Originally: Interview with BET Nightly News

On April 28, 2005, the Haiti Democracy Project was interviewed by Andre Showell of Black Entertainment Television Nightly News, a CBS affiliate, about a statement by Rep. Maxine Waters opposing the nomination of John R. Bolton on the grounds that he broke the embargo against arms to the Haitian police. Below is the statement we made to the TV program. Probably only a small portion was actually used.

Our first reaction was to note that Bolton had never been mentioned before, to our knowledge, in connection with Haiti. We were not privy to internal meetings at the State Department, but from the meetings we had had with them, it was the Office of Caribbean Affairs, the assistant secretary of state for the region, and the ambassador who were handling the question of arms sales to the Haitian police.

Reading the Waters statement with its air of surety and its litany of exaggerations, if not outright falsehoods, about the situation in Haiti, we became convinced that it played into the hands of the Bolton advocates by lending substance to their claim that opponents were fabricating evidence against him.

We noted that the U.S. embargo on arms sales to Haiti, originally undertaken against the 1991 military coup regime, contained a national-security waiver, which the administration used last year, and it would need to notify congressional committees on further sales.

More basically, the question was whether the Haitian people deserved police protection. After the political turmoil left by the Aristide era, Haiti was assaulted by mercenary bands of various stripes: pro-Aristide, ex- or faux-army, drug-trafficking, and miscellaneous criminal including kidnapping. Many of these overlapped or were working together, notably the Aristide and ex-army. Who would defend civilians against this onslaught?

The U.N. mission made it clear that its mandate was to support, not supplant, Haitian governing structures. This meant that MINUSTAH and CIVPOL would not substitute for the Haitian police. They would not, for example, go into houses or arrest without them.

In our interviews in Haiti in February 2005, as fully reflected in our delegation report, MINUSTAH was frank about the weaknesses and abuses of the Haitian police, yet the dilemma was that there was no other vessel. The United Nations has no mandate to occupy Haiti.

During the mid-1990s considerable strides were made toward building a professional, apolitical police. Aristide in 1999 forced the ouster of the professional police overseer in the justice ministry, Robert Manuel, the inspector-general, the head of the judiciary police, and other top personnel who resisted politicization, and flooded the police with loyalists who in many cases were no better than gangsters. (See letter of Mario Andresol to the OAS, May 2002.) The General Accounting Office reported to Congress that the $125 million the United States had spent on the police had been wasted.  When police chief Jean-Robert Faveur briefly attempted to halt this in 2003, he was forced to flee for his life. A former Duvalierist exercised effective power in the police. With the majority of honest, professional officers forced out, the police became a shell which abandoned its posts when a handful of former Aristide gang leaders and ex-army officers capitalized on widespread anti-Aristide sentiment in early 2004.

Inheriting this broken vessel in March 2004, the interim regime, installed by foreign intervention with some but insufficient Haitian ownership, has made indifferent progress. The capable former head of the coast guard, Leon Charles, was put in charge of the police. Of the 1,500 police left at the beginning of 2004, 500 outright criminals placed there by Aristide were expelled, leaving probably hundreds more still in the ranks. Former armymen were vetted for human right violations and criminality before being admitted to the police, and they were not allowed to have their own formations. The regime refused ex-army units who pressed to be admitted as border police. Several classes of civilian cadets have been trained and inducted. So unqualified and inexperienced are many of the civilian members that the ex-army members, with their experience of discipline, are some of the better ones. The police remain ill-prepared to handle heavily-armed gangs, have been outgunned on occasion, and  frequently duck confrontation with armed gangs and ex-army units.  Some active members and many ex-police are involved in criminal activity, expecially kidnapping.

Still, many police have acted bravely and some 47 have died in the line of duty, according to the police chief (37 by foreign count). In late September 2004  Aristide supporters launched Operation Baghdad to explicitly target the police, and several were brutally murdered and beheaded. The police and MINUSTAH have staged some successful joint operations and the police were able to kill a particularly threatening ex-army gangleader, Remassainthe Ravix.

The fear expressed by some foreign human-rights organizations that arms supplied to the police could end up in the hands of criminals is valid, because precisely that happened with Aristide’s police. Yet CIVPOL has reached nearly full deployment and a monitoring capability, although imperfect, exists. CIVPOL has called for arms to strengthen the police, echoing the prime minister and police chief. Accusations by pro-Aristide groups masquerading as human-rights organizations that police have killed thousands of civilians are false.

Given that the alternative is supremacy of the gangs and a dire threat to the elections as well as daily security, we see no other way than simultaneously arming and reforming the police. The valid concerns of human-rights organizations about the police must be balanced against the real danger of them losing the battle against the gangs, leading to an incalculably worse human-rights situation. Although our report advocated various measures such as a police brigade of Haitian-Americans and an air-mobile capacity to help MINUSTAH come quickly to the aid of police in the rural areas, we recognize that Haiti must field a police force of its own and no one can do it for them.