The Death of Gérard Jean-Gilles: How the UN Stonewalled Haitian Justice

Screengrab from video taken by Gerard Jean-Gilles' uncle of autopsy. Posted with his permission.

Finally, this story is being published – the version below in Haiti Liberte today (French), another coming in The Nation magazine next week.

Faced with growing outrage over an alleged sexual assault by UN occupation soldiers on 18-year-old Johnny Jean in the southern town of Port Salut, the UN is pledging to investigate the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice.

But this promise is belied by the UN mission’s refusal to cooperate with the Haitian justice system’s attempt to investigate the hanging death of a 16-year-old boy inside another UN base one year ago.

Gérard Jean-Gilles ran errands for Nepalese soldiers at their base in Cap Haïtien, Haiti’s second largest city. A Haitian interpreter for the troops, Joëlle Rozéfort, accused Jean-Gilles of stealing $200 from her car. The next day, on Aug. 18, 2010, Jean-Gilles was found hanging from a tree inside the base, a wire around his neck.

The UN Stabilization Mission to Haiti (MINUSTAH) said its internal inquiry found that Jean-Gilles committed suicide. But Jean-Gilles’ family and friends suspect he was murdered, and when a Haitian judge tried to investigate, the UN stone-walled.

The former delegate (or central government representative) of Haiti’s northern region calls the UN “the primary obstacle” to learning how Jean-Gilles died.

In impassioned demonstrations against MINUSTAH this week, Haitians are calling for justice for Gérard Jean-Gilles, too.

“He died searching for a way to live,” said his adoptive father, Rémy Raphaël, whose street merchant wife took in Jean-Gilles as a baby, after his mother died and father went missing.

“He was in school, but my wife couldn’t keep paying for it,” said Raphaël, in the family’s sparse two-room home in a narrow, grimy alleyway. “He never tried to make trouble with people because he understood his situation, he preferred to search for jobs… That’s why he became friends with the soldiers.”

Evens Bele, 17, worked alongside Jean-Gilles on the MINUSTAH base for three years. They earned the equivalent of $10 a month, running errands, cleaning base facilities, and translating for the UN troops during patrols.

“He entered, said hello to me, and told me he had trouble with a lady who lost around $200,” said Bele of the fateful morning. Not long after, “I saw him hung up.”

UN personnel immediately met with the family and local officials. The body was flown to Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital city, the same day. But it sat for three days until Haitian doctors carried out an autopsy at the General Hospital, according to Calixte James, Jean-Gilles’ uncle, who accompanied the body.

“They could have done the autopsy the same day because we arrived in Port-au-Prince at 3:45 p.m.,” said James, a heavyset Blackberry-toting lawyer. “In our country, we don’t have the equipment that can detect things in [an autopsy on] a body after 72 hours. So to me what they were doing was already meaningless.”

An autopsy report obtained by Haiti Liberte said no traces of violence were found on the corpse, which the UN uses to buttress its claim of suicide.

But Raphaël, who worked as a dishwasher in the base, believes the UN soldiers “asphyxiated [his son] with gas and then hung him from the tree,” which was “in a restricted spot of the yard behind a lot of containers.”

“He could have fought them because he was strong enough,” Raphaël said, his voice rising. “He wouldn’t let them do that to him. . .To me the autopsy is not clear enough.”

The suspicions of Jean-Gilles’ family and friends swirl around interpreter Joëlle Rozéfort, who had accused Jean-Gilles of stealing money from her car the previous day.

The morning of the boy’s death, “Joëlle came to me while I was washing dishes, saying Gérard shouldn’t have stolen money from her,” Raphaël said. “While she was talking, a soldier came in and told me Gérard had hung himself! Her face stayed quiet… Even when Rozéfort found the money in her trunk, she kept on saying that Gérard was a thief.”

Bele also doesn’t believe Jean-Gilles committed suicide. “He’s dead because of the money,” he said. Shortly after the hanging, Bele and Raphaël both lost their jobs at the base.

The northern region’s former Government Delegate, Georgemain Prophète, represented the Haitian state in its initial dealings with the UN on how to probe Jean-Gilles’ death. They agreed the Haitian judiciary would open an investigation, he said.

The case was given to Heidi Fortuné, a Cap Haïtien investigating judge (juge d’instruction) since 2006.

“The autopsy can only show whether or not he was strangled, but it can’t determine if it was a suicide or if someone else hung him,” said Fortuné. “They sent me the case to investigate if it was a suicide or not – that’s my job.” Continue reading “The Death of Gérard Jean-Gilles: How the UN Stonewalled Haitian Justice”

I penned a new WikiLeaks article, did some interviews, and got tear-gassed.

Anti-MINUSTAH protesters peacefully marching.

Here’s a round-up of some of odds and ends that I haven’t gotten around to posting until now.

First, there’s this piece for Haiti Liberte: WikiLeaks Reveal: Expecting Civilian Deaths, US Embassy Approved of Deadly Attack on Crowded Haitian Slum. The article describes how a top Embassy official agreed with private sector leaders like Reginald Boulos, who now holds influence over Haiti’s reconstruction, that MINUSTAH should attack Cite Soleil knowing full well that innocent Haitians would be killed by the “peacekeepers” during the operation.

For more on the Port Salut abuses, there are these interviews I did with Democracy Now!, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and if you speak Spanish, this Uruguayan media outlet. The five soldiers accused of abusing Johnny Jean in the video are reported to have been jailed in Uruguay pending sentencing. 17-year-old Rose Mina Joseph, who was pregnant with a Uruguayan soldier’s child when this was published, gave birth to a healthy boy a few days ago. She told me yesterday she hasn’t been able to reach the father in Uruguay to tell him yet, but that when they last talked he said he’d seen an article about her.

Amnesty International issued an action alert that you can participate in about the eviction threat to Camp Mosaic, which I reported on a few weeks ago. And this interview with Dr. Renaud Piarroux about cholera and its origins in Haiti is well worth reading.

Finally, I’d like to shout out this heartfelt and insightful reflection from Sebastian Walker, Al Jazeera’s post-quake Haiti correspondent (check out his new film, produced in part by Haitian journalist Yvon Vilius), especially this part: “I would have liked to stay in Haiti forever. If you spend any significant time there, you will believe, as I did, that Haiti deserves to be on the front page of every newspaper, every single day. It is a permanent, urgent and unjustified humanitarian tragedy.”

I feel the same way.  To me, it’s not just the humanitarian tragedy that makes Haiti worthy of front page coverage every day, but the extraordinary way that tragedy is politically and internationally maintained.  There are stark political choices (some examples) that keep Haiti mired in this state which implicate a wide range of powerful groups in Haiti and across the globe.  Sebastian’s team did a great job of exposing many of them while listening to and projecting the voices of ordinary Haitians.

This contrasts with some recently sloppy reporting by the Associated Press.  An anti-MINUSTAH protest march last Wednesday was completely peaceful from the start, when it was confronted by MINUSTAH soldiers in a jeep, very nearly until it reached its destination in Chanmas. When the march arrived near the palace, Haitian police immediately began launching tear gas canisters, to which the protesters responded by throwing rocks.  This can be observed in a video I produced.

The Associated Press team was not present at that time, to my knowledge.  I saw them walking down towards the protests hours later, after many of the demonstrators had left and only a small band of rock-throwers remained.  But the AP wrote that protesters had “fled into” the camps in Chanmas (they may have since improved the language from the original article), which I did not observe (one resident of the tent camp told me he did not blame the protesters for the tear gas).  The AP did not even mention the peaceful march.  And today, another AP article reduces all recent anti-UN protests in Haiti to “rock-throwing.”  I already pointed out some serious flaws in their initial reporting on the Port Salut abuses.

They should do better. Update: One of the AP’s photographers may have been present as the march itself reached Chanmas.

HAITI: United Nations Troops Accused of Exploiting Local Women (with UN response)

I received this response from MINUSTAH spokeswoman Sylvie van den Wildenberg yesterday. Johnny Jones?


MINUSTAH is investigating on every serious misconduct allegation brought to its attention, and it does not necessarily request an external complaint – the case of the soldier involved in this specific incident is a good illustration of it:

The investigation was opened upon by the Commander of the Uruguay contingent himself, after he suspected that the soldier had some relation with a local. This case was not brought to MINUSTAH by the victim or her family; And indeed, it was a very serious breach of the Code of Conduct and the girl was a minor.

MINUSTAH got in touch with the victim and her family as soon as the case was brought to its attention by the contingent commander (as the family has reported to the media).

As a disciplinary measure, the soldier was repatriated and banned from serving in other UN missions. He is required by his hierarchy in Uruguay to assist the young girl and her to be born baby. We are following up on whether he was sanctioned, what was the sanction, and whether he has executed it, as well as on the continuation of assistance to the girl and the baby

The fact that the UN is not communicating on every single case of misconduct by his staff can be discussed – debated/ but one has to take into account the need to protect the victims, and respect their dignity. The Johnny Jones case is a good illustration of that need: the victim is today highly exposed thanks to the facts that some people found that it was a good idea to spread the video on the net and through cell phones, regardless of the respect of the dignity of the victim, which is now stigmatized;

17-year-old Rose Mina Joseph
Published by IPS on Wednesday:

PORT SALUT, Sep 7, 2011 (IPS) – Seventeen-year-old Rose Mina Joseph says she is nine months pregnant. Her belly is swollen and she moves slowly, placing each step, as she walks around her family’s dusty yard.

The father, she says, is a Uruguayan soldier from the local U.N. peacekeeping battalion named Julio. She holds up a photo of him smiling and embracing her at her seventeenth birthday party, on Jan. 8 this year. IPS verified her birth date by looking at her birth certificate.

Joseph says that five days after her birthday, she became pregnant with the soldier’s child. “Nowadays, sometimes I feel anemic,” she told IPS. “I’m afraid I won’t have the money to pay the hospital when I give birth.”

A copy of a wire transfer receipt shows that Julio Cesar Posse Juncal sent her 150 dollars from Montevideo, Uruguay on Jul. 15. Joseph complained that he hadn’t sent more money for her in August.

“Sexual relations with minors (under 18 years old), whether consensual or not, are deemed to be sexual abuse and, therefore, prohibited,” acting Deputy Spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary-General Eduardo del Buey said in a briefing Wednesday following a question by IPS about the allegations.

He did not address Joseph’s specific case. A U.N. peacekeeping mission spokesperson in Haiti said they are investigating all accusations of misconduct in Port Salut. She did not elaborate.

Under Haitian law, an individual must be 18 years old to give sexual consent. Continue reading “HAITI: United Nations Troops Accused of Exploiting Local Women (with UN response)”

U.N. Abuse of Haitian Teen in Port Salut Caught on Cell Phone Video

Went out to Port Salut to look into allegations of abuse leveled at UN peacekeepers. Most of what I found is in this story, just published by ABC News:

Haitians in this remote seaside town are demanding an investigation into allegations that United Nations peacekeeping troops pinned down an 18-year-old Haitian man and subjected him to a humiliating sexual assault.

The alleged assault occurred in July, but graphic cell phone video surfaced in recent days, showing what appears to be the four UN troops in camouflage and some wearing the trademark sky blue berets attacking the man. As the video began circulating through the coastal village, it sparked a growing sense of outrage there and prompted the victim’s mother and father to seek criminal charges against the United Nations peacekeeping officers, who are from Uruguay. Both parents submitted written depositions on Wednesday in Port Salut’s courthouse.

A medical certificate filed with the court in Haiti and obtained by ABC News, alleges the victim was beaten and had sustained injuries consistent with having been sexually assaulted.

Word of the alleged attack quickly made its way up the chain of command at the United Nations, both in Haiti and in New York, where officials are now vowing to see the incident investigated and the alleged perpetrators brought to justice. Michel Bonnardeaux, a spokesperson for peacekeeping operations based in New York, told ABC News that officials in his office first became aware of the allegations Saturday. They sent a diplomatic note to the Uruguayan mission requesting the country deploy a national investigative officer to Haiti immediately.

“The defense minister of Uruguay has expressed deep concern and said they will take all the necessary action,” Bonnardeaux said. “We see this as a breakdown of the command and control structure. If the allegations are proved, the assailants must be brought to justice.”

Messages left Friday with the Uruguayan mission in New York were not returned.

Bonnardeaux said the troops involved in the incident have been confined to their barracks.

Under an agreement between Haiti and the U.N., peacekeeping troops are only subject to discipline and legal action from their country of origin. Uruguay has deployed 1,100 troops to the quake-battered island nation. Bonnardeaux said the primary purpose for the U.N. troops being in Haiti is to insure the protection of Haitian civilians.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

But that is not what appears to be happening on the one-minute video, which pans out from a sideways close-up of the alleged victim’s strained face to reveal his body being held down on a mattress by the uniformed men. The alleged assailants can be heard laughing as a shirtless soldier kneels behind the Haitian victim and appears to be assaulting him. The video ends as a soldier grabs the bedraggled young man’s arm and seems to try pulling him onto his feet.

Interviewed by a reporter at the courthouse, the young man said he was snatched from behind as he walked by the U.N. base. He alleged he was beaten and sexually molested. “They’re bad people — vagabonds,” he said. The young man’s mother, a street merchant, held up a pair of black pants to show they were torn. She said it was not until the video surfaced that she discovered what had happened.

“He had stayed in his bed during about two weeks but he never told me what was wrong with him,” she said. “We’re humiliated … After I saw the video, I couldn’t stop crying.”

Uruguayan Navy Lieutenant Nicolas Casariego confirmed to ABC News that the video is real. He spoke through the barbed-wire fence that surrounds the base where the alleged incident took place.

Casariego, the base commander, called the apparent abuse in the video “a game” and said it wasn’t sexual in nature. “It’s a young guy who is normally around here, like these people,” he said, pointing to a Haitian family sitting outside their home twenty yards away. He said the soldiers engaged in “some kind of bullying, but nothing more.”

The alleged assault is just the latest in a series of incidents that have frayed relations between Haitians and the 12,000 foreign troops who have been stationed in Haiti under the U.N. banner now for several years. Anti-U.N. riots shut down major cities and thoroughfares after an outbreak of cholera last October. Rumors circulated that a U.N. base had introduced the disease to Haiti. Scientific studies by the Centers for Disease Control and others have since confirmed the source of the outbreak was a Nepalese peacekeeping base in central Haiti.

Sinal Bertrand, a Haitian parliamentary deputy from the Port Salut area, said he began talks with U.N. officials last week about other allegations against the soldiers by residents of Port Salut, ranging from sexually exploiting young women to environmentally polluting the area.

Andre Jean, a local mechanic, summed up those tensions, saying he does not believe the peacekeepers make him any more secure.

“They aren’t useful to us at all,” he said. “They just go back and forth to the beach, nothing more here in Port Salut. They just check out the young girls. If something happens to you and you go to them to ask for help, they tell you, go to the police.”

Bertrand said he is calling on the U.N. to ensure that the alleged assailants in this latest case are punished.

“If they don’t collaborate with the justice system, I’ll denounce them,” he said. “I’m expecting [the U.N.] to respond, until there’s justice.”

For the record, I’m not sure the medical certificate says what my colleagues at ABC News believe. My reading is that it identified a still-healing anal laceration. The rest was reportage of the family’s accusations.

WikiLeaks Haiti: The Aristide Files

I’m a little late in posting this here to my blog, but I recently co-authored with Kim Ives this piece in The Nation. A longer, more detailed version of this story including discussion of how the campaign Aristide continues even to this day appeared in the previous week’s edition of Haiti Liberte.

US officials led a far-reaching international campaign aimed at keeping former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide exiled in South Africa, rendering him a virtual prisoner there for the last seven years, according to secret US State Department cables.

The cables show that high-level US and UN officials even discussed a politically motivated prosecution of Aristide to prevent him from “gaining more traction with the Haitian population and returning to Haiti.”

The secret cables, made available to the Haitian weekly newspaper Haïti Liberté by WikiLeaks, show how the political defeat of Aristide and his Lavalas movement has been the central pillar of US policy toward the Caribbean nation over the last two US administrations, even though—or perhaps because—US officials understood that he was the most popular political figure in Haiti.

They also reveal how US officials and their diplomatic counterparts from France, Canada, the UN and the Vatican tried to vilify and ostracize the Haitian political leader.

For the Vatican, Aristide was an “active proponent of voodoo.” For Washington, he was “dangerous to Haiti’s democratic consolidation,” according to the secret US cables.

Aristide was overthrown in a bloody February 2004 coup supported by Washington and fomented by right-wing paramilitary forces and the Haitian elite. In the aftermath of the coup, more than 3,000 people were killed and thousands of supporters of Aristide and his Fanmi Lavalas political party were jailed.

The United States maintained publicly that Aristide resigned in the face of a ragtag force of former Haitian army soldiers rampaging in Haiti’s north. But Aristide called his escort by a US Navy SEAL team on his flight into exile “a modern-day kidnapping.”

Two months later, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) was established, a 9,000-strong UN occupation force that still oversees Latin America’s first independent nation.

Aristide has spoken forcefully against the UN occupation, particularly in his 2010 year-end letter to the Haitian people. “We cannot forget the $5 billion which has already been spent for MINUSTAH over these past six years,” he wrote. “Anybody can see how many houses, hospitals, and schools that wasted money could have built for the victims” of the January 12, 2010, earthquake that destroyed much of Port-au-Prince and surrounding regions.

Such positions are major reasons Washington fought to get and keep Aristide out of Haiti, the cables make clear. “A premature departure of MINUSTAH would leave the [Haitian] government…vulnerable to…resurgent populist and anti-market economy political forces—reversing gains of the last two years,” wrote US Ambassador Janet Sanderson in an October 1, 2008, cable. MINUSTAH “is an indispensable tool in realizing core USG [US government] policy interests in Haiti.”

At a high-level meeting five years ago, top US and UN officials discussed how the “Aristide Movement Must Be Stopped,” according to an August 2, 2006, cable. It described how former Guatemalan diplomat Edmond Mulet, then chief of MINUSTAH, “urged US legal action against Aristide to prevent the former president from gaining more traction with the Haitian population and returning to Haiti.”

At Mulet’s request, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urged South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki “to ensure that Aristide remained in South Africa.”

President Obama and Kofi Annan’s successor, Ban Ki-moon, also intervened to urge Pretoria to keep Aristide in South Africa. The secret cables report that Aristide’s return to Haiti would be a “disaster,” according to the Vatican, and “catastrophic,” according to the French.

But the regional and Haitian view was quite different. US Ambassador James Foley admitted in a confidential March 22, 2005, cable that an August 2004 poll “showed that Aristide was still the only figure in Haiti with a favorability rating above 50%.”

The Bahamian Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell, apparently referring to Haiti’s revolutionary leader Toussaint Louverture’s kidnapping and imprisonment in the Jura mountains in 1802, warned “that a perceived ‘Banishing Policy’ has racial and historical overtones in the Caribbean that reminds inhabitants of the region of slavery and past abuse.”

Keeping the Pressure On

After Aristide left Jamaica for exile in South Africa on May 30, 2004, the US government worked overtime to keep him out of Haiti and even the hemisphere, even though the Haitian constitution and international law stipulate that every Haitian citizen has the right to be in his homeland.

When Dominican President Leonel Fernández suggested at a hemispheric conference eight months after the coup that Aristide should return and play a role in Haiti’s political future, the United States reacted angrily, saying in a cable that Fernández had been “wrong in advocating the inclusion in the process of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide.” Continue reading “WikiLeaks Haiti: The Aristide Files”

WikiLeaked Cables Testify to Haiti PM Nominee’s Repressive Past

Co-authored with Kim Ives in Haiti Liberte:

Bernard Gousse, whom Haitian President Michel Martelly nominated for Prime Minister on Jul. 6, was so repressive, uncontrollable and ineffective as Haiti’s de facto Justice Minister seven years ago that Washington and its Haitian and international allies forced his resignation, secret U.S. Embassy cables show.

The cables were among a trove of 1,918 Haiti-related U.S. Embassy dispatches provided by the media organization WikiLeaks to Haïti Liberté.

“He’s an honest man. He has experience in public administration,” Martelly’s chief of staff Thierry Mayard-Paul told The Associated Press. “We believe that Mr. Gousse can drive this country out of its turmoil.”

But the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince came to a different conclusion towards the end of Gousse’s last tenure as a public official, calling him a “complete failure” as Justice Minister. In separate cables, the Embassy and its interlocutors in Haiti decry his “mischief,” call him “stubborn,” and question whether he is an “obstacle” to resolving the case of a high-profile political prisoner.

“Everyone, including his backers in the [Haitian] private sector, agreed that Gousse had been a complete failure both on the security and justice fronts,” wrote then U.S. Ambassador James Foley in a Jun. 3, 2005 diplomatic cable.

Gousse’s nomination for premier already seems doomed. On Jul. 8, 16 out of Haiti’s 30 Senators signed a resolution saying they would not ratify him. The Senators, who are likely to be joined by other parliamentarians, said in their resolution that Gousse was unacceptable for the “repression, arbitrary arrests and killings in the neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince” that were carried out under his auspices in 2004 and 2005. Continue reading “WikiLeaked Cables Testify to Haiti PM Nominee’s Repressive Past”

WikiLeaks: Disaster Capitalism in Quake Relief Effort

Unified Haiti Relief Coordinator Lewis Lucke after the earthquake

Co-authored in The Nation magazine with Haiti Liberte‘s Kim Ives:

Disaster capitalists were flocking to Haiti in a “gold rush” for contracts to rebuild the country after the January 12, 2010, earthquake, according to a secret cable from US Ambassador Kenneth Merten.

The February 1, 2010, cable [1] was obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to the Haitian newspaper Haïti Liberté, which is collaborating with The Nation on a series of reports [2] on US and UN policy toward the country.

“THE GOLD RUSH IS ON!” Merten headlined a section of his 6 pm situation report—or SitRep—to Washington. “As Haiti digs out from the earthquake, different [US] companies are moving in to sell their concepts, products and services,” he wrote. “President Preval met with Gen Wesley Clark Saturday [January 29] and received a sales presentation on a hurricane/earthquake resistant foam core house designed for low income residents.”

Former US presidential candidate and retired general Wesley Clark—along with professional basketball star Alonzo Mourning—was fronting for InnoVida Holdings, a Miami-based company, which had pledged to donate 1,000 foam-core panel-built houses for Haiti’s homeless.

“AshBritt [a Florida-based disaster recovery company] has been talking to various institutions about a national plan for rebuilding all government buildings,” Merten continued in his dispatch. “Other companies are proposing their housing solutions or their land use planning ideas, or other construction concepts. Each is vying for the ear of President in a veritable free-for-all.”

One man who had the ear of President Préval was Lewis Lucke, Washington’s special coordinator for relief and reconstruction, who was heading up the entire US earthquake relief effort in Haiti. He met with Préval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive two weeks after the quake, and at least one more time after that, according to the cables. Lucke, a twenty-seven-year veteran of the US Agency for International Development, had overseen multibillion-dollar contracts for Bechtel and other companies as USAID mission director in postinvasion Iraq.

Lucke stepped down as Haiti relief coordinator in April 2010, after only three months, telling his hometown newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, “It became clear to us that if it was handled correctly, the earthquake represented as much an opportunity as it did a calamity…. So much of the china was broken that it gives the chance to put it together hopefully in a better and different way.”

Within eight weeks of stepping down, Lucke had signed a lucrative $30,000 per month agreement with AshBritt and its Haitian partner, GB Group (which belongs to one of Haiti’s richest men, Gilbert Bigio). Lucke helped them secure $20 million in construction contracts.

But in December 2010, Lucke sued AshBritt and GB Group for almost $500,000. According to the Associated Press, he claimed the companies “did not pay him enough for consulting services that included hooking the contractor up with powerful people and helping to navigate government bureaucracy.” Before the lawsuit was settled, Lucke had already joined masonry product supplier MC Endeavors. The firm sent out another of many press releases this past May advertising its ability to build homes and applauding Haiti’s newly inaugurated President Michel Martelly’s declaration: “This is a new Haiti that is open for business now.”

The post-quake “gold rush” described by Ambassador Merten began as Haitians were still being pulled from the rubble. Since then, USAID has doled out nearly $200 million in relief and reconstruction contracts. By this April, just 2.5 percent of the money had gone to Haitian firms, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Lucke, for one, is not bashful about making a fortune off others’ misfortune. “It’s kind of the American way,” he told Haïti Liberté. “Just because you’re trying to do business doesn’t mean you’re trying to be rapacious. There’s nothing insidious about that…. It wasn’t worse than Iraq.”

WikiLeaks: Militarization in Quake Relief Effort

Lt. General Ken Keen observes US troops at an aid distribution in February 2010

Published last week by The Nation magazine, with a longer version in the weekly Haiti Liberte:

Washington deployed 22,000 troops to Haiti after the January 12, 2010, earthquake despite reports from the Haitian leadership, the US Embassy and the UN that no serious security threat existed, according to secret US diplomatic cables.

The cables, obtained by WikiLeaks, were made available to the Haitian newspaper Haïti Liberté, which is collaborating with The Nation on a series of reports about US and UN policy toward the country.

Washington’s decision to send thousands of troops in response to the 7.0 earthquake that rocked the Haitian capital and surrounding areas drew sharp criticism from aid workers and government officials around the world at the time. They criticized the militarized response to Haiti’s humanitarian crisis as inappropriate and counterproductive. French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet famously said that international aid efforts should be “about helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti.”

The earthquake-related cables also show that Washington was very sensitive to international criticism of its response and that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mobilized her diplomatic corps to ferret out “irresponsible journalism” worldwide and “take action” to “get the narrative right.”

In a January 15 cable, Clinton told diplomatic posts and military commands that “approximately 4,000 U.S. military personnel will be in Haiti by January 16 and 10,000 personnel by January 18.” On January 17, Haitian President René Préval issued a “joint communiqué” with Clinton, in which Haiti requested that the United States “assist as needed in augmenting security,” helping to diminish the appearance of a unilateral US action and providing the rationale for what was to be the third US military intervention of Haiti in the past twenty years.

Aware that there would be international dismay about US troops playing a security role, Clinton outlined a series of talking points for diplomats and military officers in her January 22 cable. She said they should emphasize that “MINUSTAH [UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, as the occupation force is called] has the primary international responsibility for security,” but that “in keeping with President Preval’s request to the United States for assistance to augment security, the U.S. is providing every possible support… and is in no way supplanting the UN’s role.” Continue reading “WikiLeaks: Militarization in Quake Relief Effort”

US Security Firm Caught Training Mexican Police in Torture Techniques Tied to Evictions in Haiti

Published today by Narco News:

A man in a BRICOR uniform tears apart a tarp shelter in Delmas with a knife. DR 2011 Etant Dupain.

Security forces who are tearing down makeshift tent camps inhabited by Haitians displaced in last year’s earthquake were trained by Risks Incorporated, a US private security firm involved in torture trainings in Mexico, a Narco News investigation has found. Three camps in Delmas, a district in central Port-au-Prince, have been destroyed in the past week, sending families fleeing into the street with nowhere to go.

The Delmas Mayor’s Street Control Brigade, also known by the acronym BRICOR, helped carry out the evictions. Risks Incorporated’s Andrew Wilson, who also goes by the names “Orlando” and “Jerry,” confirmed in a telephone interview that he trained them in “use of force.” In 2008, Narco Newsrevealed that Wilson trained Mexican police in torture techniques in videos leaked to the Mexican press.

Videos posted in March 2009 on Risks Inc.’s YouTube page show a man training several dozen Haitian men in the then-partially-constructed city hall of Delmas Mayor Wilson Jeudy. Delmas is the largest municipal commune in Port-au-Prince, with at least 600,000 residents. “Yes, that’s me,” Wilson said by phone from Miami.

The men, wearing T-shirts bearing the Delmas Mayor’s emblem, perform exercises leaping over walls, kicking, and hitting tires on the ground with batons. In one scene, they practice controlling a boisterous demonstration. One group steps forward, jutting out their batons in striking motions, while the other chants in mock protest.

In the Mexico videos, Wilson is seen dragging a police trainee into his own vomit as punishment for an incomplete exercise, placing a man’s head into a dirty hole, and training police to squirt mineral water up the noses, another torture technique.

Mayor Jeudy and Daniel Antoine, the brigade chief, said in interviews last year that BRICOR received training from an American security contractor.

“BRICOR is a service that exists to control the streets, the merchants, and disorderly people. To put them in order,” Jeudy said, sitting in the pristine second floor hallway of the finished, palace-like city hall building. “[The American] was here to train them. . .We knew him from his work training the Haitian National Police.” Jeudy claimed the BRICOR training was done for free.

“The brigade is here to keep the streets clean and prevent merchants from selling in the streets,” Antoine said. “There’s a lot of disorder out there. . .and when foreign tourists come, they say, ‘This is so ugly.’”

DR 2011 Etant Dupain.

He said his men had received training twice, the last time in November of 2009, with Delmas Police Commissioner Carl Henry, who commands the Haitian National Police in Delmas, in attendance.

Henry and Jeudy are reported to have threatened quake victims on the grounds of St. Louis Gonzague, an elite private school in Delmas, with forced expulsion as early as last February, only one month after the quake. Haitian National Police accompanied Jeudy’s forces in this week’s camp demolitions.

Jeudy said BRICOR is a 75-member unarmed force, without batons or guns, and is not authorized to make arrests. Yet they are seen training with batons in the Risks Incorporated videos and this reporter observed BRICOR personnel with handcuffs on their belts last year. The Miami Herald reported this week that security forces descended on a camp “wielding machetes and knives…tearing through the makeshift tents as unsuspecting campers fled for cover or yelled in protest.”

Journalist and organizer Etant Dupain raised the alarm about the evictions on May 23, after posting photos online of hundreds of tents scattered and smashed into the ground that day at Carrefour Aeroport, a prominent intersection. Two days later, another camp was destroyed. Dupain’s photos show the Haitian National Police and bulldozers on the scene, as well as an image of Jeudy with a man in a BRICOR uniform at his side. Another image shows a BRICOR-clad man ripping apart a tarp shelter with a knife.

Dupain believes about 350 families have been displaced. “I saw one family today,” he said by phone. “I know their names, they have three children. They’re in the street, still at Carrefour Aeroport. And it has rained since the camps were torn down.”

Read the rest →

HAITI: Aristide Returns Ahead of Controversial Election Run-Off

Nothing like the return of an ex-President on your birthday to smash writer’s block to pieces. Published by Inter-Press Service today. While you’re at it, read this excellent interview with Aristide from last November.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Mar 17, 2011 (IPS) – Tensions are running high in Haiti as dueling campaigns for the presidency enter overdrive in their final days, and Jean- Bertrand Aristide, a popular former president, returns from a seven-year exile in South Africa.

Aristide will arrive in Port-au-Prince on Friday morning, Ira Kurzban, his Miami-based lawyer, told IPS in an email message. A private plane carrying his family left Johannesburg on Thursday.

“Aristide is a president who was elected, but had to suffer through coup d’etats,” said Hari, a professional in downtown Port-au-Prince who gave just his first name. “His return will be good for the country. It will help Haitians put their heads together, to help us resolve the crisis we’re in.”

“There were people who conspired to send him away, and if there is tension it will be because of them,” he said.

Aristide was flown out of Haiti in 2004 on a U.S. plane in what he called a modern-day coup d’etat. The George W. Bush administration and critics say his rule was marked by corruption and human rights abuses until he voluntarily fled into exile amidst a rebellion.

Diplomatic communications released by Wikileaks show that the administration pressured other countries to limit Aristide’s political influence from abroad. But last month he was given a renewed passport by the Haitian government and this week South Africa rebuffed pressure from Washington to prevent his return.

Fanmi Lavalas, Aristide’s party, was banned from participating in the electoral process by Haiti’s electoral council. “They are not planning to have free and fair democratic elections. They are planning to have a selection,” Aristide told an interviewer last fall, a talking point echoed regularly by his supporters at demonstrations.

Asked recently about prospects for stability post-election, U.N. Deputy Special Envoy to Haiti Paul Farmer told IPS, “Of course I’m worried, because if you have scant participation or you exclude anyone from engagement… that’s a formula for instability and political instability breeds health problems just like poverty does.”

In a Thursday press release, the U.N. peacekeeping force said “there is no doubt” Haitians will go to the polls to determine the future of their country, and urged them to exercise their vote en masse.

Privately, a U.N. security advisor sent out a “hibernation checklist” to foreign aid workers to prepare for possible riots.

Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly, two right-wing candidates at the opposite end of the political spectrum from Aristide, are vying for the presidency in Sunday’s runoff election. The victor will manage Haiti’s reconstruction, including billions in funds promised by international donors. Continue reading “HAITI: Aristide Returns Ahead of Controversial Election Run-Off”