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a63: This Week in Haiti 19:40 12/19/2001 (fwd)
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* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *
December 19 - 25, 2001
Vol. 19, No. 40
ARMED BAND BRIEFLY SEIZES PALACE
On Dec. 17, a heavily armed commando unit stormed and took
control of the National Palace for about five hours. Although
they were surrounded by the Haitian National Police (PNH), the
assailants managed to drive out of the Palace grounds and speed
to the Dominican border some 50 kilometers away. There they
abandoned their vehicles and escaped into the Dominican Republic
on foot. Only one suspected assailant was captured by Haitian
According to a Haitian government spokesman, there was a
total of 33 gunmen, who were dressed in military uniforms.
Driving two or three large pick-up trucks, they rammed their way
through the Palace gates around 2 a.m. after lobbing a grenade at
"They entered firing, and our agents responded with the
usual strategy, that is they fired back in order to later rout
them," said Jean Oriel, head of the Presidential Security Unit
(USP). "Upon learning of the situation, I informed the Chief of
State, who asked me to take all necessary measures to defeat the
The intense gunfire exchanged during the Palace take-over
roused many Port-au-Prince residents and ignited hours of anxious
telephone calling, briefly jamming international circuits to the
Before attacking the Palace, the gunmen had fired on the
National Penitentiary, a few blocks away, possibly attempting to
free some prisoners. Haitian government spokesmen say that attack
In the fighting, two Haitian policemen -- Théogène François
and Romain Jean Eustache -- were killed. Six were wounded,
including Duke Jacques, Belle Crisnord, Mérisette Ednor,
Dieugrand Richard, and USP officer Nazaine Anthony.
One assailant was also killed at the Palace. He was
identified only as "Perez," and it has been speculated but not
confirmed that he was a Dominican. His body, in a camouflage
uniform and a pool of blood, was shown to reporters. Police say
they found documents on him.
Another man who may have been among the assailants, Haitian
citizen Pierre Richardson, was wounded in the foot and captured
after the pick-up he was driving was stopped at a road-block near
the border. He was found with "a large sum of cash, several
documents in Spanish and an M16 rifle," according to Reuters.
At the Palace, commando members communicated by radio to
each other in Creole, English and Spanish, sparking speculation
that Dominicans were among them. In their intercepted radio
communications, the assailants identified their leader as Guy
Philippe, said a Haitian government official who requested
anonymity. Philippe, a former police chief in Cap Haïtien, was
implicated in an alleged coup attempt last October (see Haïti
Progrès, Vol. 18 No. 32 10/25/2000). Haitian government sources
say he was the leader of a circle of influential police chiefs
known as they "Ecuadorians," because they were trained by the
Ecuadorian Special Forces in Ecuador during the 1991-94 coup
d'état. When their alleged plot was foiled, they sought and
received refuge in the Dominican Republic.
Guy Philippe called some press agencies and radio stations
from the DR to deny that he had any involvement in the attack.
According to him, "it was all just theater to provide a pretext
to attack the opposition." The coup attempt would have been
successful if he were involved, he said.
On leaving the Palace, the commandos killed two passers-by
and wounded several others on the Tabarre Road and on National
Road #4, which links Haiti and the Dominican Republic. In two
different areas near Croix-de-Bouquet, a town about half way
between Port-au-Prince and the border, a man named "Ti Ra" was
wounded in the arm at a people's barricade and some youths were
fired on. The fleeing assailants were briefly followed by a
Haitian government helicopter, but they fired on the aircraft and
it broke off the chase.
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide said that the PNH had made
a "strategic retreat" to allow the gunmen to escape so it could
later "snare them in a fish net."
The brazen assault on the Palace prompted a fierce and
emotional anti-coup response from the Haitian people. By dawn,
barricades were erected around the whole city. A large crowd,
armed with picks, clubs, and machetes as well as pistols, 12-
gauge shotguns, and automatic weapons, surrounded the
Meanwhile, angry crowds all over the city went on the
rampage. They burned the Pétionville home of Gérard Pierre-
Charles, a leader of the Washington-supported Democratic
Convergence (CD) oppostion front (Pierre-Charles was in Miami at
the time). Also torched were the CD headquarters (which was also
the seat of the CD-component OPL), as well as the headquarters of
three CD member parties: Conacom, the KID, and ALAH. Also, the
French government's French Institute was sacked, particularly the
In the provinces, homes belonging to opposition members were
burned in Petit Goâve and Gonaïves. Two security guards were
killed by fire in Gonaïves at the house of Mochrenah leader
Pastor Luc Mésadieu, another opposition politician.
Ben Dupuy, secretary general of the National Popular Party
(PPN), criticized the PNH's performance during the episode. The
police could not take control of the Palace until after the
assailants decided to leave it after 5 long hours, he said. The
commando unit also suffered very few losses, leaving with
virtually everything it brought: vehicles, radios, and weapons.
They crossed the Dominican border by foot, leaving behind their
vehicles and uniforms. Perez, the assailant killed, had on
civilian clothes beneath his uniform, suggesting that the
commando unit intended to melt back into the population after
Because the raid appears to have been launched from the DR,
possibly with Dominican military support, Dominican ambassador to
Haiti, Alberto Despradel Cabral, was on the defensive. "We have
no problem with the legitimacy, with the Haitian government
presided over by President Aristide," he said. "If there are some
people who attacked the National Palace, they are Haitian people,
exactly, who have acted outside of Haitian legality. But we have
nothing to do with that."
Condemnation of the coup attempt came from the French
government, the Organization of American States' Secretary
General César Gaviria, and U.S. State Department spokesman
Richard Boucher. U.S. Ambassador Brian Dean Curran requested and
obtained reinforcements for the police security around the U.S.
embassy and U.S. consulate in Port-au-Prince.
Robert Ménard, secretary general of the Paris-based
Reporters Without Frontiers, said that Aristide partisans took
advantage of the coup attempt to aggress certain journalists
identified with the opposition. Certain conservative radio
stations, like Radio Métropole and Radio Vision 2000, stopped
broadcasting on Dec. 17, apparently for security reasons.
In a message to the nation on the afternoon of Dec. 17,
President Aristide recalled the horrors of the Sept. 30, 1991
coup d'état. "Haitians will never again be sent into hiding," he
said. "The time of coup d'états is over... I call on the Haitian
people to continue to mobilize peacefully, respect the rights of
all citizens, respect the rights of everybody without
distinction." Information Minister Guy Paul condemned the acts of
"dechoukaj" (uprooting) by popular organizations, while at the
same time saying he understood their anger.
Most opposition leaders took cover on Dec. 17 and called the
coup attempt a fabrication. "It is a pretext of a coup d'état,
about which we still don't understand all the ins and outs," said
CD leader Micha Gaillard. "It looks a lot like the events of Jul.
28 (see Haïti Progrès, Vol. 19, No. 20 8/1/01); it is a creation
of the Lavalas in order to justify hunting down all the leaders
and militants of the Convergence around the country."
But the PPN interpreted the attack neither like the
opposition (as an invention) nor the government (as a coup).
"Obviously you can't hope to carry out a coup and control an
entire country with 30 guys," Ben Dupuy said. "These attacks of
Jul. 28 and Dec. 17 are provocations to try to spark civil war
and invite yet another foreign military invasion, similar to
those in the Dominican Republic in 1965 or Grenada in 1983."
For months, the PPN has warned that the Dominican Republic
is being used as a staging ground for attacks against Haiti, much
as Washington-financed "contras" used Honduras to wage war
against Nicaragua's Sandinistas in the 1980s. Many former Haitian
dictators, coup leaders, and soldiers are presently living in the
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