Haiti's Grim Mercenaries Tighten Their Steely Grip

The attaches, paid by the military, kill to maintain the status quo

THE United Nations, the Haitian military, and the Haitian government have had a swirl of advances and retreats in trying to return Haiti to democratic rule. On Wednesday, the UN announced that exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide would not return here on Oct. 30, as scheduled.

While this merry-go-round spins in front of the international press, Haitians are dealing with a much more terrifying reality. There are the rank-and-file soldiers that taunt them with threats. And there are the police auxiliaries, known as attaches, who are bank-rolled by the military.

Attaches are paid as little as $5 for attending demonstrations and up to several hundred dollars for committing murder. Their only loyalty is to their benefactor.

``Attaches have been hired by every military post in the country,'' says Anne Fuller, director of the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees (NCHR) in Port-au-Prince. ``They get compensated for everything,'' she adds. ``The structure has to be changed in order to end this system of abuse.''

The NCHR and other human rights organizations have documented hundreds of cases linking soldiers, police, and attaches to human rights violations that often include extortion.

Military personnel, who often work with attaches, have a loyalty to their institution as long as they receive a paycheck. The rank-and-file military and police receive a mere $80 per month.

A retired military man explained that the majority of soldiers live in very poor, marginalized areas. They are looking for some economic advancement, so they enter the Army. But when they come out, they are still in the same economic environment. Only now they have the prestige of the institution. ``This creates a trap for them,'' he says. ``So they enter into the world of corruption.''

``Aristide poses a threat to them because he worked against corruption,'' says a former member of the military high command.

``The whole institution has a problem with Aristide's return, not just those at the top. I think they would prefer to live in miserable conditions than have him return,'' he adds.

The military and attaches have made their views about Aristide quite clear. At a recent demonstration an attache said, ``We'll kill Aristide if he comes back. We'll roast him piece by piece.''

``The concern of the Army and the ti solda [rank-and-file soldier] is job security,'' explained a United States embassy official familiar with the military. ``We are prepared to improve the quality of life of a soldier so that he feels he's taken care of. If you have soldiers who feel they are taken care of, they are less likely to go out and do dumb things.''

According to the US Embassy official, the US has money available for military assistance, partly ``to provide guidance and advice, monitor the conduct of police operations, and ensure that legal requirements are met and police actions correctly executed.''

``Let's be clear about something,'' said a well-placed source in the military. ``They can talk all they want, but they can't do much without our approval. If the military and police don't know what the UN's intention is, there's absolutely no way we can give them security.''

Canada sent 51 Royal Canadian Mounted Police to work with the Haitian police earlier this month. Along with nearly 300 UN Civilian Mission observers, they were pulled Oct. 5. ``Their loss in the countryside has been devastating,'' says a human rights monitor.

``No one else has the same capabilities that they did. Communication has disintegrated. They have a lot of knowledge and resources and could play an important role in the future.''

Approximately 80 percent of the population lives in the countryside. Because of inadequate infrastructure, they are virtually isolated from the rest of the world. There is almost no accountability for crimes committed and no recourse even if they are reported.

Since the September 1991 military coup, international human rights organizations estimate that more than 250,000 Haitians are internally displaced. Since the withdrawal of the Civilian Mission, about 10,000 people have left the capital. Scattered reports from the countryside indicate that many people are unaccounted for. It is not clear whether they have gone into hiding or been arrested.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.