Monday, October 03, 2005

US helps keep Haiti's killers armed

The New York Times recently quoted Juan Gabriel Valdes, chief of MINUSTAH, the UN operation in Haiti, as saying, “the abundance of weapons in this country is a sickness of the whole Haitian society.” Using similar essentialist logic, in January 2005, Roger Lafontant, then senior advisor to coup Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, told the Times, “All our history we have had weapons in our hands. Those who would take away our weapons, would force us to become slaves.” (Lafontant, who started out his career as a student activist supporter of the notoriously brutal dictator Papa Doc Duvalier, since took a “leave of absence” in response to accusations he profited from sales of rice meant for free distribution to the Haitian poor.)

But while part of the UN’s mandate in Haiti involves disarming armed combatants, the United States, key backer of MINUSTAH and the current coup regime, has little interest in reducing the number of guns in Haiti. A March 2005 report from Harvard Law School reported, MINUSTAH’s failure to disarm is decidedly the product of a political will, not a weak mandate.” A Haitian radio journalist told me during my last trip to Haiti that the UN disarmament program is a “good idea but it doesn’t answer its task because it targets the poorest. There are many people with more arms—business people, drug dealers, security people. They’re better armed than the poor because they’re rich.”

From the large numbers of Haitian police I saw in Port-au-Prince toting T 65s, M-16S, M-1s, and MP5s w/night scopes, it is hard to believe the oft-repeated right-wing line that Haitian police are “outgunned” by what the coup regime calls ubiquitous “bandits,” who given the identities of civilians killed by HNP and UN “peacekeepers’, include women and children in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

But the military aid from Washington just keeps on coming.

As Brian Concannon wrote at the September 24 / 25, 2005 edition of,

“The August 20 soccer massacre in the Grande Ravine neighborhood is illustrative of both the Haitian police's brutality and the futility of trying to reform the Haitian government by feeding it guns and money. On that day, police accompanied by machete-wielding civilians attacked a soccer crowd of thousands, shooting or hacking to death at least six and as many as thirty spectators. Our tax dollars were at both ends of the killing. The soccer game was sponsored by a USAID program, to promote peace in the neighborhood. The U.S. also sponsors the killers, the Haitian National Police, by providing guns and weapons despite a consistent history of police killings over the last eighteen months. When the House of Representatives passed Rep. Barbara Lee's resolution to block arms transfers on June 28, the State Department responded by announcing on August 9 that it would send $1.9 million worth of guns and other equipment to the police, before the elections and presumably before the Senate could vote on the resolution.”