There is no doubt that a year after the departure of the ex-dictator Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the Haitian crisis has worsened and the country is plunged into chaos. The political violence and banditry claim their victims day after day, not only among the Haitian population but within the ranks of the MINUSTAH as well. Since the beginning of April the capital and its slums have lived in terror. Violent confrontations between armed gangs and the forces of order, the reappearance of kidnappings, robberies and rapes, these are the daily lot of the people of Port-au-Prince. The raid by the national police and international CIVPOL on April 9 and 10 during which at least nine among the armed gangs were killed, including the former soldier Ravix Remissainthe and Jean René Anthony, alias “Gren Sonnen,” have not ended the violence. Contrary to the declarations of the prime minister and police high command, the destabilization offensive continues. It made itself known during the visit of the members of a high-ranking mission of the U.N. Security Council during April 13 to 16. Only months before scheduled elections in October and November, the insecurity remains unremitting and is the main preoccupation of the citizens of Haiti. After “Operation Baghdad,” launched in September 2004 by armed Aristide gangs, more than five hundred people have been killed. The terror made itself felt at the beginning of the month when armed groups opened fire on passersby, killing at least two and wounding several dozen in different Port-au-Prince neighborhoods. That came right after the headquarters of the electoral commission was attacked by automatic weapons and grenades on March 29, the anniversary of the constitution.
The irresponsibility of the transition government and its inaction against these threats, MINUSTAH’s erroneous reading of Haitian reality, and the preeminently political violence are at the heart of this spasm of violence. But so is impunity and corruption. Today, Haitian society must understand once and for all that the Haiti it once knew no longer exists and will not exist. Haiti is an island of crime, immorality, and injustice, corrupt and ruled by gangs. The heritage of Aristide has not finished producing monsters and if, by their behavior, the government and the larger society continue to encourage a permanent impunity and corruption, it is clear that the country is headed for catastrophe and the international community will suffer a new defeat. From being a state of flagrant irresponsibility and savagery Haiti has now become a state of the jungle. We analyze the reasons for this crime in our report below, “Impunity and Corruption in Haiti: An Affair of State.”
In tying the phenomenon of insecurity only to poverty, hunger, and social inequity, the prime minister and his international partners miss the essential point: the daily insecurity is highly politicized, directed, and sponsored by Aristide and his followers. The legacy of the former regime is severe: Aristide has “democratized” the drug traffic and financed the armament of his militia in the capital’s slums. Today, the Haitians are suffering the consequences of his acts and can appreciate the full meaning of the ex-dictator’s threatening phrases, such as on his departure when he parodied Toussaint Louverture with, “In overthrowing me, they have only cut down the trunk of the tree but have not killed the roots, which are many and deep.” These roots are the armed gangs which kill, steal, and rape in the name of the Lavalas Family Party, which has yet to distance itself from the chimeres. Worse, the Lavalas people always claim to represent the majority of the population, and in the face of the inaction which is almost complicity on the part of the transitional government, they occupy the terrain, from the poor neighborhoods of the city to demonstrations at the headquarters of the United Nations in Port-au-Prince on the occasion of the Security Council’s visit. They seize every opportunity to demand the physical return of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. As during the military coup d’etat period of 1991 to 1994. Although this time Aristide does not have diplomatic personnel, he has a strong international lobbying campaign and his exile in South Africa has furnished a new base from which to work actively for his return and for recognition by the African countries as a “victim” of an international kidnapping orchestrated by the United States and France.
And in fact in a report published on April 14, 2005 one sees that the ex-dictator enjoys a certain sympathy not only of South Africa, but also of other countries of the black continent. In Pretoria, all the expenses of his personal protection and his relations with the press are underwritten free of charge by the South African president. Aristide has also been named honorary lecturer at the University of Pretoria where he is writing a new book on the international “kidnapping” of which he was victim. In the report, Aristide says he is still the president of Haiti and foresees returning to the country to finish his term under an agreement with the United Nations. In Pretoria he is not an exile but an honored guest and was received by Nelson Mandela. “The problem is in the way he was removed from power and abandoned in Central Africa. It was not just South Africa that didn’t appeciate this. All Africans took it as a humiliation. We are not talking about restoring him as president but his presence with us will allow him to play the role of a mediator that will contribute to peace in Haiti’s transition to stability and in the Caribbean.” So explained a member of the South African foreign ministry. Aristide declared that the members of CARICOM did not recognize the “de facto government” of Haiti because fifty-three African countries supported him. He directly accused France of his kidnapping and named names: Regis Debray and the sister of Dominique de Villepin, both of whom he clearly threatened.
From this reportage it must be observed that Aristide did not blame the United States, which was intentional. Aristide is not simply sick, he is a negotiator without peer, with a rare intelligence. During his stay in South Africa he has not only developed the sympathy of the African chiefs of state and elaborated on the racist theory of his “kidnapping” but he has rallied all the African Muslims to strike at the heart of American policy. All of the American “grassroots organizations” support him and he has a certain amount of sympathy in Latin America: in Venezuela, which has cut off the sale of petroleum to the current government but also to Lula’s Brazil and Argentina, the leading international partners in the U.N. force that has intervened in Haiti. The threat of Aristide remains. His eventual return is not to be ruled out if the country continues its plunge into chaos and the persistent attitude of certain powerful members of the United Nations to include the Lavalas Family Party in the national dialogue or electoral process is not innocent. The declaration of the U.S. ambassador, James Foley, that Haiti has “turned the page” on Aristide is without any basis, and the citizens of Haiti are still waiting for the well-heralded judicial proceedings which the American government was going to undertake against Aristide especially for his implication in drug-trafficking.
Aristide has forged his megalomania and plunged us into a nightmare. Gérard Latortue prolongs the nightmare by his lack of discernment, of seriousness, of courage and firmness. The children of the Republic are paying a sad and bloody price for this. The enemies of the nation take advantage to destabilize, steal, and apply their Mafia-like schemes.
Faced with the catastrophic situation which can be discerned on the horizon, cannot the prime minister, Gérard Latortue, see that he is only playing the game of the United Nations? Does he not see that if inquiries are not followed through and results not obtained against the dignitaries and the followers of the previous regime who pillaged the country, the elections, if they take place at all, will be a bloodbath? It is true that international aid is delayed and the government confronts grave financial problems. Why then not have real investigations and audits to track down the diversion of money by the Aristide regime? These actions can be financed with public funds. What of the Central Bank, Teleco, the huge contracts that passed through EDH, the electrical company? Where is the international action against Aristide? What about the money-launderers who operate openly in Port-au-Prince? What about the Haitian law which allows interrogation of a person regarding the origins of his wealth when that wealth has not been explained and is not explainable? Where is the famous list of corrupted and corrupters that Gérard Latortue promised months ago to make public?
In the matter of impunity, we must understand that it precedes the crime itself, it creates the intention to commit the crime, it determines the reckoning of its consequences, it is a premeditated condition that makes crime possible. Impunity seeks to stifle those who remain, to silence the voices that demand justice, to destroy courage. Impunity is a crime that denies the right of history, truth, and justice and permits massacres to be repeated. Impunity kills the crimes themselves. If the transition government doesn’t pursue the examples as quickly as possible it will be responsible before history of committing the crime of protecting the corruptionists and thwarting the development of the youth which has no example beyond thieves and drug dealers, to the detriment of honest citizens and workers. Far from restraining violence and insecurity, the deepening of impunity in Haiti under the transition government engenders violence, shameful acts and corruption.
Not content with its laxism and ineffectuality, the government, through the prime minister, has committed another flagrant error. During a visit to the chamber of commerce on April 15, 2005, Gérard Latortue invited the businessmen to help the police and supply their needs. Isn’t this an open door to corruption in that a number of the richest entrepreneurs made highly suspect fortunes in total impunity under the Aristide regime and are left totally in peace today? How does one explain that youths of 35 or 40 are today millionaires and don’t hide it in the poorest country on the continent? It’s well known that certain enterpreneurs and political parties have their own armed gangs. And now the prime minister offers them the police! Verily, in this country corruption is a banquet beyond belief and beyond the law.
After a year of experience, the masks have fallen and one can state today that to obtain the departure of Aristide there were two categories of citizens who came to the fore: those who battled for Haiti and those who battled against Aristide. The first have been discarded and relegated to oblivion. The second, working with the government, are protected by it or defend their interests to the detriment of the Haitian people. Since 1911, in the words of the economist Leslie Pean, “Corruption has become an indispensable institution for the functioning of a state that flees from accountability . . . Between individuals and society an ensemble of norms is established over the years underpinning the network of clientism and patronage, rewards and dties.”
The transition government has named numerous commissions but they remain cosmetic, producing no result. As the recent rice scandal investigation implicated the prime minister’s office and that of the mayor of Port-au-Prince, the anti-corruption unit was more active in holding educational seminars, belabored and barely useful, than in producing investigations, audits, and serious results. The mandate of the commission of investigation of the previous government headed by former senator Paul Denis expired over a week ago and the commission maintains a contrite silence that no doubt announces another defeat. Not a word from the government on the independent investigation of the massive jailbreak from the national penitentiary last February while the capital suffers from the banditry and kidnappings flowing from this event. The political parties for their part are too preoccupied with the route to power, especially the presidential race, to have any concern for the overwhelming misery of the Haitian people. Certain candidates regale themselves with “pre-presidential” receptions and delegations but never consider it worthwhile to publicly present a coherent political program to the nation six months before elections! The former corrupt actors of Aristide walk the streets in complete impunity while the honest citizens get poorer day by day.
To contend with a state fleeing from accountability, which is the transition government, and which is turning into a state of the jungle, a state described by Leslie Péan as one in which justice does not exist, Haitian society must show a spirit of audacity, courage, innovation and mobilization without precedent to struggle against the demons of the past, their inheritors and forge a different future. Otherwise, Haiti will die, because, elections or no, it will remain characterized by flagrant corruption and a political system that assures loyalty of its partisans by clientism and personal contacts in the defense of individual interests. Relations between the citizen and the state will develop so that the state becomes unaccountable and all-powerful. This way, two hundred years after our independence, we are one more time reduced to being citizens of a veritable banana republic where the slavery we experienced as a colony continues and blacks continue to be ruled by a club–violence–not by law. A republic where the next president to be elected will always have absolute power over the citizens as if they were still slaves. All with the support of the United Nations.