News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
Haiti's Army Turns Back The Clock
by Charles Arthur
April 02, 2004
It didn't take long for the new order in Haiti to reveal
itself. The day after President Aristide 'left' for exile,
34 union members at the Ouanaminthe garment assembly factory
run by the Dominican Grupo M company, were fired. The next
morning, when the 600-strong workforce decided to strike, a
group of armed men launched a violent attack. Some unionists
were handcuffed, many others were beaten up, and the workers
were forced back inside the factory.
The aggressors were members of the so-called rebel force,
fresh from their victory over the government of President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide. They said they had been called to
the factory by management, to deal with workers "causing
As in so many Haitian towns, the Ouanaminthe insurgents had
taken over from the police. Their leaders say they are
former members of the Haitian Army, the FAD'H, a force
demobilised by Aristide in 1995. Some, such as Guy Philippe
and Gilbert Dragon, were trained by the US in Ecuador and
flown home to senior positions in the new Haitian police
force in the mid-1990s.
When Aristide's predecessor, President Rene Preval,
discovered them plotting a coup back in October 2000,
Philippe, Dragon and a handful of other police chiefs, fled
to the neighbouring Dominican Republic. There they carried
on plotting, meeting with representatives of Haitian
opposition parties such as Paul Arcelin and Jean-Baptiste
Joseph, and with former members of the FAD'H death squad,
the FRAPH, like Louis Chamblain.
Throughout 2003, their followers conducted a low level
insurgency in the remote border region with the Dominican
Republic that claimed around 30 lives. In February, their
campaign suddenly caught fire and within weeks, an armed
insurrection had toppled Aristide. The rebels' leader Guy
Philippe triumphantly told a press conference in the
capital, Port-au-Prince: "I am the chief." Asked what he
meant, he said, "the military chief."
Although the insurgents' links to the businessmen heading
the Group of 184 coalition that led the anti-Aristide
protest movement remain sketchy, it is clear that the armed
and unarmed elements of the rebellion are moving closer
When downtown Port-au-Prince was besieged by looters in
early March, Maurice Lafortune, head of the Chamber of
Commerce and a leading figure in the Group of 184, called on
Philippe and his men to restore order. Another G184 leader,
the sweatshop owner, Charles Henri Baker, could hardly
contain his admiration for the "liberators", speaking of the
need for an army to protect businesses from "the mob".
Political party leaders, including the long-time US
favourite, Evans Paul, held friendly talks with Philippe and
other insurgent leaders.
Amnesty International protested about the apparent political
influence of convicted murderers such as Chamblain and the
Goniaves FRAPH chief, Jean Tatoune.
"The last thing the country needs is for those who committed
abuses in the past to take up leadership positions," it said.
As ever though, the US attempted to maintain the existent
power structure during the transition. Philippe quickly
announced his men would lay down their arms, after a
dressing down from senior officers in the US military
intervention force. Days later, Philippe responded to the
murder of demonstrators celebrating Aristide's departure,
with the words: "very soon I will be obliged to order my
troops to take up arms again."
Continued violence and instability in Haiti, will increase
the pressure to re-instate the FAD'H. Foreign governments
that have committed peace-keeping troops want their forces
out as soon as possible, and the political parties that
control the interim government are beholden to the forces
that enthroned them.
Behind the scenes, members of the country's tiny elite,
especially the assembly sector businessmen who bankroll the
political parties, want the FAD'H back to guarantee the
established order. It has done so ever since its creation
during the US occupation of 1915-34.
Charles Arthur is director of the Haiti Support Group
solidarity organisation: www.haitisupport.gn.apc.org and
author of 'Haiti in Focus; a guide to the people, politics
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