"Thugs" In Haiti
by Judith Scherr
Z magazine, December 2004
Ralph Hyppolit stood before the corched
remains of the house on the outskirts of Cap-HaItien, Haiti where
his 14-year-old niece died at the hands of marauding ex-military
and former death squad members on February 22, 2004. His niece
and wife were packing the last of the household things, getting
ready to join him in hiding.
"They were asking for me. My wife
screamed, 'I don't know.' They shot up the house and tied up my
niece. They blocked the door and sprayed gasoline on the couch,"
Hyppolit said. His wife escaped. "She's still scared,"
Why was Ralph Hyppolit a target? "I'm
Lavalas," the 23-year-old stated. Fanmi Lavalas is the exiled
president's political movement. "I'm like President Aristide.
They don't want President Aristide for five years. [His full term
in office.] They don't want anybody fighting for Aristide."
When I visited northern Haiti last summer,
I saw charred police stations, torched courts, the remnants of
a radio-TV station, empty shells of school buses, and scorched
or bullet-ridden houses. All testified to the brutality visited
on supporters of the democratically elected government.
I also interviewed Pascal Miller whose
brother, an Aristide supporter, was killed by former soldiers,
and Solido Gason, a pro-Aristide carpenter who was shot in the
leg and survived. I met Police Chief Charles Chilly's parents.
Their home was riddled with bullets when the military came looking
for Chilly, now hiding outside the country.
I visited Lavalas supporter SO Anne in
prison, arrested without a warrant by U.S. Marines in May and
I interviewed Lob Reagan, a journalist with the now-shuttered
children's radio station that Aristide founded. Reagan spent three
months in a jail so crowded that people could not lie down to
So I was dismayed to read State Department
spokesperson Richard Boucher's October 12 bulletin placing blame
on "Aristide thugs" for "the violence in Port-au-Prince,
Haiti that began on September 30. Armed gangs and groups who support
former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide have launched a systematic
campaign to destabilize the interim government and disrupt the
efforts of the international community to assist the Haitian people."
I should not have been surprised at the
distortions. After all, this is the same Administration that went
to war in Iraq because of Saddam Hussein's WMDs and his elusive
ties to the September 11 massacre; the same government that opens
its arms to refugees from Cuba, while returning Haitian refugees
to the arms of military marauders.
Boucher contends the post-September 30
violence in Port-auPrince was aimed at destabilizing the U.S.
-backed government. Take a closer look at the events of that day:
thousands of Aristide supporters memorialized the 1991 coup that
overturned his first government-a military coup perpetrated by
many of the ex-military walking armed and free in Haiti today-by
marching peacefully in Port-au-Prince. Demonstrators had informed
police of their route, as required. However, police opened fire
on the peaceful marchers.
Leslie Voltaire, former member of Aristide's
cabinet, told the Washington Post that it was only after the police
shootings that the demonstrators "began acting like hooligans
because they were furious." That was the beginning of the
events that led to the killing over the next 2 weeks of some 45
people, including police officers, Lavalas supporters, and people
caught in the crossfire.
While Boucher condemned an alleged systematic
challenge to Haiti's U.S.-backed government, he seemed to have
forgotten that it was the U. S. that quashed the island-nation's
In February, after the ex-military and
former death squad members took over a number of northern towns,
including Cap HaItien, they moved toward Port-au-Prince. Claiming
that these so-called rebels-ex-military, former deathsquad paramilitaries,
and criminals they had let out of the jails-were poised to take
over Port-au-Prince, U.S. officials whisked Aristide from the
country, asserting that they were protecting him. Aristide ysays
he was removed by force. The U.S.-along with France, Canada, the
Haitian business community, and political parties opposed to Aristide-helped
to set up the "interim" government, whose prime minister
thanked the ex-soldiers for their role and called them "freedom
fighters." Regime change was not restricted to the federal
level. All 435 democratically elected mayors were booted from
office and replaced by appointees amenable to the U.S. -backed
Lawlessness and repression under the U.S.-backed
government grows daily. Three former Lavalas parliamentarians
were arrested without a warrant on October 2 after they participated
in a radio broadcast where they criticized the government. Their
lawyer was arrested when he came to help them. On October 13,
popular catholic priest Fr. Gerard Jean Juste was arrested without
a warrant while serving food to needy children. These arrestees
join Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, Minister of the Interior Jocelerme
Privert, the former mayor of Port au Prince, labor union activists
arrested when their headquarters was raided early in September,
and hundreds of other Aristide supporters.
A recent Pax Christi U.S. human rights
"Over and over we were told by) the
people of Haiti that there is little or no international human
rights presence here. There is no rule of law, the strong do what
they want because no one will help the victims bring about justice."
Boucher calls Lavalas supporters "thugs,"
yet fails to condemn the illegal arrests, wholesale police roundups,
unwarranted killings by police, or the brutal actions of the former
military and death squad members, who are allowed to control various
cities, unfettered by the UN "peacekeepers" who claim
they don't have the troops to contain the former soldiers.
I wish Secretary of State Cohn Powell
could meet the father of "Baby" Izac Gerard, murdered
by the ex-soldiers near Cap-HaItien in February or the woman I
spoke to cradling the picture of her dead son or the women I heard
pleading with human rights workers to help get their husbands
out of jail. The State Department spinmeisters haven't met the
mayors, the journalists, or the trade unionists in hiding and
they haven't heard 88-year-old Ritert Castel, wounded when the
ex-military men shot up her neighborhood, call out defiantly:
"Vive Aristide." Are these people thugs?
Lawlessness should be condemned. But characterizing
as "thugs" the large numbers of people that support
the return of Haiti's elected leader is irresponsible.
Freedom-loving people should urge the
interim government-and the UN peacekeepers that support it-to
set free people imprisoned illegally and imprison those who have
committed crimes, to restore the freedoms of assembly and speech
guaranteed by Haiti's constitution, and to unlock the door to
democracy, which includes the return of the country's democratically
Judith Scherr is a freelance reporter,
published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Contra Costa Times,
SF Bay Guardian, East Bay Monthly, and the Berkeley Daily Planet.