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8135: Ex-general once ruled Haiti, now is held in jail there (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Published Thursday, May 31, 2001
Ex-general once ruled Haiti, now is held in jail there
Opposition demanding his release
Prosper Avril attributes a recent wave of violent crime to police
inefficiency under President Aristide.
BY YVES COLON
As a former president and army general, Prosper Avril once cut a powerful
figure in Haiti.
Now, the 64-year-old grandfather sits in an overcrowded cell at the National
Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince following an arrest that has generated irate
criticism from his family and praise from some human rights activists.
Avril is ``surrounded by dozens of common crime perpetrators'' in jail,
according to his son, Gregor.
``If you want to talk about dictatorship and human rights abuse in Haiti,
it's happening right now in Haiti, under the rule of Jean-Bertrand Aristide
and the Fanmi Lavalas Party,'' Gregor Avril said. ``Prosper Avril's arrest
was illegal and arbitrary.''
Avril's arrest comes at a critical time for Haiti.
A delegation from the Organization of American States and CARICOM, a
regional political and economic alliance in the Caribbean, is trying to
negotiate a settlement between Aristide, his Family Lavalas political party
and the Convergence Democratique, a coalition of minor parties that opposes
Negotiations have stalled for nearly a year, and analysts see this latest
effort by the international community as a last-ditch effort to resolve this
crisis and unlock millions of dollars in aid and loans Aristide desperately
needs to make good on campaign promises.
Any agreement appears unlikely, however, because the coalition, which has
consistently turned down offers of negotiation, is now demanding Avril's
release as a condition to participate in future talks.
The coalition, alleging electoral fraud, refuses to recognize Aristide's
presidency and continues to call for Aristide to step down. Its
``provisional president,'' Gerard Gourgue, has called for the return of the
Haitian army, which Aristide abolished.
Avril, who graduated as valedictorian from Haiti's military academy in the
last class before Francois Duvalier closed the school in the early 1960s,
would have been expected to play a key role in the army Gourgue wants
Although rumored to have returned from exile some time ago, Avril had not
been seen in public until early May, when he attended an event as head of
the CREDDO political party to give support to the Convergence Democratique.
Last week was the second time; he went to an upscale restaurant in a suburb
of the capital to sign copies of his book, Haiti: 1995-2001 The Black Book
The book attributes a recent wave of kidnappings, holdups, robberies and
killings to the inefficiency of the Aristide police force.
As he signed books, heavily armed soldiers wearing black ski masks entered
the restaurant and snatched Avril. Gregor Avril said Aristide's government
is trying to silence his father.
The state, however, says Avril is a dangerous man.
``This is a person who should have been arrested a long time ago, and simply
escaped,'' said Ira Kurzban, the Haitian government's attorney in Miami.
ACCUSED OF PLOT
Haitian officials accuse Avril of plotting to overthrow Aristide. They also
want him brought to trial for human rights abuses committed in 1989, after
Avril became de facto president. He led Haiti from September 1988 to March
1990, when violent demonstrations and international pressure forced him to
go into exile.
During his brief presidency, Haitian officials say, Avril ordered the
arrest, illegal detention and torture of various political activists,
including Evans Paul, Serge Gilles, Marino Etienne, Gerard Laforest, Gerald
Brun and Jean Auguste Mesyeux. They say Avril proudly displayed the bloodied
victims on national television.
Ironically, both Paul and Gilles are now members of the Convergence, and
they have condemned Avril's arrest.
In 1991, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a complaint against
Avril in Miami Federal Court on behalf of Paul, Gilles and the others. The
court found that Avril had ``personal responsibility for a systematic
pattern of egregious human rights abuses'' during his tenure as dictator, as
well as for the ``interrogation and torture of each of the plaintiffs in
[the] case.'' A judgment of $41 million was issued in 1994, but Avril had
fled the country.
Brian Concannon, a U.S. lawyer in Haiti who has helped to prosecute former
military officers for human rights abuses, said he intends to bring charges
against Avril in the hope of recovering funds that the long-ruling Duvalier
dictatorship allegedly entrusted to him.
Concannon said he was surprised by Avril's arrest.
``But it was a nice surprise,'' he added. ``There is not a bad time to
arrest Prosper Avril.''
Gregor Avril said the charges against his father are bogus and that he
should not be blamed for the mistakes committed under his watch.
``These acts were committed by members of the police force,'' he said, ``so
they're the ones who should have been tried.''
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