Bernstein: UN peacekeepers are now collaborating with the Haitian police and death squads, in a bloody purge of thousands of pro-democracy supporters of President Jean Bertrand Aristide. A spokesperson for the puppet government of Gerard Latortue stated after a raid on the Bel Air neighbourhood, “when we stormed the slum the bandits apparently had time to transport the weapons in[to] another slum.” In other words, they didn’t find anything. The characterization of pre-democracy activists as “bandits” and “terrorists” has been a mainstay of the U.S.- installed government after Aristide was overthrown by the U.S. [,Canada, and France]. The presence of battalions of former soldiers, including convicted death squad activists in the country only add to the bloody nature of the ongoing purge of the pro-democracy movement. This is a serious situation.
In a brazen public statement, a former leader of Haiti’s military death squads gave Haitian authorities an ultimatum: to put Aristide supporters away, or, as he stated, “otherwise we’ll operate our own operations to render them harmless.” This is an ongoing bloodbath; the whole world is not watching. Joining us to talk about the breaking situation in Haiti is Kevin Pina; he’s Flashpoints special correspondent in Port au Prince; and [to] Brian Concannon; he is an international human rights attorney, has worked with the international lawyers office in Port au Prince, worked with the victims of death squads from prior coups. I want to thank both of you for joining us on Flashpoints. It is a very serious situation; we’ve got UN peacekeepers collaborating with so-called Haitian police? This is rather extraordinary. Kevin, tell us as much as you can about the ongoing roundups, what’s been taking place in the last 72 hours, who’s been arrested, who’s under attack, who’s been killed, who’s in hiding. Is Father Jean-Juste still alive?
Pina: Well, the situation worsens. Today I’ve received several frantic phone calls, today alone, from people claiming, not claiming, [that] these guys with black hoods who claim to be the Haitian National Police, forced their way into their homes, broke things in their homes, searching for God knows what. This happened to many, several people today alone. It seems as if the Haitian police, backed up by the UN peacekeepers, are arbitrarily entering homes, continuing to arbitrarily arrest individuals, who they consider to be associated with the Lavalas political party. In other ominous developments, I received several reports today from Cap Haitien, the second-largest city in Haiti, that members of the former military are actually openly patrolling with Chilean forces assigned to the United Nations. They are openly patrolling now with United Nations forces in the second largest city in Haiti.
Father Jean-Juste still remains incarcerated; he was visited again today by another priest friend of mine; his spirits are high, the government has yet to formally accuse him or formally bring a charge against him. He’s not alone though, there are many other people who have been arbitrarily arrested, who are being incarcerated now without trial, without seeing a judge. The situation continues to worsen every day, and it seems as though they are looking to blame anybody but themselves for what happened on September 30th, when the Haitian police fired on unarmed demonstrators, which sparked this latest round of violence.
The UN commander, the Brazilian General Heleno, has accused John Kerry – that’s how desperate they are to blame somebody else – for the violence saying that in a March 7th New York Times interview that he had encouraged supporters of Aristide, saying that he would have sent troops to protect him, and that Aristide supporters took that as a green light that if he’s elected President then Aristide will be returned. Then you have the Gerard Latortue government attacking the government of South Africa, claiming that they’re harbouring Aristide while he is organizing and orchestrating, and is behind the violence that broke out here in Haiti. Everyone, the Latortue government and the United Nations, are trying to blame everyone else, except look at their own responsibility for what has occurred since the police were allowed to fire on unarmed demonstrators September 30th.
Bernstein: What have we heard from the traditional human rights groups, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, United Nations human rights investigators? I would imagine that the United Nations would be taking a special interest here since we have the Brazilian General who is in charge of the UN peacekeeping troops, first of all, coming out against Kerry, throwing, as you say, Kerry into the mix, [and second of all,] collaborating on these sweeps through these neighbourhoods. It has really been equated now, it’s a clear equation that if you are a supporter, if you are a part of the pro-democracy movement, of the beautiful Lavalas pro-democracy movement of President Jean Bertand Aristide, you are now considered a terrorist. I’m wondering, is anybody interested in the slaughter? I haven’t heard it posed anywhere.
Pina: Well, Amnesty International let out a report today about the arrest of Father Jean-Juste. They are actually sending a delegation, which will arrive next Tuesday and will be here through November 14th. God knows why they haven’t been speaking out louder against the arbitrary arrests, against arrests that obviously are in violation of the Haitian constitution. Today again the Haitian police, backed up by the United Nations, attempted to enter the slum of Bel Air and were repelled once again by the residents. This just continues and gets worse. We expect that tomorrow there will be a great escalation within the capital.
Bernstein: Kevin, this is a civil war, correct? What we are seeing now, not really a civil war, we are seeing a growing resistance movement coming out of what was a very, very large pro-democracy movement in support of, in that case, President Jean Bertrand Aristide. We are seeing a growing resistance, aren’t we?
Pina: Daily the resistance is growing and its getting more and more tough in terms of its response to protecting and claiming the right to defend its communities. The Haitian police, with arbitrary arrests, the former military who were basically given the keys to the capital by the United Nations, they now parade through the streets and patrol the streets openly and with semi-automatic weapons. The United Nations’ General Heleno seems to have enough forces to be able to back up the Haitian police in these arbitrary arrests, but he claims he doesn’t have enough forces to stop the Haitian military from killing anybody who dares to utter Jean Bertrand Aristide’s name in the capital today.
Bernstein: Also joining this discussion is Brian Concannon. He is a legal expert; worked with the international office of lawyers in Port au Prince, Haiti, protected, advised, counselled, and helped to represent victims of death squads of former U.S. supported coups. Brian Concannon, let’s talk about the behaviour, what we’re seeing happening in the streets in terms of the Latortue government. They obviously have a police force, there are these former military that are present, there are the UN peacekeeping forces, help us sort this out. What is legal for instance under the Haitian government and the Haitian constitution?
Concannon: Almost nothing. The Haitian constitution was thrown out the window on February 29th in the wake of President Aristide’s departure. The government, even if you accept that it was a legitimate transitional government, which I don’t, their mandate ended on June 1st when they should have had elections, and now they’re not talking about elections for at least another fourteen, fifteen months from here. So, to begin with you have a completely unconstitutional government. The unconstitutional government was the one that invited the UN and of course they did not negotiate the terms of engagement with the UN that [were] supportive of democracy. And you have UN troops, which, as Kevin has mentioned, do not have the stomach to confront the rebels or anybody with a gun, but are very courageous in surrounding radio stations to help the arrest of three unarmed legislators. They’re very courageous in going after John Kerry; they’re very courageous about going into poor neighbourhoods and shooting people. And this is obviously an illegal situation for the UN to be in. This is an illegal situation for the Haitian police to be doing this.
And one of the worst things about it, you talked about how we’ve done a lot of work with the de Facto 1991-94 dictatorship, and to some extent we have gone back to those days, in the sense that you have paramilitary groups going down and mowing people down; you have the police doing some official killing [of] people. But also in some ways we’re going also way far back beyond the de facto regime to the Duvalier dictatorships, because the de facto regime wouldn’t dare go into a church and send masked men to drag out priests who are serving a meal to poor children. That was something that not even Baby Doc would have done and we have to go back to Papa Doc to do that. You didn’t have in the de facto dictatorship; they didn’t surround radio stations and pull Senators and deputies dragging out of them because they said the wrong thing. This is just such an obvious blatant slap in the face to the Haitian constitution, to the basic fundamental documents of human rights law; it’s almost inconceivable that this type of thing could be happening in 2004.
Bernstein. Brian, you also have represented President Aristide in certain aspects since he was taken out of the country and essentially overthrown by the U.S. government. We’re hearing now attacks on the government of South Africa, letting President Aristide use, as they say, the ‘hospitality’ of the South African government to plan this violent attack on the U.S. installed government. Has there been any response from President Aristide? What is your take on this attack?
Concannon: President Aristide has been laying low, as far as I can see, on all of these issues. There is, of course, no proof that he’s been involved in any destabilizing activity in Haiti. In fact, President Mbeki had a forceful response saying that this was a complete fabrication and that there was absolutely no basis given. One of the most distressing aspects of what’s going on lately is that Prime Minister Latortue can say that Aristide is backing these rebels and he’s backing the violence without presenting any proof and all of the sudden its presented as gospel in the newspapers. In the same way, Prime Minister Latortue or the Minister of Justice Bernard Gousse can say that Lavalas partisans are killing police and that [there's] this “Operation Baghdad” stuff, again, with absolutely no proof, and that’s printed in the papers. And, in contrast, the things that Kevin’s been reporting to you about people who come talk to him about attacks in their houses, we have the same thing every day in the office, you have people coming in with extremely credible, consistent, and corroborated information. They can give you dates, they can tell who was killed, they can show you photos of who was killed, they can explain who did it, they can explain how it was done. That information will not get into the mainstream media but the Minister of Justice can say whatever unsubstantiated allegations he wants against either President Aristide or the pro-democracy movement in Haiti and all of the sudden that’s front-page news.
Bernstein: I want to come back to you Kevin, in Port au Prince. There was an astoundingly troubling story that came out of Brazil from Martine Costes in Rio de Janeiro. This was on Saturday on I think it was the Saturday morning news edition. He talked about, the whole story was about how the Brazilian leadership in the UN peacekeeping forces in Haiti was something that the Brazilians were now proud of, that the General was welcomed, there was cheering from both soccer teams.I don’t know what the heck they were talking about but he never mentioned a Haitian, he never talked to a Haitian, and the only reference to President Aristide was that Aristide gangs, roaming, had surfaced and were making the situation worse. Do you want to talk about, sort of the characterization of Aristide gangs and also what the situation really is because obviously he didn’t have a clue, didn’t care, wasn’t there and was just reporting simply on, I guess, Brazil.
Pina: You know, it’s interesting because General Augusto Heleno is the head of the UN peacekeeping mission here, a Brazilian General. As I said, again, the man takes absolutely no responsibility for allowing the Haitian police to have fired on unarmed demonstrators on September 30th, which started this latest round of violence. But more than that he seems to be quite comfortable allowing the former military to enter the capital and, again, the former military is now patrolling with Chilean forces in Cap Haitien, openly. You’ve got to remember that Brazil had a coup in 1964 and after that the Brazilian military pretty much ran that government and its politics for, more than 15 years, almost 18 years. And of course those were days when the Brazilian military was used by the wealthy elite there to impose their will on the population, to impose their program for so-called progress in Brazil and those were horrible days of arbitrary arrest, torture and murder, which were seen as necessary evils by the Brazilian military.
It seems as though General Heleno is nostalgic for those days [through] the way in which he is clearly accommodating Haiti’s former military. And he must have known, anyone who does any cursory study of Haitian history would know that by allowing the Haitian military to enter the scene in any capacity would enrage the majority of the population who withstood and were brutalized after that 1991 military coup against Aristide after he was elected President the first time in 1990. It’s just outrageous that either these people aren’t doing their history and/or Heleno longs for those good old days in Brazil. It’s fascinating to watch these guys on the ground here.
Concannon: Let me add something, because I think his [Kevin's] criticism may actually be a little bit too diplomatic. In the words of General Heleno himself, this was a quote on the BBC, he said “we must kill the bandits but it will have to be the bandits only, not everybody.” And at the beginning of your show you mentioned how “bandits” is a code-word for being poor, black and a government supporter. And so the UN involvement in this is not merely allowing things to happen; they are affirmatively supporting it; they are providing back-up to people when they go into these poor neighbourhoods, they secured the perimeter of the radio station when they made that arrest. They’re much more than negligently letting these things happen. They are playing an active role.
Bernstein: And we’re hearing scary figures. We’re hearing reports that perhaps the Latortue government is saying that 25,000 people either have to be purged or exiled for them to begin, to sort of, get rid of the pro-democracy movement and, if you will, start from scratch, then we’ll have an election or something like that. So, we’re talking about this government talking in large numbers of people being hurt, jailed, beaten, killed, or exiled. Kevin, before we say goodbye I want you to just give us a sense e of what people are saying on the street, what is the feeling at the grassroots level, in terms of, it does appear that they’re given no chance but to resist.
Pina: Well, the witch-hunt continues. The climate of witch-hunt against anyone associated with Lavalas continues, and yes, people feel as if they’ve been cornered and they have nowhere to turn except to defend themselves. And, time and time again I hear people say ‘you know, we’re going to continue our protests, we’re going to continue to demand that the President we elected return, and if they’re going to continue the violence against us we’re going to defend ourselves.’ I keep hearing that day in and day out and that’s why I say tomorrow I think is going to be a very interesting day here in Port au Prince, because I think the gloves are off, and tomorrow is going to be a day of reckoning in many ways.
Concannon: Let me add that Father Jean-Juste is a pivotal figure in this, because he was someone who was always advocating resistance to tyranny, but he always advocated in a non-violent way. He was always pushing saying ‘no, we’re not going to use their tactics, their strategies.’ But now you have someone like him who’s been one of the most open and prominent supporters of non-violence, and he’s a very popular person; he’s known in Haiti, he’s known in the US, he’s got all of this international prestige, and if they can go after him, then it’s very hard to make the argument to anybody in Haiti that you should eschew violence.
Bernstein: Final words, Kevin.
Pina: You know, it’s like I said yesterday, I think it’s important for me to state again, which is [that] nothing on the scale or the level that we’re seeing done against Lavalas today was ever done to the so-called opposition to Aristide, that had accused him of being a dictator. And, again, it’s almost as though their accusations of dictatorship against Aristide have become their own self-fulfilling prophecy here in Haiti today.