Fear and Bloodshed
In early 2005 I traveled to Haiti to document what was promised to be a new era in Haiti’s troubled history. The departure of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in the face of a ‘popular’ armed rebellion seemed to offer the possibilities of renewed hope for this wounded land and its people.
The international community had welcomed Aristide’s removal and promised much needed financial and political support. In the aftermath of the chaos that had gripped the nation during the rebellion, there seemed to be a genuine promise of change and restart.
The reality that I found there however was not what I had been led to believe.
I witnessed an ongoing campaign of violence and repression by Haiti’s current leaders, installed by the us and France, to eliminate the still popular Lavalas (pro-Aristide) movement and its supporters. Hundreds of Lavalas activists were locked without charge in jails while hundreds of others were being killed while protesting in the streets or in Haitian National Police (hnp) raids into strongly pro-Aristide neighborhoods. Entire communities suspected of pro-Aristide leanings had been surrounded by minustah, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, and hnp checkpoints and the residents denied services like water and electricity. The international community, particularly the us and France, were standing firmly behind the ‘interim’ government. The US had even restarted economic and military aid to this government.
This was in sharp contrast, I later learned, to its attitude towards the democratically elected President Aristide whom it placed under economic sanctions in 1995 and then worked tirelessly to topple by funding and courting his opponents. The sanctions withheld nearly $500 million from one of the poorest nations of in the Western Hemisphere and caused severe social and economic devastation in the country.
At the same time the US government provided financial and political support to Aristide’s opponents and even arranged conferences in neighboring Dominican Republic for Aristide’s opponents to meet those from Washington who shared similar political views.
As Amy Wilentz, a journalist with extensive experience in Haiti, wrote in The Nation: ‘In a country [...] where the military has been disbanded for nearly a decade, soldiers don’t simply emerge [...] they have to be reorgani- zed, retrained and resupplied [...] and someone has to organize [them].’
The ‘interim’ government, consisting of a group of business-industrialist elite, had set about dismantling the social and political institutions that Aristide had implemented during his rule. Hundreds were suddenly jobless and unable to feed their families. Many of these business-industrialist elite were once part of the brutal Duvalier regime and are now back dressed as the new democrats. Minustah had been given a ‘peacekeeping’ task for which it was clearly undermanned and unpreparead.
Meanwhile it had become a collaborator in the ongoing campaign of repression. And yet, further pressure was being put on Minustah to use greater force, compelling the Commander of the UN forces, General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro, to complain that, ‘We are under extreme pressure from the international community to use violence. I command a peacekeeping force, not an occupation force.’
Sometimes the aftermath of conflict can be even more dangerous than the conflict itself as it takes place away from the eyes of the press and under the noses of the international community. At moments such as this, as in Haiti that summer of 2005, the slogans and promises may be of peace, but the reality remains one of fear and bloodshed.