Responses submitted to the Latin America Advisor of the Inter-American Dialogue in April, 2004, during assessment mission in Haiti conducted by Haiti Democracy Project.
Q. Developments in the Caribbean nation have prompted international
outcries about the persecution of Aristide supporters and the need for disarmament of all
A. Much of the “outcry” is based on a misconception of the facts on the
ground in Haiti and is colored by the previous sentiment for Aristide
that pervaded the uncritical and naive segments of the liberal-left
community in the United States. They did not understand that popular
sentiment in Haiti had decisively shifted against Aristide. They did
not understand that this sentiment decisively boosted both the street
demonstrations of the Group of 184 and the ever-more-frequent
defections of Aristide henchmen. When these henchmen took over the
police headquarters in Gonaives on February 5, 2004, another group of
former henchmen, FRAPH terrorists, and armymen in the Dominican
Republic took advantage. They kicked over the remaining Aristide house
of cards and took over northern Haiti. They were greeted by the
population. Several towns spontaneously rose before the motley band
even got there. The controlling factor here was the larger mood change
of the population, and not the negligible military potential of this
handful of former drug dealers and terrorists.
Well aware of the heinous records of people like Louis Jodel Chamblain,
Haiti watchers in the United States endowed this scruffy armed band
with the status of potent independent actors complete with new
uniforms, rifles, and independent financing, whereas their entire
progress was dependent on the larger sea change in Haitian opinion,
including within the Aristide apparatus, discussed above.
Since the street demonstrations of the Group of 184 were peaceful and
did not physically threaten Aristide?s tenure of the palace, it was the
approach of a handful of these armed people that was the proximate
cause of Aristide?s flight.
Haitians as a whole are much more concerned about the problem posed by
the remaining chimeres (Aristide thugs) than by the rebels. Latent
armed groups and arms caches of all descriptions, not just rebel, pose
an enormous potential problem for the future, even as calm has returned
to the streets today. Yet that is only one problem among a myriad
facing the new transition regime.
To privilege the one sub-problem of the rebel armed groups above the
myriad humanitarian, security, and governance problems facing the new
regime is to apply a U.S.-based preconception to an entirely different
Haitian reality. To withdraw the support of U.S. public opinion for the
new struggling Haitian regime, which inherits complete devastation and has
virtually no capacity, is to show callous indifference to a humanitarian emergency.
Q. Do you expect the presidential election to take place as planned next
A. The signing of a political accord for elections by most of the players
bodes well for the next elections. Successful elections presuppose
approximately $70 million in aid from the international community for
ID cards and the physical electoral preparation and training of poll
workers for some eleven thousand polling places. Many are located in
extremely inaccessible locations. Much of the work on the last ID cards
has eroded, as the population moves and increases. This is apart from
the work on security (disarming gangs) and infrastructure (roads to
more of the remote locations) that will have to be done. The former
chief of the OAS electoral mission estimates two years as a minimum for
this work to be done.
Q. What impact is the US-led multinational peacekeeping presence having in
A. Far smaller than the last occupation force, the presence is largely
invisible. It constitutes a background dissuasive presence. As such it
is indispensable to the stability of the interim regime.
The force has been greeted less enthusiastically than the 1994
occupiers. A few expressions of discontent against the occupation have
appeared but they are still unrepresentative of public opinion. They
reflected in part resentment of the Marines? shooting of people who
approached checkpoints, but turned out to be innocent. As calm has
returned to the streets these incidents have ceased. The occupation
nevertheless represents an easy rhetorical target for all those who
have grievances with the slow pace of the interim regime.