Monday, September 29, 2008

Plan Mexico in the Caribbean: Payday for Haiti Coup Co-conspirators

This is part three in a series that analyzes the recently released spending plan for the Merída Initiative, also known as Plan Mexico. Part one analyzed Plan Mexico's funds for Mexico, and part two discussed Plan Mexico in Central America.

Narco News has made the entire Merída Initiative spending plan available.

In February 2004, Haitian paramilitaries left their bases in the Dominican Republic and marched towards Haiti with the goal of ousting democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide for the second time. When they arrived in Haiti, many were wearing Dominican Republic National Police uniforms.

The paramilitary forces were well prepared. For two years prior to the 2004 coup, about 200 US Special Forces members had trained them in the Dominican Republic with funds from the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Republican Institute. They trained on Dominican federal government property with the knowledge and permission of the Dominican Republic’s then-president Hipolito Mejia. In order to avoid suspicion, the Haitian militiamen dressed in Dominican Republic National Police uniforms. During this two-year training period, the Haitian paramilitaries ran frequent cross-border raids into Haiti to attack Aristide supporters, always retreating back into their Dominican bases afterwards.

After the coup leaders took control of the Haitian government as a US-backed “transitional government,” chaos reigned in the streets of Haiti. The World Bank estimated that by March 2004 about 1,000 people had died as a direct or indirect consequence of coup-related violence.

Supporters of President Aristide and his Lavalas party quickly mobilized in the streets to defend democracy. In one such action on April 27, 2005, Lavalas supporters rallied near the United Nations Mission headquarters in Bourdon, Port-au-Prince. According to Amnesty International, the Haitian National Police severely repressed the peaceful demonstration. Police fired into the crowd of demonstrators, killing nine people and injuring many others, including bystanders.

On August 20, 2005, at a US Agency for International Development-funded soccer match, masked Haitian National Police accompanied paramilitaries armed with machetes and hatchets in carrying out a massacre in the stadium. Police and the paramilitaries entered the stadium, ordered all in attendance to lie on the ground, and then selectively killed suspected Lavalas supporters. Anyone who attempted to escape was shot or hacked to death. By the end of the massacre, police and paramilitaries had murdered fifty people in front of 5,000 soccer fans.

In an attempt to bring the post-coup violence under control, the Brazil-led United States Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) arrived on the scene on June 1, 2004. Its official mandate was “to assist with the restoration and maintenance of the rule of law, public safety and public order in Haiti….” According to MINUSTAH’s website, it was in Haiti “in support of the Transitional Government, to ensure a secure and stable environment within which the constitutional and political process in Haiti can take place.” MINUSTAH got right to work supporting the transitional government by gathering intelligence on activists at protests.

In an effort to “stabilize” the tense political situation in Haiti, MINUSTAH carried out two military operations in Cite Soleil, the poorest neighborhood in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and a bastion of Aristide support. According to the Haiti Information Project:

In the early morning hours of July 6, 2005, more than 350 UN troops stormed the seaside shantytown of Cite Soleil in a military operation with the stated purpose of halting violence in Haiti. When the shooting stopped seven hours later, more than 26 people, the majority of them unarmed civilians lie dead with scores more wounded…. An ‘After Action Report’ submitted to the US Embassy by the UN states that the UN attack on the crumbling civilian neighborhood was intense, prolonged, and carried out with heavy artillery and weaponry that UN officials knew could cause extensive collateral damage and the death of innocent victims.”

The July 6 bloodbath apparently did not succeed in “stabilizing” Haiti, so MINUSTAH carried out a second raid in Cite Soleil on December 22, 2006:

According to the After action report, ‘...the firefight lasted over seven hours during which time [UN] forces expended over 22,000 rounds of ammunition... [An official] with MINUSTAH acknowledged that, given the flimsy construction of homes in Cite Soleil and the large quantity of ammunition expended, it is likely that rounds penetrated many buildings, striking unintended targets.’… Although many were likely killed behind thin walls, the video evidence of the disproportionate number of victims felled by single shots to the head from high-powered rifles lends credence to the testimony of survivors following the deadly raid.

The Haiti Information Project has extensive photographic evidence of extrajudicial executions carried out during the July 6 MINUSTAH raid (warning: some photos are extremely graphic).

Plan Mexico: More of the Same in Haiti and the Dominican Republic

Plan Mexico’s $5 million in anti-narcotics funds to Haiti and the Dominican Republic hardly constitutes a significant change or expansion of US hegemony in either country. Rather, it should be considered a continuation of existing US foreign policy in the region.

For decades, the US government has armed, trained, and funded the police forces that will receive resources under Plan Mexico. It’s no surprise, then, that with the exception of the Haitian Coast Guard, all of Plan Mexico’s law enforcement recipients in the Caribbean willingly played important and deadly roles in repressing democratic resistance to the US-supported 2004 coup in Haiti.

It’s not clear that the US government made new funds available for either country as a result of Plan Mexico. It appears to have simply moved around existing funds so that the Dominican Republic and Haiti are included under the Plan Mexico rubric.

Haiti’s $2.5 million in anti-narcotics funding under Plan Mexico constitutes only 22% of the country’s overall International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) funding for 2008. What’s more, Haiti’s 2008 INCLE funding constitutes a 23% decrease from 2007’s funding levels.

While the Dominican Republic’s $2.5 million in Plan Mexico anti-narcotics funds marks the first year that the country will receive INCLE money, it is not the first time the recipient, the Dominican National Police, will receive US support. The Dominican National Police’s predecessor, the Dominican National Guard, was created in 1918 as a US initiative following a US Marine invasion of the Dominican Republic. According to William Blum in Killing Hope, “The US placed [the National Guard] under the control of a young officer it had trained named Rafael Trujillo,” who later became the most notorious and brutal dictator the Dominican Republic has ever seen. Trujillo was so brutal that the US found it necessary to plan and participate in his assassination in order to prevent a leftist revolution such as the one that occurred in Cuba.

When the Dominican National Guard was disbanded and turned into the Dominican National Police, it was the US that stepped up to support the transition to a civilian police force. Rather that including any new initiatives for the Dominican National Police, the Plan Mexico spending plan states, “The Merída Initiative funding will be used to continue supporting the transformation of the Dominican National Police into a professional civilian law enforcement agency.” It will do this though “technical assistance, capacity building and equipping the National Police to support transition in areas of basic police training reform, strategic planning, internal affairs, and communications systems.”

The Haitian National Police, despite its numerous outstanding cases of human rights abuses such as the massacres it carried out during the coup, will continue to receive US aid under Plan Mexico. The resources provided under Plan Mexico, which include intelligence training and equipment and the construction of a new pier, hardly constitute the most insidious US aid to the Haitian National Police. In recent years the US government has given or sold millions of dollars in arms to the Haitian National Police.

Plan Mexico will allow the US to continue to leverage control over the Haitian National Police. According to the spending plan, “The Merída Initiative funding will be used to continue supporting the transformation of the Haitian National Police into a professional civilian law enforcement agency through expanded communications and intelligence capabilities; to increase the number of successful prosecutions of major criminals; to enhance Haiti’s capability to monitor, detect, and interdict illegal shipments of narcotics, firearms, and human smuggling in priority areas; and to improve cooperation between Dominican Republic and Haitian public security and judicial authorities.”

The US has supported “the transformation of the Haitian National Police into a professional civilian law enforcement agency” since its creation. President Aristide created the Haitian National Police in 1995 after disbanding the military in an attempt dismantle its political control. The goal of creating the Haitian National Police was to bring public security under civilian control, but high-ranking members of the military have consistently controlled it.

Being the poorest country in the hemisphere, Haiti lacked the resources necessary to train the new police force in civilian policing techniques. So, despite the US role in the 1991-94 coup that temporarily ousted Aristide, Haiti turned to the US Department of Justice’s International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) to train the National Police. ICITAP training for the Haitian police included crowd control, the operation of firearms, and the use of force. The results of this training were apparent in the Haitian National Police’s actions during the 2004 coup.

Plan Mexico will also give the Haitian Ministry of Justice more control over law enforcement by funding the installation of “a secure Ministry of Justice-controlled network which will interconnect rule of law activities, specifically law enforcement operations, investigations, prosecution case management, records and case activities of the Judiciary, and inmate/detention management.” The Ministry of Justice’s actions following the 1991-1994 coup demonstrate its lack of commitment to the rule of law. According to an article by Diego Hausfather and Nikolas Barry-Shaw on Znet, “The Ministry of Justice has organized sham trials for ex-army officers like FRAPH [Front for the Advancement of Haiti’s Progress] leader Louis Jodel Chamblain accused of carrying out massacres or assassination [sic] during the 1991-94 coup. The defendants have unanimously been acquitted in proceedings described as ‘an insult to justice’ and a ‘mockery’ by Amnesty International.” FRAPH leaders may have enjoyed such leniency because some of them were on the CIA payroll during the coup.

Plan Mexico will also support the work of MINUSTAH, again, despite numerous allegations of human rights abuses and massacres carried out by MINUSTAH soldiers. One of MINUSTAH’s mandates in Haiti is to improve security on the Dominican Republic/Haiti border, so Plan Mexico will provide Dominican and Haitian security forces with joint trainings.

Missing the Mark

Haitian and Dominican residents will most likely not notice any change in their day-to-day lives and interactions with security forces as a result of Plan Mexico. Plan Mexico is a drop in the bucket compared to existing US aid to the region, both qualitatively and quantitatively.

Plan Mexico represents a continuance of twisted US priorities in the region. Death and violence in Haiti will continue as long as its government is at the mercy of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Thus far, any attempts to free Haiti from the international financial institutions’ grips have resulted in coups. The 1991-94 coup was a period of privatization frenzy in Haiti from which the nation never recovered.

The US government would be most successful at reducing violence and death in the region by providing real economic development to Haiti in the form of reparations for its support of the Duvalier regime and its role in two recent coups. Reparations combined with debt forgiveness might allow Haiti to recover from the environmental damage wrought by decades of clear-cutting its rich mahogany forests to pay its illegitimate external debts. Clear-cutting has resulted in soil erosion to the point where much of Haiti’s land is agriculturally useless. Furthermore, clear-cutting has caused mudslides that, combined with poor Haitian residents’ flimsy housing, have led to much higher storm death tolls than in the neighboring Dominican Republic.

While Plan Mexico does not currently represent a significant policy change in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, activists should keep it on their radar, because Washington is obviously keeping the two Caribbean nations on its radar. Washington has made a conscious effort to draw the Caribbean into the Plan Mexico zone. Given that the US government has moved from promoting Plan Mexico as a defined amount of aid over a set number of years to a potentially limitless amount of aid without an end date, there is always room for the expansion of the Caribbean’s role within Plan Mexico.


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