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Current Situation in Haiti

The social, political, and religious factors as they exist now in Haiti will have an impact on military planning for Haitian contingencies, as will the military establishment described below.


Haiti is a country in which nearly everything needs help. The unsettled political situation and sinking economic vitality, exacerbated by the U. S. embargo since autumn 1991, has left Haiti in disarray. In Port-au-Prince and other built-up areas, electricity is produced but 10 hours a day, and water (nonpotable) is available about one hour a day. Garbage is collected intermittently, and transportation is difficult.

Public transportation is unreliable, and although seemingly chaotic to people experienced with modern mass-transit, the brightly colored jitneys or tap-taps (buses) work well enough to service Haiti's limited infrastructure. Roads throughout the nation are in disrepair to the extent that vehicles cannot negotiate the potholes without suffering damage to tires and suspension, and the embargo has ensured that repair parts are out of reach. While there are no apparent cases of starvation, there is malnutrition, and deaths among the very young can be traced to sanitation, diet, and a lack of available medical care and pharmaceutical products.

In a larger sense it has been observed that "everything has fallen apart." "What we really need," said one resident in Port-au-Prince, " is help putting Haitians back to work building the national infrastructure: hospitals, roads, bridges, wells, electricity, schools, and port facilities, along with the institutional know-how to make things work."


Haitian medical care faces serious challenges in what is essentially a nation of sick people. The Pan-American Health Organization, a branch of the World Health Organization, released a study in March 1991 stating that one in 10 pregnant women in Haiti is now found to be infected with the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) virus. Early in 1993 in Guantanamo Naval Base, where Haitian "boat people" were held pending resolution of their immigration status, Haitians were either HIV-positive or the children of these people. Of 179 migrants, 153 were HIV-positive. Within Haiti today, about 9 percent of the people are now infected with the virus. AIDS has become a serious problem in Haiti although it is estimated that only 20 percent of the AIDS cases have been reported through 1989. Haiti could have well over half a million people who are now HIV positive.

About 10 percent of Haiti's population (over half a million people) suffers from tuberculosis. Syphilis, gonorrhea, viral hepatitis, typhoid fever, malaria, and acute diarrheal disease are endemic in the population. There is no viable medical infrastructure to provide care on a nationwide basis, although private, internationally funded hospitals such as 1'Hopital Albert Scweitzer at Deschapelles (in the Artibonite valley, 38 air miles north of Port-au-Prince) provide help to local people. The health care provided to people through the four-tier system (State University Hospital, regional hospital, commune health center, and dispensary) is not effective.


Prior to the September 1991 coup, Haiti had an unemployment rate of 60 percent. It has been estimated that 90 percent of the population lives on less than $100 a year. The wealth is concentrated in only 4.5 percent of the population. As economic conditions have continued to deteriorate in this small country, many of the poor peasants have cut down trees to build huts or to make charcoal to sell. But straddling the hurricane belt, Haiti is subject to severe storms and the resultant deforestation has caused extensive erosion. This has hurt the agriculture and fishing industries. Following heavy rains, the waters around the island become muddied, killing the fish.

Socially, 95 percent of the population is black, while the remaining 5 percent are mainly mulattos or white. This 5 percent controls approximately 95 percent of the wealth of the country. With most living in abject poverty, Haitian life expectancy is just over 50 years. Many people who have not been able to earn a living in the countryside have fled to the capital city of Port-au-Prince, crowding into and expanding the slum areas, thus increasing their vulnerability to a myriad of diseases.


Elections have not been held routinely, and political parties are not well-organized. The parties provide a focal point for galvanizing support around a charismatic personage. Real power has often centered on the country's leader and a small elite group who have used a system of counterbalances to prevent a coup. A continuing source of political influence in Haiti has been religion. With a long history of dictatorship and poverty, the masses have depended on religion for help. Although approximately 95 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, a vast majority of Haitians also practice Voodoo as an extension of their African heritage and culture. Political leaders have often taken advantage of the Roman Catholic pulpit, or the black magic of voodoo, to help influence the masses.

Religion, with its juxtaposition of traditional Catholicism and voodoo, has played a key role in the maintenance of power in Haiti. The Roman Catholic Church, enjoying a large percentage of popular participation, has often encouraged peace and acceptance. It is argued that the church has supported the elite in some cases, preaching politics from the pulpit.

Through the Duvalier era, the Catholic Church accommodated the dictatorship. After Francois Duvalier attempted to work with the Church, he finally expelled the Jesuit Order and recruited loyal Tonton Makout priests. "The ascendance of makout priests to positions of authority means that injustices were committed against those who were not aligned with Duvalier politically." Leadership posts went to Duvalier supporters. Also within the country, there has been a strong influence of "liberation" theology which has encouraged radical change in the political system of the country.

Today the politicalization of religion in Haiti is best personified in the Reverend Jean-Bertrand Aristide, but there are other examples. After the February 16, 1993, sinking of the ferry boat Neptune, Aristide supporter Bishop Willy Romelus used a funeral Mass for the 600-900 victims of the disaster as a political rally. Romelus presided over 2,500 Haitians chanting, "Aristide or death!" His target was the current military government. He was allegedly attacked by right-wing demonstrators as he left the church services attended by UN and the Organization of American States (OAS) observers. However, some observers suggest that this was staged by Romelus to discredit the military-backed government.


The military has traditionally been a critical factor for maintaining power within Haiti. In the recent past, Haitian defense expenditures have risen from $14 million in 1990 to $21 million in 1991, about 1.5 percent of the gross domestic product.

The armed forces and security forces of about 8,100 active duty personnel (900 officers and senior noncommissioned officers, 7,200 enlisted) include some 6,200 in the army, a small navy and air corps of around 300 people each, plus about 1,300 civil police in Port-au-Prince, and a handful of other security specialists related to fire fighting, customs and immigration. Working under the 1987 Constitution, the Minister of National Defense is also the Minister of the Interior. The Commander-in-Chief of the Haitian Armed Forces (FAD'H) is appointed by the President and has operational control over all of these critical public safety and military functions.

The FAD'H is organized into nine military departments and the Metropolitan Region (Port-au- Prince) to reflect the geographic regions of the country. Command of the FAD'H is centralized in the General Staff Headquarters and in the nine department headquarters. Each department is divided into districts which correspond to company areas of responsibility. Because the FAD'H has administered the nation at the departments as well as at the rural communal section levels, the military has traditionally enjoyed great influence over the daily activities of the Haitian people.

The Haitian Army has depended on foreign arms imports. The result is an arsenal of old and ineffective equipment from many countries, such as five V-150 light armored vehicles (most mobile and effective system in the FAD'H), plus assorted small arms and mortars (e.g., two 90-mm guns and three 20-mm machine guns). The air corps has but two dozen varied fixed-wing aircraft and about eight helicopters (usually inoperative) representing no serious threat in the Caribbean. However, these limited systems give the armed forces sufficient clout to maintain internal security, their traditional role.

The balance of power in the Haitian experience has been designed to maintain complete power in a single person, supported by the military. This domination by power not only has required ensuring security within the state (control of the masses), but also maintaining power bases within the establishment infrastructure to make sure that the dictator did not encounter power centers he could not control.


This segment explains Duvalier's development of Volunteers for National Security (VNS), better known as the tonton makouts, a militia-style secret police force which became more powerful than the army. If the Presidential Guard maintained power in Port-au-Prince, the tonton makouts extended Duvalier's authority over the army and into the countryside through civil mobilization, terror and patronage. The methods of the tonton makouts were bribery, intimidation, and extortion.

One regional expert says that "Today, the tonton makouts remain alive in the minds of a lot of people but no longer exist." In Haiti's current political crisis, both Aristide and army supporters have alleged that the other faction has developed a similar organization. Aristide is alleged to have tried unsuccessfully to develop his own support group, but failed; the army may have several hundred "attaches"--sympathizers who earn influence and prerequisites (a gun or a radio) for their support. Other infrastructures, which could challenge the absolute control of the leadership, have not been allowed to exist.


The seat of military power is located in the metropolitan region of Port-au-Prince where the General Staff and the Port-au-Prince police share pre-eminence. The Metropolitan Police have 10 companies (and other units, i.e., as antigang) located in the capital, responsible for routine police activities, such as maintaining order and traffic control, as well as eliminating drug smuggling. The police operate somewhat independently of the military. In recent months, the Chief of police, Colonel Michel Francois, has had an adversarial relationship with the Haitian Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Raoul Cedras.

The officers of the General Staff directly control the General Headquarters units which include five infantry companies and a separate and independent Heavy Weapons Company (mortars, armored vehicles, artillery) located on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. The Heavy WeaponsCompany and Port-au-Prince police have demonstrated an acrimonious relationship in the past year.

Elements of the "Presidential Guard" are found at the presidential palace. Such units are hand-picked infantry elements of the old Presidential guard, now called the Headquarters Defense Force (HDF).

They are among the best equipped forces in the country. Under the Guard (literally -- in the basement of the Presidential Palace) is control of the national arsenal which is packed with small arms, mortars, and ammunition dating from World War II. Central control over the deteriorating hoard is maintained jointly by the commander of the Guard and the President. Heavy Weapons Company ammunition is stored at Fort Dimanche, in the southern metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince. Counterbalancing the old Guard companies and the Police have been two other tactical units of significance.

The Dessalines Battalion was a 750-man force at the Dessalines barracks, located to the rear of the Presidential Palace. In the later 1980s, it was commanded by the violent and corrupt narcotrafficker Colonel Jean Claude Paul. His battalion was alleged by the U. S. government to have "created much of the mayhem that left 34 people dead in the aborted November (1987) election that was to be Haiti's first experiment in democracy in three decades." Indicted in March 1988 by the state of Florida for cocaine trafficking, Colonel Paul was poisoned eating pumpkin soup that November; his battalion was disbanded in April 1989 after interarmy battles.

A second unit, the 700-man Leopards Corps, initially designed to be a counterinsurgency unit, largely performed police functions. After the coup attempt of 1989, it was disbanded.

The remainder of the army is under the North and South Regional Commands, scattered throughout the country In small groups, often under the command of a junior noncommissioned officer. Poorly armed, equipped, and paid, these forces are often left to fend for themselves with little more than a gun and a pair of sunglasses. Such groups have created a method of effecting control in rural areas through a system of bribes and extortion.


Since the death of Colonel Paul, commander of the Dessalines Battalion, there continues to be credible reports that involve members of the military (and police) in narcotrafficking.

Although small amounts of marijuana are grown in Haiti, it is not a commercial drug producer. Rather, the poor communications and transportation infrastructure, plus the ineffectiveness of the military, police and judicial systems have created conditions in Haiti wherein trans-shipment of illicit drugs is difficult to control. The FAD'H Anti-Drug Service conducts occasional drug seizures; however, lack of funding and equipment causes the counterdrug effort to be largely ineffective. Also, military and police personnel are vulnerable to penetration by drug criminals, making the nation well suited as a cocaine trans-shipment point.

Reports show that there have been some increases in air and surface drug shipments to Haiti since the Aristide coup. And while the de facto government has maintained counterdrug operations at or above the tempo before the coup, Haiti's judicial system is ineffective in bringing drug traffickers to justice. Equally disturbing is the report of the "increased use of crack cocaine by military personnel."


Seemingly the Haitian military is the a type of powerful political monolith common to emerging countries, but the result of the Duvalier era was a schismatized armed force. This renders Haitian politics all the more complex and less predictable.

Lacking a Noncommissioned Officer Corps in the modern sense, the armed forces leadership resides solely in the officer corps.

As Francois Duvalier consolidated his power, he sent hand-picked groups of cadets to the Freres Military Academy, Haiti's West Point. These were mostly black youths who represented Duvalier's middle class, and it was expected that they would be sympathetic to the regime. But in 1961, Papa Doc Duvalier closed the military academy seeking a more loyal following within the enlisted ranks. Members of the last class (`61) included Prosper Avril, Haiti's last military ruler before Aristide; also, there was Herard Abraham who followed Avril, to turn political power over to Judge Ertha Trouillot, and assist with the December 1990 elections.

For 10 years following the closing of the academy, Papa Doc commissioned officers from within the enlisted ranks, and his intent was to place blacks in positions of power. This group, whose military qualification for maintaining a commission was total loyalty, has remained a symbol of Duvalierism.

In 1971 Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier opened the academy for the children of his friends and supporters; these were mainly cadets from mulatto families. This symbolized a return to the elite bourgeoisie of an earlier era, and these officers were scorned by their seniors. Thus, even within the military leadership, there are officer groups of different backgrounds and loyalties.

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