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#4834: Coup d'état deaths: Chamberlain replies (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

The problem of statistical accuracy in a political situation which stirs
strong emotions is an old one and answers are hard to come by.  Initial
figures usually get revised downward -- Tien An-Men Square massacre from
1,000 to 100, 1989 massacre in Romania from 100 to zero, and many other
examples.  Some figures, such as the number of Jews who died in Germany,
are not "allowed" to be discussed, on pain of being called a racist.  The
true characters of some revered politicians (Kennedy, Churchill) were not
"allowed" to be discussed until many years after their death.  Only a few
hundred years ago in Europe, if you questioned the existence of God, you
stood a good chance of being killed.

The issue of the deaths during the Haiti coup period is a bit easier, since
the killings were meticulously catalogued day by day by the Plate-forme
Haitienne des Organisations de Défense des Droits de l'Homme, led by a
brave young Frenchwoman, Béatrice Pouligny, who managed to stay alive (and
is now back in France).  I'm not sure what the total was, but it was about
3,000.  Lavalas (with an understandable interest in boosting the figure)
says it was 5,000.  People who disappeared were sometimes included in the
total given.

A similar situation arises with estimates of how many died under the
Duvaliers.  Some say 300,000, but most say several thousand.  No-one
however did any serious counting and it would be impossible to do so now.

The problem with the coup period is that, apart from the FRAPH activities
in the later part of the period, most of the killings were of people in
rural areas who were victims of score-settling or violence by local
officials who felt they had a free hand, that they wouldn't be punished by
the regime.  Then there were the famous examples of the small number who
were actually killed for listening to Aristide on the radio, shouting a
slogan etc.  These have probably been exaggerated in the re-telling and
also for campaigning purposes, but the record shows that for interesting
sociological and historical reasons, there was very little physical
resistance to the regime, and not just because "the repression was too
harsh."  Very few actual orders to kill were given by the authorities,
except during the coup itself -- the norm in such circumstances.  The
nearest it came to that were the rampages of the FRAPH.  

Few mass graves were found and few if any probably remain (they would've
quickly been found in a densely-populated place like Haiti).  There were
supposedly two at the time of the coup itself in 1991.  One was at
Martissant and the other near Cité Soleil.  Each were said to contain
several dozen bodies, though it was never very clear.  A little later, the
one at Martissant was found to contain fewer.  At the time, I was
informally asked by Amnesty International to try to pin down a few facts. 
But even friends on the left in Haiti were outraged that such an enquiry
should be made.  I was bluntly told to "concentrate on the general
repression" and not to bother with any figures.  I vain did I point out
that hard facts and figures could only help in the fight against the
regime.  Some bodies were dumped on waste ground at Titanyin, northwest of
PauPrince, but Titanyin has also for decades been a place where bodies of
the poor who died of natural causes have been dumped by the PauP city

As for a monument to the dead, it's a bit early for that, the ways
governments and civil society operate.  Such things usually come years
later.  The lack of a spectacular massacre makes it more complicated.  But
of course it should be done as part of preserving the memory of the evil
and of recovery from it.  However, the clear priority is to compensate and
help heal the shattered lives and psyches of the tortured.  Some work is
being done in this direction.  Can anyone give us an idea of how far this
has got?  Also, where might such a monument be erected?  I think a monument
has a lower priority, because monuments are usually the get-outs of regimes
that can't be bothered to do the real work of healing -- and don't let's
compound that ducking of responsibility by putting all the blame on the US
or other foreigners...

        Greg Chamberlain