Haiti History – Trial of the Massacres of Raboteau

This post, from my series of posts on the history of Haiti, taken from Dr. Paul Farmer’s book Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor gives excerpts of the history of Haiti, especially surrounding the massacre that took place in Raboteau. On April 22, 1994, during the 1991-1994 de facto military dictatorship that came to power following the 1991 Haitian coup d’état against Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a group of Aristide supporters were beaten and killed by civilian and para-military forces. (A side-note here is that the city of Philadelphia dumped a barge of toxic waste on Haiti, which ended up sitting at the port not far from the slum of Raboteau.)

Also check out this documentary Pote Mak Sonje (Whoever Bears the Scar Remembers): The Raboteau Trial for more information. More info also at this site: Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.

The following are taken from Chapter 2 Pestilance and Restraint: Guantanamo, AIDS and the Logic of Quarantine:

“Landmark human rights trials have taken place recently in Haiti, a first. The most important of these occurred in Gonaïves, once famous as the place where Haiti’s declaration of independence was signed, after the slaves’ decisive 1803 victory over Napoleon’s forces.”

Massacre of Raboteau April 22, 1994:

The main attack started before dawn on April 22. Army troops and paramilitaries approached Raboteau from several angles and started shooting. They charged into houses, breaking down doors, stealing and destroying possessions. They terrorized the occupants. Young and old, men, women, and children were threatened, beaten, forced to lie in open sewers and arrested. -p81

In a surprising and unprecedented example of comeuppance, the members of the military and paramilitary who had conducted the raid were brought to trial in the city of Gonaives itself. It took five years of pre-trial proceedings before the trial commenced. The trial took six weeks, from September 28 to November 10, 2000. The jury delivered guilty verdicts for sixteen of the twenty-two accused and convicted, in absentia, all members of the Haitian high command, including many who had benefited from training in the US. -p81-82

The process of collecting evidence was slow, certainly, and the trial was at times raucous; but local and international jurisprudence experts agreed that it was a marvelously successful strike against impunity. All agreed that the trial rose to international standards and was fundamentally fair to victims and defendants alike. Lawyer Brian Concannon, one of the leading figures at the trial, argued that “the Raboteau trial should also serve as a model, and an inspiration, for efforts to combat impunity around the world. The dedication of the victims, and the Haitian government’s persistence and innovation in trying new approaches, are transferable to many situations.”

In convicting the high command, the trial also inculpated by association their benefactors abroad. the transnational mechanisms of structural violence were exposed clearly. Perhaps for this reason, as much as any other, the Raboteau trial went largely unnoticed in the US and foreign press, which instead ran story after story about how hopeless Haiti’s judicial and police systems were.

Another note of caution was sounded by the UN Independent Expert on Haiti. Adama Dieng nothed that the “Haitian justice system must continue to pursue those convicted in absentia” and called on “countries where the fugitives may be found cooperate with the Haitian authorities to arrest and extradite them. -p82

Alas, these countries did not cooperate willingly with Haitian authorities. Haiti was increasingly isolated from other Latin American countries that were harboring the coup-prone generals, sometimes at the behest of the US. The US refused to release a large cache of 160,000 pages of relevant information. After a decade spent studying twenty “truth commissions” around the world, Priscilla Hayner observes that “the Haitian case is perhaps the worst example of a foreign power blocking a state’s access to its own truth. Her study is worth citing at length:

When US forces invaded Haiti in the fall of 1994, they drove trucks straight to the offices of the armed forces and the brutal paramilitary group, the Front for Haitian Advancement and Progress (FRAPH), hauling away documents, photos, videos, and other material that contained extensive evidence of the egregious abuses of these forces, including gruesome “trophy photos” of FRAPH victims. Some foreign rights advocates in Haiti who came into possession of some of this material also handed it over to US troops, relieved that it would be in safer hands. “There wasn’t a photocopier working in the entire country, so you couldn’t make copies of things, and in the chaos of the moment nowhere else was secure,” one person told me. But everyone assumed the material would be returned to Haiti when things settled down. On the contrary, none of theses materials have been released by the US. The assumed reason for this intransigence is not flattering: the US provided direct support to some of those directly implicated in abuses, paying key FRAPH leaders as intelligence sources, and these documents would almost certainly reveal these connections and the complicity of the US government in supporting known thugs. The US eventually offered to return the documents only if the Haitian government would agree to restrictions on the use of the material, and after certain portions were blacked out, but the Haitians refused these conditions. Despite formal requests to the US government for access to the documents, the Haitian truth commission completed its work, and a number of important trials have gone forward, without the benefit of any of this damning documentary evidence. -p83

A long legal struggle, with broad international grassroots support, led to recovery of the documents in January 2001. In addition, as the result of pressure from Haiti and others, including Amnesty International USA, two members of the high command have been ordered deported from the US and are in INS custody. Colonels Herbert Balmond, the head of intelligence in the high command, and Carl Dorelien, head of personnel, were both convicted of murder in the Raboteau case. They fled to Florida, apparently a haven from democracy, when constitutional rule was restored to Haiti. Constant, the founder of FRAPH, is still living as a free man in Queens, NY, despite a 1995 deportation order. US officials admit that Constant was paid by the CIA and discussed his paramilitary activities with the agency.

The Haitian government is concerned about such individuals, and with good reason. In the past several months, former Haitian military officers have staged coup attempts from the Dominican Republic and perhaps from other countries. -p84

The main political opposition is a motley group called, without irony, the “Converence Democratique. ” The Convergence is, however, united in its unswerving opposition to Aristide and to the right of the poor majority to have a say in Haiti’s affairs.

Although the Convergence has scant popular support within Haiti, it clearly has support in Washington. The Convergence is funded, at least in part, by the US International Republican Institute, which is associated, to no one’s surprise, with the US Republican Party and obtains funding from Congress through the National Endowment for Democracy. In this sense, then, Haitians do experience impunity, but it comes from the US government, not from their own.-p84

The Haitian government joined Cuba as one of the only republics in the hemisphere under a US aid embargo. Trumped-up charges regarding the proper methods of tallying ballots during the May 2000 legislative elections are the avowed reason for this embargo, which extends even to loans already approved for improving health care and education. Ironically, charges of election irregularities were being leveled against the Haitian government at the same time as serious allegations concerning the US electoral process, most notably in Florida, were being investigated. -p85

The US -sponsored embargo against Haiti, however, is targeting the most vulnerable population in the hemisphere. Its impact has been profound, as a report from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is quick to note. In a recent report on Haiti, IDB officials write that “overall, the major factor behind economic stagnation is the with-holding of both foreign grants and loans, associated with the international community’s response to the critical political impasse. These funds are estimated at over US $500 million.”

The IDB should know, for it is among the institutions punishing Haiti. US Congresswoman Barbara Lee made the following statement in recent weeks:

The US has used its veto powers on the IDBs board of Directors to stop all loans designated to Haiti and has chilled funding opportunities at the other financial institutions, like the World Bank and IMF, pending a resolution of the political situation in Haiti. This situation is unique because the loans in question have been approved by the bank’s board of executive directors, and the Haitian Government has ratified the debt and signed contractual documents.

This veto is particularly disturbing since the charter of the IDB specifically states that the Bank shall not intervene in the politics of its member states. The Bush Administration has decided to leverage political change in a member country by embargoing loans that the Bank has a contractual obligation to disburse. -p86

On May 15, 2001, notwithstanding the fact that not one penny of this or any other IDB loan had been disbursed, the IDB advised the Haitians that the government would be required to pay what it called a “credit commission” of 0.5% on the entire balance of undisbursed funds effective twelve months after the date on which the loans had been approved. As of March 31, 2001, then, Haiti already owed the IDB a $185,239.75 “commission fee” on a loan never recieved. The total amount of such fees owed on five development loans from the IDB, all taken out in previous decades, was $2,311,422. The chief IDB officer in Haiti called for the payment of “$20 million in loan arrears and reform [of government] economic practices” prior to access to credit. many of the loans on which arrears were “owed” were, of course, made to the dictatorships and military juntas of past years. -p88

Of course, claims of causality are always difficult to prove. But whether or not these conditions are caused by international policies, it is clear that aggressive humanitarian aid could have an immediate and salutary impact if it could be channeled through institutions with national reach. Increasingly, however, aid has been decreased or funneled to non-governmental organizations that make largely local contributions.

Many of the rural poor whom we see in our clinic are bitter about the current embargo, which they seem to regard as an attempt to bring down “their” government. One patient observed that “every time the Haitians try to organize our country so that everyone can eat, there is an embargo from the United States.” When I asked which other embargoes she had in mind, she replied, “From 1804 until the end of slavery in the United States. That’s over fifty years no?” She was right: the US refused to recognize Haiti diplomatically until 1862. To quote a US senator from South Carolina, speaking on the Senate floor in 1824, “The peace and safety of a large portion of our union forbids us even to discuss [it].”

In a setting of enormous poverty, the funds invested in an anti-Aritide opposition have had significant impact. Most Haitians are surprised neither by the embargo nor by US support for the opposition. These offenses square neatly with almost two centuries of foreign and local disdain for the Haitian poor. This is the view from central Haiti, a view almost never acknowledged by Haiti’s elite, much less beyond the country’s borders. -p89

But the Haitian people have always managed to stand for something, even in the most difficult moments. I’ll close with the words of human rights lawyer Brian Concannon:

This insistence on justice by the Haitian people and government is a lesson to the rest of the world, which almost always has more resources and less justice. Efforts by Chile to prosecute Pinochet are laudable, but come twenty-eight years after his crimes. The resources committed for the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia are impressive, but have produced half the convictions of the Raboteau trial. The key to Haiti’s relative success, and its lesson to the rest of the world, is the government’s acting on what the victims of Haiti, and of Chili and the Balkans, have always known: there is no reconciliation, there is no democracy, without justice. -p90

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