Originally: Veterans of Past Murderous Campaigns Are Leading Haiti’s New Rebellion
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 28 ? The armed men trying to seize power in Haiti are led by death-squad veterans and convicted murderers, according to American officials and human-rights groups.They are “the new Haitian army,” said one of their commanders, Remissainthe Ravix. They are also “thugs,” said Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.
They are men like Louis-Jodel Chamblain and Jean-Pierre Baptiste ? two leaders of Fraph, the Haitian Front for Advancement
and Progress. Fraph was an instrument of terror wielded by the military junta that overthrew Haiti’s embattled president,
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in 1991. It killed thousands over the next three years.
Mr. Chamblain, a former Haitian Army officer, was sentenced in absentia to life in prison for the 1993 murder of Antoine Izméry,
an important Aristide supporter. Before the trial, he fled to the neighboring Dominican Republic, returning to Haiti in recent
months to seek power.
Mr. Baptiste, also known as Jean Tatoune, was serving a life sentence for murder, in connection with a 1994 massacre of Aristide
supporters, when he was freed in a jailbreak in August.
“Fraph is back,” President Aristide said in an interview with The New York Times last week. The question now is whether these
men will take power once again, and whether American military force, in the form of a naval deployment, may be necessary to
stop them. Pentagon officials have said Marines could be called upon to evacuate Americans and other foreigners and provide
other assistance if the crisis here worsened.
“The Fraph and the Haitian Army are institutions with a long and very dark history,” said James Dobbins, President Bill
Clinton’s special envoy to Haiti from 1994 to 1996.
That past is entwined with American history. United States forces occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934. They created the modern
Haitian Army, dissolved Parliament and imposed martial law in those years. In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, the United States
Central Intelligence Agency had important senior Haitian Army officers and Fraph members on its payroll, according to American
A decade ago, in 1994, the United States sent in 20,000 soldiers to reinstate Mr. Aristide after the Haitian Army overthrew him.
Mr. Aristide disbanded the army upon his return to power. But he created nothing in its place beyond a small, American-trained
national police force ? a force now filled with no-show officers, commanded by the president’s cronies and corrupted by cocaine,
according to a recent State Department report.
Now Mr. Aristide has little with which to defend himself. His power base has crumbled, leaving only the dissolute national police
and a rabble of street gangs. On Thursday, he was accused in an American courtroom by a convicted cocaine trafficker of taking
“Aristide has been criticized, and with some justice, of allying himself with forces that may be criminal or corrupt,” Mr. Dobbins
said. “But in a society which has no institutions, where all power derives from the use or the threat of force, it’s impossible to
govern without those alliances. It’s the Haitian dilemma.”
Broad-based alliances across Haitian society have lost faith in President Aristide. The political opposition includes victims of
army power, like Evans Paul, a former mayor of Port-au-Prince, and once Mr. Aristide’s campaign manager, who was arrested
and tortured by Haitian military officers in 1989.
Mr. Paul now says the president has two choices: to leave “by the front door or the back door.”
The political opposition in Haiti is united by its desire to depose Mr. Aristide, and the armed opposition by its hate for him.
Veterans despise him because he dissolved the army. Street gangs detest him because they think he betrayed their leaders. Guy
Philippe, a former police chief leading the rebels, says Mr. Aristide broke his promise to lift up the Haitian people.
Mr. Aristide’s supporters say the armed opposition seeks power for power’s sake, to seize Haiti’s ports and their cargoes of
Colombian cocaine bound for the United States, and to pay back Mr. Aristide for disbanding the army.
Mr. Philippe was trained by the United States military as an army officer in Ecuador, according to a report published Friday by
Human Rights Watch. When he was a police chief on the north side of Port-au-Prince, dozens of criminal suspects were murdered,
according to the rights group, citing a United Nations report. In 2000, suspected of plotting a coup, he fled to the Dominican
Mr. Aristide, who rose from slum priest to president preaching economic and spiritual deliverance, has made many such enemies
while in power.
“When he was democratically elected in 1990 his support was overwhelming and from the heart,” said James Morrell, director of
the Haiti Democracy Project, who is among those onetime Aristide supporters now calling for his ouster. Mr. Aristide “made a lot
of mistakes, the biggest of which was that he demanded absolute power and absolute loyalty.” Timothy Carney, a former United States ambassador to Haiti, said Mr. Aristide spoke like a democrat but “displayed the traditional predatory behavior of Haitian leaders, including the idea that he is the embodiment of the state.”
The revolt sweeping Haiti began on Feb. 5 in Gonaïves, the city where slaves who shook off Napoleon’s rule declared this the first
free black nation of the New World in January 1804, 200 years ago.
A gang of embittered former Aristide supporters attacked a police station, overpowered the officers and took over the city. They
believed that Mr. Aristide killed their leader, Amiot Métayer. Mr. Métayer was known as a charismatic, ruthless man. Butteur
Métayer, Amiot’s brother, said he had died because he knew about the Aristide government’s drug ties.
Butteur Métayer revived his brother’s group and named it the Artibonite Resistance Front. Inspired by the front, others rose up,
burning police stations, looting and plotting, setting off a chain reaction now reaching Port-au-Prince, the capital.
Early on Saturday, a relative calm returned to the city’s streets. Mr. Aristide spoke by telephone late on Friday on national
television, urging militants to stop the violence and looting that has convulsed the capital.
“We should prevent ill-intentioned people from infiltrating our movement and polluting it,” Mr. Aristide said. His remarks
seemed to be a response to a statement by the American Embassy here blaming the president for the violence and demanding
that he put a stop to it.
The public face of the rebel army is the smile of Mr. Philippe, the former police chief. He is suspected by both Haitian and United
States officials of cocaine trafficking.
In an interview last week at a seaside hotel that his troops are using as their base in Cap Haitien, Haiti’s second largest city, Mr.
Philippe said he had no lust for power.
“I am not ambitious,” Mr. Philippe said, swigging a beer as his men lounged by a swimming pool, machine guns cradled in their
laps. “What I want is a better life for the Haitian people. What I want is democracy.”
Mr. Philippe has few democratic credentials. In 2001, while he stood accused of planning a coup, the government said he
masterminded a raid on the presidential palace that left seven dead.
He is joined in this rebellion by Mr. Chamblain, the convicted political assassin from Fraph. (The acronym Fraph is a play on the
French word frapper, to hit.) Mr. Chamblain denied in an interview that he or his group ever killed anyone, a contention belied by
“I was never paramilitary chief,” Mr. Chamblain said. “I was the leader of a political organization. Fraph helped people and
brought the Haitian people together.”
He said he joined the revolt against Mr. Aristide because the president had betrayed the principles of the men who freed Haiti
from France two centuries ago.
“This fight is to liberate the Haitian people under the regime of Jean-Bertrand Aristide,” Mr. Chamblain said.
Also along for the ride are former army officers like Mr. Ravix, a 38-year-old former corporal.
“There is no such thing as the former Haitian Army,” said Mr. Ravix, a bull-necked, barrel-chested man, still bitter about the
army’s dissolution. “Aristide made a big mistake sending us home with our guns.”
If this is indeed “the new Haitian army,” as Mr. Ravix says, it represents the revival of a force that has always served Haiti’s
tiny elite, less than two percent of the people holding at least half the nation’s wealth.
Their assault weapons and crisp camouflage uniforms suggest the rebels have outside support. Mr. Philippe said his force was
receiving donations from Haitian exiles in the United States and Canada. In a country where drug money flows freely, government
officials have accused the rebels of financing their assault with money from Colombian cocaine cartels.
From the 1980’s into the early 1990’s, the Haitian Army and its National Intelligence Service ? an agency created and financed
by the C.I.A. ? committed acts of terror and trafficked in cocaine, according to American officials.
There is no known evidence that the United States has supported the armed uprising against Mr. Aristide, although the White
House is strongly suggesting that he should step down.
“We cannot allow these thugs to come out of the hills, or even an opposition to simply rise up and say `we want you to leave’ in an
undemocratic, nonconstitutional manner,” Secretary Powell said on Feb. 19.
But, by law or by force, the end may be near for Mr. Aristide, the priest who came to power preaching democracy in Haiti but
delivered only its stillbirth.
“I think this is the end game for Aristide,” said Mr. Carney, the former American ambassador. “I think things will move very
fast. He will go. If he is so foolish as to think he could stay, it will be feet first.”