Haiti Liberté: Haiti’s Army Re-Mobilizing?

07Apr11

Haiti’s Army Re-Mobilizing?
by Isabeau Doucet
Haiti’s President-elect Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly campaigned on the promise to restore the nation’s army which former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide “demobilized” in 1995. But even before Martelly’s inauguration on May 14, the Haitian Army – known as the Forces Armées d’Haïti or FAdH – has been training at camps around Haiti.One can see this at FAdH camp, No. 7, Lambi 12, Grande Saline, on the southern outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

On a hillside by the sea, past crumpled houses and a graveyard, some 150 former military and young recruits train three times a week. They say they are part of a network of camps all over the country training Haitians in military salutes, marches, tactics, swimming and karate. Their uniforms are hand-painted FAdH logos on old t-shirts. No weapons are in sight.

They say they intend to bring security to Haiti as first responders in times of crisis and hope to soon be employed.

The black and red flag instituted as Haiti’s under the father-to-son dictatorships of François and Jean-Claude Duvalier (1957-1986) hangs in their tarpaulin dressing room flanked by old paintings of founding fathers Henry Christophe and Jean- Jacques Dessalines. They all say they voted for Martelly and claim he visited the camp. This is quite possible; Martelly has always been close to Haiti’s soldiers, having been a (failed) cadet himself.

The prospect of an army career, with its training, uniforms, and stable employment, is surely enticing to young people frustrated by the seven year presence of the UN occupation troops, known as MINUSTAH. Canada has invested over $555 million in Haiti between 2006 to 2011, much of it in training and strengthening Haiti’s National Police (PNH). But “the police force does not receive a military training” says Aubain Larose, Sergeant spokesperson for this FAdH camp. “Every time a policeman stops a criminal, there’s another criminal that comes and frees him. The police serve criminals, and when they don’t, they get shot. As military men we say we can’t accept that the country function like this.

It’s not clear why Haiti would need an army. It is neither threatened (if you don’t count the three U.S. interventions into the country in 1915, 1994, and 2004) nor a threat. Haiti Progrès director Ben Dupuy, raised in a military family, is critical of the FAdH’s past role. “We have to remember that the Haitian army was the creation of the US Army, in fact the Marine corps,” he said. “The US occupied Haiti for 19 years” and the army served as “a kind of a local proxy army for the US. In fact, they played more of a political role creating coups d’états.

FAdH officers carried out the 1991 coup against Aristide, and demobilized soldiers joined with former death-squad paramilitaries to constitute the 300 or so “rebels” that overran Northern Haiti in the weeks leading up to Aristide’s second overthrow on Feb. 29, 2004.

Since then, the “rebels” were put out to pasture, and Haiti has been militarily occupied by UN troops despite posing no threat to international peace.

When asked about the crimes against humanity of which the FAdH and Duvalier’s Tonton Macoutes stand accused, Pierre Jeans Rigaud, a 26-year-old recruit and diplomacy student, shrugged. He said he is too young to have proof of that, but questioned the legal immunity of UN troops. Last August, “on the military base in Cap Haïtien they tortured a young Haitian boy, the MINUSTAH soldiers did, and then the threw him out dead,” he said. “To this day, there had been no follow up investigation on the torture that caused his death. We don’t have this in our army.

The outgoing government of President René Préval has turned a blind eye to the camps of former and possibly future Haitian soldiers. The PNH Director General, Mario Andrésol, said he was not aware of the group and doubted they were part of the former military, saying they were probably private security companies or charlatans tricking young people into hoping for a job. “Did you ask to see their military badge?” he responded. “Anyone can print FAdH on an old T-shirt, it doesn’t mean anything.” But he promised to investigate further.

Likewise, Aramick Louis, the secretary of state for public security declined to comment directly when told about the camps. He said only that “the army and police are republican institutions that have hierarchy and take orders from the head of state. I don’t know what’s going on there, but if it’s not in accordance with the law and the state, I have no comment.

It’s not clear where the funding for the camps is coming from. Although they claim to all be volunteers, the military trainers and trainees have funds for a dentist, a doctor, a hill, staff and tents (which they claim were donated by the Haitian government).

Will the Haitian army be resurrected as Martelly promised on the campaign trail? The would-be soldiers at FAdh Camp No. 7 are certainly counting on it.

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