[News] Disarmament, Demobilization and Reinsertion in Haiti

Anti-Imperialist News News at freedomarchives.org
Fri Dec 16 08:45:07 EST 2005

Disarmament, Demobilization and Reinsertion in 
Haiti: The UN's cleansing of Bel Air ahead of elections


A <http://www.teledyol.net/HIP/about.html>Haiti 
Information Project (HIP) Special Report
by Isabel MacDonald

Haiti ­ According to Juan Gabriel Valdes, the 
head of the United Nations Mission for the 
Stabilization in Haiti (MINUSTAH), the upcoming 
Haitian elections scheduled for January 8 will 
mark "a major victory for the electoral process." 
A central strategy in preparing for the vote is 
MINUSTAH's Disarmament, Demobilization and 
Reinsertion (DDR) campaign. In theory, DDR offers 
both sides of the political conflict in Haiti ­ 
armed Lavalas supporters and the former 
paramilitary death squads and disbanded army who 
led the Canada, US and France sponsored coup 
against Jean Bertrand Aristide's FL government ­ 
the chance to hand over their arms in exchange 
for amnesty and reintegration. While the former 
military have been offered more than 12 million 
US dollars as a buy-out for their loyalty to the 
process, Lavalas remains as demonized and 
destitute as the day the UN began its occupation 
of Haiti in the name of "restoring democracy." 
While former death squad leaders like Jodel 
Chamblain have been set free, Lavalas leaders 
such as Father Gerard Jean-Juste continue to 
waste away in prison with little hope of justice.

DDR is being trumpeted as a particular success in 
Bel Air, a Port-au-Prince slum where support for 
Aristide and resistance to the coup has been 
particularly strong. At a press conference on 
November 28, Valdes held up Bel Air as an example 
of a triumph for MINUSTAH's "dialogue" with 
"problem" (read Lavalas-supporting) 
neighborhoods. In contrast to Bel Air's 
neighboring slum of Cite Soleil, which is also a 
stronghold of Lavalas support, and where civilian 
deaths caused by MINUSTAH have recently attracted 
some negative international media attention, 
Valdes trumpeted the UN's "stabilization" 
operations in Bel Air as a good news story.

The Brazilian army's success in disarming and 
"stabilizing" Bel Air were highlighted on 
December 5, at a ceremony marking the arrival of 
a new contingent of troops; it is the Brazilians 
who have been leading UN operations in Bel Air. 
The event took place at the MINUSTAH base, which 
occupies an entire university constructed under 
the Aristide government, in which the classrooms 
and offices are now teeming with heavily armed, 
blue-helmet-clad soldiers of the UN 
"stabilization" forces, with the residences 
transformed into army barracks. The outgoing 
Brazilian MINUSTAH commander opened the 
ceremonies in the middle of what once had been 
the university's soccer field; for the occasion 
of the ceremony, the field was populated with a 
different sort of game, whose players included 
some 2000 UN soldiers adorned with M16s, and a 
gaggle of diplomats, including Canadian 
Ambassador Claude Boucher. The incoming Brazilian 
MINUSTAH commander gushed at the ceremony about 
the manner in which MINUSTAH operations had been 
carried out in Bel Air. The commander praised the 
manner in which the troops had carried out their 
"operations," "always with the greatest respect 
for the Haitian people and their customs," and 
with "good relations" with local communities, and 
he gave a particular "thanks to outgoing 
Brazilian MINUSTAH troops for the pacification of Bel Air."

Lies, prison sentences and DDR in practice

The streets of Bel Air are strewn with banners 
trumpeting the supposed reconciliation wrought by 
DDR. However, for members of the community who 
have participated in the disarmament, DDR has 
proven more than a great disappointment. In July, 
Zakat Zanfan, an organization that works with 
street kids, had agreed to participate with 
MINUSTAH DDR authorities. In exchange, the UN 
promised to assist the community with development 
projects including providing food for the most 
vulnerable especially the hungry children of the 
neighborhood. According to Robert Montinard, a 
Zakat organizer, "they promised us education 
housing, food, jobs". Zakat facilitated seminars 
about the importance of ceasing violence for some 
of the youth they work with, in which they urged 
kids to give up their guns to the UN.

Following Zakat's seminars, 28 people from the 
community who had participated in DDR were 
arrested and thrown in jail; two participants, 
Lundi Duckens, and another man by the name of 
Stevenson, who was referred to by his friends as 
"Coeur Rouge," are still in the Haitian National 
Penitentiary. Meanwhile, Montinard told me "so 
far, we have received nothing from the UN". On 
December 8, when I visited Bel Air, Zakat had 
just run out of rice, and had had to turn fifty 
hungry kids away. Moreover, that very morning, 
MINUSTAH secured the perimeter as hooded police 
raided their neighborhood yet again.

 From a small office marked with a hand-painted 
sign that read "DDR Office," Samba Boukman, 
Lavalas organizer in Bel Air, explained to me 
that the community did not have many weapons in 
the first place, particularly when compared to 
the Haitian National Police, which has carried 
out a series of deadly attacks on the community 
since February 29, 2004. Hundreds of Bel Air 
residents have been killed or injured at the 
hands of the U.S. marines, Haitian National 
Police and the MINUSTAH troops since the coup. At 
first people defended themselves by showering the 
invading troops and police with rocks and bottles 
from surrounding rooftops. The U.S. marines 
responded with a deadly incursion in the early 
morning hours of March 12, 2004 that ended with 
blood being hosed from the streets by fire trucks 
and dozens of body bags being removed by the time 
reporters arrived on the scene. Most recently, a 
police officer or MINUSTAH soldier would drop a 
gun as they attempted to withdraw from the hail 
of chunks of concrete and glass, which people in 
the community would appropriate as a means of self defense, Boukman explained.

The litany of police crimes

Whole streets of Bel Air now lie empty in the 
wake of violent police raids, carried out by the 
HNP, often with the assistance of hooded police 
attaches, and the complicity of MINUSTAH police 
(a force which was formerly referred to as 
CIVPOL, but whose name has recently been changed 
to UNPOLódropping the misleading suggestion that 
the force, which increasingly consists of 
military police, is a civil police force). As the 
UN military used its guns to control the outer 
perimeter of Bel Air, the Haitian police and 
machete-wielding paramilitaries would drive 
through the neighborhood on killing and torching 
sprees designed to terrorize the inhabitants. In 
Ruelle Felix, Boukman pointed to the house where 
the police arrested a 16-year old this summer. 
The outside of the house was painted brightly 
with the Haitian flag, but the mural was now 
pockmarked with holes from bullets fired by the 
police. Just a block over, we walked past a 
series of abandoned houses; only parts of the 
walls remained. On June 4, HNP and hooded police 
attaches had burned a block of houses, arrested 
22 people from these houses, and loaded them into 
a police wagon. Their neighbors arrived at the 
police commissariat soon afterwards, expecting to 
find them there; however, those arrested were 
nowhere to be found. Later, it was discovered 
that the police wagon had stopped on a small 
street where all of the arrestees had been 
summarily executed. A seventy year-old man was 
amongst those shot by the police that day, 
Boukman told us. As we were leaving, a woman came 
over, and angrily began explaining that she had 
lived here, before the police burned down her home.

We walked on, and arrived at an open area, where 
the concrete foundations of what had been a 
series of houses were exposed, littered with 
bedsprings and piles of rubble; in the middle of 
one foundation, a young woman was asleep on a 
bare mattress. One Bel Air resident told me that 
there had been about 8 houses there, until police 
burned them down on July 7. We walked on, along 
the path of living history claimed and passed on 
to us by the survivors of the death and 
destruction wrought by the Haitian police. We saw 
more houses that had been burned in a major 
police operation on July 11. We saw the remains 
of another raid in September, and another in October-

Constitutional rights undermined

According to Boukman, "with President Aristide, 
there were jobs, there was education, 
development, but with the Latortue government, 
there is just violence, and violations of the 
constitution;" he emphasized that the Haitian 
constitution guarantees "the right to live".

Following the coup, more than 12,000 public 
sector employees, who had been hired under the 
Aristide government, were immediately fired without compensation.

Two of the people I talked with on my recent 
visit to Bel Air, Bazile and Vital, a couple with 
nine children, were both amongst the thousands of 
workers fired at the state telecommunications 
department following the coup. Vital, who had 
been working at the Teleco for over ten years, 
was placed on a "wanted" list by the Latortue 
government, along with 32 of his former 
co-workers, and has had to go into hiding. On 
July 11, the police had stormed into the family's 
small home, breaking their furniture, in their 
search for Vital. "I do not know why they are 
searching for me. I am only a technician," he 
told me. Now he cannot look for other work, for 
fear of being wrongfully imprisoned, and is 
worried about how they are going to support their children.

"How can we live without eating?" Vital exclaimed.

When I asked Vital about why he thought the 
police were targeting him, he shrugged and shook 
his head; maybe painting dozens of former Teleco 
workers as "criminals" was a way of justifying their firing?

Selection elections

When I asked Boukman about his position on the 
upcoming elections, he emphasized, "We support 
elections;" however, he added, "we will not 
participate in a selection." Lavalas' conditions 
for elections include the liberation of political 
prisoners, the departure of the defacto 
government and the establishment of a new 
government to establish good relations amongst 
all sectors of the population, an end of 
repression in the popular neighborhoods, total 
disarmament, a general amnesty and a return of 
the political exiles, particularly President 
Aristide. However, not even one of these 
conditions has been met nor seriously considered 
by the U.S.-installed government and their 
guarantors in the United Nations. How could there 
be real elections, Boukman emphasized, when Fanmi 
Lavalas' (FLs') anticipated presidential 
candidate, Father Gerard Jean Juste, was still in 
prison along with countless other members of the movement?

Just a couple of days earlier, I had been to see 
Jean Juste, who is recognized by Amnesty 
International as a prisoner of conscience, and 
who has been in prison for four months since his 
latest arrest on bogus charges by the defacto 
Haitian government. This is the second time 
Father Jean Juste has been wrongfully imprisoned 
by the Latortue regime. "It seems that it's a 
matter of they don't want to release me in time 
for the elections," Jean Juste stated. "They are 
afraid I may run, afraid I may cause trouble, I 
may try to bring them to court for what they have done to me."

On the same visit to the jail, I also spoke with 
Jacques Matelier, a Lavalas deputy who is being 
held in the same prison as Jean Juste. "I have 
been here for 17 months," Matelier told me, "just 
because I was on the Council of Departmental 
Delegates in the South 
 they have nothing to 
accuse me with; their hands are empty. They just 
want to keep me in prison because I am a Lavalasien."

The following day, I visited popular Haitian folk 
singer and grandmother Annette "So An" Auguste, 
in the Petionville women's prison. So An has been 
imprisoned without charges since May 2004, when 
US marines used grenades to bust into her house, 
while she and five children were sleeping. So An 
appears to have been arrested merely because she 
is an outspoken critic who is extremely popular 
in Lavalas-supporting neighborhoods.

A few months ago, there were only 45 women in the 
Petionville prison; today there are about 200óor 
seven women to each tiny jail cell. Many of these 
women are from Bel Air. Guerline, an organizer 
with a Bel Air community organization that fights 
for women's rights, Famn Vayan Bele, told me that 
many Bel Air women have been locked up in 
Petionville after the police came searching for 
their male partners in their homes. When the 
police failed to find the men, they took the 
women instead. "It's another form of kidnapping," 
Guerline remarked about the imprisoned Bel Air 
women's hostage-like situation. The police have 
also hauled many young men from the neighborhood off to prison.

Given the present conditions in Haiti, many Bel 
Air residents and Lavalas supporters appear 
extremely skeptical of the upcoming elections. As 
Montinard put it, "how can we vote with our brothers and sisters in prison?"

"Given that they have not met even one of 
[Lavalas'] demands, we are not going to vote," 
Boukman told me; he is urging others not to take 
part in a sham vote, and to demand a real election instead.

The dancing banker

The police and MINUSTAH actions in Bel Air are 
justified as providing greater security. However, 
it is unclear that general security has increased 
at all for average Bel Air residents; in fact, 
many people suggested that it had declined. As we 
were strolling along the main street through Bel 
Air, we saw a piece of fabric with a name written 
on it, to commemorate a street merchant; the day 
before, the merchant, who sold ice, had been 
killed and robbed while he was at work.

Things like this didn't happen before, an old 
woman passing by in the street told me. In her 
opinion, MINUSTAH has just made things worse.

On the afternoon of December 11, I was standing 
amidst a group of Bel Air youth watching a 
hip-hop talent show on a small stage outside the 
Perpetuel church. The show was put on by Fugees 
star Wyclef Jean's Yele Haiti youth and education 
organization, with the sponsorship of United 
States Agency for International Development 
(USAID). Wyclef's organization has played the 
uncanny role of moving into neighborhoods like 
Bel Air and Cite Soleil blaring loud music and 
laden with groceries following brutal police and 
U.N. operations. What may have once been called 
Operation Phoenix bent on winning hearts and 
minds in Vietnam has now been replaced by its 
heir in Haiti and could be aptly deemed Operation 
Hip-Hop. There I spotted the president of one of 
Haiti's largest banks, USAID-assisted Banque de 
l'Union Haïtienne (BUH), Richard Sassine, 
sporting a Yele Ayiti t-shirt, and chatting it up 
with the event co-coordinator.

I knew Sassine had been at the conference in 
Montreal in December 2004, whose centerpiece 
press conference of the Canadian and Haitian 
Prime Ministers had played an important role in 
legitimating the unelected Latortue government. 
During the course of the conference, Sassine had 
ranted to a Canadian journalist about his 
dissatisfaction with the MINUSTAH forces; they 
really needed to "crack down" more harshly on 
neighborhoods like Bel Air and Cite Soleil, he said.

Seeing Sassine at the centre of a community youth 
event in Bel Air, I began to wonder: what on 
earth is this plump, light-skinned 
multi-millionaire with a clear disdain for the 
Lavalas-supporting poor black slums doing here?

I walked up to Sassine with my video camera; "so 
what are you hoping to accomplish here in Bel Air 
today?" I inquired. He began to talk about the 
misery and poverty of the people of Bel Air, and 
soon came to the "problem" of "criminality," 
which he implied was being sponsored 
internationally, possibly by a certain exiled 
President in South Africa. Really, he told me, we 
need to just stick everyone with unregistered 
weapons in jail, "and not let them out". He added 
that he was glad that MINUSTAH was now being "more proactive".

"This is a great day. Here I am the President of 
a large Haitian bank, standing, at sunset, in the 
middle of Bel Air," he crowed. Just then, the 
popular and radical Bel Air band Raram, which 
recently had two of its members killed and three 
more jailed in MINUSTAH/HNP "stabilization 
operations," came marching down with great 
fanfare from Rue Macajou, playing their horns and 
drums. For a few moments, I thought I thought I 
had lost sight of the banker, in the midst of the 
excited crowds that now engulfed the street. But 
suddenly, there in the midst of the musicians, at 
the centre of the hundred or so dancing locals, 
up popped Sassine again, waving his arms and shaking his booty.

So all those imprisonments, house-burnings, 
assassinations, summary executions and broken 
promises that the police and MINUSTAH have waged 
on Bel Air are a success from a security 
standpoint after all; it is just that one has to 
be a rare Haitian multimillionaire to feel any of 
the benefits of this "security". And as for the 
majority of the population, it appears they don't 
count anyway, at least in the setup of the rigged 
elections being sponsored by Canada, the United 
States, France and the United Nations.

Kevin Pina also contributed to this article from Port au Prince, Haiti.

© 2005<http://www.teledyol.net/HIP/about.html> Haiti Information Project (HIP)

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