Monday, May 14, 2012

What's Going on with the Haitian Army?

First of all, there is no army. There are several thousand guys that want for there to be an army. Of these, a small percentage are former members of the former FAd'H (Haitian Armed Forces). The rest are new, young and largely unemployed recruits.

This unofficial paramilitary force has taken over a dozen or so former army bases around the country. They have a couple of new vehicles, they have guns, they have uniforms (traditional camouflage fare and, for the higher-ups, nylon Get Money jackets featuring Benjamin Franklin), and they are in "training."

While Martelly was campaigning for president, he talked about (and later came up with a $95 million plan for) restoring the army. Originally part of Duvalier's brutal security apparatus, FAd'H has a less-than stellar human rights record and when disbanded by President Aristide in 1995, was replaced by the Haitian National Police (PNH). International donors haven't been thrilled about the idea of funding the reinstatement of the Haitian army (given its history and the resources being pumped into beefing up the police force) and Martelly has had to retreat from this idea, at least publicly, while a government commission debates its feasibility.

Here's where it gets murky: No one knows exactly who is providing the would-be troops with those new vehicles, guns and Get Money jackets. Some think Martelly is doing some behind-the-scenes maneuvering, others believe that anti-Martelly factions within the government are, at worst, looking to instigate a coup d'etat, or, at best, make Martelly look bad. I've heard that they're being funded by Duvalier, who is raising the money from among Haiti's largest and wealthiest families, and also by a well-known drug runner who wants to see UN troops outed in favor of more corruptible local troops. Another theory is that the US government is behind it all. According to a friend, "On the one hand, the ambassador says Haiti doesn't need an army that the US is providing support to the police. Secretly, military and political high-ups are creating plans at the embassy to strengthen the army. They've already given Martelly guns for the army."

The Haitian government has demanded that the paramilitary forces disband, and voluntarily turn over their weapons. Instead, one of the paramilitary groups stormed the national palace while Martelly was in the US for surgery. Though the government has offered back pay and pensions to the former FAd'H members, most have refused, saying instead that they're willing to fight to get their jobs back.

Meanwhile, they have given the government Friday, May 18 - Haitian Flag Day - as an ultimatum: Reinstate the army... or else. Speculation as to what, if anything, will occur that day is as varied as the theories behind who may be backing them. Certainly, though, these guys talk big. They've repeatedly told journalists that that they are willing to fight to the death over this issue. 

Link Round-up:

CBC Dispatches: Haiti's Rogue Paramilitaries (Start listening around minute 18:00 for Susana Ferreira's great radio piece)

Haiti's Former Soldiers Demand Reinstatement of the Army


nerkert said...

Get Money? Ya gotta love the random bizarreness of the developing world. But be safe, Sweeties.

Ryan said...

Is the UN "helping" these young men who are trying to begin an Army? I'm an outsider to Haiti, making a couple of visits a year.

Last Tuesday I was in PAP, and on the way out, driving down the shortcut to Route National One. We were crossing the river and there were about 4-5 UN vehicles running a small checkpoint. There was also an "Army" vehicle (and I know it was Army, because their spray paint job of the word "Army" was top notch) with the UN vehicles.

Likewise, going up Route 300 towards Mirbalais, in Terre Rouge, the old Nepalese UN Compound is now with the "Army."

Like I said, I'm an outsider with no clue as to the truth, as you hear many things down there. Just wondering what the real story was on these, if the UN was giving some leverage to these guys, or what?

Ben said...

Hi Ryan,

I have no idea about the Mirbalais base or the vehicles you saw, but I don't think the UN is supporting these guys.

The UN forces here (Minustah) are "supporting" the government in calling for the disarmament of the paramilitaries and as a show of force have in fact arrested a few army guys this week. It gets tricky, though, because UN forces here are increasingly unpopular.

This article in the Guardian may help you understand the dynamics a bit better:


Ryan said...

Thanks Ben,

I know many people in the central plateau appreciate Minustah, as well as many of them are not fans. In fact, one of my friends called them goats just last week as I was visiting. I suppose everyone has their opinions.

I'll check out the article. I am unsure where to land on the issue, because I recognize, like all issues, what you see on the front side is not always the full story. Thanks for the post!


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