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History Repeating: Is A Coup Brewing in Haiti?

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The situation in the small island nation of Haiti is growing more severe by the hour. There are now fears that the democratically-elected government of Jean Bertrand Aristide could be overthrown in a violent coup d’etat. For weeks, gangs of armed groups have attacked police stations and other government outposts. More than 50 people have been killed and the violent insurgency is daily increasing its weapons supplies. Aristide’s official government forces are ill-equipped to defend against the violence. Haiti has no army and the national police are estimated at around 3,000 men. Aristide supporters have clashed regularly with the insurgents and other opponents of the Haitian president.

In not so subtle statements, US officials have hinted that they want Aristide gone. But Secretary of State Colin Powell was forced this week to officially renounce this. But for anyone follwing Haiti over the years, it comes as no surprise that Washington may well be involved. What is particularly troubling to veteran observers in Haitian politics is the fact that some of the leaders of the armed gangs are men who were at the forefront of the campaign of terror in the early 1990s in Haiti that ultimately led to the overthrow of Aristide.

In this period, the Haitian Armed Forces and the right-wing paramilitary death squad FRAPH, which was supported by the CIA and other US agencies, were the principal organizations behind the reign of terror against unarmed civilians that included at least 5,000 murders, 300,000 internal refugees, 40,000 boat people, and countless tortures, rapes, thefts, and beatings. According to the Haitian newspaper Haiti-Progres, a man named Louis Jodel Chamblain arrived this week in the Haitian city of Gonaives-where the armed gangs are largely based. Chamblain is the former vice-president of the FRAPH paramilitary death squad.

Chamblain was convicted and sentenced in absentia to hard-labor for life in trials for the April 23, 1994 Raboteau massacre and the September 11, 1993 assassination of democracy-activist Antoine Izméry. Chamblain arrived in Gonaives last week with about 25 other commandos from the Dominican Republic, where he has been living since 1994. They were well equipped with rifles, camouflage uniforms, and all-terrain vehicles.Since arriving in Haiti, Chamblain led the attack by about 15 opposition commandos against the Hinche police station on Haiti’s Central Plateau a few days ago on February 16.

Among the victims of FRAPH under Chamblain’s leadership was Haitian Justice Minister Guy Malary. He was ambushed and machine-gunned to death with his body-guard and a driver on Oct. 14, 1993. According to an October 28, 1993 CIA Intelligence Memorandum obtained by the Center for Constitutional Rights ”FRAPH members Jodel Chamblain, Emmanuel Constant, and Gabriel Douzable met with an unidentified military officer on the morning of 14 October to discuss plans to kill Malary.” Emmanuel “Toto” Constant, the leader of FRAPH, is now living freely in the US-in fact he is believed to be living here in Queens, NY.

Meanwhile, according to Haiti-Progres, another Dominican Republic-based paramilitary arrived in Gonaives last week. He is Guy Philippe, a former Haitian police chief who fled Haiti in October 2000 after authorities discovered him plotting a coup with a clique of other police chiefs who had all been trained by US Special Forces in Ecuador during the 1991-1994 coup. Since that time, the Haitian government has accused Philippe of master-minding deadly attacks on the Police Academy and the National Palace in July and December 2001, as well as hit-and-run raids against police stations on Haiti’s Central Plateau over the following two years.

One of the main leaders of what is being called the opposition in Haiti, Andy Apaid, Jr. said recently that “armed resistance is a legitimate political expression” under a popularly elected government and that the “rebels” should remain armed until Aristide resigns. Apaid is not a Haitian citizen. In fact, he is a US citizen. He was born in New York in 1952. He never renounced his U.S. citizenship and Haitian law does not allow dual citizenship. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who was on this program earlier this week, blasted Apaid and his opposition front, saying, “It is my belief that André Apaid is attempting to instigate a bloodbath in Haiti and then blame the government for the resulting disaster in the belief that the United States will aid the so-called protestors against President Aristide and his government.”

  • Maude LeBlanc, a reporter for Haiti-Progres. She joins us on the line from Port au-Prince, Haiti.
  • Kevin Pina, an independent journalist and filmmaker who has spent the past 4 and a half years living and working in Haiti. He joins us from the Haitian capital Port au-Prince.
  • Jean Beliard Lucien, a Haitian journalist who now lives in New York, where he is the director of Radio Lakay, a Haitian radio station.
  • Brian Concannon, works for the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, (International Lawyers Office) in Haiti, where he has spent the last several years prosecuting crimes committed during the 1991-1994 coup. Among the cases he has prosecuted are those stemming from the 1994 Robato massacre by military and paramilitary forces in a pro-democracy neighborhood.
  • Raymond Joseph, editor and publisher of the Haiti Observateur, a weekly Haitian newspaper published in Brooklyn. He is also a columnist with the New York Sun and is a former reporter at the Wall Street Journal. After the fall of the Duvalier family, Joseph was briefly Haiti’s envoy in Washington.

Recent Democracy Now! coverage of Haiti:

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