Hearts of Stone

February 19, 2005

by John Maxwell

We often use words without fully understanding and appreciating their real meanings. Take ‘atrocity´ for instance, often used to describe run of the mill nastiness. According to the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1993) the word means, among other things:

Horrible or heinous wickedness; wanton cruelty; an act of wanton cruelty or extreme heinousness; a repellent act or thing. ‘Heinous´ in turn, means highly criminal or wicked; utterly odious .

You get the message. An atrocity is an act of wanton wickedness, so nasty as to be what used to be termed ‘unspeakable´ meaning, literally, that no words can adequately describe the essentially evil nature of the offence, the inhumanity of it, an act of barbarism such as only the truly civilised are capable..

My column today is not written by me, but consists mainly of excerpts from a report of an investigation undertaken by a team from the University of Miami´s Center for the Study of Human Rights led by attorney and law professor, Thomas W. Griffin. It is published on the University´s web site. [1] I am doing this because I believe that the responsible authorities in the United States, Canada, France and Jamaica must know precisely the nature of the atrocity that is Haiti today, as detailed here, but have hardened their hearts against the 8 million helpless people in their concentration camp. We, outside the ranks of privilege. should know what they know.

“Since September 30, 2004, gang violence overwhelms the notorious hunger, disease, abandonment and despair of Cité Soleil. [Port au Prince´s largest slum city with 250,000 people] A well-armed, well-funded group in the Boston neighborhood of the Cité continually attacks the people in all its other neighborhoods. Witnesses repeatedly explained this siege as an effort to hold hostage and stifle the political voice of the poor, and to wipe out the Lavalas movement. Numerous witnesses stated the Boston gang leader, Thomas Robinson, alias “Labanye,’ receives financial, firearms, and political support from wealthy businessman and politico, Andy Apaid and businessman Reginald Boulos. Cité Soleil witnesses and police officers reported that Apaid´s support of Labanye keeps the police from arresting him.

“Efforts to access Labanye failed. Multiple sources stated, however, that Labanye has a large United States flag draped in front of his headquarters under which he forces victims to kneel and beg for their lives before killing them.

“ Professionals and business people told investigators that Apaid is “the real government in Haiti.’

“Apaid, like his family before him, is the owner of several of the largest factories in Haiti.' He admitted that he is a United States citizen by birth, but noted that his family has a long history in Haiti. Unlike most Haitians, Apaid is white and of Middle Eastern ancestry.

“Apaid said he is personally active in the effort to curb the violence in the poorest neighborhoods. …He explained that he had arranged a meeting with all Cité Soleil “gang’ leaders three weeks after Aristide´s ouster, including Tupac, Amaral, Billy, Dred Wilme, and Thomas “Labanye’ Robinson, Apaid says he asked each of them to agree to disarm, and only Labanye agreed.

Apaid admitted that since Labanye´s agreement, he has directed the police to protect Labanye´s life, and “not to arrest him, but to work with him.’ Labanye deserves special treatment, he said, “because he is a witness to the others refusing to disarm.’ Apaid remarked that he now has “great influence over Labanye’ …

Apaid denied providing financial support or firearms to Labanye, and emphasized that he opposes violence and is committed to helping the poor of Cité Soleil. … He said that “the poor should have a piece of the pie. We just need the structures in place that allow the pie to get bigger.’

“ In response to Labanye´s Boston group cutting off exits from Cité Soleil, the gangs in other neighborhoods have established a type of martial law and have taken control of their own borders. Armed guards stand at entryways. As a result, there is no commercial traffic into Cité Soleil. The marketplaces sit empty. The outside world and its food can only be safely reached in makeshift boats. The little food that does reach Cité Soleil comes at a premium.…

“…On an almost daily basis, the Haitian National Police (“HNP’), in various units and dressed in a wide variety of uniforms, often masked, select and attack a neighborhood in operations reported as efforts to arrest armed gang members, with UN soldiers backing them up.

…’Observations and interviews in Bel Air revealed that there are dead bodies in the street almost daily, including innocent bystanders, women and children… One witness stated that police, and often former soldiers, have continued to reinforce the message of repression by committing open-air massacres at mid-day.

[The investigators witnessed one of these police operations and saw several dead bodies in the streets as well as several seriously wounded people. They managed to get one such out of the slum and into the care of the Red Cross. This young man was delivered to the hospital, left untreated and died within a few days.]

Another Haiti

“… in the Pétionville suburb, the richest neighborhood in the Port-au-Prince area. Pétionville is home to many of Haiti´s wealthy, its business elite, foreign ex-patriots, international reporters on assignment, and temporary foreign workers (from NGOs, the Red Cross, the UN, etc.). According to residents and municipal authorities, Pétionville has operated normally and without major incident since President Aristide´s ouster.

“…There is an obvious tension between the HNP, [Haiti National Police] who have a large station and jail in Pétionville´s center, and the soldiers. The HNP are visibly nervous, while the soldiers swagger with large firearms, marching and drilling, speeding through and out of Pétionville on operations in the day, and patrolling nightly.…Residents not only have protection from the HNP, but a heavily armed regiment ready to serve the neighborhood that has been feeding and housing them.

In Pétionville, investigators confirmed the repeated, highly consistent reports from neighborhoods under siege that former soldiers have reunited, calling themselves the “Haitian Army.’ The soldiers insist that the army be reinstated and included in any discussion of Haiti´s future. These heavily armed soldiers assist HNP operations, and conduct their own, in the poorest and most densely populated neighborhoods of Port-au- Prince. They dress in green military fatigues or camouflage, and green helmets and carry large military guns.

Prison conditions

The investigators made repeated visits to the single, 9-feet by 9-feet jail cell at the HNP Anti-Gang Unit headquarters across from the National Palace. On the first visit, there were 42 prisoners in the cell, some already there for as long as 30 days. None had been brought before a magistrate, as required within 48 hours of arrest under the Haitian Constitution. All stated they were arrested for supporting Lavalas. All appeared to be extremely impoverished and many had no shoes or shirts.

Several …appeared to have been beaten and were severely injured, and none had been seen by any medical professionals. After investigators´ complaints and calls to the Red Cross, some prisoners were moved to the National Penitentiary. About 30 remained in the cell at the end of the investigation period.

The Role of the United States

The US. has been a strong supporter of the interim government, providing substantial political and financial assistance. …investigators spoke with officials at the US. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, and with employees of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES …a subcontractor of the US. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The [US Embassy] administrators stated that they, and IFES, considered the programs to be an avenue to exposing, and then ending corruption in the Haitian government. They felt that President Aristide was corrupt, and that their job was to nurture civil society institutions that could provide a counterweight to the elected authorities.

“… IFES´ initially undertook to form a network of organizations that could concentrate opposition to the perceived corruption of the judiciary by the Aristide government. IFES formed new associations and established relationships with existing ones, making them more cohesive with a formally planned program of “sensitization…

…´The administrators reported that IFES used the same formula to establish formal associations of “private sector’ and “business sector’ groups in order to “provide economic force’ to the opposition movement. IFES included a program to “sensitize’ media and journalist groups, and to “use all the radio stations in Haiti’ to publicize Aristide´s corruption.

‘The administrators reported that IFES, through its creation or “sensitization’ of associations, set the groundwork for the establishment and nurturing of the Group of 184

-- the business-centered coalition led by factory owner Andy Apaid that played a major role in Aristide´s ouster.

The administrators stated that “we [IFES] put Aristide in a bad situation.’ They stated that IFES united “all forces against Aristide’…The administrators stated that IFES was bootstrapped to USAID, and that Aristide had to allow IFES to operate or else he would have had to forego humanitarian and other assistance from USAID. This would have damaged relationships with his own people who needed USAID services, and further alienated Washington, they said.

“The administrators stated that the ouster of Aristide “was not the objective of the IFES program, but it was the result.…IFES/USAID workers in Haiti want to take credit for the ouster of Aristide, but cannot “out of respect for the wishes of the US. government.’

“Morgue workers stated that since September 30, 2004, the date the police shot into the large Lavalas demonstration, the HNP rarely even bring people killed by violence to the morgue…the police simply take the bodies of those they kill directly to undisclosed dumping grounds, sometimes stopping by the morgue only to borrow the dump truck.

“The palpable tension, the hunger, and the fear have led to the poor killing the poor, in Cité Soleil, where rich businessmen appear to be fueling the fire. In other poor neighborhoods, the police, backed by UN forces, routinely carry out indiscriminate and unprofessional killing operations.

[The report concludes with a stomach-turning report of a visit to the official morgue, where dead bodies are left unrefrigerated to be consumed by maggots and bacteria in a miasma of inhuman disrespect and barbaric indifference to human dignity. Finally, the investigators sum up:]

“As they die from bullets, starvation, and disease, the poor cry out for a chance to be heard. Despite the ubiquity, and the planning of the United States, Canada, the UN and others, no one in control can claim to have made any investment in real dialogue. The investments that have been made are in firepower… the observable returns on the investment are bodies left in the street to be eaten by pigs or rotting in the morgue, and the tearing apart of communities that have long been knitted together by their shared hunger. “

George Bush, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Paul Martin, Jacques Chirac , Kofi Annan and P.J. Patterson cannot say that they don´t know.
Copyright © 2005 John Maxwell

John Maxwell's columns appear in The Jamaica Obsever

[1] The University of Miami´s Center for the Study of Human Rights
report can be accessed at:
Forwarded by the Haitian Lawyers' Leadership Network

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