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March 15, 2004

'Haiti Under the Gun': Covert US Ties to Haitian Rebels Date from the '90s

Haiti Under the Gun (Jan. 8-15, - The Nation)

This 1996 article by Allan Nairn details the important role of the CIA and the US military in supporting the death squad activities of Haiti's FRAPH, key members of which form the core of the rebels who ousted Jean-Bertrand Aristide with US backing.

[Read the source...]

Haiti Under the Gun

by Allan Nairn
The Nation magazine, January 8 / 15, 1996

In the face of rising outrage in Haiti that paramilitaries are still armed and at large, the US government has again denied collaborating with the perpetrators, including FRAPH, the hit squad whose leader, Emmanual Constant, worked for the CIA. But evidence just discovered indicates that, starting in mid-1993, FRAPH was launched on its reign of terror with secret shipments of US arms, and that still-active FRAPH members have been used recently in US occupation operations, sprung from hail with Wahington's help.

This information comes from interviews in Haiti and the United States with military, paramilitary and intelligence officials, including Green Beret commanders and also from internal documents from the US and Haitian armies. Pieces of the story also come from Constant himself, who called me from his Maryland jail cell last September and again on December 7, shortly before he was due to be deported to Haiti. Constant, who has said that he started the group that became FRAPH at the urging of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) -- an account confirmed last year by a US official who worked with him -- now says that even after the U.S. occupation got under way in September 1994, "other people from my organization were working with the DIA," aiding in operations directed against "subversive activities." Constant claims that US forces still use FRAPH members for "crowd control" and also "to understand the neighborhoods, what Lavalas [the political movement of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide] is doing."

Constant's assertion has been confirmed by US officials involved in Haiti, who note that U.S. military intelligence and the CIA are also continuing secret work with FRAPH. Within the first week of the occupation a CIA contingent arrived and, breaking down into two-person teams, fanned out across the countryside. The operatives, on temporary duty from headquarters in Langley, Virginia, approached Special Forces field units and asked for their help in identifying Haitians who could be recruited to work secretly for the CIA. Those placed -- or continued -- on the payroll include FRAPH leaders and attaches, according to US officials closely familiar with the operation. When reached for comment, one of the CIA men from Langley, Ben Stubenberg, would say only that he was in Haiti "looking at general conditions, political stability."

Senior U.S. officials have also intervened to free FRAPH leaders from jail after they have been arrested by Haitian authorities or by field-level US troops. Constant claims that the early, high-profile arrests of FRAPH men were done by U.S. forces "for publicity," and that after being held briefly and released, many of his men were given "a card telling them they were arrested by mistake"; he said he had one of the cards. Nyll Calixte, the chief financier for FRAPH in Haiti's northeast sector, was sprung within a day of his arrest on what the Special Forces were told was a direct order from Washington, according to US sources who saw the message traffic. When I asked the former Special Forces chief for Haiti, Gen. Dick Potter, about Calixte, he said he didn't recall the case. But when asked about FRAPH and attaches, Potter remarked that often "people we had picked up and taken back to [US occupation headquarters in] Port-au-Prince -- and they had been reviewed and questioned and so forth-many times they'd show up back in the same villages where we'd picked them up." Asked why this happened, he said "I guess poor evidence," but he said that such decisions are made by higher-level US officials. As to Constant's claim that the DIA was still using FRAPH, Potter-himself a veteran of operations in Laos and northern Iraq-said, "Hell, I wouldn't even comment." On CIA recruitment of FRAPH and attaches, he said, "I think anything's probably possible."

U.S. Army facilitation of FRAPH-particularly with regard to arms-has been established U.S. policy. One Green Beret operations chief, who is still on active duty, says that in early October 1994, just days after many units had arrived in the rural zones, "we started getting message traffic saying, 'Come up off the FRAPH."' His account meshes with that of Col. Mark Boyatt, one of the national Green Beret commanders, who told me last spring, while he was still in charge of a Special Forces Group in Haiti, that "when we first came in we went after the FRAPH real hard" -- particularly, he said, searching FRAPH leaders' homes for hidden weapons -- "but after that we were told to 'back off."' He said the order came from the Pentagon, down "through the chain of command," and that the Special Forces were told to deal with FRAPH as the "loyal opposition." Colonel Boyatt said he remembered the "back off" order coming in "mid- to late October," but Special Forces documents and interviews with field level commanders suggest that in fact it may have been earlier, in the first two weeks of October.

These officers' accounts and the documents suggest that the early move against FRAPH came not from Washington-level US policy but from a quick, retaliatory Special Forces response to an October 3, 1994, incident in Les Cayes in which a Green Beret sergeant was shot and wounded by four Haitian soldiers thought to be linked to FRAPH. General Potter, then Colonel Boyatt's boss, says one tenet of the Haiti mission was, "Make sure everybody knows: 'Don't harm a hair on the head of one Special Forces soldier or we'll have to get rough."' When the soldiers violated this commandment -- creating an environment of potential disrespect for US authority-Potter says he called in reinforcements and "got tough," an effort that he says was suspended in ten days, after "the crisis was over."

When asked about the back-off order described by Colonel Boyatt and others, General Potter first said, "I don't know if the order was to 'back off'; I'm not sure that's true." But he later added that after the shooting crisis was over, "of course we eased off." As to the weapons confiscation policy, he said the emphasis was on military caches and big "crew-served weapons." Also, "if weapons appeared on the street, they were taken," but "if someone reported so-and-so was a FRAPH member, and he had a pistol in his house, no."

The whole point of FRAPH, of course, is that it is not a military fighting force but rather a paramilitary group organized to kill unarmed civilians. This means that its weapons are small and dispersed-essentially one per killer -- and that, therefore, under occupation policy FRAPH gunmen remain armed unless they are impolitic enough to parade their weapons publicly. Indeed, in late September 1994, right after the US troops arrived, Special Forces teams systematically sat down with local FRAPH heads and told them (as team leaders in Hinche, in the Central Plateau, explained it to me) that as long as they kept their guns out of view they would "get no trouble" from the Green Berets.

The Green Beret operations chief, who oversaw a vast sector of the countryside, says, "People would ask, When are you going to take their weapons away? The answer was, They won't let us. Well, they [the Haitian people] got sick of waiting for us, and now they're doing it on their own, and I don't blame them."

The arms shipments so crucial to the launching of FRAPH began around July 1993, according to a Haitian army officer who helped arrange the deals. The officer, a longtime US protege whose walls are hung with diplomas from US military courses (at infantry school, special training in Texas and, last spring, a six-day "human rights" course), served as a confidant and arms procurer for coup leader and police chief Lieut. Col. Michel Francois. He was among those who kept detailed records on the deals, some of which he still has. Other papers were apparently seized in 1994 by incoming US troops.

The US shipments originated in Miami and included Colt .38 revolvers, 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistols, American made M-3 "grease gun" machine guns with short, collapsible stocks, Thompson submachine guns, Smith & Wesson .38 revolvers and fragmentation and gas grenades. The officer estimates that "five to ten thousand pieces" came in from Florida, packed in boxes often marked "Police Material: Do Not Open," and addressed to officers at the Haitian national palace. Although from October 1993 until September 1994 the US Navy was used to enforce the embargo on Haiti, the officer says that the FRAPH arms shipments were never stopped (the Navy confirms that no Haiti-bound weapons were intercepted).

On arrival in Haiti, the weapons were stored at Colonel Francois's police headquarters, at the airport and in cargo containers, but-the officer says-not at army bases. Distribution of the guns to FRAPH and attaches was controlled by Francois and his circle, working through Constant and the senior civilian leader ship of FRAPH.

The fast influx of pistols, grease guns and hand grenades enabled FRAPH to metastasize. The officer says that FRAPH was needed to maintain control because "it was 7,000 of us versus 7 million civilians." The guns were, in turn, necessary to get FRAPH out on the streets. The idea was that, suddenly, FRAPH "would appear with all the gear of power-weapons, communication, intimidation, etc.," thereby cowing both the still-active popular movement and the exiled Aristide.

By November 11, 1993, a DIA cable noted, FRAPH had emerged with sudden strength, its enforcers enjoying "the perception of power derived from being able to walk the streets of a town carrying an automatic weapon with total impunity." The cable (from documents released to the Center for Constitutional Rights in connection with a lawsuit brought by FRAPH victim Alerte Belance) also noted that "FRAPH is suspected in the death of two male Lavalas sympathizers who were executed [and] . . .discovered this morning shot in me head with their hands tied behind their backs." These were, of course, just two of the myriad murders, arsons, rapes and tortures then being attributed-often openly-to Constant's men in FRAPH. The United States, though, kept on paying Constant, and the weapons flow increased.

The Haitian officer involved in the shipments says that US authorities took no steps to stop them, but refuses to discuss the precise role that the US government played. At the time, Constant, the FRAPH leader, was working for the CIA, as was (as NBC News first reported) Colonel Francois himself, as well as (according to U.S. envoy Lawrence Pezzullo) Francois's brother, Evans. Constant says he was reporting personally to CIA station chief John Kambourian, who also, according to US and Haitian sources, met often with Colonel Francois. Gerard Cassis, a Haitian businessman long close to the CIA (he told of his dealings with three generations of CIA station chiefs), says Kambourian once assured him "that he was here in Haiti [in order] forAristide never to come back." Constant states, "People say the CIA was opposed to Clinton, but I don't think so. Clinton knew everything concerning me." The U.S. policy was to return Aristide but to derail his populist program. Backing FRAPH served that agenda as well as that of the "no return" forces. When I reached Kambourian -- who is now back at CIA headquarters -- and asked him about the arms shipments, he shouted, "You know the drill, talk to Public Affairs," and hung up.

The Haitian officer says that he personally had a US contact who worked at the time out of the CIA's Jamaica station. The officer says that Jamaica was one of the FRAPH arms transit points, as were the Caicos Islands and Santo Domingo (from which CIA asset Evans Francois handled shipping and finances for his brother). He adds that a separate stream of FRAPH arms roughly as large as that shipped out of Miami originated in Brazil and included American M-16A1 rifles, Motorola walkie talkies, Colt .45s and .38s, Uzi submachine guns and Taurus 9-millimeter pistols. In our interviews Constant maintained the fiction that FRAPH never had any arms, but said that the attaches, closely linked to FRAPH, got theirs -- legally, he claimed -- from Miami and New York. Asked whether the CIA knew of these weapons coming in, Constant said, "Oh, definitely, because they knew the procedure."

Constant says that the DIA's original idea for a group like FRAPH was to form an organization "that could balance the Aristide movement" and do "intelligence" work against it. In practice, with its new US arms, FRAPH did this through what one DIA cable called the use of "controlled violence." A December 7, 1993, DIA analysis forwarded to the Pentagon, the CIA, the White House, the State Department and US military bases worldwide made excited mention of the impact of FRAPH: "People are attracted to the new power element in town and want to be part of it. Even disappointed Lavalasians have been reported to be joining because they recognize that this emerging influence is not loth [sic] to use violence against all those who oppose it and they cannot afford not to be part of it."

This useful fact was noted in Washington by Clinton's Haiti team. Lawrence Pezzullo told me that the Administration used FRAPH's surge to pressure Aristide, then living in Washington exile and balking at some White House demands. Pezzullo, who says he was unaware of FRAPH's US intelligence ties, stated, "We said [to Aristide], The only people seen operating politically now are the FRAPHistas and that we [the United States and Aristide] had to get another force with the private sector to fill that gap, otherwise these people [FRAPH] will be running around as the only game in town."

Pezzullo's account meshes closely with Constant's claim that the United States was saying to Aristide: "Look, Toto Constant is taking over your political clientele.... So if you don't give up to the agreement [we want], look what's going to happen to you, because Toto Constant is taking over the political scene." Constant cites a series of meetings in Washington in February 1994 in which parliamentary deputies who belonged to FRAPH -- brought up by the White House and the State Department -- said that US officials were pressing this argument on Aristide. (Aristide advisers confirm Constant's version of the meetings.)

With his supporters being slaughtered by FRAPH and the army, Aristide indeed backed off. Although Aristide continued to haggle with the White House on a number of political points, he agreed to accept a US occupation (something he had long opposed), and in August 1994, he endorsed a structural adjustment program (drafted by the World Bank, the IMF and USAID, and backed by the most pro-corporate members of his own government team) that represented a harsh abandonment of the popular movement's redistributionist plan.

An interesting perspective on the US use of paramilitaries in Haiti is offered by Jerry Mourra, a longtime aide to and gun smith for Michel Francois (a September 30, 1994, DIA report claimed that Mourra had planned to transfer some arms to FRAPH). Mourra was jailed for five months by the US occupation force. His case got considerable play as a purported example of a US drive to break the backs of those whom President Clinton called Haiti's "armed thugs." But Mourra now explains that his arrest was merely an interruption of a long relationship with "good friends" from Washington. He tells of going fishing and hunting in the 1980s with CIA men from the embassy, and of being introduced to Kambourian in mid-1994. Mourra says that in early 1995 he was "very impressed," while still in US detention, to receive a visit "straight from Washington" from US Gen. John Sheehan (he says that Sheehan "was a nice guy" but "I can't tell you what he told me"). Mourra's problem with the US authorities arose when he let his anger at Aristide's return spill over into musings on "a dream" of shooting down US helicopters. But since the Sheehan visit and his subsequent release, Mourra says he has resumed close links with US military intelligence. On December 13, he told me that his US contacts had been active up until "last week, the week before." He said he dealt constantly with a ten-person team; he gave the name of its chief and an internal number at Fort Bragg (an answering machine gives a tone but has no message). Mourra now says Haiti needs the US forces to control the "low class." "They have to stay. I think they will be here for thirty years."


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