The Miami Herald: Other Views
Reviving Haiti’s army would harm democracy
BY JEB SPRAGUE
(Sprague is the author of Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti, just published Monthly Review Press.)
Haiti’s government is making plans to revive the country’s disbanded army, an institution guilty of many of the worst crimes ever perpetrated in the country. At the same time, special police units have been used to drive earthquake victims out of camps.
While civil society and grassroots organizations in Haiti are campaigning against a return to the era of Duvalierist repression, people in the United States should be made aware of our government’s long history with that country’s military and security forces.
It started with the formation of Haiti’s modern military under the U.S. occupation between 1915-1934. The U.S. left only after ensuring the military could be relied on to continue the occupation by proxy. In the early 1960s, U.S. Marines trained the Tonton Macoutes, the dreaded paramilitary force of then dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier.
When Duvalier’s son, Jean-Claude, took over in 1971, former U.S. marine instructors trained and equipped a brutal army corps called the Leopards. The instructors worked for a Miami company under CIA contract and U.S. State Department oversight.
The country’s worst human-rights abusers were driven underground with the inauguration of Haiti’s first democratically elected government in February 1991.
Only seven months later, however, military forces in the country ousted the country’s elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. A new paramilitary organization, the FRAPH, launched a wave of terror.
After years of grassroots pressure on the United States and the United Nations to act, Haiti’s democracy was restored in 1994. The country’s army (entwined with the paramilitaries) was disbanded and judicial processes began. Yet U.S. diplomats pressured for the inclusion of some former Haitian military into important positions in the country’s new police force. As Human Rights Watch pointed out in a report at the time, the United States used sectors of Haiti’s revamped security forces against the country’s left-leaning grassroots movement.
By 2000, a group of former soldiers known as the “Ecuadorians” (a group of cadets who had received training in Quito, Ecuador, benefiting from close relations with the United States) demonstrated how U.S. influence on Haiti’s security forces, far from reforming them, had had the opposite effect. In late 2000, this group launched a paramilitary war of attrition on Haiti….
Read the entire Op-Ed in the Miami Herald