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Post-Duvalier Role Of The Armed Forces

Haiti's defense traditionally has fallen victim to political vagaries. A readiness for battle and the initiation of defenserelated engineering projects in the first two decades of the nineteenth century turned out to be costly preparation for conflict against phantom armies. The engineering projects included construction of the citadel of La Ferrire in northern Haiti. Soon afterward, Haiti turned its attention toward the rest of the island of Hispaniola (La Isla Espaola), which Haiti controlled between 1822 and 1844. Controlling the whole island, however, drained the national treasury and induced torpor in the battle-hardened veterans of the wars of independence.

The gap between Haiti's fears and its military capabilities widened. The army lost institutional coherence and its ability to pursue missions of national defense. The only thing that assured the nation's safety until the twentieth century was the jealousy among the great powers -- France, Germany, and, by the turn of the century, the United States. Washington's increasing interest in Haiti prompted the United States Navy to deploy to the country's ports fifteen times between 1876 and 1913 in order to protect American lives and property. The United States Marines occupied the country in 1915. They formulated a policy designed to ensure domestic law and order that the Garde d'Hati was given the responsibility of implementing. This concern with internal law and order, rather than with external security, endured throughout the twentieth century.

Haiti is a party to a number of international agreements, including the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (the Rio Treaty), the Charter of the Organization of American States, and the earlier Act of Chapultepec (1945). The nation's security concerns regarding neighboring Cuba and the Dominican Republic have been viewed since World War II within the broader framework of United States strategic interests in the Caribbean. The fact that the FAd'H deployed relatively few of its units along the Dominican border, despite a history of conflicts with its neighbor, reflects Haiti's limited national security concerns.

Cuban and other external threats have had little impact on Haiti's security. The Duvaliers' tight control eliminated all Marxist influences in the country. It was not until 1986 that a communist party, the Unified Haitian Communist Party (Parti Unifi Communiste Hatien PUCH), openly operated in the country. Cuba helped some Haitian refugees travel to Florida in the 1980s, but its overall interest in Haitian affairs has been unclear. The severity of Haiti's political and economic crises, along with the high profile of the United States in the region, has limited involvement by other countries in Haitian affairs.

Threats to Haiti's internal security, however, have been numerous during the past four decades. Between 1968 and 1970, the government repulsed three invasions supported by exiled Haitians. In 1970 the Coast Guard mutinied. The Coast Guard's five ships, low on fuel and ammunition, went into exile at the United States military base at Guantnamo, Cuba. In the early 1980s, Haitian military forces and members of the VSN defeated a small exile force on the Ile de la Tortue (Tortuga Island). An airplane dropped a bomb on the National Palace in 1982, and a car bomb exploded nearby in 1983. Exile groups, however, never posed a significant military challenge to the army and the VSN. The real challenge to these forces came in the popular domestic disturbances that developed after 1984.

After the collapse of the Duvalier regime in 1986, the FAd'H developed an agenda to exert national political leadership, to restore public order, and to gain control over the VSN and other paramilitary groups, but carrying out this program proved difficult, given Haiti's political, economic, and foreign policy situations.

The main mission of Haiti's armed forces in the late 1980s continued to be internal security. After 1986, however, this mission regularly conflicted with the national leadership role of the FAd'H. Generational and political differences among officers and a scarcity of resources for the military led to chronic instability that culminated in military coups. These coups caused the government to change hands four times in 1988. A fifth coup in early 1989, however, failed to topple the government. The two most important problems that the FAd'H had to face were, first, a divided senior military command and, second, suspicious junior officers and NCO personnel. These problems became apparent in 1988 when Avril ousted Namphy and subsequently dismissed a number of senior officers. The degree to which NCOs may have been manipulated in this process and the extent to which lower army echelons had begun to shape their own political attitudes caused some observers to doubt the military's future as an institution.

The challenges facing the FAd'H in the late 1980s were more political than military. The largest and most immediate questions revolved around the institution's ability to govern Haiti during a period of political transition and modernization. It remained unclear, in mid-1989, how and when the military planned to transfer power to a legitimate civilian government. Another important problem concerned the personal political ambitions of some army commanders. It was also unclear how the FAd'H would respond to these challenges because the institution had not demonstrated viable national political capabilities. The FAd'H was ill-prepared for this broad new role in national life because Franois Duvalier had severely limited its role in government affairs.

Other security-related problems included narcotics trafficking. United States officials have expressed concern over Haiti's role as a major transshipment area for narcotics, mainly Colombian cocaine bound for the United States. This role apparently expanded after Jean-Claude's fall. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration opened an office in Port-au- Prince in October 1987 to help Haitian authorities control drug trafficking; however, the lack of a professional police force in Haiti hindered these efforts. The FAd'H appeared ambivalent toward the narcotics issue because drug-related corruption reportedly involved hundreds of members of the officer corps and because some officers resented pressure from Washington. Avril, however, attempted to placate United States concerns by dismissing some officers linked to drug trafficking.

The most prominent among the dismissed officers was Paul, a former commander of the Dessalines Battalion, who was indicted in March 1988 by a Florida grand jury on charges of cocaine distribution. Haiti had signed an extradition treaty with the United States, but the agreement did not cover narcotics-related offenses, so Paul never faced trial on the charges. Paul's continued service in the army posed a political problem, and Avril asked him to retire. In November 1988, however, Paul died mysteriously, possibly a victim of poisoning. Paul's death removed a major narcotics figure and a potential threat to Avril's political power.

Unstable and unstructured civilian politics and institutions also undermined Haiti's stability. Some Duvalierists sought to use the armed forces completely or partially to restore the ancien rgime. At the same time, more democracy-oriented civilian groups, all of which lacked strong institutional bases, continued to be suspicious of the army's political leadership. The weak economy and the international media's criticism of Haitian affairs resulted in financial and public-relations problems for the army; and, because Haiti's political environment remained volatile and because the army did not always appear to be in control of the country, Haiti faced more unrest and the possible development of insurgency movements. On the one hand, Haiti's armed forces was still one of the few institutions of national magnitude, but, on the other hand, the armed forces suffered from serious institutional deterioration and diminished cohesion. In 1989 the military was struggling to provide political leadership at a time when it faced its own disintegration.

In the eyes of many foreign and domestic observers, President Aristide's efforts to implement both the letter and spirit of the 1987 constitutional directives fuelled efforts to force him from power in 1991. President Aristide ordered that the army and the police be separated and that the police report to the Ministry of Justice. He also tried to place authority for prisons within the Justice Ministry and created a human rights commission to investigate past human rights violations, including abuses where military complicity was suspected. Most significantly, he eliminated the rural section chiefs who were the instrument of repression against the peasant communities.

With the 1991 coup, each of these attempts at reform was reversed. The de facto governments moved quickly to reverse Aristide's attempts to remove military authority from everyday life. No separate police force has been created. Prisons remain under army control. The human rights commission announced by President Aristide was abandoned. Perhaps most importantly, in rural areas, individual section chiefs removed by the Aristide government were restored to their former positions, and the system of section chiefs which Aristide tried to dismantle has been erected once again.




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