Facing a U.S.-led invasion, a pariah regime shows defiance
THE SIEGE OF HAITI
Facing a U.S.-led invasion, a pariah regime shows defiance
The United Nations raised the stakes, but once again Haiti’s military leaders refused to fold. Just hours after the UN Security Council voted 12 to 0 last week to approve a resolution, cosponsored by Canada, authorizing the use of military force to remove the pariah regime that ousted democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991, Haiti’s de facto president played another card. In a late-night speech on national television and radio, Emile Jonassaint,
81, accused the international community of unfairly ganging up on a poor, misunderstood island nation.
“The battle of Haiti is under way,” he declared. “Through humiliation and intimidations, through embargoes and isolation that clearly show primary racism and denial of all our values, here we are at a point where, openly, war is declared on a state threatening no one, nor international peace and security. Today Haiti, tomorrow what other sovereign state?” Jonassaint then declared a state of siege.
Few Haitians were awake for the predawn broadcast. And most of those who were could not watch or listen to it: because of a UN energy-and-trade embargo, state-run Electricité d’Haiti generates only five hours of power a week. That embargo, which has already caused prices of most goods to skyrocket and thrown at least 25,000 Haitians out of work over the past two months, could soon tighten. The Dominican Republic last week agreed to allow international surveillance of its 330-km-long border with Haiti to seal the frontier against fuel smuggling. In the Haitian capital of Port-auPrince, U.S. Embassy spokesman Stanley Schräger said that 88 U.S., Dominican and other soldiers, including 15 Canadians, were expected to be stationed at the border, which will also be patrolled by U.S. military helicopters. Meanwhile, about 2,000 U.S.
marines remained stationed aboard ships north of Haiti, while hundreds more carried out military exercises on neighboring islands.
Canada’s support of the UN resolution authorizing a U.S.-led invasion represents a dramatic change in policy. In June, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien argued that sanctions
should be given more time to work, calling military intervention “the last option” and “not an option that we favor.” Last month, Foreign Affairs Minister André Ouellet softened that stance, saying that the Haitian regime’s defiance of the international community “can’t go on indefinitely.” But although Ottawa now officially backs an invasion, Chrétien made it clear last week that Canadian troops will not take part in it. “We want to maintain the role of Canada as a peacekeeper so when the intervention is over we are in a better position to play a very useful role,” he said. Canada has already agreed to train police for work in Haiti once democracy is restored.
Offering a compromise solution to the political crisis, the president of the Haitian
Senate, Bernard Sansaricq, said last week that the head of the renegade military ggj regime, Lt.-Gen. Raoul Cédras, may step £j| down as early as October but no later than Sj January 31. But he urged Aristide to follow & suit. That plan won tentative support from U.S. Senate Republican leader Bob Dole, who
said that it “might make sense.” Dole, along with several other conservative congressmen who oppose U.S. military intervention in Haiti, considers Aristide a radical who is not worth defending with American lives. But White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers made it clear that there was no change in the U.S. position that the deposed president must be reinstated. “We expect democracy to be restored and President Aristide, who was elected with 67 per cent of the Haitian people’s vote as their elected leader, to be restored as well,” she said. Despite the growing pressure on Cédras’s regime to step down, there were few outward signs in the capital that government leaders feared an imminent invasion. Soldiers did complete a nine-foot-high cinder block wall around the parliament building and closed off the streets bordering army and police headquarters with a less-than-imposing two-foothigh barricade of sandbags. But despite Jonassaint’s claim that Haitians would fight invaders “with all our might and means,” leaders of the 7,000-member military clearly have other ideas. They have repeatedly told reporters that rather than try to defend against an overwhelming force of crack U.S. troops, Haitian soldiers will simply take off their uniforms, return to their homes and deny any links to the military. Described as the “evaporation theory,” the soldiers and their civilian allies will
then launch a quintessential^ Haitian guerrilla campaign to force the invaders out. “We are talking powder, poison darts, poisoned waters, zombification,” said Emmanuel Constant, leader of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), a brutal paramilitary force responsible for much of the violence against Aristide’s supporters. More than 400 such Haitians have been killed so far this year.
Indeed, two more bound and bullet-ridden bodies were dumped last week on the main thoroughfare leading to Cité Soleil, a wretched slum in the capital, known as a bastion of support for Aristide. At the same time, a former Haitian senator, Reynold Georges, who had recently dropped his support for the military regime, was shot and wounded in the back, according to his wife. She said her husband, leader of the tiny Alliance for the Liberation and Advancement of Haiti party, was attacked by a carload of police and soldiers in Port-au-Prince. Georges had appeared on a CNN broadcast calling for Cédras to resign.
In another sign of military violence, uniformed police and plainclothes auxiliaries beat up a group of people waiting in line in Port-au-Prince to apply for political asylum in the United States. U.S. Embassy spokesman Schräger said police took away three of the would-be applicants. Since the Clinton administration announced last month that it would no longer allow Haitian boat people to settle in the United States—about 60,000 have fled their homeland since Aristide was toppled—the number of Haitians applying for asylum at the incountry processing centre in the capital has risen substantially. But about 1,500 successful applicants have nowhere to go: all commercial flights to and from Haiti have been suspended under the UN embargo, and the military government has rejected American requests for charter flights to take them out. Meanwhile, they fear for their lives. Said Schräger: “As the security situation deteriorates, these people could potentially be in danger.”
Even as the war clouds gathered over Haiti, a pervasive naïveté gripped the country’s voodoo-practising president. “Mr. Jonassaint believes the African gods will protect him,” said Mireille Durocher Bertin, a pro-military lawyer and former chief of staff to Jonassaint. “He believes there will be a veil over the sea.” Few others in the renegade government appeared to see things any more clearly. “Why does everyone hate us?” asked one senior official, shortly before the latest bullet-ridden bodies turned up on the streets of the capital. ‘Why? You know we are doing good work.”
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.