Violence Surges in Haiti: Armed Strife Threatens 'The Destruction of a Nation'
Regan, Jane, National Catholic Reporter
Eight months after Jean-Bertrand Aristide resigned amidst civil and armed strife, the conflicts and polarization that ripped this country apart are as palpable as ever.
"What is going on is literally insane," human rights activist Jean-Claude Bajeux said. "It is what we call in philosophy a death march. If we can't stop this, we are looking at the destruction of the Haitian nation."
Bajeux was referring to the political violence that has dominated Haiti for decades, always coexisting in an almost surreal manner with the rest of Haitian life.
On a recent sunny day, hundreds of well-dressed Haitian politicians and civic leaders and a smattering of international consultants huddled around tables in the air-conditioned rooms of a fancy hotel on the hill overlooking the harbor. Between coffee breaks and buffets, they discussed the elections slated for 2005.
A little way down the mountainside, the U.N. compound, housing hundreds of development and aid experts and the blue-helmeted soldiers and police from the 3,500-member U.N. peacekeeping mission, was packed. The sprawling development kept cool and electrified by a massive generator (state electricity being only an occasional thing) was abuzz with plans, projects and projections; the walls were papered with charts and maps.
But on the edge of town, a platoon of armed men dressed in camouflage exercised, brandishing everything from M-14s to semiautomatic Israeli Galils. Haiti has no army--the armed forces were disbanded by Aristide in 1995 following a coup d'etat--but these men are demanding they be reconstituted.
And at the bottom of the hill, the sporadic rattle of automatic gunfire echoed across the dirty downtown. Grey smoke rose from burning tire barricades. Schools, businesses and banks were shuttered. Black-hooded, black-helmeted policemen scurried down rock-strewn streets that looked like those of a country in a state of civil war.
More than 55 people, among them nine police officers, have been killed in the capital since political violence erupted Sept. 30. That day--the 13th anniversary of the 1991 military coup d'etat against Aristide (during his first term)--a few hundred people demonstrated to demand Aristide's return. Police clashed with marchers. When it was over, three or four policemen and perhaps an equal number of demonstrators were dead.
The headless bodies of three policemen were later found. Aristide supporters dubbed their action "Operation Baghdad" and said they would not stop until Aristide was returned to power.
Since then, the bodies of men with fatal bullet wounds to the head and the back are among the near daffy deliveries to the putrid-smelling city morgue, where cadavers rot because the refrigeration unit has been on the fritz for two months. Haitian police and U.N. peacekeepers have struggled to bring order, but not enough to satisfy diplomats. Canada and the United States have advised their citizens not to visit Haiti, and the United States also moved all nonessential embassy personnel out. …