strategies for a developing world…

Human Rights in Haiti in the Manigat Era

Michael S. Hooper and Jocelyn McCalla

 

ManigatLeslie F. Manigat died on June 27, 2014 at  the age of 83. Elevated to the presidency of Haiti via army-backed sham elections in January 1988, Manigat was forcibly removed from office about four months later by the very  leaders who had put him there. Haitians generally considered Manigat to be a great scholar and enjoyed his rhetorical diatribes. What follows is a brief assessment of Manigat’s rise to the presidency, its human rights record and  the international community’s response to political events in Haiti in 1987-1988. This 1988 report by the National Coalition  for Haitian Refugees (NCHR) served to brief members of the Caribbean Human Rights Network on developments in Haiti. Michael S. Hooper, listed as co-author of this report, died in September 1988. He was NCHR’s Executive Director from 1982 until his death from cancer — JM

We are delighted to participate in the Third Regional Meeting of Caribbean Rights, and we wish to express our deepest appreciation for the special focus on Haiti and the human rights crisis that continues to determine the direction of the Haitian political debate. Today’s meeting provides an important opportunity to increase our understanding of how to maximize the protection of human rights in Haiti during this unique political crisis. Our meeting also encourages a dramatically improved regional cooperation with democratic forces in Haiti who are determined to escape the terror and arbitrariness of its feudal political and economic system.

The National Coalition for Haitian Refugees is especially pleased to participate in this meeting as we have worked continuously since 1981 to promote respect for human rights in Haiti and a fundamental change in United States’ policy towards Haiti and Haitian refugees. We have pursued our projects and reports by maximizing cooperation with Haitian and international human rights groups, and we continue to believe that it is only through genuine dialogue and cooperation that progress can be achieved. We speak for the Coalition today, but we have recently confirmed that our views and orientation are shared with a number of human rights and civic groups in Haiti with whom we have worked for many years. We look forward to deepening our cooperation with the participat­ing organizations here today, and we offer this analysis and proposals to facilitate our dis­cussion of Haiti’s current human rights crisis.

INTRODUCTION

The current political and democratic crisis in Haiti and the options for international human rights groups willing to lend their support to the Haitian democratic process can only be understood in the context of the events of this past year that have saddled Haiti with a military regime with a civilian facade, and a proliferation of paramilitary death squads.

Army-sponsored and condoned violence throughout 1987 crushed the hopes of most Haitians that democracy and respect for human rights and the rule of law might come to their country after three long decades of dictatorship and corruption. Even after the CNG attempted to seize control of the electoral process in June 1987, many harbored cautious optimism.

But just as the prospect of free and fair elections was the source of hope for many Haitian democrats seeking a clean and irreversible break with the Duvalier legacy, so the elec­tions became the focus of efforts by the military and civilian thugs to manipulate and derail that process. After initially allowing a public referendum on a new Constitution to take place without incident on March 29, 1987 – the Constitution was endorsed by an overwhelming majority (98.99%) of Haitian voters – the military launched a campaign to obstruct every effort to carry out elections under independent civilian control in accordance with that Constitution.

By February 7, 1988, the CNG had used arbitrary arrests, arson and murder to terrorize democratic forces in Haiti and to ensure that the election that finally was held produced a compromised puppet president who could not interfere with the military’s dominance of Haitian society, and who would not threaten significant reforms or meaningful investigations of past abuses.

Yet despite the environment of Army violence and intimidation, Haitian democrats persist in their struggle for democracy. However tragic, the post-February 1986 period has provided lessons that have not been lost on the Haitian people. Many thousands of Haitians – peasants, youth, women, students, and trade unionists – have rediscovered, with the support of church-linked groups, a confidence to organize themselves. They have demonstrated that they are willing to make immense sacrifices in order to avoid a re-establishment of dictatorial rule. The immediate future of human rights and democracy in Haiti will be greatly enhanced if these groups can rely on international support in their efforts to rid themselves of the current incarnation of the Duvalier legacy.

International support activities must be crafted not only to promote the restoration of democratic institutions, but also to complement, not duplicate and undermine, ongoing efforts by emerging democratic organizations in Haiti. A major responsibility of international human rights groups must be to increasingly insist on influencing policies adopted by Caribbean governments and the United States toward Haiti. Occasional trips to and reports about Haiti are no substitutes for insisting that our governments stop collaborating with a hated military regime.

Unfortunately the human rights and foreign policies of the United States, often acting through Jamaica, Venezuela, or Dominica, have been deeply flawed. The current version of these policies appears to be based on some elusive assertion or justification that President Leslie Manigat possesses the commitment or the ability to reform the fundamental nature of politics in Haiti and to rein in the military officers who selected him as the nominal head of government. The substance of current United States policy toward Haiti does not differ greatly from past policies that supported the Haitian military at the direct expense of democracy.

Immediately after February 7, 1986, the Reagan Administration rushed to give the Duvalier-appointed National Governing Council (CNG) its blessing and to offer the officers in charge substantial military aid. For two years, the United States championed General Namphy as truly independent and intent on safeguarding a transition to democracy, despite overwhelming evidence that the CNG was managing, not dismantling, the Duvalier legacy of terror and cronyism, and that the U.S.-supported Haitian Army was doing much of the killing and was actively complicit in the rest.

The Reagan Administration belatedly suspended economic and military aid to Haiti after the collapse of the November 29 elections. Faced with the undeniable involvement of the Haitian military in the widespread terror campaign against the November 29 elections, even the spokesperson for the Reagan Administration’s policy toward Haiti, the Caribbean and Central America generally, Elliott Abrams, Assistant-Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, recognized CNG responsibility in the election debacle: “The transition to democracy in Haiti — which we had urged and supported both politically and financially — was wrecked by bloody violence on November 29, 1987. Leading candidates refused to participate in the seriously flawed subsequent election, organized and controlled by the governing council. Many influential Haitians called on their fellow citizens to stay away from the polls. When the new election was held, on January 17, the turnout was much lower than the governing council claimed, and the election was not free, fair and open.”[1]

These admissions were repeated by Richard Holwill, Abrams’ Deputy Assistant, at a March 23, 1988 hearing on Haiti before the Subcommittee of Western Hemisphere Affairs of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “The National Council of Government and its head, General Namphy, must bear the brunt of the responsibility for failure to stop the violence that halted the voting and for the CNG’s refusal to provide the administrative and organizational support for the election,” said Holwill before the Subcommittee. Yet for over two and a half years, the Reagan Administration obstinately ignored warnings and policy criticisms detailing the human rights violations of the Namphy regime and demonstrating how U.S. policy specifically encouraged this lawless and arbitrary Army behavior.

Despite recent admissions about past CNG behavior, the Reagan Administration is today adroitly searching for ways to undermine its own suspension of economic and military aid to Haiti, and has repeatedly praised the “potential” of President Manigat.

We are pleased that determined international efforts have produced some positive developments including significant legislation before both Houses of the U.S. Congress (HR 4152 and S 2170), that maintains the suspension of aid and imposes deepening sanctions on the Government of Haiti unless new elections are held under the auspices of an independent Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) as required by the Haitian Constitution. To date 51 members of the House of Representatives have endorsed this bill. The international press has been very critical of Haitian and U.S. policy blunders, and even the Organization of American States is conducting further investigations.

We believe that tolerating a U.S. and regional policy of “normalization”, however guarded, will contribute to a victory for the military officers who engineered the electoral coup against the fragile Haitian democracy. Accepting the charade that installed Manigat will only further encourage the Army’s continued domination of Haitian politics and manipulation of U.S. and Caribbean policymakers. Most importantly, such “normalization” will strike a blow against hopes for democratic elections in the near future and condemn Haiti to many more years of military dictatorship, albeit under a civilian facade.

THE HAITIAN MILITARY’S ASSAULT ON THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS BEFORE NOVEMBER 29, 1987

As the hand-picked successor to the Duvalier regime, the military-dominated CNG, inherited a system of vast corruption enforced by arrest and murder. While the CNG paid lip service to the laudable goal of moving Haiti toward democracy, it stepped in to reassert its dominance any time that democratic forces threatened even the slightest reform of that system, and it did little to erase the Duvalier legacy.

Military Policeman, Haiti 1987The CNG made no meaningful attempt to investigate the human rights abuses that occurred during the Duvalier period. There was no effort made to determine the extent of past abuses, the identity of those who committed them, or the role of the security forces in these abuses. Although the CNG formally disbanded the Tontons Macoutes shortly after Duvalier’s departure, it took only token steps to disarm these paramilitary forces; only approximately 3,500 weapons were confiscated despite wide acknowledgement that there were 22,000 armed Macoutes at the time of Duvalier’s departure; most Macoutes retained their weapons and ammunition, and were allowed to circulate with impunity.

Army violence against peaceful demonstrations resulted in an escalating number of deaths. On March 19, 1986 five civilians were killed and at least 15 wounded when the elite Leopard troops dispersed with machine-gun fire a crowd of peaceful demonstrators protesting the arrest by the Army of a bus driver. The next month, on April 26, Army troops stationed at the Fort Dimanche prison and police barracks fired without warning on a crowd of civilians in front of this symbol of the cruelty of the old regime, killing six and wounding 50.

Since then, not only have those responsible for these killings not been prosecuted, but Army violence considerably increased in late June 1987, after the CNG was beaten back in its attempt to seize control of the electoral process and of the independent Provisional Electoral Council, which the March 1987 Constitution had mandated to carry out what could have been Haiti’s first genuinely free elections.

The March Constitution had gained the respect and the support of the public because of its provisions entrusting control of the elections to this independent civilian body and barring from public office anyone who the CEP determined had been an “architect” of the Duvalier dictatorship or had participated in the embezzlement of public funds or the assassination and torture of political prisoners. The Constitution and the electoral process that it prescribed provided the only real opportunity for a radical break with the Duvalier past.

The Constitution mandated that the CEP be composed of nine representatives, each chosen by a different sector of Haitian society. By according only one of the nine seats to the CNG, the Constitution thus ensured that the CEP would remain independent of military manipulation, thus instilling confidence among Haitians that free and fair elections might be conducted.

Widespread protests and a general strike forced the CNG to relent in this attempt to take over the electoral process, but in the months that followed, the military forces and paramilitary death squads retaliated with a widespread terror campaign on the civilian population.

Killings by the Haitian Army and paramilitary death squads continued throughout the summer and resulted in at least 53 deaths and more than 153 wounded in the capital alone. Bodies riddled with bullets routinely turned up in the morning in the streets of Port-au-Prince’s slums. The Army responded to peaceful demonstrations against the CNG with bullets. Many Haitian and foreign journalists covering these events were also directly fired upon by Army troops, and several were seriously wounded.

This military violence helped create an environment of lawlessness in which murder be-came an acceptable tool for resolving political grievances. On July 23, 1987 near Jean-Rabel in Northwestern Haiti, 320 members of the Tet Ansanm religious cooperative were slaughtered in an apparent land dispute by peasants loyal to landowners and former ton-tons macoutes in their employ. No one has been arrested or prosecuted for this massacre. Similarly during August, troops from the 32nd Tactical Battalion of the Casernes Dessalines terrorized and detained scores of people in the Grande Anse region, killing several whom it accused of aiding Bernard Sansaricq, a political leader who it alleged was stockpiling weapons to overthrow the government. A similar scenario was repeated a few weeks later in the Raboteau slum of Gonaives, a center of opposition to the policies of the CNG when troops from the 32nd battalion of the Casernes Dessalines terrorized the slum purportedly to arrest a particular protest leader.

Human rights monitors and priests who protested Army abuses were also the subjects of attacks. On August 23, four prominent catholic priests and their driver were badly beaten by a paramilitary group about 100 meters away from the Army checkpoint of Freycineau where soldiers had just subjected them to an inspection. This attack took place shortly after a religious gathering they were conducting in honor of the victims of the Jean-Rabel massacre was dispersed by gunfire.

Two presidential candidates were killed in August and in October 1987; one, Yves Volel, in front of police headquarters in Port-au-Prince by two plainclothes police detectives and in full view of several Haitian and foreign journalists. Violence increased on November 2, 1987 following the CEP’s decision to disqualify 12 of the 35 announced candidates under the constitutional provision barring Duvalierists from office. The Army and police allowed armed gangs of “civilians” to burn the CEP headquarters and the trading company of a CEP member. The homes and offices of leading presidential candidates and CEP mem­bers were also sprayed with bullets, forcing candidates to campaign under the constant threat of assassination.

The CNG tried everything to block the holding of elections. It held up considerable U.S. and international financial assistance that had been donated to the CEP. The CNG repeatedly refused to provide logistical assistance or protection to CEP members and offices, and it denied flight clearances to CEP helicopters attempting to distribute ballots.

The violence accelerated in the week before the election and reached a crescendo on the eve of the scheduled elections. Army troops destroyed the transmitter of the Catholic Church’s Radio Soleil, and all but one independent radio station was shut down after being sprayed by machine-gun fire.

Victim of Military Violence, Haiti 1987

On the morning of the elections, November 29, when, despite the terror, Haitians lined up outside polling places, gangs of thugs roamed the streets of Port-au-Prince shooting at lines of voters. Often trucks of Army soldiers followed closely behind as cars of “civilians” did the shooting. At times the Army itself did the shooting. When 14 people at a polling place were massacred by a gang of men wielding machetes and automatic weapons, at least one Army soldier shot at foreign journalists arriving to report on the killings. Faced with this brazen military violence, the CEP called off the elections after three hours of voting. In total the election-day violence left at least 34 Haitians murdered and 75 wounded.

The pervasive and well coordinated nature of the electoral sabotage made clear that these efforts were staged from the top of the military hierarchy. From the unsuccessful attempt to take over the CEP in June to the refusal to provide security in November, from the withholding of international assistance to the denial of flight clearances to CEP helicopters and planes leased by official observer delegations, these actions could not have been taken without the direct approval of the CNG and other top military commanders.

THE CNG’S SHAM ELECTIONS AND THE INSTALLATION OF LESLIE MANIGAT

In the weeks following the election day massacre, the Haitian Army and the CNG tightened their noose on democracy with a campaign marked by official intimidation of the populace and flouting of the rule of law. Army and paramilitary units violently harassed political parties, trade unions, peasant organizations and church groups. Haitian human rights groups reported arrests of supporters of the broad-based National Front for Unified Action. (Front National de Concertation) and the Committee for Democratic Unity (CED). The CED was formed by the four leading presidential candidates running in the aborted elections: Marc Bazin, Gerard Gourgue, Sylvio Claude and Louis Dejoie, who together would have gathered more than 80% of the anticipated popular vote. [Only minor candidates including Leslie F. Manigat remained in the new “contest”]. On December 21, 1987 three gunmen fired into a crowd of mourners coming out of a memorial service for the victims of the November 29 bloodbath, killing one man and wounding at least four others.

These abuses were accompanied by the growing indifference of the CNG to any semblance of legality, so long as it could produce an election event to placate the interna­tional donors and foreign governments. Although the Haitian Constitution provided the CNG with no authority to dissolve the CEP or to appoint more than one representative, the CNG insisted that the remaining eight civic and religious organizations represented on the CEP appoint new members. When seven independent organizations refused to comply with this unconstitutional demand, the CNG hand-picked its own CEP, composed of nine political unknowns, most of whom learned of their sudden notoriety only after the official announcement of their appointment.

The CNG did not even pretend to accord the new CEP a modicum of independent authority. Before new CEP members had been named, the CNG selected a date for the elections and announced a date for enactment of a new election law which made a mockery of the electoral process. Under the CNG’s law, poll workers and soldiers maintained the right to inspect a voter’s preference before a ballot was cast, and candidates were burdened with printing and distributing their own ballots. This provided a substantial advantage to any candidate whom the Army favored. To ensure complete control of the electoral charade, the military-dominated Supreme Court was given the right to review any CEP decision to bar former Duvalierists from running for public office. Under the law, a fine or a jail term could be imposed on anyone who “mistakenly” urged people not to vote and on anyone who challenged a candidate if the challenge proved “unjustified”. The Army quickly made good on these provisions by rounding up scores of activists in the countryside as well in the capital who supported the call for a boycott of the elections that had been put forth by political parties and a wide range of organizations including the CED, and “Civil Society”, a remarkable coalition of over 72 human rights, civic, religious, business and trade union organizations.

Michael Hooper reported his observations on the 1988 electionsWe refused to “observe” these sham elections but our project closely monitored developments on January 17. Election-day was marked by an extremely low voter turnout, repeated instances of voter fraud and manipulation. The streets were literally deserted except for truckloads of patrolling soldiers, journalists and the occasional government employee. Manigat ballots were being deposited more than once at several locations by Haitians hired by Franck Romain, a former Colonel and Chief of Police who has been implicated in a series of human rights abuses under Duvalier. Romain was running for Mayor of Port-au-Prince and was also “elected.”

The most noteworthy aspect of the January 17, 1988 “election exercise” was the tremendously successful boycott of the entire affair and the comical nature of the proceedings that did take place. During our visit of polling places in Port-au-Prince we were struck by the degree of abstention that occurred. We visited polling places where less than five people had voted as of 1:00 PM. Five of the six largest polling places in central Port-au-Prince never opened at all, and even the employees of the election bureaus didn’t seem to take the job seriously.

Overall, we visited 19 locations and a total of 44 polling stations. We took statements from children who admitted to being 14 or 15 and who had already voted three or four times. We had scores of discussions with other young adults who admitted having voted more than once. We observed buses being loaded from in front of one polling place in Cite Soleil and being driven to the Hotel de Ville where these same persons voted again. We interviewed the employees parking and organizing these buses who openly told us that the transport operation was organized by “le magistrat”, Frank Romain. Many of the kids being transported told us that they were being paid $1 or $2 for each location in which they were able to vote. We saw election officials allowing voters to deposit multiple ballots for the same Presidential candidate (always Manigat). At some polling places so many voters had washed the “indelible” ink off their fingers in puddles that the water had become a deep scarlet.

Finally, officially registered journalists were physically thrown out of the offices of the CNG’s Provisional Electoral Council after the ballot boxes were collected and no monitoring of the tallying procedures was allowed. In sum what took place in Haiti was by no stretch of the imagination an election, it was a selection.

THE HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD OF THE MANIGAT GOVERNMENT:
THE REINCARNATION OF THE CNG

In the weeks immediately preceding the “installation” of Leslie Manigat on February 7, 1988, Haitians sought peaceful ways of protesting the charade that had led to his installation. Scores of people circulating a petition protesting the elections were briefly taken into custody and beaten in detention. The Catholic Church’s Radio Soleil indicated on February 2, 1988 that several peasants who had signed this petition in the Central Plateau were being harassed by local authorities. Residents of La Gonave, the island in the bay of Port-au-Prince complained in an interview broadcast by Radio Haiti-Inter of the threats made against them by the rural section chief because they had denounced the January 17 elections as fraudulent. They indicated that several peasants had been forced into hiding and that at least one had been arrested. One priest, Father Estime, rector of the local parish of La Victoire in the Central Plateau, was arrested on January 31 by the local Army commander while conducting a service in which he informed his parishioners of the petition drive. He was released only after local residents demonstrated in his favor in front of the police station.

The best known example of Army abuse prior to the official installation of Manigat was the arrest on January 20 of Louis Dejoie, one of the four leading candidates from the aborted November elections, upon his return from a trip abroad in which he had lobbied against the substitute elections. After being held for four hours without explanation at the airport, Dejoie was taken out in handcuffs by plainclothes police officers accompanied by truckloads of uniformed troops from the 32nd battalion under the command of Jean-Claude Paul. Dejoie was pushed and shoved into a waiting pick-up truck, when he at-tempted to speak to assembled supporters. On the day of his arrest, Dejoie was presented with no warrant, was not informed of any charge, and was denied access to an attorney. Dejoie’s release was obtained two days later only after considerable pressure from Haitian and international human rights and civil rights organizations.

The situation of human rights in the Manigat era continues to be characterized by a lawlessness most dramatically demonstrated by persistent nighttime shootings and repeated armed attacks on innocent civilians by paramilitary gangs, as a means to maintain the atmosphere of terror which has prevailed since the summer of 1987. Random terror against civilians is again rising as demonstrated by these 3 examples:

— On the night of February 3, two individuals forced their way into the home of Claude Etienne and shot him three times. Etienne died a few hours later.

The dead body of 29-year old Guillaume Sanon was found lying in a pool of blood on Route Nationale on February 8. He had been shot in the head.

– On March 5, eight men armed with uzi submachine guns shot and killed Viluis Neptune outside his place of residence in Thomazeau. They allegedly warned his spouse not to interfere, claiming that the order came from Fort Dimanche.

To date no investigation of this pattern of killings or of specific allegations of military involvement have been announced. Similarly no efforts to find the perpetrators of attacks against trade union organizations or church groups have been made. On February 6, 1988, an explosion caused by a hand grenade ripped a large hole through the walls of the offices of the newly-created Union of Independent Public Transport Drivers. On February 7, the Catholic hierarchy refused to participate in the presidential inauguration and to celebrate the ceremonial mass traditionally reserved for such occasions, because of the virtually unanimous public opposition to the fraudulent elections and abuses that preceded them. That evening, the Sacred Heart School – which had suffered attacks of the paramilitary thugs on November 29 – was again the target of a hand-grenade attack which caused damage to one building. On February 10, troops from the Casernes Dessalines raided the offices of the Association of Army Veterans (Association des Veterans Militaires), destroying materials and seizing private records and files and taking into custody three members of the organization. The Secretary-General of the Association, Eli Cantave, was forced to temporarily go into hiding.

The Manigat government has directly violated numerous other protections guaranteed by the Constitution of March 1987. Freedom of assembly, guaranteed by Article 31 of the Constitution, has frequently been denied to groups who complied with all legal requirements. On March 25, military authorities forcibly dispersed a peaceful demonstration by inhabitants of Gonaives to protest the illegal dumping of allegedly toxic trash on the shores of this city. On March 29, 1988 a meeting of 40 peasants, who had assembled on the occasion of the first anniversary of the Constitution, was dispersed by local troops in the northwestern town of Beauchamps. All the participants were arrested without charge and placed in detention. Similarly on April 4, military authorities broke up a peaceful demonstration in the town of Petit-Goave, which was organized to protest against the Manigat government and to demand new national and local elections. The Manigat government has even gone so far as to bar a traditional open-air Easter mass by the Ecumenical Council of Protestant Churches from taking place on April 4, despite the clearly religious nature of the event.

Increasingly, organized peasants are being intimidated. Members of the Papaye Peasant Movement (Mouvman Peyizan Papay) – one of the largest – which is rooted in the Central Plateau region, have, for example, been branded as subversives and several have had their houses ransacked. According to the local priest, Father Gabriel Bien-Aime, since the January 17 “elections,” literacy workers, members of the “Ti Legliz (religious base communities) and at least two physicians, Drs Henrys and Barbot, who run a community clinic in Thomonde, have been intimidated and forced to flee the immediate area for several weeks. Later, Dr Henrys barely escaped an attempt on his life when unidentified assailants fire gunshots as he was entering into the Port-au-Prince home where he had gone to stay.

The March 1987 Constitution planned for the elimination of the positions of several levels of local officials including local prefects and rural commanders (chefs de section), who performed under direct order from the military command and helped maintain control of the peasantry. These positions were to be replaced through local elections for Administrative Councils of Communal Districts (Conseils d’Administration des Sections Communales – CASEC). Farcical local elections were allegedly held on January 31, 1988, yet none of the constitutionally-required changes have taken place. Neither the CNG-dominated CEP, nor the Manigat government have made public the outcome of these elections, which were marked by an even lower turnout than those of January 17, and which in some localities did not take place at all. The result is that a structural lawlessness persists in rural Haiti with these government posts illegally remain in the hands of former Duvalier government officials who continue to rule with complete arbitrariness.

The Haitian press reports the imposition of significant self-censorship following two stri­dent government communiques, one from the Ministry of Information, the other from the Haitian military. In the Army communique of February 23, 1988, General Carl Nicolas warned the press not to repeat “unfounded rumors”. In its communique of March 7, 1988, the Ministry warned the press that the government will not tolerate “cynical insinuations”, “false accusations” and “public insults”. These communiques were issued after local newspapers and radio stations relayed U.S. media reports of charges of drug trafficking made against Col. Jean-Claude Paul. Col. Paul commands the notorious Dessalines Bar-racks, whose troops dominated the killings of innocent civilians and peaceful marchers beginning in the summer of 1987.

The Haitian Army and their former Duvalierist cohorts have left the “civilian government” little room for any reforms. CNG strongman General Williams Regala retains control of the key Ministry of Interior, and structural reforms leading to the constitutionally-required formation of a police force completely separate from the Army and under the Justice Ministry’s control have yet to be announced.

This deteriorating situation was summarized recently by economist Marc Bazin, leader of the Movement to Root Democracy in Haiti (MIDH), which along with the National Front for Unified Action (Front National de Concertation) and Civil Society, a broad coalition of 72 religious, civil, human rights, trade union and business organizations, represent a significant political and social movement that carries the seeds of hope for the establishment of democracy in Haiti. Speaking on the occasion of the First Anniversary of the Constitution adopted on March 29, 1987, Bazin said:

There is a necessary link between the conditions in which this government came to power and the increasing difficulties that it will be confronted with when it will have to enforce respect for certain constitutional provisions, particularly those relating to fundamental respect for the rights of individuals. The silence on the crimes committed on November 29 (1987), the assassination of Athis and Volel, the menaces and intimidations, the illegal breaking in and searching of private homes, the humiliating body searches, confiscation of passports, arbitrary detentions, arrests for “delits d’opinions”, the refusal to allow a peaceful march protesting against the dumping of toxic trash to proceed, the dismissals of judges without first conducting an investigation, the inability of Ministers to prohibit exactions, and even to penalize civil servants who inflict on them public denials, increasingly appear to be the price of the January 17 compromise.

There is little disagreement in Haiti or in the Haitian diaspora with former Finance Minister Bazin’s assessment. The Manigat government is a civilian incarnation of the National Governing Council and remains hostage to the Haitian military and the Duvalierists who maintains control over all key aspects of Haitian life. Few in Haiti expect any important reforms or fundamental change from the Army-installed Manigat-Celestin regime.

U.S. POLICY TOWARDS HAITI:
REWARDING DUVALIERISM AND SUBVERTING DEMOCRACY

From February 1986 on, the U.S. provided unswerving political and economic support to the CNG, virtually until the military crushed the electoral process that it purportedly championed. The CNG’ vows to bring democracy to Haiti in the weeks following Duvalier’s ouster quickly disappeared, but the United States failed to see the writing on the wall when the CNG’s only respected civilian member, Gerard Gourgue, Justice Minister and head of the Haitian League for Human Rights, resigned less than two months after his appointment, in protest over the military’s continuing human rights violations and the failure of the government to restrain the troops.

So long as the CNG maintained the position that it would hand over the reigns of government to a civilian-elected government at the end of its two-year mandate, the Administration appeared satisfied with persistent military dominance and showed great complacency towards the snail’s pace of purported efforts to demilitarize Haitian life. The Ad-ministration actively and successfully lobbied for the renewal of military aid and periodically certified to Congress that the CNG was making progress on human rights, despite the lack of demonstrated efforts to investigate and prosecute abusers.

In September 1986, Congress explicitly authorized military aid to Haiti, but attached to it a set of strict human rights conditions. These conditions included requirements that specific abuses by the armed forces cease, that past abuses be investigated, that the rights to free speech and assembly be protected, and that the tontons macoutes be demobilized. Notwithstanding the CNG’s failure to even take meaningful steps to fulfill these conditions, a certification of human rights improvement was issued in March 1987 which warmly endorsed the government. In August 1987, in the midst of army killings and the resurgence of paramilitary gangs terrorizing the population, the Administration re-issued the certification and a follow-up progress report required by law which allowed military aid to continue flowing to the CNG. This official U.S. material and symbolic support for the marauding CNG was viewed with complete dismay by the Haitian public.

The Administration’s policy toward Haiti has been molded by its overriding concern with stemming the flow of Haitian refugees to the Florida Coast and with preserving “stability” within Haiti. Because it perceives the military as the most effective vehicle to promote these goals, the Administration has never been willing to apply firm and consistent pressure on the military to allow free and fair elections to go forward to encourage significant reforms. One particularly damaging example of the policy was the lukewarm support that the Administration gave the original CEP in the face of the repeated attacks by the CNG, and in its paralyzing reluctance to directly criticize the Governing Council or the military.

When the CNG attempted its unconstitutional takeover of the electoral process on June 22, 1987, the Administration quickly established a policy of public silence and equivocation. In an official statement by the State Department on June 29, 1987, repeated by the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince on June 30, the Administration spoke generally about the need for elections under an independent electoral council, but then undercut the CEP’s constitutionally mandated stature by announcing that the dispute over its electoral role was “complex” and under discussion. Then, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Rela­tions Committee on July 23, 1987, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Caribbean Affairs, Richard Holwill, actually praised the CNG for having “consistently stressed its commitment to the democratic transition” and for having, “on balance”, fulfilled its “contract with the Haitian people to deliver elections.” And on August 26, 1987, after the Army had killed scores of peaceful demonstrators, the Administration continued to insist that the Haitian government had satisfied the human rights conditions for U.S. aid, there-by placing a seal of approval on the ongoing abuses of the military.

In August and October 1987, the Administration deplored the killings of two presidential candidates, but never publicly criticized the CNG for refusing to heed the CEP’s repeated calls for protection of the electoral process. When the CEP was attacked by arsonists and thugs with machine-guns in November, the Administration once more condemned the violence but not the CNG’s refusal to provide protection. Predictably the CNG persisted in this refusal and apparently felt free to move even more systematically against the elections.

The Administration reacted decisively only after the election day massacre and rampant violence forced the cancellation of the elections, and the CNG dissolved the CEP in direct violation of the Constitution. However even this Administration response was too little too late. It announced a halt in all aid to Haiti except for humanitarian aid sent through non-governmental organizations, but almost immediately began to back off from this strong position and never forcefully articulated specific conditions for the resumption of aid, such as the reinstatement of the CEP as the sole body constitutionally empowered to run the elections.

Rather the United States encouraged a dialogue between the CNG and several Caribbean leaders just when the CNG was weak and most isolated politically. On December 10, 1987, General Namphy was visited by five Caribbean Prime Ministers: Edward Seaga of Jamaica, John Compton of St Lucia, James Mitchell of St Vincent, Henry Eman of Aruba and Don Martina of the Dutch Antilles. Predictably Prime Minister Seaga endorsed the CNG’s electoral plans, and dismissed the Army and paramilitary assault on the November 29 elections as “history” and worked actively to deflect efforts of Caribbean leaders to impose sanctions on the Government of Haiti.

When the CNG took its cue from this careful ambiguity in United States policy and appointed a substitute electoral council, the Administration failed to condemn this breach of the constitutionally mandated election procedures and then failed to give support to the impressive refusal of the four leading presidential candidates to become parties to this electoral coup. Instead, the Administration equivocated, first testing the waters to see if anyone with credibility could be encouraged to participate in the rigged elections and, when that didn’t happen, by working behind the scenes to encourage the four contenders to enter the race.

While State Department spokesman Charles Redman acknowledged on January 14 that the voting procedures were “flawed and inadequate to meet the congressional requirements for the resumption of aid, the Administration has never called on the CNG or the Manigat regime to hold new elections under the control of an independent, constitutionally-mandated CEP. Instead, despite the bloody and lawless policies of the last two years that preceded the Manigat installation, it has indicated that it can and will work with the Manigat regime. Haitians deserve better than this implicit support for the Army’s coup against the elections.

On March 23, 1988, Richard Holwill, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Interamerican Affairs, stated before the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs that the best way to help democracy prosper in Haiti was to assist the Manigat government with economic incentives, not require free and fair elections under an independent CEP as a condition for U.S. assistance and above all not impose any additional measures that would lead to further reductions in U.S. assistance if this condition was not met.

INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE CAN HELP PROMOTE DEMOCRACY IN HAITI

Haitians want the chance to have their own democracy and most strongly believe that, in the context of the current political and human rights crisis, international economic assistance to the Manigat Government will only strengthen the Haitian military and will fur\ther encourage disregard for the rule of law, increased corruption and human rights violations. They believe that no economic infrastructure can be constructed and little international aid absorbed effectively without this democratic foundation.

The international community should affirmatively respond to those needs by supporting the kind of democracy where Haitians will begin to feel protected from arbitrary terror by the rule of law and where they begin to control their destiny.

1. First and foremost, as a basic condition of direct bilateral assistance to the Government of Haiti, foreign governments and organizations concerned with human rights in Haiti must insist on an end to institutionalized abuses and on the immediate holding of free and fair elections organized by an independent election council formed in accordance with the Constitution. This independent CEP must have the complete freedom to organize elections according to a timetable of its own choosing. The Manigat-Namphy regime must pledge its full support to the restored CEP and demonstrate that it will provide security, logistical and financial assistance to the electoral and democratic process.

A logical place to start would be through immediately holding the CASEC elections which, even more than the failed presidential elections, were designed to provide peasants living in the 555 rural sections of Haiti with the means to choose their local represen­tatives,tatives and reduce the control of the Duvalier-appointed Central Government offi­cials.

The international community must insist that free elections require respect for the rule of law, an end to human rights violations and prosecution of human rights abusers. Those responsible for the abuses and killings that culminated with the atrocities on November 29, 1987 should be investigated and brought to justice according to due process of law.

Efforts by international human rights groups to bring pressure to bear on the Haitian government must be accompanied by sustained pressure on their own governments to im­prove their human rights and foreign policy toward Haiti. In the 8 years that we have worked to promote respect for human rights in Haiti and to defend Haitian boat people, we have been repeatedly reminded that advocacy, reporting and monitoring of human rights in Haiti must be complemented by a determined political effort to change United States policy toward Haiti. As we have said earlier, there are no substitutes for insisting that our governments stop collaborating with a hated military regime.

The international human rights community should continue to demand the suspension of all direct bilateral aid to the Manigat government, but we should urge the provision of direct assistance to the people of Haiti through non-governmental agencies and through local community groups. In 1986 and 1987, Haitians demonstrated a determination to con-front the system of patronage, exploitation and oppression which condemned them to desperate poverty. It would seem possible to lay the foundations for an economic in­frastructure and democracy by assisting grassroots organizations with a demonstrated record of concern and accomplishments for their community. This type of assistance must be developed; cooperation with local community leaders, and international donors must resist the temptation to impose their ideas of development on the very people they seek to help.

International human rights groups must increase their direct collaboration with and as­sistance to Haitian civil and human rights organizations. These local groups have made important progress during the last two years, despite inadequate means and minimal finan­cial, logistical and technical assistance, and continuous harassment. Although traditional human rights activities may sometimes focus on monitoring and reporting, it is only through sustained cooperation and direct pressure that human rights groups can effectively assist Haiti.


[1] “Democracy in Latin America: A Status Report, prepared statement of Elliott Abrams to the Hudson Institute, February 23, 1988

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