Originally: Popular Pressure for Regime Change
As popular pressure builds up for regime change in Haiti, President Aristide digs in his heels by intensifying repression, prompting a diplomatic slap.
Since the discovery of the mutilated body of gang leader Amyot “Cuban” Métayer on September 22, his hometown of Gonaïves has been in rebellion against President Aristide. The partisans of the slain leader of the formerly pro-Aristide “Cannibal Army” accuse the regime of the murder and vowed that the corpse wouldn’t be buried until the president resigned or was ousted.
This past Monday, however, Amyot Métayer was buried “for sanitary reasons,” said his relatives and supporters, because lack of electricity has affected the morgue at the hospital where the remains were kept. After an emotional funeral ceremony held in a Mormon temple, the followers of “Cuban” vowed to continue the fight and called on other cities to join them. In defiance of the government that offered to help with the funeral, his family and supporters buried him on his property by the house, a powerful symbolic
gesture in a country where the dead are often more powerful than the living. They also changed the name of “Cannibal Army” to that of “Army of the Gonaïves Resistance,” undoubtedly a move intended to appease their critics.
Meanwhile, the government has given the rebels martyr status. On October 2, two gunboats of the Haitian Coast Guard blocked the sea exit at the seaside Raboteau enclave. Shots were fired indiscriminately at the ramshackle houses in the shantytown that had gain fame as a Lavalas bastion. Elite units of the Swat Team and of the riot control CIMO took up land positions at the entrance of Raboteau, while sharpshooters aboard a helicopter, often used by the president, picked off targets as game on the ground.
About 15 people, including two taxi-motorcyclists, were reportedly killed and some 40 wounded. The hospital in Gonaïves couldn’t handle the seriously injured who were transported to Cap Haitien, about 40 miles to the north.
As should have been expected, the government is accused of perpetrating another “Raboteau Massacre.” The first occurred in April 1994 when pro-Aristide rebels had challenged the ruling military who had ousted Mr. Aristide in a bloody coup in 1991.
On orders from Mr. Aristide who was exiled in Washington, his partisans in Haiti began “Operation Iron Cut Iron.” They undertook daring attacks against the military. The army responded in kind, leading to the confrontation of April 22, 1994 at Raboteau where scores were killed and wounded.
On his return to power in Port-au-Prince, Mr. Aristide made the “Trial of Raboteau” a major priority. All the soldiers stationed in Gonaïves became defendants in a sweeping indictment that also targeted the Army’s high command. Most were found guilty of “crimes against humanity” and some officers who had found refuge in the United States have been returned to Haiti to face the music.
The G-4 or finance officer of the old Haitian army, Colonel Frantz Douby, was arrested last month in Florida and is being held at the Krome Detention Center in Miami, awaiting his fate. A former army colleague of his in New York, who declined to be further identified, told me, “As G-4, Frantz had nothing to do with the army’s chain of command. He had nothing to do with Raboteau. Obviously it was a political trial to tarnish and destroy the Armed Forces and give Aristide a free hand to carry out his will.”
Mr. Aristide disbanded the army in 1995 and replaced it with the politicized police that have perpetrated more atrocities than their predecessors.
The current situation leads to the logical question: Who is responsible for the new “Raboteau Massacre?” Would it be all the policemen in Gonaïves? What about those that were dispatched from Port-au-Prince and the high command of the police that includes the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice, the Secretary of State for public security, and the director of the National Police? Certainly, they wouldn’t have undertaken such a massacre without the president’s approval.
The wanton slaughter at Raboteau has been roundly denounced nationally and internationally. Most importantly, the new American ambassador to Port-au-Prince, James Foley, was quick with a communiqué on October 3. “In the name of the government of the United States,” he wrote in French, “I would like to express my deep regret for the death of innocent victims in Gonaïves and our concern about the use of excessive and blind force by the police. The incidents in Gonaïves come in the heels of the assassination of
Amyot Métayer, an assassination that we firmly condemn. Métayer was a criminal fugitive whose arrest and trial have long been asked by the international community.”
Then, falling in the trap of the foreign diplomats who fail to admit Mr. Aristide’s perfidy, Mr. Foley asserts, “We call on the Haitian authorities to undertake a thorough investigation to determine the circumstances
surrounding this murder and to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
How can the government of Haiti carry out a thorough investigation in this assassination or others ordered from above? In the case of Amyot Métayer, the man who lured him to his doom, Odonel Paul, was an employee of the Ministry of Interior who is an habitué of the National Palace. He was seen there, the day after the gruesome act. He has since disappeared and the government says a warrant has been issued for his appearance. Was he also murdered, as has been reported?
Investigations undertaken by the Haitian regime are rarely concluded. In fact, most observers believe Mr. Aristide has been given carte blanche to do as he pleases since the broad daylight murder of brilliant lawyer Mireille Durocher-Bertin. On March 28, 1995, some 72 hours before President Clinton was to arrive in Port-au-Prince on an official state visit, the mother of three, a declared opponent of Mr. Aristide, was gunned down along with her client Ernst Baillergeau.
Not to derail the trip of Mr. Clinton, Mr. Aristide acceded to an investigation by the FBI that sent agents to Haiti before Mr. Clinton arrived. They barred Mr. Aristide’s Defense Minister from occupying his seat on the dais and removed a large banner of his ministry from the Champs de Mars welcoming Mr. Clinton. He was suspected of being the mastermind behind the execution. A few months afterward, the American lawyers of Mr. Aristide blocked the investigation from going anywhere to the frustration of the U.S. agents.
Meanwhile, the movement contesting Mr. Aristide’s rule is gaining momentum. Earlier this week strikes paralyzed Cap-Haitien, the second largest city in the country. This week also Petit Goave had its first demonstrations in solidarity with Gonaïves. More importantly, however, about 50 leading Haitian intellectuals, writers and artists who had been sympathetic to Mr. Aristide, signed a “declaration of principles” in which they denounced “the penchant to totalitarianism, the incompetence and the corruption that characterize the actual government” and asked the international community to shun any cooperation with it as it tries to exploit Haiti’s bicentennial year, which begins January 1, to remake its image.
Confronting the thugs on whom he built his tyranny and denounced by the intellectuals who gave a veneer of respectability to his incompetence, Mr. Aristide, a former gentle Catholic priest, must rely on raw power to make his brand of democracy work. Will the Organization of American States and his “friends” at CARICOM come to his rescue? The OAS has announced yet another meeting in Port-au-Prince with all the protagonists in the crisis “within two to three weeks.” And Jamaica’s Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, the current chair of CARICOM, says he won’t allow Haiti to be “isolated,” intimating that Mr. Aristide and Haiti are one and the same.