The Washington Post
October 23, 1999
Haitian Politics Tinged by Thin Blue Line
Government Critics Face Police Harassment, Intimidation or Worse, Some Officers Say

                  By Serge F. Kovaleski
                  Washington Post Foreign Service
                  Saturday, October 23, 1999; Page A17

                  PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti—As night fell on the Port-au-Prince suburb of
                  Petionville, a contingent of heavily armed Haitian police descended on the
                  home of Leon Jeune, a former police chief and presidential candidate who
                  was a vocal critic of the government. After firing a volley of gunshots
                  toward the sky, the officers mounted a raid on his residence that
                  participants now describe as dirty politics rather than law enforcement.

                  Authorities said at the time--Nov. 16, 1997--that Jeune, then 61, was
                  amassing weapons to carry out an attack against the state. But two officers
                  involved in the raid said that, while they confiscated several guns belonging
                  to Jeune, the police planted numerous other firearms and munitions
                  throughout the house to incriminate him. The officers also said the
                  handcuffed suspect was beaten by a police commander and would have
                  been killed had a U.N. official not arrived on the scene.

                  "We were shooting in the air to make it seem like he was shooting at us; it
                  was part of the plan," said a participant in the operation. "The mission was
                  designed so he would be killed."

                  Jeune spent more than three weeks in jail before a judge ordered his
                  release. By then, his case had become an example cited by critics inside
                  and outside the Haitian National Police who say that segments of the
                  U.S.-trained force have been used at the behest of politically connected
                  commanders to harass, intimidate and silence some opponents of the
                  government and former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

                  A politically neutral police force was considered a top priority for Haiti
                  after 20,000 troops, mostly Americans, dismantled a military dictatorship
                  here five years ago and reinstated Aristide as the country's first
                  democratically elected president. But interviews with a half-dozen former
                  and active Haitian police officers suggest the effort has a long way to
                  go--that some commanders use their powers for ruthless political
                  enforcement that evokes memories of the repression Haiti endured for
                  years before the United States intervened.

                  The police officers said that at times they were even urged by their
                  superiors to ignore the human rights training they had received from U.S.
                  advisers and to get tough with political targets. "One commander said to
                  forget what we learned at the academy and act like policemen in an
                  undeveloped country," a former police officer recalled.

                  The current and former police officers who early this month described the
                  attacks refused to allow their names to be published out of fear of
                  retribution against them and their families. Some of the former officers have
                  moved to the United States and were interviewed there.

                  The orders to carry out politically motivated attacks came from upper-level
                  commanders with ties to Aristide's Lavalas political party or the
                  government of President Rene Preval, who is Aristide's hand-picked
                  successor, the officers said. There does not appear to be concrete
                  evidence that Aristide and Preval or police officials above the rank of
                  commander have been directly involved in planning or ordering the
                  harassment and intimidation. But speculation to the contrary abounds, and
                  Haiti's society remains starkly divided between a small group of haves who
                  run the economy and the poor masses who look to Aristide for radical

                  "Institutionally we have preached and consistently enforced a nonpolitical
                  position," Police Chief Pierre Denize said. "This country has a great
                  tradition of the force serving the political, and right now we are against the
                  traditional current."

                  Many of the political operations have been carried out by members of the
                  police department's SWAT division and officers in a crowd-control unit
                  known as CIMO, according to the officers interviewed and foreign law
                  enforcement officials. One of the officers said he also has received extra
                  money from his superiors for conducting surveillance and investigations of
                  political figures.

                  "In the end, SWAT had become a political instrument, a political tool. But
                  this was not what it was supposed to be," said one former officer.

                  The past and current officers said that on a number of occasions they were
                  ordered to detain individuals deemed to be political opponents on grounds
                  that they posed a threat to state security, even though there was little or no
                  evidence to support the claims. Some of the arrests were conducted using

                  "Sometimes there were operations that I think were done just to scare or
                  intimidate people who were not in step with the government or Aristide.
                  One time we raided a house above Port-au-Prince that had nothing more
                  threatening in it than furniture," said one former officer, who said he quit the
                  force after he was threatened for refusing to participate in a raid.

                  Three weeks ago, the issue of police harassment gained further attention
                  when a group of officers carrying semiautomatic weapons accompanied
                  government regulators and a justice of the peace to the downtown office of
                  Vision 2000, a radio station that has criticized the government and
                  Aristide. Regulators claimed that Vision 2000 was illegally operating its
                  satellite link, but the situation was defused when the station presented its

                  "I see this as political harassment of a radio station," said Vision 2000's
                  general director, Leopold Berlanger. "It was intimidating because it was far
                  from a normal inspection, which does not include an armada of police with

                  Some politically related police operations have involved more than
                  harassment. One night two years ago, an officer recalled, several SWAT
                  team members were dispatched by a commander to an isolated stretch of
                  road north of Port-au-Prince and told to wait for a gray Jeep with a certain
                  license plate and to fire at the driver when the vehicle passed.

                  "The commander just told us that a lot of political leaders are
                  troublemakers and if we do not take care of them they will take care of
                  us," he said. "We had our fingers on our triggers but we never saw the

                  Aramick Louis, the police commander accused of beating Jeune during the
                  raid in Petionville, denied in an interview that he mistreated or planned to
                  kill the former presidential candidate and said no weapons were planted in
                  his home. Louis said a six-month investigation revealed that Jeune, who
                  served as interim police chief in 1995, was planning a coup d'etat at the
                  National Palace using 1,500 men.

                  "The police are here to protect democratic institutions. At the same time,
                  we must stay out of politics," Louis said.

                  Jeune, who plans to run for president again next year, denied he planned a
                  coup, saying, "What they did was political, and it was obvious to me that if
                  they could have, they would have killed me. Since I got out of jail, I have
                  not talked much. To tell you the truth, if I talk too much, it gets on their

                  Notwithstanding its problems, the new police department is considered to
                  be a significant improvement over the state security squads that terrorized
                  this impoverished Caribbean country during decades of military-backed

                  The force, said to have about 6,000 officers, has also been praised for
                  good police work despite being short on manpower and equipment. Earlier
                  this month, for instance, officers seized more than 600 pounds of cocaine,
                  five luxury cars and $42,000 in the upscale Belvil neighborhood outside

                  Drug-related corruption, however, remains widespread, including at the
                  commander level. Subordinates have been transferred from their posts,
                  threatened and even killed for raising questions about political operations
                  or other illicit activities, officers said.

                  A power vacuum, meanwhile, has emerged at the top of the force with the
                  recent resignation of the secretary of state for public security, Robert
                  Manuel, who had worked closely with Denize since 1996. Manuel has left
                  the country, apparently for security reasons. He had faced heavy criticism
                  and pressure to step down from Aristide's political movement.

                  While officials from Aristide's party complained that Manuel was unable to
                  rein in crime, others suggested the party wants to exert greater control over
                  the police force. Lavalas officials, while acknowledging they have criticized
                  the force's leadership, deny any connection to politically motivated attacks
                  or arrests.

                  The force also came under harsh criticism for failing to respond more
                  assertively at a May 28 anti-crime rally in Port-au-Prince organized by the
                  Chamber of Commerce. The rally was disrupted by demonstrators linked
                  to Lavalas, and the event grew unruly. The lack of police action was
                  viewed by many as a strong indicator of the department's general
                  allegiance to Aristide.

                  But recent events suggest the use of police in political operations can go
                  both ways. During the Lavalas campaign against Manuel and Denize, a
                  news director of the party's Radio Timoun was arrested in late April after
                  his car was stopped in a routine search and leaflets denouncing Manuel
                  were found in the vehicle. The director was accused of plotting against
                  state security but was released the following day.

                  The night after Manuel resigned, former army colonel Jean Lamy, a close
                  friend of Aristide and Preval who was said to be talking about assuming
                  the secretary of state job, was shot to death in his car on a main
                  Port-au-Prince street. Witnesses said several police cars were nearby
                  when the shooting happened.

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