The U.N. is criticized for its inaction during violence in Haiti
October 5, 2004
Port-au-Prince, from our editor-at-large
On Sunday October 3, calm returned to the Haitian capital after three days of clashes between followers of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the police. Nearly twenty people, including at least three police officers, were killed. Very mobile and equipped with heavy weaponry, small groups of “chimeres” – the armed partisans of Aristide – conducted true guerrilla-style urban operations which caused panic in the commercial district, where several businesses where looted.
Three former parliamentary members from the Lavalas Family, the party of the former president currently in exile in South Africa, were arrested Saturday. Yvon Feuille, former president of the Senate, called his arrest “arbitrary and unconstitutional.” Minister of Justice Bernard Gousse accused the three Lavalas leaders of being the “masterminds” of the violence. He declared that police had found an Uzi submachine gun and a T65 assault rifle in a car belonging to one of them.
In the days preceding the violence, some radio stations had touched upon the preparation of an “Operation Baghdad” to demonstrate the failure of U.S. policy in Haiti. Lavalas supporters accuse Washington and Paris of having organized a “coup” which caused the fall of President Aristide on February 29. On Friday, a police unit was able to enter the shantytown of La Saline after an extended gun battle with a group of “chimeres.” The police found the bodies of three police officers decapitated on a dock.
Expressing the feelings of many capital dwellers, the Haitian Chamber of Commerce and Industry denounced the “inaction of the UN Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) whose mandate is to assist the police.” MINUSTAH only has 3,000 peacekeepers, mainly from South America, although the UN Security Council had approved a force of 8,322 soldiers and police officers. Twenty-five percent of the troops is deployed in Gonaives, devastated by flood.
“One may wonder what MINUSTAH is doing in Haiti. The government has demonstrated its inability to cope with the situation. It should clearly state its will to crush the armed groups,” said Paul Denis, the spokesman for the Convergence Democratique, a grouping of the former opposition to the Aristide regime. “The gangs have better equipment than the public force. The police only has 3,000 officers and the government does not give it the means to do its work,” complains Pierre Esperance, a human rights activist. “If those groups, both the Lavalas supporters and the former military, are not disarmed, it will not be possible to organize free and democratic elections and the body count in the streets will continue to rise,” he warned.
“FEAR IS RETURNING”
Gérard Pierre-Charles, leader of the Organisation du peuple en lutte (OPL) [Organization of the People in Struggle], one of the major center-left political formations, also thinks that the organization of elections scheduled for next year “appears more and more difficult.” “What the international community wants to do in Haiti is not clear. People’s trust is crumbling and fear is returning. What happened for three days aims at recreating a climate of terror,” he adds.
Dany Toussaint, who saved Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s life during the 1991 coup, knows him well. For Toussaint, there is no doubt that Aristide masterminded the recent violence from his South African exile. “He is the leader of the Lavalas Family, and we know that he is still in contact with the ‘chimeres’,” affirms Dany Toussaint, who led the police during Aristide’s presidency before breaking up with him. “Famille Lavalas has shown once more that it is a terrorist group which should be neutralized. It is unacceptable that terrorists paralyze the capital to serve one man’s ambition,” he states. “Things are more difficult now than they were six months ago, because the ‘chimeres’ have scattered and are now hiding in every neighborhood.”