Originally: Aristide has little defense against ‘thug’ assault

Veterans of Past Murderous Campaigns Are Leading Haiti’s New Rebellion


Published: February 29, 2004

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 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 officials.

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 drug payoffs.

“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.

Rebel leader Guy Philippe was trained by the U.S. military as an army officer in Ecuador, according to a report published Friday by Human Rights Watch, and earned a reputation as a brutal police chief on the north side of Port-au-Prince. In 2000, suspected of plotting a coup, he fled to the Dominican Republic.

Aristide, who rose from being a priest in the slums to a 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.

Aristide “made a lot of mistakes, the biggest of which was that he demanded absolute power and absolute loyalty,” Morrell said.