July 07, 2011
The Associated Press reports that Martelly has officially announced that Bernard Gousse will be his nominee for Prime Minister. As the AP notes, Gousse was “justice minister under the interim government that took power in 2004 after former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted. Critics accused him of persecuting supporters of Aristide.” Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald reported today on Gousse’s “rocky past” noting his “god awful” reputation as Justice Minister. Charles reports that his nomination “has sparked outrage among some parliamentarians, who repeatedly warned Martelly in meetings this week that Gousse was an unacceptable choice and his nomination would be rejected.” While the Miami Herald article scratches the surface of Gousse’s “rocky past”, one could go even further. The government and its supporters after the coup, while Gousse was justice minister, were responsible for some of the worst political violence in the hemisphere. The medical journal The Lancet estimated in 2006 that the dictatorship installed after the 2004 coup murdered around 4000 people in the greater Port-au-Prince area alone. At the same time the government jailed hundreds of Lavalas supporters and officials from the ousted, democratic government – sometimes for years, and often without charge, or on trumped-up charges that were later thrown out. Under Gousse, some media outlets that opposed the coup, such as Radio-Télé Ti Moun, were shut down, and some journalists arrested.
Gousse’s record as Justice Minister led 10 members of the US Congress to write to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in 2005:
First, it is obvious that interim Justice Minister Gousse must be removed immediately. He has clearly demonstrated that he is unwilling to conduct his duties in an objective and responsible manner. His continued presence in the government eliminates any chance that elections planned for later this year will be free and fair. Put simply, both his attitude and his actions have actually increased Haiti’s instability and have guaranteed that Haiti will remain volatile even after the elections.
Gousse, prior to becoming Justice Minister, had worked for USAID during the 1990s and then for the International Foundation for Electoral Systems [IFES] from 2002 up until the coup that overthrew Aristide in 2004. In a 2004 human rights investigation, the University of Miami School of Law detailed IFES’ role in the overthrow of Aristide. The report notes:
The administrators reported that IFES, through its creation or “sensitization” of associations, set the groundwork for the establishment and nurturing of the Group of 184 — the business-centered coalition led by factory owner Andy Apaid that played a major role in Aristide’s ouster. In fact, according to the Haitian administrators, when Andy Apaid’s Group of 184 held a meeting in Cite Soleil in July 2003, the IFES leadership presented a program explaining that, under Aristide, “prosecutors won’t prosecute.”
When the Group of 184 wanted to introduce its “new Social Contract” at the Inisyativ Sitwayen (“Citizens’ Initiative”) presentation in Cap Haïtien, IFES financed it. The administrators stated that this group became “the first association to effectively resist Aristide.” They stated that IFES rented the space for the meeting, paid for the logistics and sound system, funded all activities at the forum, and paid a “per diem” cash benefit to attendees.
The report continues:
The administrators claimed that President Aristide’s other serious mistake was the murder of Amiot “Cubain” Métayer, a prominent leader in Gonaïves. IFES took the position that President Aristide had Métayer killed [Ed. Note: Nobody has ever been charged in the killing]. After the killing, violence broke out in Gonaives and, according to the administrators, Bernard Gousse wanted to be there to support the victims. He traveled to Gonaives in a USAID-marked vehicle “for protection” and under the auspices of a “medical association” that IFES had formed or “sensitized,” known as IMEDH. Asked to clarify whether Gousse went to Gonaïves in support of all victims of violence or a particular group, the administrators stated that “Gousse wanted to be with the rebels.”
According to author Peter Hallward, the leader of a post-coup paramilitary death squad, Ravix Rémissanthe, claimed to have been “armed, funded and supported by members of the G184 and the de facto government, including Gousse”.
Shortly after the coup, Gousse began investigating Aristide and other members of his political party, Fanmi Lavalas, while at the same time undermining efforts to prosecute rebel leaders. While former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune was imprisoned without charges for months, two notorious rebel leaders were let off the hook. One such rebel was Jean Pierre Baptiste, known as Jean Tatoune. Human Rights Watch (HRW) described Tatoune as a “local FRAPH leader during the 1991-1994 military government” who “was sentenced to life imprisonment for the Raboteau massacre,” but had escaped from prison in 2002 and joined the insurgency against Aristide. (FRAPH was a death squad organization that killed political opponents during the 1991-1994 military dictatorship in Haiti.) In an interview with HRW, Gousse said he would consider reducing Tatoune’s sentence because “he’s fought against two dictatorships,” referring to Duvalier and Aristide. The other rebel leader was Luis Jodel Chamblain (currently working as security chief for Duvalier), who “was convicted in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment for the 1993 murder of Antoine Izméry, a well-known pro-democracy activist, and for involvement in the April 1994 Raboteau massacre in which some 20 people are believed to have been killed.” The comments led Joanne Mariner, deputy director of Americas Division for Human Rights Watch, to state, “The contrast between the Haitian government’s eagerness to prosecute former Aristide officials and its indifference to the abusive record of certain rebel leaders could not be more stark.”
In August of 2004, the New York Times editorial board described the initial proceedings against Chamblain, noting Gousse’s favorable opinion of the convicted murderer:
Under Haitian law, Mr. Chamblain was entitled to new trials after his return from exile. The first, in the Izméry case, was held this week. In a quickly convened overnight proceeding, the prosecution produced just one witness — who claimed to know nothing about the case — and Mr. Chamblain was promptly acquitted.
Washington rightly deplored the haste and ”procedural deficiencies” of the Chamblain retrial. But it should not have been particularly surprised.
Haiti’s justice minister, Bernard Gousse, earlier suggested that Mr. Chamblain might be pardoned ”for his great services to the nation” as a leader of the anti-Aristide rebellion in February. [Ed. Note: He was also involved in the 1991 overthrow of Aristide]
Then, some nine months later, Haiti’s supreme court overruled the 1994 ruling on the massacre in Raboteau. Reed Lindsay, writing for the Washington Times reported at the time:
Last week, the convictions of at least 15 of the Raboteau defendants were overturned by Haiti’s Supreme Court in a murky ruling that angered human rights activists.
“In a country in which the poor have been killed and brutalized with impunity for centuries, Raboteau was perhaps the only time that justice was achieved after a massacre, and in a scrupulously fair trial,” said Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch.
Last December, Justice Minister Bernard Gousse removed two prominent judges’ caseloads after they ordered the release of prisoners who were political opponents of the government.
The Supreme Court’s decision comes nine months after paramilitary leader Louis Jodel Chamblain was acquitted of the 1993 murder of pro-democracy activist Antoine Izmery in an overnight trial that Amnesty International condemned as “a very sad record in the history of Haiti.”
Gousse eventually resigned, amid continued criticism, in June of 2005.