difficult,” he
said. “I would say that the hurricanes are not only threatening the Atlantic
coast of the United States, they can also reach us. I think we will have to
hold on strongly to the railings. The wind will blow forcefully. I don’t
want you to be taken by surprise. Be prepared for a lot of  things, and
remain vigilant.” Mr. Gaudeuil then  added that his successor, Thierry
Burkard, will certainly “respect the instructions given him by his
superiors.” He alluded to them in general terms: “Support for democracy and
human rights and the right of all those who want freedom to enjoy it in
liberty and the economic development essential for this country.”