August 31, 2011
A January 2006 cable recently made available by Wikileaks describes Haitian business leaders’ efforts to pressure MINUSTAH to crack down on slums, in particular Cite Soleil (site of the July 5, 2005 operation that resulted in dozens of unarmed civilian deaths and injuries, including of children). In the cable, then-Charge d’Affairs to the post-coup interim regime (and now Executive Vice President for the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund), Timothy Carney, describes how the business leaders also “pleaded” with him for more ammunition for the police:
Â¶2. (SBU) SUMMARY: Leaders of the Haitian business community told Charge that they would call a general strike for Monday, January 9 to protest MINUSTAH,s ineffectiveness in countering the recent upswing of violence and kidnappings. Representatives will also meet with UNSRSG [Special Representative to the UN Secretary General] Juan Gabriel Valdez to pressure him to take action against the criminal gangs. They also pleaded with the Charge for more ammunition for the police. Charge told the group to be ready to assist Cite Soleil immediately after a MINUSTAH operation, if it were to take place, and countered that the problem of the police was not a a lack of ammunition, but a lack of skills and training. Clearly, the private sector is worried about the recent upsurge in violence. END SUMMARY.
The cable describes how the business leaders (Reginald Boulos, President of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Rene-Max Auguste, President of the American Chamber of Commerce; Gladys Coupet, President of the bankers’ association, and Carl Auguste Boisson, President of the petroleum distributors’ association) wanted MINUSTAH to systematically sweep through Cite Soleil, one of Haiti’s poorest slums:
Â¶5. (SBU) Representatives of the private sector will also meet one-on-one with UNSRSG Juan Gabriel Valdez to pressure him personally to take action against the criminal gangs in Cite Soleil. Boulos argued that MINUSTAH could take back the slum if it were to work systematically, section by section, in securing the area. Immediately after MINUSTAH secured
Cite Soleil, Boulos said that he and other groups were prepared to go in immediately with social programs and social spending. NOTE: Boulos has been active in providing social programs in Cite Soleil for many years. END NOTE.
Carney warned them that this would “inevitably cause unintended civilian casualties”. But rather than a warning that such an operation should be out of the question, considering the “inevitable” civilian deaths it would entail, Carney merely cautioned that the business leaders should follow up the raid with “social programs and social spending”, presumably to calm the expected outrage among Cite Soleil residents:
Â¶6. (SBU) The Charge cautioned that such an operation would inevitably cause unintended civilian casualties given the crowded conditions and flimsy construction of tightly packed housing in Cite Soleil. Therefore, the private sector associations must be willing to quickly assist in the aftermath of such an operation, including providing financial support to families of potential victims. Boulos agreed.
(Indeed, there were dozens of civilian casualties – including children – during MINUSTAH’s raid into Cite Soleil in July 2005. The outcry following that incident, limited though it was, is a likely explanation for what the business leaders saw as MINUSTAH’s “ineffectiveness” in the months that followed.)
According to the cable, Carney – a founding board member of the Washington, D.C. based “Haiti Democracy Project”, along with Boulos’ brother Rudolph – was effectively giving a “green light” to the Haitian elite’s call for an assault on Cite Soleil, even though he was sure civilians (bystanders, in this case, people inside their own homes), would be killed. The implications of the cable are all the worse considering that the term “gangs” was often a euphemism – like “chimeres” or “bandits” – to describe impoverished, pro-Aristide Haitians, and considering that a Lancet study determined that there may have been as many as 4,000 political murders during the 2004-2006 post-coup period.
The cable also describes how Boulos and Auguste asked Carney for ammo for the Haitian police (who, at the time, were carrying out extra-judicial executions [PDF] in the streets, and even participating in broad daylight massacres of Fanmi Lavalas supporters at soccer stadiums): “Boulos began reading off a specific list of needed ammunition, but Charge pointed out that it was not a question of lack of ammunition, but a lack of training of the police officers.” Again, Carney’s reaction is telling, if not shocking. Rather than express surprise or outrage, Carney’s response is not an objection to the request for ammunition in itself, but rather that Boulos has mis-diagnosed the problem. Carney’s summary of the conversation is also damning in that there was a U.S. arms embargo on Haiti at the time (partially lifted later that year), albeit one that the Bush administration was already known to be violating. As Newsday’s Letta Tayler reported in February 2006:
Guns are smuggled in from neighbouring countries or obtained from the United States, despite a U.S. embargo on arms sales to Haiti.
Washington imposed the embargo in 1991, after the military toppled Aristide, but kept it in place after U.S. marines returned him to power in 1994. Since Aristide’s second ouster in 2004, the U.S. government has given at least 2,600 used side arms to Haitian police, arguing that without bigger and better weapons, the tiny, poorly equipped force can’t compete against machine-gun-toting gangsters.