DE RUEHPU #1148/01 1801233
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P 291233Z JUN 07
FM AMEMBASSY PORT AU PRINCE
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INFO RUEHZH/HAITI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 PORT AU PRINCE 001148
STATE FOR WHA/EX AND WHA/CAR
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E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/13/2017
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL HA
SUBJECT: THE POLITICAL BASIS FOR VIOLENCE IN GONAIVES -
PART 2 OF 3
REF: PORT-AU-PRINCE 966
PORT AU PR 00001148 001.2 OF 002
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JANET A. SANDERSON, REASONS 1.4(B) AND (D).
1. (C) Summary. Like their local political leaders, civil
society leaders in Gonaives believe that insecurity in
Gonaives results from the political rivalry between Prime
Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis and Senator Youri Latortue.
According to post's interlocutors, gang leaders, who are
linked to Senator Youri Latortue, prey on the local populace
and foment unrest to discredit the government. At the same
time, residents resent the government and the Haitian police
(HNP) for their inability to deliver services and protect the
citizenry. While leaders express hope that recent changes in
HNP leadership will improve the security climate, they report
that many residents believe that the re-establishment of the
army would be more effective in combating gangs and restoring
order. End summary.
2. (C) Poloff on May 30-31 conducted nine interviews in
Gonaives, of which two were with politicians, two with law
enforcement, and five with civil society. This second cable
reports on the interviews with Catholic XXXXXXXXXXXX, the national XXXXXXXXXXXX leader XXXXXXXXXXXX,
civil society XXXXXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXXXXX proprietor XXXXXXXXXXXX, and XXXXXXXXXXXX.
3. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX representative organization, claimed that
Gonaives was dangerous because the authorities tolerated the
gangs that were aligned with Latortue's political party, The
Artibonite in Action (LAA). Because of the authorities'
acquiesence, no one protected members of civil society who
spoke out against the gangs. For example, XXXXXXXXXXXX asserted
that gang members on April 13 at 3:00 AM murdered Zantray's
former secretary general, Edouard Johnson. The HNP arrested
the alleged perpetrator only under pressure from Zantray.
Separately, XXXXXXXXXXXX claimed that before the change in
leadership at the HNP, Senator Latortue would go to the local
police station at midnight and secure the release of arrested
gang members. When asked how he obtained this information,
he replied that HNP officers told him. He allowed that the
HNP in Gonaives changed for the better under its new
leadership that arrived in May.
4. (C) Catholic XXXXXXXXXXXX noted that until the
recent HNP crackdown on gangs, Gonaives was the victim of a
''culture of impunity.'' Since the GoH did not have
effective law enforcement in the city, residents felt
unprotected from the gangs if they were to speak out against
them. Everyone understood that the gangs in Raboteau did not
make idle threats, as the murder of journalist Alix Joseph
reinforced (Note. Joseph, a noted grass-roots democracy
activist, reportedly received death threats from gang members
after speaking out against gang violence. See reftel.)
XXXXXXXXXXXX, who denounced the violence, placed security guards in
his residential compound, even though he did not feel
directly threatened by the gangs. While XXXXXXXXXXXX assiduously
avoided any mention of politicians or political factions, he
opined that residents were asking for the return of the army
because in the past, the army ''kept the situation under
5. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX believed that Gonaives suffered from
insecurity ''that was a form of opposition to the GoH''
caused by politically ambitious persons, ''some of whom
should be behind bars, but are seeking office. You know who
I am talking about.'' XXXXXXXXXXXX claimed that Latortue was
not as popular as some may believe, but that because of his
long established ties with the gangs, Latortue is part of a
strong minority able to disrupt events that support Prime
Minister Alexis, as seen when demonstrators threw rocks at
Alexis during Judge Hugues St. Pierre's funeral. XXXXXXXXXXXX
claimed to know definitely that Latortue is stockpiling arms
and that the local longshoremen were aligned with Latortue.
(Comment: Longshoremen initially made up the bulk of the
notorious ''Cannibal Army'' gang in Gonaives. End comment.)
Conversely, according to XXXXXXXXXXXX, though Latortue's
popularity may be exaggerated, many Gonaives residents oppose
President Rene Preval because they view his administration as
a continuation of Lavalas rule.
6. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX, a local businessman and XXXXXXXXXXXX also maintained that the insecurity in Gonaives is
politically driven by the Alexis-Latortue rivalry. XXXXXXXXXXXX
believes that because Aristide's return to Haiti is more
likely to occur with a Democratic U.S. presidential victory
in 2008, Latortue is determined to provide an inhospitable
environment for Aristide in the event that he returns with
the ascension of a Democrat to the White House. XXXXXXXXXXXX is
unclear where Alexis stands in this scenario. He believes
that Latortue is continually adding to his base of supporters
by manipulating the students with his call for the
re-establishment of the army and the establishment of a
university in Gonaives.
7. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX, who assumed the directorship of
the School of XXXXXXXXXXXX after XXXXXXXXXXXX's death, claimed that the basis for Gonaives'
insecurity was political, but declined to elaborate further.
He noted that the students were especially upset about the
manner in which journalist Alix Joseph was murdered.
Jean-Louis did not know if Latortue was providing financial
assistance to the students, but he claimed that the students
would rather live in a police state than with insecurity.
Consequently, the students who understand that the
constitution explicitly calls for an army and police, believe
that an HNP under the army would have eliminated the gangs
8. (C) Comment. According to post's civil society
interlocutors, residents of Gonaives see themselves as
helpless bystanders in a partisan political war conducted by
armed factions, and civil society leaders are unable to
address their concerns through the democratic process.
Though residents credit MINUSTAH with some improvement in the
overall climate, many believe that the re-establishment of
the army is the only real solution to gang impunity. Both
anti-gang and pro-army sentiment seems to contribute to
Senator Latortue's political strength, even if many identify
him as the gang's political patron. Whether or not Latortue
enjoys genuine popularity among Gonaives residents, he has
become a formidable adversary of Alexis and the government
because he actively recruits allies and champions popular
positions, actions which residents of Gonaives do not see the
GoH doing. Latortue is re-branding himself as a man of
action, which resonates with the populace.