Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Civil Suit Exposes US Role in Haitian Massacres

Civil suit exposes U.S. role in Haitian massacres

By G. Dunkel
Published Jun 1, 2008 9:21 PM

The history of Haiti has been marked by stubborn, lengthy and mass resistance and struggle to achieve justice against heavy odds. From its beginning in 1791, when the severely oppressed African slaves of the French colony of Saint-Domingue rose up, to 1804, when the independence of Haiti was proclaimed in Gonaïves, the struggle was against the mighty French army. From 1915 to 1934, Haitians had to struggle against occupation by U.S. Marines.

In 1957 François Duvalier became president. He and his son Jean-Claude ruled with violence, repression and the strong military backing of the U.S. government until 1986, when a mass uprising, which Haitians call the “uprooting” (dechoukaj), drove them from power. One of the major protests in this uprising occurred in 1985 in Gonaïves, during which three school children were killed.

The U.S. came back in 1994 and 2004, though it used some fig leaves from the United Nations to disguise its occupations; it used the Haitian army to depose democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991 and a so-called “democratic” opposition to overthrow Aristide again in 2004.

The opposition to the first coup against Aristide was so strong and so determined that the army had to set up a paramilitary organization called FRAPH (Haitian Kreyol for “blow”) to crush it. The exact role the U.S. played in setting up FRAPH is not officially clear, since the U.S. seized the FRAPH archives in 1994. But its leader, Toto Constant, admitted on CBS “60 Minutes” that he was a paid CIA agent when he set up and ran FRAPH. Constant openly lived in New York City in the 1990s, even though he was wanted in Haiti for mass murder.

While FRAPH was active, it reportedly killed more than 4,000 Haitians in a series of vicious massacres. In April of 1994, one of the most violent massacres took place in Raboteau, a very poor neighborhood in Gonaïves, a stronghold of support for Aristide. The total number of people who were killed there is unknown because bodies were thrown into the sea or buried in unmarked graves.

In 2000 the survivors of the Raboteau massacre brought a criminal and civil case against 31 leaders of the Haitian army during the first coup, leaders and agents of FRAPH, which led to their conviction on charges of premeditated, voluntary murder. This conviction is very unusual for Haiti, because generally the victims of state-condoned violence are charged with crimes by the perpetrators.

This conviction testifies to the depth of anger over this massacre and the organizing by the Raboteau survivors, along with substantial help from Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and Mario Joseph from the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI)—a group of local and international lawyers who represent victims of human rights violations in Haiti.

Former Col. Carl Dorélien is one of the convicted defendants in the 2000 trial who had fled to Florida with the obvious connivance of the CIA, which wants to protect its Haitian “assets.” A few years ago, Dorélien won $3.2 million in the Florida lottery and came to the attention of the Center for Justice and Accountability, a progressive San Francisco law firm.

They, along with the Raboteau Victims Association, began a civil case against Dorélien in the U.S. courts. This past May 16, after exhausting all his appeals, over $400,000 was distributed in Raboteau and he was ordered to pay a total of $4.3 million to the plaintiffs in compensatory and punitive damages.

“The damage award is a victory for all Haitians,” said Mario Joseph, the managing attorney of the BAI, and the lead lawyer for the Raboteau Victims Association. “The Raboteau Trial in Haiti built faith in justice, because it showed that poor people were able to use the courts to protect their rights against the rich and powerful.”

It is indeed a victory, but Dorélien and his fellow mass murderers should face more punishment for their crimes than just a fine.

And while the victims of the Raboteau massacre have received a measure of justice, Concannon, speaking on the WBAI program, “Haiti: The Struggle Continues,” said that at least a hundred, and perhaps many more, political prisoners, mainly Fanmi Lavalas (Aristide’s political party) members arrested under the interim government that came in after the second coup against Aristide, are still in prison. The struggle in Haiti indeed continues.

E-mail: gdunkel@workers.org
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