US pushes amnesty in, Cedras out and Aristide around

November 2, 1994

In an October 10 ceremony in front of the Haitian army headquarters, Lt Gen Raoul Cedras passed the Haitian flag and his title of commander in chief to Maj Gen Jean-Claude Duperval.

Duperval is himself implicated not only in the September 30, 1991, coup, but also in the failed coup of prominent Duvalierist Roger Lafontant on January 6, 1991. Furthermore, he is among 13 officers whom the US government is investigating for drug trafficking, Newsday reported October 11.

A large crowd jeered and cursed Cedras, who was flanked by US Lt Gen Hugh Shelton and other US and Haitian officers, all inside a barbed-wire perimeter heavily guarded by US troops.

"Wherever I am, I will be suffering when you are suffering", he told his troops in a 10-minute speech that was completely drowned out by the chanting throngs. "When you are happy, I will be happy."

Demonstrators smashed the rear window of his white custom jeep as he departed the ceremony, prompting US soldiers to fire in the air to disperse the crowd.

While the US has tried to create great fanfare around the removal of Cedras, Brig Gen Philippe Biamby and Colonel Michel Francois, many Haitians are not impressed. "I'm very sad and very upset", Rolande Dorancy, former executive director of the Haitian Refugee Centre, told the Miami Herald. "Cedras is more than a criminal. He is evil, and he's leaving the country with so much honour. This wasn't enough."

Michel Vilsaint, former president of the refugees at the US naval base in Guant namo Bay, was also dissatisfied. "I don't think this is true justice", he said.

In fact, it is precisely to avoid true justice — and all the pursuant revelations and anger — that the US is spiriting the coup leaders out of Haiti to an exile which will likely be golden, like those of previous Haitian dictators who have served US interests.

However, the US government wants to leave most of the Haitian army intact, and for this it needs an "amnesty". In the first week of the occupation, US troops took control of the Legislative Palace, flew in exiled legislators and prescribed the body to pass an amnesty law as its first order of business.

Deputy Samuel Madistin, one of parliament's most outspoken defenders of democracy, boycotted the sessions until October 7. "I have an objection of principle regarding the extraordinary session that is going on right now", he said in an October 4 interview with Haiti Info. "There is a de facto government occupying the ministries and distributing the goods of the state ... Now we have 'Operation Uphold Democracy' and paradoxically, people in the international community are more interested in voting an amnesty law for the putschists than they are in helping the constitutional government resume its functions. I think that today, the priority is ... to regain control of the state."

With US pressure, two versions of an amnesty law passed, one in the Chamber of Deputies on October 6 and the other in the Senate on October 7. Both versions grant "political amnesty" for crimes against the state i.e. the 1991 coup. However, the Deputies' law also pardons "accessory crimes and infractions", which could be interpreted as amnesty for the killings, rapes and disappearances conducted over the three years of the coup.

Aristide has said in the past that he will grant "political" amnesty to the putschists for violating the Constitution, but not for murder and other "common crimes" committed to carry out and defend the coup. However, the Clinton administration is pushing Aristide hard to "reconcile" with the putschists, even trotting out other world leaders like South African president Nelson Mandela to "temper" Aristide's portrayed vengefulness.

A Truth Commission was also set up by parliament to investigate human rights abuses. The Haitian Information Bureau refers to the findings of a similar Truth Commission set up in El Salvador after the 1992 UN-brokered peace accords there. The Salvadoran commission recommended a purge of the armed forces and the justice system. But only eight days later, the parliament approved a blanket amnesty for human rights abuses during the war, leaving the death squads and their official party, ARENA, untouched.

One bone of contention is the fate of the Haitian military. Aristide wants to remove the entire high command and reduce the army from 7000 to 3000 soldiers of his own choosing. The US occupation force disagrees. "The United States is saying that ... he cannot get rid of the high command", Burton Wides, an Aristide legal adviser told Reuters. "The United States will be the decisive factor on whether the high command stays or goes."

The Pentagon wants to see a larger Haitian army. "Haiti has a border, and when you have a border, you need an army", explained US Embassy spokesperson Stanley Schrager, apparently missing the irony that the US is the only nation ever to invade Haiti. The Haitian army has never fought a foreign foe in over 150 years. [Abridged from Haiti Progres.]

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