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8820: This Week in Haiti 19:20 08/01/01 (fwd)
"This Week in Haiti" is the English section of HAITI PROGRES
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* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *
August 1 - 7, 2001
Vol. 19, No. 20
COUP D'ETAT? DESTABILISATION? PRESSURE?
WHAT LIES BEHIND LAST WEEKEND'S ASSAULTS?
Heavily armed men dressed in the olive green uniforms of the
disbanded Haitian Army launched simultaneous attacks on police
stations around Haiti on the night of Friday, Jul. 27 and the
early morning hours of Saturday, Jul. 28. The toll was heavy:
five policemen dead, 14 wounded, and many arms and documents
stolen. Of the policemen, three died in Port-au-Prince, one in
Mirebalais, and one in Hinche. Thirteen of the wounded were
Although the authorities have unconvincingly claimed that some
attackers were killed and wounded, only police casualties have
been confirmed. This has led some, like Deputy Simson Libérus, to
question the ease with which the former soldiers were able to
rout the Haitian National Police (PNH) and then flee across the
border to the Dominican Republic. Up until now, the police have
arrested some 40 people, about twenty of them around Haiti's
The offensive began on the evening of Jul. 27. Starting around 9
p.m., there were some gunshots heard around Pétionville. Then
around 3 a.m. on Jul. 28, five or six men in uniform attacked the
Pétionville police station. They overran the building and held it
for a short time during which they ordered prisoners in their
holding cells to chant "Long Live the Army." Despite police
denials, eyewitnesses claim that the attackers were able leave
with many weapons and documents from the station.
Shortly thereafter before 5 a.m., five or six heavily armed men,
possibly the same ones who attacked the Pétionville police
station, easily entered the grounds of the Police Academy,
located off the Frères Road, where they took hostages and held
the compound for over an hour. During that time, they executed
Jean Eddy Cantave, the administrator of the Police Academy, which
is the base for the PNH's elite SWAT team unit. The attackers
also killed a SWAT team officer, James Gazmard, and a police
cadet, Milfleur Michel. According to authorities, the attackers
sprayed a police academy dormitory with machinegun fire. Among
the wounded was SWAT officer Fleurantin Jean-Claude, who at press
time was in critical condition with a neck wound.
As police reinforcements rolled toward the Academy around 6 a.m.,
five of the attackers commandeered a passing car driven by a
doctor with her two childen, and drove off toward the Dominican
Republic. Authorities claim the attackers crossed the border in
the mountains above Kenscoff.
Meanwhile, several simultaneous attacks were launched against
police stations on the Central Plateau. At 9 p.m. on Jul. 27,
seven heavily armed men, again dressed in Haitian Army uniforms,
took over the police station in Belladères, near the Dominican
border. A similar attack occurred in Mirebalais, 37 kilometers to
the west, and the department's seat, Hinche. During the attacks,
policemen mostly fled out the back door of the stations, but a
few offered resistance. In Mirebalais, Officer Adonais Bruno was
killed and another officer was wounded in the foot. The attackers
abducted three other policemen, whose fates are still unknown.
In a press conference following the events, the PNH's Western
Department director Hermione Léonard declared that "it is now
that operation 'zero tolerance' is going to begin across the
country." President Jean-Bertrand Aristide announced in June that
the police should adopt a policy of "zero tolerance" for law
In the flurry of official outrage following the attacks, the
Interior Ministry put out a press release which simply reiterated
news reports without offering any new information. The statement
even omitted any mention of the attacks in Mirebalais, Hinche and
Belladères, where policemen were killed, taken hostage, and their
stations occupied. «Police measures have been taken to continue
to protect lives and property and to allow the population to
freely go about their business," read Interior Minister Henry-
Claude Ménard, who sought to reassure the population although the
police force had just demonstrated its inability to protect even
As news of the attacks spread, the population and policemen from
the stations in areas like Carrefour, Martissant and Croix-des-
Bouquets erected hodgepodge barricades to block traffic.
Nonetheless, there was not the massive popular uprising as in
times past when coup d'états and other plots, serious and not,
have been announced. The population did not "mobilize to thwart
this new attempt to overthrow President Jean-Bertrand Aristide,"
as presidential press spokesman Mario Dupuy requested.
Meanwhile, the Reuters news agency announced that four former
Haitian policemen, who may have been involved in the assaults,
had requested political asylum in the Dominican Republic last
weekend. According to the Dominican newspaper El Listin Diario,
these policemen were former soldiers, of which there are many in
>From Lima, Peru, where he was taking part in the inauguration of
the new Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo, Dominican President
Hipolito Mejia declared: "I have spoken to the vice-president,
Ms. Milagros, and to the secretary of the Armed Forces. They have
informed me that everything is quiet and under control and when I
return to the country, I will have better information." The
fugitive policemen, who are being held by Dominican authorities,
crossed at the northern border towns of Ouanaminthe-Dajabon.
Without making any comments on the events, President Aristide and
Prime Minister Jean-Marie Chérestal visited the wounded policemen
and police cadets in the hospital on the afternoon of Jul. 28.
Numerous popular organizations and groups close to the government
such as «Rache kou poul, Popular Power Youth (JPP) of René Civil,
the September 30 Foundation of Lovinsky Pierre Antoine, and the
Little Church Community of St. Jean Bosco all denounced the
Although calm has returned to the country, many burning questions
remain. Who is behind the assaults? What was their goal? Did they
succeed? How many weapons did they capture? Was there complicity
from within the police? "This remains a mystery to me," said
Deputy Libérus. "Because I cannot understand that in the wee
hours of the morning two or three zenglendos (criminals) can take
over the police academy, and then they can leave with the same
ease with which they came in. I think that there should be a
serious investigation in the very heart of the police force."
The President of the Chamber of Deputies Pierre Paul Cotin also
wants explanations. He decided to form a parliamentary commission
of inquiry and to summon Justice Minister Gary Lissade and PNH
director Jean Nesly Lucien.
Always quick to denounce real or perceived overthrow attempts,
Senate President Yvon Neptune not surprisingly called the Jul. 28
offensive an "attempted coup d'état" and associated it, without
naming names, to the Democratic Convergence (CD) opposition
front. "We do not disassociate what happened Saturday from the
political climate, from the political tension, from the efforts
to overturn the population's decisions from May 21 [legislative
and municipal elections] and Nov. 26 [presidential elections],
2000." Aristide's Lavalas Family party (FL) swept both contests.
As usual, spokesmen for the CD, such as Evans Paul and Micha
Gaillard, called the attacks "theatre." Another CD leader,
Reynold Georges, declared on Radio Signal FM that the attackers
"have not really gone to the Dominican Republic. That is a lie.
The people are here in the country with us. Given that we do not
know who they are... but they are friends of the current rulers.
They know one another and carried out and set up their affair
Coup d'état or not, these simultaneous attacks show that the
insurgents are well organized. They operated in unison at several
points around the country, using similar tactics and obtaining
similar results. Such actions require military intelligence,
planning, vehicles, radio equipment, and heavy arms.
Could former members of the notoriously anarchic, cowardly, and
ill-disciplined Haitian Army have pulled off such an offensive on
their own? On the contrary, the attacks have all the hallmarks of
foreign support from the "laboratory," as the Pentagon-CIA axis
is called in Haiti. Could Washington be pressuring the FL to make
even more dramatic concessions to the CD in the on-again off-
again negotiations of the past year? Could Washington be firing a
shot across Aristide's bow after his five-day visit to Cuba,
during which he warmly praised Cuban President Fidel Castro and
the Cuban Revolution? This attack clearly demonstrates that the
"laboratory" and its agents can strike with relative impunity at
the present time.
Of course, diplomats assigned to strong-arm the Haitian
government have sought to downplay the attacks. "I think people
should not speak of a coup d'etat," declared Sergio Romero
Cuevas, the special representative of Organization of American
States (OAS) secretary general César Gaviria. "I believe that it
is not the time for talking about that now. I believe that they
[the political players] should return to the negotiating table...
I do not believe that there is the possibility to believe that
there will be a coup d'etat in Haiti."
But last weekend's attacks bear remarkable resemblance to last
year's attempted coup by the "Ecuadorians," a circle of Haitian
police chiefs so named for the country where they were trained
(see Haïti Progrès, Vol. 18, No. 32, 10/25/2000). They too found
refuge in the Dominican Republic before receiving safe passage
back to Equador. A Haitian government investigation determined
that the "Ecuadorians" were encouraged and supported by certain
"laboratory" sectors within the U.S. Embassy (although others in
the U.S. Embassy denounced the plot, Haitian officials say).
In any case, President Aristide and the FL should reflect whether
all their concessions have satisfied the enemies, both foreign
and local, of the original Lavalas movement in any way. Instead,
the weekend's attacks seem to confirm the Creole proverb and
warning made many times by progressive sectors like the National
Popular Party (PPN): "Say good morning to the devil or not, he is
still going to eat you." Or at least try to.
As we go to press, Prime Minister Chérestal released the
following official information:
Port-au-Prince et Pétion-Ville:
1) Number of assailants: about 15;
2) Number of wounded: PNH: a) 13 police cadets,
b) 1 police officer. Several wounded among the assailants
according to the testimony of doctors.
Number of deaths:
PNH: a) 1 cadet; 2 policemen.
Among the assailants: undetermined.
Number of deaths: PNH: 2 policemen.
Arrests: 5 in Hinche.
1) Number of deaths: 1 assailant
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