UN Forces Exit Haiti, Leaving Questions Behind
Peacekeepers pull out Sunday after three years. Are local police ready to take over?
Three years after the intervention of 20,000 American troops on Haitian soil to restore democracy, the last of the international peacekeeping troops are going home.
On Sunday, the last day of November, the mandate of the remaining 1,170 soldiers ends. But observers here say the problems they were sent to police remain.
A token but important international presence will stay in Haiti. The United Nations Security Council is expected to vote soon on what terms an undetermined number of UN Civilian Police will remain. And a United States Support Team will keep up to 500 troops here.
The mandate of the joint UN and Organization of American States (OAS) human rights monitoring mission also expires next month, but is expected to be renewed for another year.
The chief task of providing security now falls on the shoulders of the inexperienced, US-trained Haitian National Police.
Recently, there has been an increase in charges of corruption, drug trafficking, and human rights abuses within the corps of 5,000. More than 150 officers have been dismissed and another 350 suspended since the force took to the streets two years ago. Within the last two weeks, more than a half-dozen officers have been arrested in a cocaine heist; others are under investigation.
"I have been quoted as saying that the HNP is up to the task," says Enrique ter Horst, head of the UN operation here. "But I have never said that. They have made great progress, but they will still need continued support."
Of particular concern is last week's arrest of former presidential candidate Leone Jeune. Aramick Louis, director of the police department that includes Port-au-Prince, and 20 officers entered Mr. Jeune's home on a tip that he was plotting against the state. The police confiscated six weapons.
Jeune claims that Mr. Louis repeatedly kicked him in the ribs while he was lying down, handcuffed. Louis denies the charges, but eyewitness accounts confirm the abuse.
As is so often the case in Haiti, members of two polarized camps have very different interpretations of the incident.
At the heart of the problem is a power struggle between the once-united coalition that brought Haiti its first democratic president. Former President Jean Bertrand Aristide founded the Lavalas Family last year, breaking off from the Lavalas Political Organization. In April's legislative and local elections, Lavalas Family was the overall winner.
Election monitors, including the OAS, said the voting was marred by fraud, and all parties except for Lavalas Family withdrew from the runoff race. To date, the second round has not been held.
There has been no real government since the June resignation of Prime Minister Rosny Smarth, who said the electoral confusion made it impossible for him to do his job. As a result of government inaction, the impoverished country has lost at least $120 million in foreign aid. And the confusion is not likely to clear up anytime soon.
The Lavalas Political Organization, which holds a majority in the lower house of parliament, refuses to negotiate the position of the designated prime minister until the electoral question has been resolved.
"We have to have an electoral agreement before we vote on the prime minister," says party leader Gerard Pierre Charles, who says the electoral council favored the Lavalas Family. "It wasn't an election, it was a selection by Aristide to have control."
Election winners could gain a majority in the Senate and pave the way for control of the permanent electoral council. Mr. Aristide, who was barred from running for a consecutive term in 1995, is expected to run for president in 2000 and win.
But on the frequently outlandish Haitian rumor mill, it is said that Jeune, who received only 2.5 percent of the 1995 presidential vote, is today the favored presidential candidate of the Americans. And that Aristide ordered Jeune's arrest as a warning to anyone trying to oppose him.
"It's absolute nonsense," says an observer of Haitian politics. "It's the same sort of rhetoric we were getting during the coup years when people were trying to undermine President Aristide."
But several other high profile opposition figures have been languishing in jail on similar charges without being tried. Evans Francois, brother of the infamous Col. Michel Francois (who helped in the 1991 military coup d'etat against Aristide), has been in detention since April 1996. Claude Raymond, who is allied with the Duvalierist camp - those supporting the country's 29-year dictatorship, has been under arrest since July 1996.
"There are serious problems with the judicial system," admits a member of the Lavalas camp, who asked that his name not be used. "But we have real security problems. And it's not going to be the international community that resolves them for us. We have to stand on our own two feet and resolve the conflicts ourselves."