|Remilitarization in Haiti|
|Written by Jeb Sprague|
Following the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010, the country’s small right wing has had a political comeback.
As with the shocking return of former dictator Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier in early 2011 (who remains unaccountable for his crimes), through a controversial and poorly attended election, musician Michel Martelly, a longtime neo-Duvalierist, was able to woo a small part of the population as an “outsider” candidate.
Since the 2004 coup d’état in Haiti, there has been a clear rollback of the slow but positive reforms that had been undertaken by Haiti’s popularly elected governments. Judicial rulings that had held accountable some of the country’s most violent elites, army, and paramilitary criminals in the early 2000s and late 1990s were overturned. As we now know through WikiLeaks, 400 paramilitaries were integrated into Haiti’s revamped post-coup police force. A UN force has also remained in the country since mid-2004.
The most stunning achievement of Haiti’s democratic period, though, has been more difficult to undo: this was the disbandment of Haiti’s brutal military and rural section chiefs. The forces had been built up to support the US occupation in the early 20th century and by the 1960s a symbiotic relationship had formed between the forces and a cold war paramilitary apparatus set up in the country. The Tonton Macoute paramilitary force, set up under François “Papa Doc” Duvalier (and responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands), eventually would become even more reliant on Haiti’s military following the fall of Papa Doc’s son, Jean Claude.
Today, with a UN occupation and hard-line right-wing government in power, the victory of Haiti’s grassroots pro-democracy movement in disbanding the military, is being put to the test. In recent months Haiti’s government formed a ministry of defense, which has already begun rebuilding the army.
Haiti’s population is widely opposed to the army’s reformation. Yet, unable to win by free and fair elections, dominant sectors have sought to disenfranchise or manipulate the country’s voters, yet they have still required periodic doses of political violence.
There is a clear danger that history will repeat itself in Haiti. Whereas France has offered to help rebuild the ex-army, Ecuador and Brazil are reportedly moving forward to help train it.
As of now, officials from the Canadian government and U.S. Department of State have said the force would be a waste of resources. However, agencies within these governments often carry out contradictory policies. The U.S. has a long history of facilitating army and paramilitary forces in the country. Infamous macoute killers, such as Frank Romain, received their training at the School of the Americas.
Jeb Sprague is the author of Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti
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