WikiLeaks Haiti: Country's Elite Used Police as
Dan Coughlin and Kim Ives
June 22, 2011
Haitian business organizations and members of the
country's tiny elite used the Haitian police force as
their own private army in the wake of the 2004 coup that
ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, according to a
secret US Embassy cable.
Then-US Ambassador to Haiti James Foley warned in the
cable "against private delivery of arms" to the Haitian
National Police (HNP) after learning from a prominent
Haitian businessman that "some business owners have
already begun to purchase weapons and ammunition from
the street and distribute them to local police officials
in exchange for regular patrols."
The May 27, 2005, report was in a trove of 1,918 cables
that WikiLeaks made available to the Haitian weekly
newspaper Haïti Liberté, which is collaborating with The
Nation on a series of reports on US and UN policy toward
the Caribbean country.
Haiti's private sector elite has been a key US ally in
promoting Washington's agenda in the country, from free
trade and privatization of state enterprises to two
coups against President Aristide followed by US and UN
Fritz Mevs, a member of "one of Haiti's richest families
and a well-connected member of the private sector elite"
with major business interests in Port-au-Prince's
downtown and port, was the principal source for Foley's
Mevs told the Embassy that the president of the Haitian
Chamber of Commerce, Reginald Boulos, had "distributed
arms to the police and had called on others to do so in
order to provide cover to his own actions." Boulos
currently sits on the board of former President Bill
Clinton's Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC),
which controls the spending of billions donated to
rebuild Haiti after the January 12, 2010, quake.
The May 2005 cable describes the period after the
February 29, 2004, coup d'etat, which not only removed
Aristide from power but repressed his Fanmi Lavalas
party, set up a US-backed de facto government, and
ushered in a 9,000-strong UN military occupation known
as MINUSTAH (UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti).
De facto Prime Minister Gerard Latortue's interim
government of Haiti and his paramilitary allies had
difficulty stabilizing their unpopular regime, despite
killing an estimated 3,000 people and jailing and
purging from government jobs hundreds of Lavalas
militants and sympathizers.
The regime had particular trouble suppressing pro-
Aristide strongholds like the slum areas of Bel Air and
Cite Soleil, which mounted a fierce resistance to the
coup and the occupation. The de facto government, US
Embassy and Haitian elite called the resistance fighters
"bandits" or "gangs," the terminology used in the
Titled "Haitian Private Sector Panicked by Increasing
Violence," the cable relays Mevs' report to the
Embassy's political officer that Haitian "business
leaders are exasperated by the lack of security in the
vital port and industrial zone areas of Port-au-Prince
and are allegedly arming local police with long-guns and
ammunition in an effort to ensure security for their
businesses and employees."
Foley wrote that "Mevs says that of the roughly 150
business owners in the area, probably 30 have already
provided some kind of direct assistance (including arms,
ammunition, or other materiel) to the police, and the
rest are looking to do so soon."
Mevs "defended the idea of the private sector arming the
police in general, but he lamented the haphazard manner
in which many of his colleagues seemed to be handing out
weapons with little control," the cable says. Mevs also
worried "that funneling the arms secretly would only
serve to reinforce rumors that the elite were creating
private armies," which in fact was happening.
Mevs asked the Embassy if "the U.S. would oversee [a]
program" under which the private sector could legally
buy the HNP's guns because "he did not trust either
MINUSTAH or the HNP to properly control the issuance of
The private army "rumor" was corroborated by "contacts
of the Econ Counselor [who] report from time to time of
discussions among private sector leaders to fund and arm
their own private sector armies."
Security for businesses around the capital's industrial,
warehouse and port districts reportedly degenerated
after the March 30, 2005, death of Thomas Robenson,
alias Labaniere, a onetime Lavalas leader in Cite
Soleil's Boston neighborhood. He defected to the forces
defending the 2004 coup and provided armed protection to
nearby commercial zones. Labaniere was killed "allegedly
in a plot directed by rival pro-Lavalas gang leader
Dread Wilme," Foley wrote.
After that, the UN force had tried to secure the
commercial areas but "was proving to be a poor
substitute for Labaniere," an adviser to Cite Soleil's
mayor told the Embassy, largely because "MINUSTAH troops
(who, he said, rarely set foot outside of their
vehicles) were unable to identify the bandits from
amongst the general populace as Labaniere had done."
The residents of Cite Soleil did not view Emmanuel
Wilmer (aka Dred or Dread Wilme) as a "bandit." They saw
him as a hero defending them from pro-coup
paramilitaries (who in 1994 burned many houses in the
rebellious shantytown) and UN occupation troops. Today,
one of the main boulevards through Cite Soleil is named
after him, and murals of his face adorn many walls.
Wilme told the Lakou New York program on Brooklyn's
Radio Pa Nou station in April 2005 that "MINUSTAH has
been shooting tear gas on the people. There are children
who have died from the gas and some people inside
churches have been shot.... The Red Cross is the only
one helping us. The MINUSTAH soldiers remain hidden in
their tanks and just aim their guns and shoot the
people. They shoot people selling in the streets. They
shoot people just walking in the streets. They shoot
people sitting and selling in the marketplace."
But for Foley and the Haitian elite, the UN military was
not doing enough. "According to Mevs, although MINUSTAH
has on occasion parked armored vehicles near the
Terminal with some success, he said criminals regularly
force the tanks to move (by burning tires or fecal
matter nearby), and as soon as the vehicles depart, the
Foley asked the "Core Group" of international donors and
the UN military for a "swift, aggressive" response to
the business sector's call for action against the
"criminal elements" from slums like Cite Soleil.
"Ambassador Foley warned the Core Group that MINUSTAH's
stand-down in Cite Soleil put the elections at risk, and
that the insecurity around the industrial zone risked
undermining what is left of the Haitian economy," said
The UN mission chief Juan Gabriel Valdes "promised a
more robust response from MINUSTAH," which sat down with
police leaders to develop a plan in "coordination with
the private sector," the cable explains.
"In response to embassy and private sector prodding,
MINUSTAH is now formulating a plan to protect the area,"
concluded the cable.
Weeks later, on July 6, 2005, at 3 am, 1,440 Brazilian
and Jordanian soldiers, backed by forty-one armored
personnel carriers, sealed off Cite Soleil and attacked.
UN troops fired more than 22,000 bullets, leaving dozens
of civilian casualties, including women and children.
"It remains unclear how aggressive MINUSTAH was, though
22,000 rounds is a large amount of ammunition to have
killed only six people" (the UN's official death toll),
wrote Foley in a July 26, 2005, Embassy cable obtained
by Professor Keith Yearman of the College of DuPage
through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The
UN claimed it had killed only "gang leader Dred Wilme
and five of his associates," the cable says, while
noting, "at St. Joseph's hospital near Cite Soleil,
Doctors Without Borders reported receiving 26 gunshot
victims from Cite Soleil on July 6, of whom 20 were
women and at least one was a child."
By August 1, Foley was praising the Brazilians in
another cable (obtained by Yearman's FOIA requests),
titled "Brazil Shows Backbone in Bel Air." According to
Foley, "the security situation in the capital has
clearly improved thanks to aggressive incursions in Bel
Air and the July 6 raid against Dread Wilme in Cite
Soleil.... Post has congratulated MINUSTAH and the
Brazilian Battalion for the remarkable success achieved
in recent weeks."
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