Haiti: One Year After Aristide CoupBy Bonnie V. Winston and Oscar H. Blayton
WI Contributing Writers
Friday, March 11, 2005; Page 1
When an armed gang stormed Haiti’s National Penitentiary on February 19, among the 500 prisoners escaping was former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune. But Neptune and former Interior Minister Jocelerme Privert reappeared at the prison later that day, claiming they had been forced to leave at gunpoint by members of a gang who they believed were to execute them.
Neptune and Privert were returned unharmed to the prison with the help of U.N. forces. However, their claims of potential execution were bolstered by widespread reports that, in early December 2004, from 10 to 100 inmates at the prison, which largely houses political opponents of the government, had been killed by guards.
Neptune and Privert, who had been locked up for months without charge, had served under President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whose administration abruptly ended in February 2004 amid violent conflict. Aristide was forced from the country and eventually landed in South Africa, alleging that he had been kidnapped from Haiti by the U.S. government.
Since then, appointed Prime Minister Gerald Latortue has run an interim government, installed with the help of the United States.
Now, on the one year anniversary of the coup, advocates in the United States charge that Haiti is in worse shambles than under the Aristide government. They say the prison incident highlights the political tumult and confusion that continually rocks the entire nation.
Several recently released reports by human rights organizations in the United States and elsewhere document the deaths of hundreds of people at the hands of police, armed gangs and an illegal army. Rampant poverty, joblessness and hunger have gripped poor communities, from the capital of Port-au-Prince to the rural regions.
To worsen matters, severe flooding in May and two deadly hurricanes that swept the Caribbean nation in September 2004 killed thousands and destroyed essential infrastructure. Little has been done to rebuild.
“Haiti is reliving its worst nightmare from its dictatorial past,” said Brian Concannon Jr., director of the Oregon-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.
“The United States has done incredible damage historically and recently.”
Concannon and representatives of numerous other advocacy groups are calling for the U.S. government to end its support for the current regime in Haiti and to support the democratic process under which Aristide was elected in 2000.
“The U.S. government would prefer to tell Haiti what to do and when and how to do it,” said Eugenia Charles, the Haitian-born director of Fondasyon Mapou, a Washington-based group that seeks to improve the quality of life for Haitians. The group sponsors weekly demonstrations in front of the Haitian Embassy demanding that political prisoners be freed and democracy be restored in Haiti.
She noted the irony in the U.S. government’s lauding the recent elections in Iraq after it helped remove Aristide, who was popularly elected with more than 80 percent of the vote.
“U.S. citizens need to hold this government accountable,” Charles said.
She also recommended that people ask their congressional representatives to support increased funding to rebuild Haiti.
Thomas Griffin, a Philadelphia attorney and human rights advocate who traveled to Haiti last year, presented details of his findings to members of the Congressional Black Caucus on March 2. His report, released by the Center for the Study of Human Rights at the University of Miami School of Law, found that “Haiti’s security and justice institutions fuel the cycle of violence. Summary executions are a police tactic, and even well-meaning officers treat poor neighborhoods seeking a democratic voice as enemy territory where they must kill or be killed.”
He said he will continue pressing the Haitian cause before federal lawmakers and the Black Caucus in particular.
In mid-February, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Ca., introduced bills to strengthen Haiti’s health infrastructure and to investigate the role of the Bush administration in last year’s coup.
Her proposed New Partnership for Haiti Act would provide resources to improve sanitation and water systems, develop roads and establish health clinics. It also would create a pilot program for American health professionals and engineers to go to Haiti and help the development process.
Lee’s Haiti TRUTH (The Responsibility to Uncover the Truth about Haiti) Act would form
a TRUTH commission to investigate United States involvement in Aristide’s removal.
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