Haiti: Another Regime Change in Trouble

While the violence in Iraq continues unabated, the situation in Haiti, where the George W. Bush administration also played a key role in engineering regime change, is going from bad to desperate, according to increasingly worried analysts here.

The UN Security Council, which will decide the terms for extending its peacekeeping operation (MINUSTAH) in the Caribbean nation, had hoped to have as many as three million people registered by now for a series of elections that begins in just four months and that is supposed to culminate in the installation of a democratically elected government by early next year.

As a result of deteriorating security conditions, however, only about 65,000 people have registered to date.

An even more distressing indication of the chaos and insecurity that now pervade the Americas’ poorest nation is the escalating number of "boat people" who are trying to flee the island.

The U.S. Coast Guard picked up and forcibly returned more than 400 Haitians found in the seas around the country in May, a sharp rise from the monthly average of 200 who were swept up since January. In just the first 10 days of June, the Coast Guard, which has escalated in its deployments in the area, picked up nearly 300 more.

"There are Haitians spilling out all over the place, going to places they’ve never been before," according to Jocelyn McCalla, the director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR) in New York. "St. Kitts, Dominica, Barbuda, in addition to the Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas, and Jamaica, which is becoming quite scared by what is happening."

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Washington are asking the Security Council to increase the MINUSTAH’s size from the 7,400 soldiers and police by about 10 percent in the coming weeks to enhance security, and the Bush administration is considering deploying a rapid-reaction force of about 500 of its own soldiers either to Haiti or just offshore in the run-up to the elections.

But some analysts insist that such steps will be insufficient given the reigning anarchy and criminality despite MINUSTAH’s increasing aggressiveness in confronting the armed gangs of ex-soldiers, criminal syndicates, and supporters of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whose ouster and exile were arranged by the U.S. and France at the end of February 2004. Last Saturday, for example, 11 kidnappings were reported to have taken place in the capital, Port-au-Prince, alone.

"If the Security Council merely continues where they are today when they meet next week, the situation is going to fall apart," according to Mark Schneider, the director of the Washington office of the International Crisis Group (ICG), whose May 31 recent report, "Spoiling Security in Haiti," calls for much stronger measures to halt the country’s slide into chaos.

"We believe time is running out for any transition to save the country from becoming a permanent failed state," said Schneider, who urged the Security Council to greatly expand MINUSTAH’s size and mandate.

In particular, the ICG has called for MINUSTAH to assume control of the 5,000-man Haitian National Police (HNP) and add 3,000 more international police monitors to the 1,300-man force that is currently there. He said the HNP also needs to be thoroughly purged of violent or corrupt members.

Schneider also urged that the UN bring in international judges to deal with critical cases involving major political figures, including former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, who has been a prolonged hunger strike to protest his detention without trial for the past 11 months.

As noted by the New York Times in a feature article Thursday, the continued detention of Neptune, who was formally charged less than two months ago for his alleged involvement in killings at St. Marc during the insurrection by ex-soldiers that eventually forced Aristide into exile, "has become an embarrassment to the Bush administration and a symbol of the failures of what was supposed to be Haiti’s transition to a fully functioning democracy."

Schneider charged that Justice Minister Bernard Gousse, who resigned his post Wednesday, had "politicized his ministry" by primarily targeting leaders of Neptune and other leaders from Lavalas, Aristide’s party, rather than ex-soldiers and corrupt HNP officers. He said Gousse’s departure, which had also been urged by the Bush administration, was a "positive step."

ICG is also calling for MINUSTAH to make the disarmament of illegal groups a much higher priority and to carry out the disarmament according to a specific timetable between now and before the elections.

To help accomplish that, according to Schneider, the Security Council must add at least two brigades of rapid-reaction forces – or about 1,000 men – who would be focused on taking on "the spoilers," including drug traffickers, ex-soldiers, and armed gangs.

"There is no way for elections to take place on time if the security situation is not resolved," said Schneider, who added that the Bush administration had been late in recognizing the seriousness of the situation and is still not pushing for the measures needed to redress it.

McCalla, however, told IPS the ICG’s recommendations do not go far enough. "It’s not just the Haitian police force that needs to be taken over; it’s the whole government," he said. "The ICG is recommending an incremental takeover of the government, while what is needed is UN trusteeship and a delay in holding the elections."

"Let’s admit that [Prime Minister Gerard] LaTortue did not deliver on his promises to create conditions for elections – many people, for example, are not seeking jobs with the electoral authority because they’re afraid of being killed or kidnapped," he said. "You’ve even reached the point where the U.S. is pulling out its Peace Corps volunteers and nonessential personnel, including the ambassador’s wife who has been spirited out of the country."

"Under these circumstances, the guy who will be elected will be [ex-army officer] Guy Philippe [a leader in the military uprising against Aristide] or somebody like him because his people control the politics on the ground," said McCalla. "And then, once elected, he will raise the banner of Haitian nationalism in order to fend off pressure from the international community at the latter’s expense. That’s what you’ll get."

(Inter Press Service)

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Author: Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service.