[Marxism] Haitian army, death squad chiefs join "democratic revolt" against Aristide

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon Feb 16 07:55:44 MST 2004


16 February 2004 The Independent (UK) 

Haitian death squad commanders join rebels in bid to topple president
Aristide 

By Andrew Gumbel in Port-au-Prince

Armed rebels demanding the overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti's
president, were back on the offensive yesterday, pushing out from their
stronghold in Gonaives into three small northern towns with the help of
former army officers and death squad commanders returning from exile in
the Dominican Republic. 

The rebels, calling themselves the Anti-Aristide Resistance Front, were
reported to have retaken Dondon, a small town they briefly held last
week, and attacked police in Sainte Suzanne. Both are on the way to the
real prize, the northern port of Cap-Haitien, which is the country's
second-largest city. Trou-du-Nord, near the Dominican border, was also
reported to be under attack. 

Since the rebellion broke out 10 days ago, police and armed civilians
loyal to the president have fought to maintain control in Cap-Haitien;
burning houses of suspected opponents and intimidating others with
constant volleys of gunfire. Much of the north has been without power or
fuel supplies, and food convoys have not been able to get past Gonaives
on the road north, raising the risk of a major humanitarian crisis. 

The pro-government forces now face a new challenge, as prominent members
of the army that Mr Aristide disbanded in 1994 have appeared in
Gonaives, claiming to have brought the men, money and firepower needed
to take over the country. 

Visiting journalists have seen only a handful of uniformed men and no
heavy weaponry, but the rebels say they are concentrating their forces
in another town about 30 miles east of Gonaives. The new leaders include
Louis-Jodel Chamblain, who commanded army death squads in the 1980s,
following the end of the Duvalier dictatorship, and went on to found a
militia called the Front for the Advancement of Progress in Haiti, which
fomented trouble after the 1991 coup that toppled Mr Aristide following
his first ascent to the presidency. 

Another key figure is Guy Philippe, a sworn enemy of the president's,
who participated in the 1991 coup and was later police chief in
Cap-Haitien. 

Opinions differ on how quickly, or how effectively, the rebellion might
spread, but international observers are increasingly concerned about the
prospect of a protracted, low-level civil war. The United States is
particularly concerned that protracted unrest in Haiti could lead to a
flood of refugees heading towards Florida; something the Bush
administration wants to avoid at all costs in an election year in which
Florida could, like last time, play a pivotal role in determining the
next occupant of the White House. 

Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, met representatives of a number
of western hemisphere groups in Washington on Friday, to try to agree a
coherent response following a spate of ambiguous, even contradictory,
statements concerning Mr Aristide's future. 

In the end, they said they would accept "no outcome that in any way
illegally removes the elected president of Haiti". Mr Powell ruled out
US military intervention, although the group said that some lesser form
of support, such as sending police reinforcements, might be possible.
Unofficial reports from Haiti and the US suggest the latter may be
making contingency plans to receive tens of thousands of Haitian
refugees at its Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba. 

Outside support of Mr Aristide is likely to remain lukewarm. The
European Union and US withdrew aid from Haiti three years ago in protest
at what they said were flawed legislative elections won overwhelmingly
by Mr Aristide's Lavalas party. 

Many observers in Haiti blame the withdrawal of aid for the president's
increasingly repressive leadership and dependence on armed gangs and
drug dealers from the slums. 

They say the West over-reacted, since the only question in the contested
election was the extent of Lavalas's victory, and is, therefore, partly
to blame for triggering the present crisis in the country. 


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