Originally: Ominous Signs of Civil War
The long-feared civil war may have started in Haiti with attacks on the police and fierce counterattacks by government forces.
Last Sunday morning ?rebels? attacked the central police station in Gonaives with machine guns, wounding the police commander and his assistant.They were flown by helicopter to a Port-au-Prince hospital, some 70 miles south of Gonaives, which has been in rebellion for the past five weeks. A 17-year-old girl returning from church with her boyfriend was killed in the crossfire between defenders of the police station and the attackers.
The home of the town?s delegate, as the president?s representative is called, was invaded by the ?rebels? who seized weapons and ammunition that were in his care. He had escaped in time.
On Monday the government dispatched elite police forces to Gonaives. In a land, sea, and air assault on the seaside enclave of Raboteau, several houses were burned, two people were killed, and about a dozen partisans of the late Amiot ?Cuban? Metayer were arrested. The burning to death of a 1-month-old girl who hadn?t yet been named has inflamed public opinion. The distraught mother, Micheline Limay, sobbed as she explained that the police and their civilian auxiliaries had set fire to her home. She managed to rescue her 2-year-old son before the house was fully engulfed.
The police also retaliated against the Metayer family by burning the family house and desecrating the tomb of the slain gang leader, who had been a supporter of President Aristide. As reported, Metayer was found murdered September 22. His gruesome execution ? with both eyes shot and his heart removed ? has been attributed to President Aristide by Metayer?s followers who have vowed revenge.
Ironically, the reviled ?soldiers? of the former ?Cannibal Army? are now considered heroes in comparison to the police and civilian thugs operating for the government in Gonaives. The prominence of a hated officer of the disbanded army of Haiti in the repression currently under way in Gonaives has laid bare the hypocrisy of the regime. In a dispatch to the Haiti-Observateur in Brooklyn Tuesday night, a correspondent from Gonaives wrote ?Wilson Casseus, a former military officer tied to Fraph, has been entrusted with executing the second massacre of Raboteau.? (Fraph is the French acronym for a rabidly anti-Aristide civilian front organization used by the military rulers who overthrew Aristide in 1991 to carry out the repression against the followers of the then-exiled president who was restored to power in 1994 by American military might.)
The trouble is this Mr. Casseus had received a three-year jail sentence in the sensational trial of the alleged perpetrators of the first Raboteau massacre that occurred April 22, 1994. The correspondent said Mr. Casseus was chosen for ?his experience? and knowledge of the most rebellious neighborhoods in Gonaives. Meanwhile, the Haitian government is seeking the extradition from the U.S. of former army officers alleged to have been involved in the first Raboteau massacre.
Other signs of gross human rights violations indicate a breakdown in law and order and a divorce between the regime and the civilian population. Jonathan Louima,a 15-year-old boy,was severely beaten October 14 at a police precinct near the National Palace in Port-au-Prince. Horror of horrors, he was thrown to hungry dogs in the closed courtyard of the precinct where he was bitten on his arms and legs.He has been recuperating at a private clinic. This sadism harks back to two centuries ago to the time of the French anti-revolutionary commanders Caradeux and Rochambeau, writes Jean-Claude Bajeux, a former minister of culture in a previous Aristide government. Now as director of the Ecumenical Center for Human Rights in Port-au-Prince, Mr. Bajeux asserts that ?this odious case should not be treated as the daily occurrences of assassinations, hold-ups, and kidnappings for which the excuses and alibis of the national police don?t hold.?
Such an assassination last week has resulted in a major sector of society rising up against the regime. The funeral Wednesday of Danielle Lustin in Portau-Prince drew several delegations of militant feminists, human rights organizations, students, and university professors who were once supporters of President Aristide. The university professor was an expert in micro financing who had been helping poor businesswomen that usually cannot obtain financing for their informal businesses.
After the funeral, the women organized a peaceful sit-in in front of the Ministry of Justice to ask for ?justice for Danielle? and ?an end to impunity.? Suddenly a white pick-up truck with a flashing strobe light and sporting official plates unloaded a few thugs in front of the ministry. They pelted the peaceful demonstrators with stones and other objects. They yelled crude misogynistic invectives and praised President Aristide. The women sought refuge inside a courthouse and were eventually rescued by people in cars with diplomatic license plates.
The assassinations in Port-au-Prince of two businessmen on Wednesday has caused an uproar. One of them, Maxime Millet, was robbed and gunned down on his way home from the airport where he had just arrived from Miami. The wave of assassinations of the prominent and the lowly prompted the Haitian Tourism Association to issue a communiqué earlier this week to express its ?revolt in the face of such violence,? and to ask,?How can we promote tourism to Haiti in such an atmosphere??
In Cap-Haïtien, the Northern Opposition Front has met with violent resistance from partisans of the regime that have again blocked demonstrations that should have been held last weekend.
However, the government of Haiti has its supporters among the Black Congressional Caucus in Washington. In a column in the Miami Herald Monday titled ?Avert Constitutional Crisis,? Rep. Barbara Lee of California and Rep. John Conyers of Michigan call for U.S. support to the Port-au-Prince authorities. The co-chairmen of the Haiti Task Force of the CBC assert, ?The United States has a moral obligation and a unique opportunity to assist the people of Haiti in continuing down the path of democracy.?That path is identified with bogus elections marred by official violence and designed to entrench the budding dictatorship of Mr. Aristide.
Commenting on the Lee-Conyers text,Ira Lowenthal,of the Haiti Democracy Project in Washington, says there is no constitutional crisis in Haiti. What?s at issue, he adds, is that ?President Aristide, his cronies, and his henchmen have purposely trampled every basic constitutional precept protecting this long-suffering nation from the reemergence of one man rule, kleptocracy, and repression.?
Obviously, the forces against and for the status quo in Haiti are lining up, and a major explosion that could have repercussions even here is a distinct possibility.