The existence of squads of former soldiers who have regrouped to train and demand the recreation of Haiti’s army leads to questions of who funds these groups, and how far the government is behind them.
Reuters reports on one group of former soldiers in Haiti who have formed an unauthorized force, training and carrying out exercises in an old military base.
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.
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Martelly has argued that the army would combat organized crime and drug trafficking on the island, and respond to emergencies and natural disasters. He says that the police force suffers from corruption and neglect, which makes it unequal to the task. However, as InSight Crime has argued, Haiti’s energy and cash might be better spent on 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 give uniforms to the ex-soldiers 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,” according to 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 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.
A version of this article appeared on the Pan-American Post.