Special to The Herald
PORT-AU-PRINCE — A former Haitian senator and army major has proposed a new force of 1,500 to 2,000 former soldiers to curb the insecurity plaguing the country since an armed revolt in February.
The ex-senator, Dany Toussaint, said the ”dissuasion” force, to be composed of soldiers from the army that was disbanded in 1995 and those who later fought in the rebel ranks, would respond to civil unrest and other security threats.
His proposal, presented to Interior Ministry officials, has been criticized as an attempt to re-create a brutal army, a reward for rebels who toppled a democratically elected president, and a Toussaint play for power.
The 46-year-old Toussaint has steadfastly denied allegations linking him to drug trafficking and the murder of a Haitian journalist in 2000. He bolted from then President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Lavalas Family political party in December and went on to become a government critic.
But the fact that the interim government of Prime Minister Gerard Latortue has not rejected his plan outright, remaining cautious although not unwelcoming, underlined its concerns over the country’s growing insecurity.
”The primary mission of the army was to defend the country, and now the threats are totally different,” Ministry of Interior spokesman Mathias Laureus said of the proposal.
“But we need to give priority to new institutions to be put in place to defend the security of the nation, and having a national security force would be a big step in the right direction.”
Since Aristide left Haiti on Feb. 29, Latortue’s government has contended with a host of problems, including a nearly empty national treasury and power and water shortages.
GUNS AND VIOLENCE
Among the most vexing has been providing security to a country awash in guns and where the lines between political and criminal violence have become increasingly blurred.
Over its three years in power, and especially in its waning days as rebels neared the capital city of Port-au-Prince, the Aristide government distributed large quantities of weapons to gangs of loyalists known as chimres. Also, most National Police members dropped their weapons and fled the rebels.
After Aristide’s flight, most of the chimres and rebels disappeared from public view while keeping their guns. The glut of weapons has become such that an Israeli-made Galil assault rifle, once fetching nearly $4,000 on the black market, now sells for only $500.
Other guns came from the 7,000-member Haitian army, abolished by Aristide in 1995. The military toppled Aristide in 1991, but he returned to power after a 1994 invasion by 20,000 U.S. troops.
The U.S.-led multinational peacekeeping force of about 3,000 soldiers that was deployed in Haiti after Aristide’s departure has brought a measure of calm to the country but has done little to take the weapons off the streets.
`A STATE OF INSECURITY’
Even though the former Haitian army had an abysmal human rights record, Toussaint says that military training and discipline are exactly what the country’s public-security apparatus lacks today.
”We are living in a state of insecurity — it’s a very broad concern,” Toussaint said as he sat in his office in the police supply store that he owns in the capital’s suburb of Petionville.
”First we had the political insecurity of gangs armed by the government persecuting people for political reasons,” he said. “But right now, it’s social and economic. People are hungry, and there is no work. When Aristide demobilized the army . . . those same demobilized guys came back with the same guns and a new name — call them rebels, whatever. Now we need to have a durable peace.”
According to his plan, the 1,500-to-2,000-strong unit that he would call the National Internal Security Force would be placed under the Interior Ministry, currently headed by former army Gen. Herard Abraham, not under the Justice Ministry, which supervises the National Police.
The new force ”wouldn’t have to patrol the streets,” Toussaint said. “They could be put in very strategic positions, because the chimres are going to come back, one way or another. The guns are still out there.
“If we don’t have a permanent force, the international community is going to have to come back again, because Haiti has a violent tradition.”
Leslie Voltaire, a former member of Aristide’s cabinet, disagreed, especially if the unit is created before a new president and legislature are chosen in elections expected next year.
”It would be a bad idea,” Voltaire said. ”It would be like creating a new army before the constitutional government can even think about it.” Decrying what he claims has been a wave of repression against Aristide supporters since Feb. 29, he added, “It would open the door for more persecution.”
Several former Aristide officials, including former Minister of Interior Jocelerme Privert, have been arrested in recent weeks on a host of charges from misappropriation of public funds to murder.
Toussaint also said he plans to form a political party and run in the 2005 elections, although he declined to specify for which office.