Police Terror Sweeps Across Haiti
Police Terror Sweeps Across Haiti
Residents in the National Fort district, which like most of Port-au-Prince's slums is a bastion of support for former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, gathered around the darkening blood the following day. Some, who were afraid to give their names, said policemen wearing black masks had shot and killed 12 people, then dragged their bodies away. At least three families have identified the bodies of relatives at the mortuary; others who have loved ones missing fear the worst.
'The police officers will say that this was an operation against gangs. But we are all innocent,' said Eliphete Joseph, a young man in a blue basketball jersey who claimed to be a friend of several of those killed, his eyes red with grief as he stood in the shadow of a crumbling concrete staircase. 'The worst thing is that Aristide is now in exile far from here in
A police spokesperson confirmed there had been a police raid at National Fort looking for gang leaders and that at least eight people were killed.
The killings appear to be the latest example of what human rights groups describe as a campaign of repression against suspected supporters of Aristide, who was escorted out of the country on 29 February by US Marines. The
The current repression has led Haitian and international human rights observers to draw comparisons with the darkest days of the 1991-1994 military regime, and with the 1957-1986 dictatorship of FranÃ§ois 'Papa Doc' Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc'. The difference, they say, is that the current government has had the blessing of the international community.
UN and government officials deny that security forces are murdering opponents. Observers concede it is difficult to record how many have been killed and by whom. There are many armed groups in
What is clear is that in recent weeks the government has gone on the offensive against members of Aristide's Lavalas party, searching homes and arresting people without warrants. Jails are full of suspected dissidents who have never seen a judge or been charged. The most publicised case is that of Gerard Jean-Juste, a Catholic priest arrested on 13 October at a soup kitchen he runs for children. Justice Minister Bernard Gousse said on Thursday that Jean-Juste is suspected of hiding 'organisers of violence', and no warrant was required for his arrest. A long-time rights activist who set up an organisation in
Less than two weeks earlier, police burst into a
Gousse refused to grant The Observer permission to visit prisoners at the penitentiary, where only 21 of the nearly 1,000 inmates have been convicted of anything. The prison was emptied by armed groups led by former military officers after Aristide's departure, and Joseph believes the majority of the new prisoners are Lavalas members.
Government and UN officials defend the crackdown as an attempt to end the violence that has left dozens dead in the past three weeks. They accuse Aristide supporters of killing police and trying to destabilise the Latortue administration.
'What we have seen in this country during the last month or two has been a resurgence of brutal violence organised probably to provoke a process of political destabilisation,' said Juan Gabriel Valdes, who heads the UN Stabilisation Mission in
Evidence of such 'destabilisation' is scant. Shootings and robberies have become common in central
In recent weeks, media attention has focused on the killing and decapitation of two policemen, described as part of 'Operation Baghdad'. But the government has presented no evidence that the decapitations were carried out by Aristide supporters, nor that any such operation exists. According to Guyler C. Delva, head of the Haitian Journalists Association, the term 'Operation Baghdad' was coined by Latortue.
Aristide's backers have suffered the brunt of human rights violations since the change in government, said Gerardo Ducos, who is leading an observation mission for Amnesty International. 'They are persecuting the Aristide people because they are afraid of them,' said lawyer Reynold Georges, leader of a party opposed to Aristide, who is representing Jean-Juste and several other jailed Lavalas party members. 'A lot of people have stayed loyal to Lavalas. Believe it or not, it's true. The poor people, the masses, still believe in Aristide.'