|English | Español||February 10, 2016 | Issue #40|
Haiti: Hopes for a Peaceful Alternative as the UN Plans to Invade Cité Soleil
An Interview with Frank Eaton, Filmmaker and Kidnapping Victim
By Jeb Sprague
While being involved in numerous running gun battles with gangs in Cité Soleil, MINUSTAH has been implicated in the deaths of numerous innocent civilians – what the UN on January 9, 2006 called “collateral victims.”
Human rights studies have found that violence mushroomed following the overthrow of Haiti’s democratically elected government, when the security situation collapsed. In a recent report allegations have emerged that UN forces have attacked the only hospital in Cité Soleil. Cité Soleil is home to somewhere between 250,000 and 400,000 people living in abject poverty. Leslie Bagg and Aaron Lakoff write in their recent article, “Haiti’s Deadly Class Divide”:
According to Jean-Joseph Joel, the Secretary General of the local branch of Fanmi Lavalas, the area’s residents are virtual prisoners, and their movements restricted by armed police at checkpoints. Vilified as bandits or chimeres by the elite-run press, he says they face persecution if they do manage to escape the neighborhood. There is no work and signs of malnutrition are obvious in the children.
Under UN protection and with little mainstream press criticism, the interim coup government has continued its methodical campaign of persecution and imprisonment of political activists. Under the U.S. installed regime, in late 2004, human rights investigators discovered hospitals in which Lavalas supporters were being allowed to bleed to death, maggot infested morgues in which bodies were being eaten away at with no refrigeration, and mass graves in which pigs devoured the remains of victims.
Edline Pierre-Louis, a Cité Soleil resident, was hit in the stomach by gunfire from UN forces, causing her to loose her unborn baby on July 6, 2005. In a recent interview with journalists she stated, “They killed so many people and I praise God that I am alive to call them liars.”
Some MINUSTAH contingents, outside of Port-au-Prince, primarily in the north of Haiti, have reportedly behaved in a more professional manner, communicating better with local popular organizers and representatives. Meanwhile, a lawyers’ organization, AUMOHD, has come forward attempting to negotiate a peaceful alternative for Cité Soleil and other poor areas of Haiti.
Following the 2004 coup and a fatal wave of persecution targeting Lavalas demonstrations and communities, kidnapping has increasingly plagued Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. Some of the kidnappings have been linked to criminals in the popular neighborhoods sparking police and MINUSTAH raids.
In recent weeks the United Nations has come under rising pressure from both the Haitian elite and the foreign press to take over the slum of Cité Solei, which today, nearly two years after the U.S. Marine led kidnapping of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, still remains a no-go-zone for the Canadian and U.S.-trained Haitian National Police (HNP) and the UN MINUSTAH force. The wide-scale persecution of the poor and politically motivated layoffs of public sector employees by the U.S.-installed interim government, have further provoked the situation.
The mainstream media has continuously ignored visible examples of Haitians being killed by the United Nations and massacres carried out by the infamous Haitian National Police, the HNP forces often wear masks, and their hooded “machete army” attaches, have been well documented by journalists from the Haiti Information Project. Human rights and immigration lawyer Thomas Griffin documented the dire situation in Cite Soleil in an investigation by researchers at Miami University. Ignoring the war against the poor in Haiti, the press has focused on the kidnappings, disregarding the numerous crimes against humanity at the hands of the HNP and MINUSTAH.
Meanwhile, increasing pressure has come not only from the media, but also from Haitian elite to intensify the MINUSTAH occupation of Cité Soleil. Leading, former members of the Group of 184 (many prominent sweatshop and radio station owners) have launched a campaign to pressure MINUSTAH towards increasing its activities in Cité Soleil. While many interviewed want the criminal gangs in the poor neighborhoods dealt with, human rights workers are concerned that many innocent civilians will be killed.
Recently, MINUSTAH commander Brazilian Lt. General Urano Teixeira da Matta Bacellar committed suicide. He was found dead lying on the balcony of his Port-au-Prince hotel room in the upscale Hotel Montana.
Another regularly ignored fact is that many of the kidnappings have occurred outside of Cite Soleil. The Haitian Chamber of Commerce, under Reginal Bolous, and the Group 184, under Andre Apaid, have worked to associate the violence and kidnappings with the Lavalas movement of former President Aristide. In recent weeks they promoted a strike to pressure the government to increase its raids. Companies such as “Texaco, Shell, Scotia Bank, and upscale grocery stores remained shut” during the strike, but the “informal economy – street vendors, runners, tap-tap (taxi) operators – lined the streets, unable to skip a day’s work just because the island’s wealthiest said so” explain Leslie Bagg and Aaron Lakoff.
It is true that gang leaders such as Dread Wilme (killed last year), revered in Cite Soleil for opposing the 2004 coup, were accused of being involved with kidnappings. They were clearly involved with combating PNH and UN raids into the slums.
But the kidnappings have been linked to criminal groups across the spectrum in Haiti, including dozens of officials in the Haitian National Police. Police Officers Wilfrid Francois, Sony Lambert, Rénald Cinéus, and an alleged accomplice, Stantley Handal, have all been implicated in a kidnapping ring.
The Haiti Information Project reports:
Handal is a member of one of Haiti’s wealthiest families that supported the ouster of Aristide in 1991 and 2004. He was initially arrested along with eight members of Haiti’s police force for running a kidnapping ring after he attempted to use a stolen credit card taken from one of his victims. The judge that released them, Jean Pérs Paul, is responsible for keeping Father Gerard Jean-Juste behind bars and for the arrest of journalists Kevin Pina and Jean Ristil on September 9, 2005. The police officer responsible for the initial investigation into Handal’s case has reportedly been forced into hiding. The U.N. and the Canadian government have not commented on the case since Jean Pérs Paul ordered the suspects released.
Recent reports have also indiciated that kidnappings rings have been discovered in the most upscale neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Pétion-Ville:
The Central Directorate of the Judicial Police (DCPJ) informed Friday that it has broken up this week an important kidnapping network in Pétion-Ville, a residential district of Port-au-Prince. According to DCPJ General Inspector Michaël Lucius, this is the gang which had kidnapped on December 30, 2005 Carine Rouzier, the wife of a businessman of Port-au-Prince, who was released on January 8th. The 11 persons abducted by this gang were held in a luxurious home evaluated to hundreds of thousands of dollars, M. Lucius declared. He says he regrets that the bandits had time to run away. The discovery of this hiding place in the heart of Pétion-Ville proves that important groups are involved in kidnapping activities, the DCPJ director declared.
Michael Lucius calls the population to remain careful and to beware of well-dressed people, saying that the shantytown of Cité Soleil is not the only hiding place for kidnappers. “Appearances are sometimes deceptive”, he warned, affirming that besides Cité Soleil and Pétion-Ville, acts of kidnapping are committed in other non-populist districts of the capital, including Pernier, Meyer, Delmas, Frères, Canapé-Vert as well as in the second largest city of the country, Cap-Haïtien…Chief of the Haitian police Mario Andresol and Head of MINUSTAH Juan Gabriel Valdès indicated recently that there are candidates to presidency who use kidnapping money for their campaign and to try to destabilize the electoral process underway.
(AHP News, English Translation, January 13, 2006)
While kidnappings have received the limelight of international press coverage in Haiti, state sponsored violence against poor has continually been obscured. On June 11, 2005, Juan Gabriel Valdes, the Chilean head of the U.N. mission in Haiti, made a statement on Haitian radio stations declaring he had lived through the Pinochet dictatorship and, “compared to that experience, there is no political persecution in Haiti.” Time correspondent Kathie Klarreich, cited numerous “unnamed sources” in a recent article who used the term “wussies” to describe the UN force in Haiti, not once mentioning the well documented HNP and MINUSTAH slayings of innocent civilians. Another TIME correspondent and former employee of the U.S. State Department, Edward M. Gomez, explaining the violence in Cite Soleil, cited a Le Monde statement that the “kids” in Cite Soleil are fighting because they are on “crack”.
Communities such as those in Cité Soleil continue to suffer from years of neglect and repression, leading to desperation and a lack of opportunities for youth. Human rights workers interviewed say that political stability and a sustained effort to bring jobs, social investment and local control must be accomplished to help alleviate the cycle.*
What follows are experts from an interview with Frank Eaton, a kidnapping victim. Eaton speaks about Cité Soleil, his experience being kidnapped, and the U.S. media coverage of his experience. Below are excerpts from the interview.
Jeb Sprague: Tell me about your experience being kidnapped.
Frank Eaton: Every one of the ten-or-so young men who held me bore bullet wounds and scars on their bodies from MINUSTAH guns. As I sat there, more bored than terrified, I had the profound realization that I would almost certainly outlive each of them. Now, with the political branch of the UN ascendant [the United Nations Office for Project Services, or UNOPS, has had an increasingly expanding role in Haiti], and an occupation of Cité Soleil apparently in the works, I’m afraid that the end is near for many of these young guys, women, and kids. It’s a horrible, horrible thing that’s about to happen there…
Jeb Sprague: How were you treated; what type of food did you eat when you were in captivity?
Frank Eaton: Every Haitian I met was very generous, very hospitable, including these guys. The Haitain hospitality that you hear of is true. We probably ate better then anybody in the entire neighborhood. We ate locally prepared food. We had plantains, scrambled eggs the first morning, and then we had the traditional spaghetti and hot dog. Then we had rice and beans. The best thing I had was when one guy made a pâté, a little pastry with eggs or chicken on it. It was absolutely incredible. We had Prestige Beer, which is really good. They were really hospitable, in light of the circumstances. There was definitely a level of concern there. They hate the UN. They had a brand new toothbrush, water, soap for us. We slept on a bed. We could wander around. I could go around the room and if I wanted to go outside and pour water on my head. It was pretty laid back. They were mostly lying down. They had guns but they weren’t pointing them at us. It wasn’t like this macho thing. There was an understanding that we weren’t going to run away or take anyone’s gun.
For the majority of the time, the M-14 and the other guns remained loaded. The room we were kept in served as an ammo dump for this group. Young men were coming in constantly to retrieve ammo from a duffel bag.
The guys that kidnapped me, I didn’t feel they were capable of hurting me. They weren’t cruel. I kept thinking, it’s tough; it’s physically tough to hurt a human being. Your body rejects that on a physical level. I honestly felt they didn’t want to attack me. I was certainly not giving them any trouble. They were content with letting the process take its course. It was boring for all of us. During negotiations things would get tense. I was released and Alain stayed behind. But he was released afterward; they felt sorry for him. They really got along well with him. We were all frustrated for the time it took the money to get there. For two days we just sat doing nothing and on the third day I finally said, bring the cash. I used my bank account.
Jeb Sprague: What can you say about the context behind the kidnappings?
Frank Eaton: I’m not sure… It’s so tough for me to understand. Since it’s me and my money I can’t just say “that’s okay.” But the ten guys who watched us were humble guys, and this was just sort of the deal at the moment. Like a job. This could be a situation where this is the only thing that they are able to do. This is their community involvement to help facilitate this transfer of money back into the community.
So many innocent people are dying. It’s insane fighting right in the middle of all those people. The whole situation is the result of a pretty heinous socio-political economic environment. This is where they live. These people don’t conceal themselves; we were not concealed. I know they have a lot of support. People would come around — women and children, old people, moms.
It’s very important for me not to be the poster child for Haitian kidnapping or to be a warning to stay out of Haiti. I hold no hard feelings. I understand that this something that is much bigger then me. I don’t feel sorry for myself. I had so many good experiences and met wonderful people.
Jeb Sprague: I’ve noticed that in all the articles (Miami Herald, Forbes, ABC News, etc.) about you, they focus on the guns and the kidnappers having guns around you..
Frank Eaton: Yes, and that’s true. It’s the pornography of violence, and I mention that every single time to all of the reporters that have interviewed me. They gave us food, they gave us water, they treated us well. I think that’s one of the most interesting things about it all. Complicated things like that are more interesting than just saying they put guns on us. I always say we were treated well and that I have really no hard feelings, besides the fact that I am financially destitute. I’m $15,000 in debt. I also make the distinction that I am no more financially destitute then these guys. I got out of Cité Soleil. These guys didn’t. I was very interested in this whole thing on the human scale.
I don’t come from money, which makes it tough for me to operate down there. But they are treated terribly. These neighborhoods are underrepresented in every way. I’m sure that the crime is a natural way to try to regain balance. Use the money the way they can…. We just didn’t want our ransom money used for weapons.
Jeb Sprague: Why do you think the UN/HNP attacks are rarely mentioned in the mainstream press, while the kidnappings receive so much coverage?
Frank Eaton: Lots of reporters are in Haiti because of the election. But with that postponed unfortunately they are all just writing about the kidnapping and focusing on that. I just don’t know if there is any interest in knowing why these things happen.
It’s a lot of peoples’ faults. The international community demands something be done about this. The rich community demands something being done about this. Poor people want something done about the kidnapping; kids are in danger. A lot of people are being kidnapped, across all sectors, and I don’t know how politically motivated all of it is.
Jeb Sprague: Are you worried about what’s going to happen to the people in Cité Soleil and the people you saw in the neighborhoods around where you were being held?
Frank Eaton: All roads are leading to Cité Soleil right now for the occupying force. I think half the reason [Lt. Gen.] Bacellar was trying to keep that from happening is because he didn’t want to loose his own guys [Interview´s note: nine MINUSTAH soldiers have died as of this date]. He’s dead now
Yes, I think the UN troops are going to kill a lot of innocent people when they go into Cité Soleil. It’s going to be like Fallujah. They are going to kill a lot of innocent people. I remember being in there, I realized, Wow a lot of people are going to die in here. I realized I was a survivor….
Jeb Sprague: Do you think the UN can be convinced of an alternative to going into Cité Soleil with military force? The President of the AUMOHD lawyers organization, Evel Fanfan, has presented a peaceful alternative. Fanfan has asked to meet with interim commander Gen. Herman, of MINUSTAH, to review “the work toward self-managed disarmament in the poor communities of Grande Ravine, St. Bernadette, and Lafwa and to consider a totally new approach there and in Cité Soleil.” Also, the peace process could also be better achieved if a democratically elected government was put into place. What do you think about all that?
Frank Eaton: There are definitely people out there with solutions that should be tried. There are a lot of guns on both sides. With the strike that the chamber of commerce held it seems the elites are adamant that the UN go into Cité Soleil.
I am trying to handle this without anger… I would hope that they examine the angle of grace before going in and blasting their way through a neighborhood that is home to a lot of women and children. I think that there needs to be a discussion, an alternative. I know it wasn’t impossible to put negotiators on the ground in Cité Soleil to communicate the terms of our release. So I know there are ways to open channels to talk about a resolution to this thing.
When you go in to try to move money and human beings in Cité Soleil it’s easy to find someone to talk to. But there is not a lot of communication going on. Every night they are fighting. On both sides are these young guys, 18 to 35 years old, looking to kill each other. Both are armed to the teeth. Innocent people are being killed. Kids are being killed. Children, women. Innocent people are put into this situation. It’s just such an insane situation. I don’t know if I had any business being in Haiti in the first place.
Jeb Sprague contributes to HaitiAnalysis.com
*Introduction updated 07/10/07
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism