October 9, 2004
Brazilian soldier wounded in Haiti slum raid
Port au Prince, Haiti (HIP) - Brazilian troops took the lead in a daytime raid today of the pro-Aristide slum of Bel Air. One Brazilian soldier was wounded in the foot by gunfire and residents report at least five Haitians were killed in the military action. The Haitian National Police (PNH) reportedly arrested 34 persons following the incursion and took them to an undisclosed location for questioning.
The slum of Bel Air has served as a rallying point for recent demonstrations demanding the return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and condemning political persecution of his Lavalas political party. On September 30th the police opened fire on unarmed demonstrators provoking an attack against a unit of the Unite de Securite Presidentielle (U.S.P), a special security detail assigned to Interim President Boniface Alexandre. Witnesses say members of the special police unit were seen firing on demonstrators and collecting bodies before masked gunmen returned fire killing three and wounding a fourth who later died in the hospital.
The U.S.-backed government claims that the headless bodies of three policemen were recovered and that Aristide backers have launched a campaign imitating Iraqis called "Operation Baghdad." Representatives of Aristide's Family Lavalas party have denied the allegations and the U.S.-backed government has not released the identities of the headless policemen. Repeated requests by independent journalists and human rights groups to examine the corpses have been denied by the government.
Bel Air has been under a virtual state of siege since September 30th and residents repelled two nighttime raids by the police Oct. 2nd and 3rd. UN forces using Armored Personnel Vehicles (APV's) and attack trained dogs took up positions around the pro-Aristide slum on Oct. 6th following a statement by Minister of Justice Bernard Gousse that the U.S.-backed government would give a "muscular response" to opponents of the regime. The same day a spokesperson for PNH announced the action of Oct. 6th had involved 200 UN troops with 150 Haitian police and 75 persons had been arrested in Bel Air. More than 500 hundred people were detained and questioned on that day but the Haitian police did not find any weapons. This has led to charges by organizations associated with the anti- Aristide coalition Group184 that "Lavalas elements" within the police gave advance warning to the community prior to the raid. Sources close to the police contend a "second purge" within the ranks of the PNH is imminent.
The U.S.-installed Prime Minister Gerard Latortue announced yesterday the formation of a commission to explore the integration of the former military into the police force. Several representatives of the disbanded military had given Latortue an ultimatum to "control the Lavalas bandits and chimere or we will take matters into our own hands."
Latortue also announced yesterday that he would be suspending all salaries and expense accounts of the remaining members of Haiti's legislature. Political tensions ratcheted up further in Haiti on Oct. 2nd when three Lavalas representatives were arrested after participating in a broadcast on local Radio Caraibes FM.
On Radio Caraibe's popular radio show Ramase, Former Deputy Roudy Hèrivaux, Senate Chairman Senator Yvon Feuillè, and Senator Gerald Gilles denounced the violence and condemned the police for firing on unarmed demonstrators on September 30th. The police entered Radio Caraibes and arrested the three on charges of "inciting violence" related to September 30th. Lawyer Axène Joseph, another former Deputy, was also arrested after protesting the other arrests. The police action was condemned by the management of Radio Caraibes stating that it "harms the reputation of the station and is an infringement of freedom of expression."
Several human Rights groups also condemned the arrests of Oct. 2nd and Radio Caraibes suspended it broadcast for two days in protest. Former Senator Gerald Gilles and Axène Joseph were subsequently released by the government citing "a lack of evidence" and have condemned the arrests as a campaign of political persecution against Lavalas. Minister of Justice Bernard Gousse continues to hold Hèrivaux and Feuillè claiming they were the "intellectual authors" of the violence on September 30th. Today's armed incursion by Brazilian troops and Haitian police in Bel Air comes one day after a major police sweep of Portail Leogane, a major transportation hub in the capital. According to witnesses heavily armed police units entered the district in force yesterday killing three, wounding four and arresting fifteen individuals.