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December attack still murky
IPS, Latinamerica Press
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Panel makes recommendations, but responsibility for National Palace assault remains unclear.

An investigative panel has concluded that an attack in December on Haiti’s National Palace was neither a coup attempt nor an assault led by the political opposition, as President Jean-Bertrand Aristide had claimed.

Although the report shied away from specific accusations, sources close to the investigation were quoted as saying that there were links to organized crime or drug trafficking.

At least 10 people were killed in the Dec. 17 assault and subsequent attacks on offices and homes of opposition politicians (LP, Dec. 31, 2001).

In a report released July 2, a three-member commission appointed by the Organization of American States (OAS) concluded that the attack could not have been carried out without the cooperation of some members of the national police.

"The report said it was not a coup because the attack didn’t target President Aristide, but it was silent about the motivation for the attack," Prime Minister Yvon Neptune said. "It says nothing about the interests behind the attack. It is up to us Haitians to work together to answer this question."

Opposition members have insisted that the attack was staged to provide an excuse for a government crackdown.

The report also said that the violence occurred with the complicity of law-enforcement authorities. Investigators found that after the assault, the assailants were taken away in official vehicles to target leaders of political parties and loot and burn their homes. Several government and ruling party functionaries also distributed weapons, they said.

The report called for reparations and made a series of recommendations regarding security, the judiciary, police, individual rights and media reforms. It also recommended that the international community resume aid and loans to Haiti as political agreements are reached.

International aid has been frozen since disputed local and congressional elections two years ago. Aristide’s party won a vast majority of seats, but the opposition said the vote was rigged. The OAS ruled that elections for seven Senate seats should have gone to a second round (LP, July 31 and Oct. 2, 2000).

On July 4, at a summit of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders, Aristide hinted that reconciliation with the opposition could come quickly.

"We will keep talking with them," he said. "That is the only way to pave the way forward for a better Haiti."

The summit approved Haiti as CARICOM’s 15th member.

The investigative commission’s report recommended that the OAS and CARICOM help Haiti determine how to strengthen the country’s democratic institutions and promote an independent judiciary and more professional police force. It also suggested that the government revise the criteria used to recruit police.

The commission was one of three groups created by the OAS to help settle Haiti’s longstanding political crisis. Other commissions are examining reparations and strengthening of democracy.

Meanwhile, Haiti’s grim social and economic situation (LP, April 8, 2002) took a turn for the worse when a number of government-backed savings cooperatives were closed down amid questions about unusually high interest rates adn charges that they were laundering drug money. — IPS, LP


Aristide with chiefs of contro
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