Haitian President Michel Martelly delays controversial army plan

By Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald, Nov 18, 2011
President Michel Martelly is holding off on a controversial plan to reinstate the Haitian army, choosing instead to set up a special commission to decide. Martelly, however, insisted Friday that the decision to delay a presidential decree reestablishing the disbanded army, was not a rejection of the idea. He said the commission, after consulting with various sectors of Haitian society, will have 40 days to report back on the new army’s configuration and set a calendar for its reinstatement.
“Haiti must ensure the integrity of its territory and its national security,” Martelly said as he stood in the Champ de Mars, a public plaza turned sprawling tent city across from the broken presidential palace in Port-au-Prince. The return of the army had been one of his campaign promises. “My decision to establish the Armed Forces of Haiti is the result of a long and deep reflection that long preceded the statement of an emotional election promise,’’ he said.

Canada does not oppose the re-formation of a Haitian army, it says it wants Martelly to take more time: Washington Post, Nov 16, 2011.

Reaction to Martelly’s long-awaited decision was mixed. While some see it as bowing to strong international pressure against the idea, others say it may be a way to win over the United States and others who oppose the rebirth of the army. “There has been a lot of discussion with the president for him to dialogue on this issue and proceed in a transparent way,” said Sen. Youri Latortue, a staunch supporter. “I believe if this is done in a transparent way and it doesn’t destroy the national police, the international community will come around.”
Haiti’s disreputable military was dismissed in 1995 by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide after he return from exile following a bloody 1991 military-led coup d’état. But the army, accused of human rights abuses, was never constitutionally dissolved and part of it was kept as a music band. Martelly can simply reinstate it as a real army with a decree.
Martelly’s announcement came on the 208th anniversary of the Battle of Vertières, the last major battle of the second war of Haitian Independence and, symbolically, a date commemorating the Haitian military forces. On Nov. 18, 1803, Haitian rebels successfully defeated French expeditionary forces. Haiti declared independence two months later.
Haitians commemorated the day with a public holiday that included a concert in the quake-ravaged capital and anti-U.N. protests in Vertières, near the northern city of Cap-Haitien. Opposition to U.N. peacekeepers has increased in recent months, helping fuel Martelly’s pro-army campaign.
“The dignity of the Haitian people is coming with the creation of the armed forces,” Martelly said in his nationalistic speech.
The United States, Canada and other nations have urged Martelly to focus on strengthening the police. Others have questioned the country’s need for an army, arguing Haiti faces no external threats and the government’s energy should be spent on rebuilding from the January 2010 earthquake.
“I am convinced, whether you like it or not, that the Haitian army will be restored and will ultimately receive financial support and training from the international community,’’ said Robert Fatton, a Haiti expert at the University of Virginia. The critical question is whether this new army will indeed be new and depart from its repressive past.”
Still, the plan, whose price has been scaled back from $95 million to $25 million, worries Fatton. A new army and a spy agency, which is also being proposed, “are likely to revive the seeds of authoritarianism that are still germinating in the Haitian political terrain. In spite of elections, a free press, and the development of many grassroots organizations, the reality is that the deep structures of Haitian politics have changed little since 1986,” the year dictatorship ended.
Patrick Elie, a former defense minister, said Martelly’s army plan is a “red herring” being used to distract people from the real goal. “What is much more perverse and dangerous is what is being done with the secret police and spying, and what’s being put together without any oversight by the legislative branch. Nobody is paying attention to that,” he said.
But despite concerns, others say Martelly does face a difficult dilemma given his campaign promise and those waiting for him to make good on it. “He’s between a rock and a hard place,” said Robert Maguire, a Haiti expert at George Washington University. “There are times when he has led the international community to believe that he will do what they would like for him to do. He’s got to find a middle way, satisfy two divergent constituents.”