Haiti: civil war and a glimpse of a third power

Submitted by Anon on 25 February, 2004 - 1:45

By Dan Katz

The crisis facing the Haitian government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide continued on Sunday 15 February with a mass demonstration in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Thousands of demonstrators - who blame the president for rigging elections in 2000 - demanded Aristide's resignation.
Aristide faces both these large-scale mobilisations and the armed groups which have seized a number of areas in the north of Haiti. These armed gangs seem to have been reinforced by some supporters of the old Haitian dictatorship who have entered Haiti from the neighbouring Dominican Republic.

Fighters led by Louis-Jodel Chamblain, a former soldier who headed army death squads in 1987, and a militia known as the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, or FRAPH, which killed scores of people in the early 1990s, have returned. And Guy Philippe, a former police chief who fled to the Dominican Republic after being accused by the Haitian government of fomenting a coup in 2002, also arrived to help the rebels.

One of the most prominent opposition leaders, Andre Apaid, said he did not approve of violent methods to remove Aristide. Apaid is a well-known sweatshop capitalist, and no friend of Haiti's poor.

Aristide, a former radical priest, became Haiti's first democratically elected president in 1990. Seven months after the election he was overthrown in a coup. He was put back in power with the help of the US military in 1994.

Aristide abolished the army in the mid-90s, and only 4,000 badly trained and poorly equipped police defend the state. Like the opposition, Aristide has relied on paid gangs to intimidate political opponents.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell has said that though Aristide's time in power had been disappointing, "regime change" is not the way forward. In talks with Canada and Caribbean countries, Powell has discussed sending foreign police to Haiti to shore up Aristide's rule.

The French government has stated that it is considering sending a "peacekeeping force" to Haiti. France is the former colonial power.

Because of the fighting, followed by the closure of the border with the Dominican Republic, a number of towns in the north of Haiti face a humanitarian crisis. Red Cross representatives in several northern regions of the country say that unless the situation is resolved in the next few days, a lot of people will be facing very difficult conditions.

In the midst of this crisis workers at the Ouanaminthe Codevi free trade zone have succeeded in organising themselves and completing the registration of a new union, the Sendika Ouvriye Kodevi Wanament (SOKOWA). It offers a glimpse of a different sort of power in Haiti.

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