The Militarization of Peace in Haiti

The Militarization of Peace in Haiti
by François L’Écuyer
Le Journal d'Alternatives (June 29, 2005)

On June 23rd, the United Nations’ security council unanimously adopted resolution 1608, adding more than 1000 troops to the forces of the UN Stabilization mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH); which already boasted 7,400 soldiers and international police. Of course, the intensification of violence in Port-au-Prince over the last weeks has brought several figures from the Haitian scene forward, publicly asking for a reinforcement of MINUSTAH. But before the lamentable failure of the mission, one question remains: is the military solution appropriate for Haiti?

Port-au-Prince – Not one day passes without reminders of the climate of terror that rules in Port-au-Prince: from the raised quarters that surround the capital city, we see columns of smoke rising from businesses that have been set on fire. On the radio, we learn of the number of kidnappings throughout the day. Sirens and shots fired give rhythm to the daily afternoon rush hour.

The presence of a 7400 member international peacekeeping force doesn’t seem to have been able to contain the violence. Worse, it could have fuelled tensions. Or, as can be overheard in Port-au-Prince, it could have tolerated the violence discreetly.

In September 2004, the Chimères, gangs loyal to and armed by President Aristide, began Operation Baghdad. The admitted objective of these gangs is to destabilize the country, chase out the occupying forces and make the holding of new elections, planned for November 2005, impossible. This will continue for as long as the only legitimate president in their eyes, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is held away from the country. We would have been wrong to believe in the existence of a large armed front united against the international occupiers. Rivalry between bands of Chimères already punctuates life in the popular districts like Bel-Air and Cité-Soleil. The search for easy profits seems to count more than loyalty to the deposed president: kidnapping, racketeering, arms and drug trafficking, it has all become very lucrative. Entire populations are held hostage: today, merchants leaving Cité-Soleil have to pay the right of passage, and repay the “customs” on their way back.

The violence is serving the exiled Aristide well, who doesn't stop displaying himself as the victim of a colonialist plot. With or without political cause, many groups are profiting healthily from the institutionalized chaos: Colombian drug cartels, who are using Haiti as a middle point for Miami bound cocaine; the part of the private sector fired-up by profits made off the excessively expensive cost of living in Port-au-Prince; and, particularly, the small time criminals implicated in the kidnapping industry. On average, around ten people, from across every social stratum, are kidnapped in the capital every day: some, freed for as little as four dollars.

MINUSTAH, complicit?

It is thus surprising to learn that for certain military and civilian forces of the UN peacekeeping mission, notorious criminals in the Haitian population are instead seen as genuine community agents. In internal discussions at the MINUSTAH, Samba Boukman and Ronald Fareau are regularly identified as “community leaders” who remain outside of criminal activity. At Fort National, an area used as a military base by the Brazilian battalion, representatives of the civil and military divisions of MINUSTAH regularly consult these "local political leaders". A Catholic priest of the Bel-Air district confided to us that “These individuals are known for their criminal activity, notably for their systematic use of child soldiers in Bel-Air”.

“The military should not do politics”, if we’re to believe certain sources in the MINUSTAH administration, and the numerous outcries of disgust in the population. “Several Brazilian colonels are working in collusion with Fareau, Boukman and Ronald St-Jean”. As if it were actually a new chapter of the class struggle and that these representatives of political organizations, instrumentalized by and instrumentalizing armed gangs in turn, were to be protected from a conspiracy of the big bourgeoisie aiming to destroy them.

For Goston Pierre, a journalist with the alternative media Alterpresse, information like this is hardly surprising. “In Port-Au-Prince, representatives from many sectors have declared that they perceive MINUSTAH as playing by the rules of the old regime of [ex-President Aristide’s] Lavalas”

In February 2005, demonstrations of Aristide's armed partisans unrolled under the heightened protection of UN forces, who took great care in keeping police aside. Then minister of justice, Bernard Gousse, even argued that among demonstrators, there were escaped prisoners.

Arms, Drugs and Sex

It's not a secret anymore that soldiers among the Nepalese, Brazilian, Peruvian and Jordanian battalions stock up on drugs from the armed gangs in return for military equipment. Trafficking of women is also being used by the gangs to obtain arms. When questioned in the beginning of June at the time of a meeting with the Port-au-Prince chamber of commerce, Brazilian General Heleno, commander in chief of the MINUSTAH, affirmed that these rumors were unfounded. “Can you explain to me how I got this then?” a Haitian businessman shot back, laying a case of ammunition obtained illegally from the peacekeeping force down on the table.

Operation Baghdad has militarized a number of sectors of Haitian society. Many vendors in Port-au-Prince, afraid to loose merchandise and belongings, did not hesitate to put in place their own armed gangs. This is the case of André Apaid, a businessman known for his involvement in the Group of 184 – a large coalition group of businesses, opposition parties and civil society groups who actively worked towards the resignation of Aristide. In the interest of protecting his commercial interests in the centre of the city, Apaid didn’t hesitate in falling back on Labanyè, leader of a gang that is hostile to Aristide loyalist Dread Wilmè, who controls Cité-Soleil. The suburb of Pétion-Ville, home to various businessmen, sees the number of its militia rising day by day.

In this kind of context, one understands the repeated appeals for the reinforcement of MINUSTAH's mandate. But in sending an additional 800 soldiers and only 200 supplementary police officers, the UN continues to believe that the military must take the front seat. This is regardless of repeated calls from Haitian popular movements, who have been asking for a reinforcement of the police and not soldiers. Following resolution 1,608, the number of police officers will add up to 1,820, while the number of soldiers will hit 6,600.

“We are faced with a problem of rampant criminality, not with an armed insurrection” states a women's rights activist who chose to remain anonymous. “The national police of Haiti need to be purged of its bad elements, and reinforced and helped in its operations. How do you want them to do their job, while the US have imposed an arms embargo since 1994?"

Meanwhile, machine guns and other Galil assault rifles continue reaching the shore of Cité-Soleil. This, even though the American Marines are in charge of surveying the Haitian coast lines since the return of Aristide in 1994 ...

Translation by Dawn Paley