Chile’s Juan Gabriél Valdés Takes Over UN-Haiti Mission
The international community may finally be preparing to take a more responsible position on the breakdown of democracy and the rule of law in Haiti which culminated in the deposition of the Caribbean republic’s president at the end of February. On July 12, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan selected veteran Chilean diplomat Juan Gabriél Valdés to be the Special Representative of the Secretary General for the United Nations mission in Haiti. Well-known as a principled diplomat who has taken a number of courageous stands in his distinguished career, Valdés will step into the post that his predecessor, John Reginald Dumas of Trinidad and Tobago, disgraced during each of his five months in office.
Thus far the UN’s reaction to Haiti’s diplomatic crisis has been, at best, unimpressive. After failing to intervene in the troubled Caribbean nation in time to preserve Aristide’s elected government, the UN Secretary General’s office issued a report authored by Dumas that was distortedly critical of the ousted president Aristide. The report accused him of failing to advance the cause of democracy and contributing to lawlessness in Haiti, while being almost embarrassingly sympathetic to the opposition groups that had undermined the country’s president by adamantly refusing to negotiate with him. Dumas’ unmitigated faulting of Aristide as grounds to explain Haiti’s plight was outrageously simplistic; the UN official’s tendentious report demonstrated less concern for democracy than for the persuasive influence of the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince. By his comments at the time and by allowing such a biased report to be issued in his name, Kofi Annan gave his tacit approval to Aristide’s ouster – a move that may represent one of the low points of his UN career. In the months since Aristide’s removal, the UN has remained deaf to CARICOM’s attempts to initiate a UN-sanctioned investigation into the circumstances of the former president’s abrupt departure from Haiti. When it came to Haiti, Annan did not shine.
A former foreign minister and the son of a foreign minister, Juan Gabriél Valdés brings a host of close diplomatic ties and expertise as well as a passion for multilateralism to his new task. The appointment of Valdés, who served as the Chilean Ambassador to Argentina until his appointment to the UN post, marks a refreshing change from the lack of responsibility that the UN has shown thus far in dealing with the Haiti crisis. Annan’s selection of Valdés reflects their close relationship, which dates from the latter’s leadership in the debate on Iraq. At the time, Valdés was serving as the head of Chile’s UN delegation, a post he held until last year. Supported by all members of the Security Council as well as the Haitian interim government, Valdés’ installation as the UN’s supreme day-to-day decision maker regarding UN personnel involved in Haiti will hopefully generate new momentum in the international community’s previously ineffective attempts to aid the reconstruction of the ruined country. Although the Bush administration viewed Valdés as unreliable if not overtly hostile when it came to several of its own self-serving policy initiatives, it ended up backing him for the UN post, perhaps out of a guilty conscience.
Washington’s case against Valdés was based on his opposition to lifting the restrictions on the sale of Iraqi oil that were imposed after Iraq had been defeated in the first Gulf War. The US was heavily in favor of lifting these restrictions once it assumed control of the country, while Valdés felt this was premature. This disagreement, combined with Valdés’ threats to resign last year if Chile’s President Lagos ordered him to vote in favor of the war in Iraq created a deep concern in Washington after Valdés refused to offer Chile’s support to the Washington-backed Spanish-British Security Council resolution in favor of immediately attacking Iraq.
Lagos eventually yielded to pressure from Washington to transfer Valdés out of the UN after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Iraq strategy had been temporarily blocked. Valdés was then replaced by Harvard graduate Heraldo Muñoz, another highly regarded Chilean diplomat and, like President Lagos and Valdés himself, a member of Chile’s Socialist Party. The Chilean president embarrassingly kowtowed to Washington in an attempt to ensure that the US would ratify the bilateral free trade agreement it had signed with Santiago, a critical goal of Chilean foreign policy. Lagos was shamefully willing to sacrifice Valdés after the State Department cold-shouldered Chile because of his Iraq vote, suggesting that the Chilean president feared that the trade agreement would be delayed as a result of Chile’s action. Not surprisingly, the decision to replace Valdés with Muñoz was privately lauded by the Spanish ambassador to the UN and the U.S. ambassador to Santiago, both key supporters of the military action against the Saddam regime.
Valdés Gets Down to Work
There are already positive indications that Valdés may steer the UN’s involvement in Haiti in a more responsible direction. At a donors’ conference at the World Bank in which over one billion dollars in relief funds were pledged to Haiti, Valdés insisted that the UN must address the deeply-rooted causes of Haiti’s political and economic turmoil, “not merely paper over the problems.” He went on to emphasize that the international community must be prepared to remain involved in Haiti in the months and years ahead. Whether Valdés can salvage the UN’s tattered reputation in Haitian affairs will be seen soon enough. But of all the actors who have been involved with Haiti in recent months, he alone promises a truly dignified diplomacy that can bring political transparency and democratic order to the country, in sharp contrast to the ignominious role played by the US, France and several presidents in the region, including those of Argentina, Brazil and Chile itself. Initially, the best that Lagos was prepared to do for Haiti was to dispatch several hundred troops, as an accommodation to Washington and to win points with his own perpetually menacing and unrepentant armed forces, who still have Salvador Allende’s blood on their hands.
Neptune Persecuted by Latortue’s Government
Valdés faces a challenging situation in Haiti, where the rule of law has been under siege in recent months. One of the most deplorable examples of the breakdown of legal order is the sad fate of former Haitian Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, who surrendered to government authorities on June 27 after three months in hiding and has been subsequently imprisoned in Haiti’s national penitentiary. Neptune’s incarceration is the most recent and the most high profile act in a series of reprisals against officials from Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s ousted government. Since Aristide’s overthrow, the new Haitian government, led by its smug interim-Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, has aggressively persecuted members of Aristide’s Lavalas party.
A Political Victim
The warrant for Neptune’s arrest was issued following a radio broadcast on June 21 in which Aristide’s prime minister criticized the Latortue government for repeatedly breaking the law and instituting an anti-Lavalas crusade. Neptune was initially accused of masterminding the ‘massacre’ that occurred near the northern town of St. Marc in mid-February. According to the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR) – a ‘human rights’ organization in name only, with grossly tarnished credentials – 50 Lavalas opponents were murdered during the massacre. Independent observers who arrived at the scene shortly after the alleged massacre saw only five bodies, but the NCHR director, Pierre Espérance, told the Agence Haïtienne de Presse (AHP) that the other 45 bodies were devoured by hungry dogs. Predictably, this unlikely tale met with almost universal disdain. If the government had any evidence against the highly respected Neptune regarding either incident, it has been torturously slow in making it public.
The Reprehensible Gousse
Representatives of Latortue’s interim government deny the allegation that Neptune’s arrest is solely connected to his high office in the Aristide government or to his continued allegiance to the Lavalas party. Latortue himself stated, “It is Justice which took this decision. He was arrested under a warrant; it is not the government which is persecuting him.” But, in today’s Haiti, such statements have little merit, since justice lies in the hands of Haitian Justice Minister Bernard Gousse, a John Ashcroft-type figure who disingenuously claims that, “Judicial authorities are just doing their job.” However, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) told the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, “there’s no case against [Neptune].” She went on to say that it was “unconscionable that he has been arrested – this is another attempt by the puppet government to cut off the head of Lavalas.”
Latortue, who gained his position as Haiti’s interim-prime minister following a caricature of a lawful political succession, mainly orchestrated by the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince, claims that his government is upholding the rule of law. In a telephone interview, he told the Associated Press, “[my government] wants to bring national reconciliation because what [we] want is law to prevail … [we] want a new time of respect for the law.” However, Latortue’s now infamous baroque rhetoric seems hardly credible in light of his government’s continual attempts to cynically exploit and misconstrue the law in pursuit of self-serving political goals, rather than in the interests of guaranteeing justice. But the very legality of the interim government itself is called into question based on deeply troubling ambiguities in Aristide’s supposed resignation letter and Latortue’s entirely extra-constitutional appointment to the post of Prime Minister – a position that his extended foreign residence in Boca Raton, Florida would seem to make him ineligible to hold under Haitian law.
A Roster of Thugs
Latortue may be now saying that he wants “a new time of respect for the law,” but his words are belied by his de facto alliance with notorious criminals convicted of egregious human rights abuses. On a visit to his hometown of Gonaïves soon after the U.S. installed him in Haiti, the interim-prime minister, a technocrat whose career has been totally devoid of normative values or concepts of public rectitude, famously hailed as “freedom fighters” the very people that Powell had a few days earlier referred to as a “gang of thugs.” In reality, the nefarious rebels are former military officers and paramilitaries led by a notorious murderer, Guy Philippe. Originally, Philippe became infamous for the extra-judicial executions of gang members while he served as the chief-of-police for the Delmas section of Port-au-Prince. He fled Haiti for the Dominican Republic in 2000 after he was heavily involved in an unsuccessful coup attempt, but made a triumphal return in February when he succeeded in helping to physically oust democratically-elected Aristide from the presidency. Amongst his other alleged criminal activities, Philippe has been cited by some U.S. drug officials as being involved in the Haitian drug trade.
Joining Latortue and Philippe on the stage for the Gonaïves visit were Jean Tatoune and Louis-Jodel Chamblain, two of the interim government’s highly favored criminals. Tatoune (whose real name is Jean-Pierre Baptiste) was sentenced to a life of forced labor for his participation in the 1994 Raboteau massacre. He escaped from the Gonaïves prison in August 2002 and now roams the streets freely abusing former Lavalas officials and supporters. As for Chamblain, he was sentenced to multiple life sentences in prison for the 1993 murder of pro-Aristide businessman and famed human rights activist Antoine Izmery. He turned himself in to the police in April and, according to Congresswoman Waters, is now “on a fake arrest where he is getting out at night drinking beer.” Undoubtedly, Chamblain’s condition of incarceration significantly exceeds the comfort now being enjoyed by Neptune.
In a letter written several months after the coup, in May, Neptune urged foreign leaders to continue peacekeeping efforts in Haiti until constitutional order could be reestablished. He wrote, “It is you who are the primary guarantee of my rights, security and justice.” Unfortunately, Neptune’s confidence in the international community was sadly misplaced because the protection of basic rights apparently was not a priority for Pentagon and State Department officials.
The multinational forces in Haiti, particularly the United States Marine complement stationed on the island, have already been made accomplices in the interim government’s attempts to wrongfully persecute those who continue to support the ousted constitutional government and the Lavalas party. Early on the morning of May 10, local authorities guided a U.S. Marine unit to the home of Anne Auguste, a well-known human rights advocate and respected community leader, whose only apparent “crime” was her support of Lavalas. This placed her, by definition, on the enemy list of Justice Minister Gousse, who used the Marines as a personal posse to harass his and Latortue’s victims. The Marines arrested Auguste without a warrant and also detained several members of her family – corollary arrests that are explicitly forbidden by the Haitian constitution. Auguste’s arrest came just after the announcement of a pro-democracy demonstration that she had helped to organize. The May 18 demonstration was illegally halted by police and members of the Multinational Interim Forces on the pretext that adequate notice had not been given. At least one person was killed when police fired on the demonstrators.
Other prominent Lavalas supporters arrested without warrants include Professor Pierre Reynold Charles, Teletimoun cameraman Arens Laguerre and Jacques Mathelier, the Departmental Delegate of the South. Laguerre was detained on May 28; police claimed that he had bullets in his pockets. He was released after loud protests were registered by the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Mathelier was brought before a judge who ordered his release because there were no legal accusations against him; consequently, he was transferred out of the judge’s jurisdiction into the national penitentiary. French and UN-deployed troops also attempted to apprehend the mayor of Milot, Moise Jean Charles, without a warrant and in the middle of the night. They illegally detained his wife and her uncle after Charles managed to evade them. The attempted arrest took place the morning after he helped organize demonstrations in Cap Haitian and Milot.
Like Neptune, Aristide’s former Interior Minister, Jocelerme Privert, was arrested in connection with the so-called ‘massacre’ in St. Marc. Neither Privert nor Neptune has been brought before the judge that issued the warrant for his arrest.
The pattern of inappropriate detentions choreographed by Gousse appears to be part of a pernicious campaign sanctioned by Washington against the leadership of Lavalas, as the interim government tries to keep its opponents in disarray long enough to win the 2005 elections. Amnesty International has said that the evidence “strongly suggests that the persecution of those associated with the Fanmi Lavalas regime is widespread.” By legitimizing (and even directly participating in) the persecution of Lavalas members, the U.S. is spearheading the denigration of constitutional rule in Haiti with the tacit consent of the international community.
From the moment the interim government assumed power in Haiti, corruption and injustice have become a feature of the country’s judicial process. On July 1, ANAMAH (National Association of Haitian Magistrates), Haiti’s national judges’ association, issued a press release criticizing the increased politicization of justice and the illegal arrests made by the executive branch of the government over the last four months. The criticism was primarily aimed at Justice Minister Gousse, who has assiduously and with unremitting vengeance worked to subvert justice in Haiti by pressuring independent-thinking judges and maneuvering to put his own supporters on the bench. Gousse was an excessively zealous opponent of the Aristide administration; now as Haiti’s Justice Minister, he has said that the opposition had borne the burden of persecution long enough and that now it was Lavalas’ turn. Due to his blatant exploitation of the judicial process, criminals run free while the innocent remain imprisoned. Latortue’s government, especially its justice minister, shamelessly manipulates the law for its own partisan advantage, to the detriment of its political opponents.
There is little question that the Lavalas party commands an overwhelming following among Haiti’s poor. Meanwhile, polls show that the opposition groups that side with the government command less than 10 percent of the vote, mainly from the country’s business elites. Congresswoman Waters attributes Latortue’s attempts to weaken Lavalas leadership to his desire to manipulate next year’s elections: “They know if they hold an election, if it’s in any way fair, Lavalas will win. But without the leadership and by breaking up Lavalas, they weaken it and they stand a chance of winning.” This brand of political racketeering can only debilitate democracy in a country where democratic order has already been under bitter siege since the beginning of the year; Waters may have correctly identified the crux of the dilemma facing Haiti when she said, “The infrastructure of Haiti is only going to be rebuilt with people who love and care about Haiti, and this crowd does not.” If the new UN envoy is true to his past, Haiti should be receiving a more balanced treatment from UN headquarters in New York, now that Valdés will be its chief representative in Port-au-Prince.