Friday, March 2, 2012

Who is Funding Illicit Army Training Camps in Haiti?

Reuters reports on a group of former soldiers in Haiti who have formed an unauthorized force, training and carrying out exercises in an old military base. There are a number of such camps, which are part of a drive to push the government to re-create the army.

Haiti’s army was disbanded in 1995 by Jean-Bertrand Artistide when he returned to power. It had been responsible for massive human rights violations and corruption over the years, and had taken part in a 1991 coup against him.

President Michael Martelly made the revival of the army a central promise of his campaign last year. The force’s dissolution was not written into the constitution, and so it can be recreated with a decree from the president.

But Martelly delayed the move when he came to power,  amid fierce criticism from the international community, instead setting up a commission in November to decide on when and if it should go ahead.

The president has argued that the army could combat organized crime and drug trafficking on the island, and respond to emergencies and natural disasters. He argues that the police force suffers from corruption and neglect, which makes it unequal to the task. However, observers have said that Haiti’s energies should go towards reforming and strengthening the police, rather than the more expensive and controversial task of creating an army. A key goal of the UN is to build a new civilian police force in the country -- they have already trained 10,000, according to Reuters, and plan to add another 5,000 to 6,000 in the coming three years.

The UN has criticized the unofficial training camps, calling on the authorities to take action to end the regrouping, which it called an “unnecessary provocation.”

It’s not clear how far the government is behind the camps. Martelly has called on the group to disarm and stop their activites, but Reuters points out that, although the group will not reveal the sources of their funding, they appear to have enough cash to feed and uniform the men attending. The New York Times reported last year on a similar group training in an abandoned nightclub outside Port-au-Prince, and reported that Martelly had visited them on his campaign trail -- “He came to cheer us up and encourage us and said he supported having an army,” said a representative of the camp.

The group in the Reuters report struck a combative tone against the authorities, however. They told the news agency; “if the police decide to attack us, we will provide a response,” and referenced the 2004 coup; “I hope they remember what happened in 2004. I hope they will think twice before doing anything like that."

A major motive for recreating the army is the question of sovereignty, with many in Haiti tired of the UN peacekeeping forces, which have been accused of abuses including rape. Reuters quotes Defense Minister Thierry Mayard-Paul as saying;
We have to take our own destiny in our hands. We can't always be holding hands and asking for help from others.
However, a Washington Post editorial last year questioned Martelly’s motives for wishing to reconstitute the army;
With little support in parliament or from any organized political party, he finds himself perched perilously atop a political system that he has been unable to bend to his will. The temptation must be strong to follow the example of so many former Haitian leaders who found it convenient to fashion a band of loyalists into an armed force beholden to the president and hostile to his rivals.

News Briefs
  • Venezuela is refusing to stop shipping fuel to Syria, despite efforts by the international community to apply sanctions to the Middle Eastern country over its brutal crackdown on rebels. Venezuela’s Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez saidthat they had sent two loads of 300,000 barrels, saying "Syria is a blockaded country. If it needs diesel and we can provide it, there's no reason not to do it." By contrast Russia’s Vladimir Putin seemed to distance himself from Syria on Friday, saying, "It is up to the Syrians to decide who should run their country ... We need to make sure they stop killing each other," Putin said.
  • The latest opinion polls show Josefina Vazquez Mota, candidate of the ruling party, gaining on frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto in the race for Mexico’s presidential elections, reports Reuters. The poll puts Vazquez up 8 points from a January poll to 29 percent, while Peña fell 5 points to 36. Peña has lost credibility with blunders such as struggling to name his favorite books, and with the revelation that he fathered children in two extramarital affair with two different women while married to his first wife, who died.
  • The Economist looks at Sao Paulo’s mayoral race, which has been shaken up by the entrance of former mayor Jose Serra. He was the main rival to Dilma Rousseff in the 2010 presidential elections, and his election will make it harder for the governing Workers’ Party to win the city and state of Sao Paulo.
  • The WSJ reports on Brazil’s battle to prevent its currency, the real, from over-appreciating. It has already gone up 9 percent against the dollar this year. President Rousseff criticized the monetary policies of developed countries for “cannabilizing” energy markets.
  • In two more pieces from the Economist, the magazine looks at advances against guerrilla groups in Colombia and Peru. It notes the FARC’s promise to cease kidnapping for ransom, saying that “Colombia just might be witnessing the beginning of the end of the FARC,” and the capture of a leader of the Shining Path, commenting; “Though the Shining Path is much weaker than the FARC, like Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia Mr Humala would like to be the president who saw the end of his country’s guerrillas.”
  • Colombia's FARC rebels have announce an “armed strike” in Quibdo, in the Pacific region. Transport companies have suspended buses on routes from the interior of the country to the city, according to El Tiempo. The guerrillas announced the strike by distributing flyers banning all transport in the area from March 1 to 8.
  • The Organization of American States has warned of the threat drug trafficking groups pose to elections in Latin America, not only threatening politicians but even putting their own candidates forward, reports the AP.
  • Haiti’s President Michael Martelly has named Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Lamothe as his pick to replace Prime Minister Garry Conille, who resigned last weekend, reports the Miami Herald. The newspaper describes the nominee as “A self-made entrepreneur and former tennis star.” The challenge will be getting parliament to approve the appointment -- it slapped down the president’s two nominations before Conille, causing a five-month delay when Martelly was elected last year.
  • The LA Times reports that Mississippi is considering a tough, Alabama-style law on immigration, with proponents arguing that this is necessary to bring down unemployment. According to the article, Republican politicians have credited Alabama’s crackdown with the state’s dramatic drop in unemployment in the final months of 2011.
  • Mike Allison of Central American Politics has a piece on Al Jazeera on the gaps in the study of El Salvador’s civil war, reporting from a conference on the subject. One of the points he makes is that, while government security forces were responsible for most human rights violations, the use of violence by the FMLN guerrillas has not received enough attention.
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies has released a report on police reform in Latin America, and what the US’s role should be in aiding the process.
  • The NYT reports on a hydroelectric dam project in Patagonia, southern Chile, which is stirring up protest and threatens to change the lifestyle of the gaucho cattle farmers.

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