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Posted at 1:01 p.m., Friday, February 28, 2002
You were all wrongly convicted in Louima's case, a federal appeals court tells three former New City police officers
It all started in the early morning of Aug. 9, 1997 when Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant, was arrested in a melee outside a Brooklyn nightclub, Le Rendez-vous, by New York police.
Mr. Louima was then sodomizided and tortured by at least one officer of that city's police force while others watched or helped to restraint him after he was taken in handcuffs to a nearby police precinct.
The four police officers, including Justin Volpe, Charles Schwarz, Thomas Wise and Thomas Bruder, who months later were convicted for having committed or helping to commit the odious crime, were sentenced to many years in prison.
If Volpe will only regain his freedom after serving a-30-year sentence but as off today it is most likely that it won't be so for Schwarz, Wiese, and Bruder. A three-judge federal appeals court unanimously overturned their convictions today, citing insufficient evidence they obstructed justice.
"Schwaz's convictions for civil rights violations must be thrown out and a new trial ordered because he was denied ineffective assistance of a counsel and because the jury was improperly exposed to prejudicial information during deliberations," the appeals court said.
Louima, who months after he was tortured and sodomized filed a civil suit against the city and the police union, which he settled in July for $8.7 million, ultimately moved to Florida, where he is now enjoying his new found fortune and live like a "king." More on Louima's case.
Posted at 5:15 a.m., Monday, February 25, 2002
In a failed state like Haiti, where terrorists and drug dealers rule, does democracy have a chance?
Posted at 10:35 p.m., Tuesday, February 19, 2002
In Haiti, tyrant Aristide's mayor steals $500,000
The list of radical leftist and totalitarian dictator Jean-Bertrand Aristide's grand thieves keeps getting longer. Just less than two weeks after most of his de facto senators and deputies nearly came to a fist fight over contraband rice, Dieudonne Martial, the mayor of the town of Grand Riviere du Nord, stole $500,000 that were intended to pay for the cost of public goods and services.
Posted at 1:12 p.m., Monday, February 18, 2002
Legislator's shooting touches off Haiti protests
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Demonstrators in Haiti's coastal city of Gonaives set up flaming street barricades on Monday, demanding police find the killers of a government legislator shot to death over the weekend.
The demonstrators threatened to disrupt traffic in and out of Gonaives, Haiti's third-largest city, until the killers of Marc Andre Durogene, Gonaives deputy in the Caribbean nation's lower house, were caught.
A member of the Lavalas Family party of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Durogene was killed by two gunmen on Sunday while sitting in a car in traffic, according to Haitian National Police commissar Jeannot Francois.
Investigators have taken Durogene's bodyguards into custody and were questioning them about their failure to react to the shootings in Port-au-Prince, according to Francois. Police said the shooting followed a brief argument between the bodyguards and the gunmen.
Durogene's shooting is just the latest instance of political violence in Haiti, where a bitter two-year struggle continues between Aristide and the opposition Convergence coalition over disputed legislative elections.
The National Palace issued a communique late on Sunday describing the shooting as "an assassination," while the opposition Democratic Convergence condemned the attack as a murder reflecting political tensions in Haiti.
"This killing is the consequence of the political and security degradation of the country," said spokesman Micha Gaillard of Democratic Convergence coalition.
Posted at 12:25 a.m., Monday, February 18, 2002
Motorbike gunmen kill Haitian legislator
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Two gunmen on motorcycles shot and killed a Haitian member of parliament on Sunday, attacking him as his car was stuck in traffic in Port-au-Prince, police said.
They said Marc Andre Durogene, a deputy in the Haitian in the lower house from President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Lavalas Family party, was shot twice while sitting in his vehicle with members of his family and two bodyguards.
They said the shooting followed a brief argument between the bodyguards and the gunmen.
"The men who did the shooting escaped," said National Police chief Jeannot Francois. "We have taken Mr. Durogene's bodyguards into custody while we investigate why they did not react when the motorcade was fired upon."
The murder is the latest act of political violence that has rocked the impoverished country in recent months.
On Dec. 3, an opposition-affiliated journalist, Brignol Lindor, was hacked to death by pro-government mobs in the coastal city of Petit Goave. His funeral erupted into a riot against government security forces.
On Dec. 17, armed commandos stormed the National Palace in an apparent attempt to oust Aristide, who was not there at the time and whose forces quickly regained control.
Aristide's government has been locked in a bitter two-year struggle with the opposition Democratic Convergence coalition over disputed legislative elections held in May 2000.
Posted at 10:45 p.m., Friday, February 15, 2002
Haiti journalist, held on kidnap charges, released
By Michael Deibert
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Haitian authorities on Friday released a journalist who had been in jail for a week on charges that he was linked to a kidnapping ring.
Genet Morin, a reporter for private Magik Stereo FM, was arrested last Saturday along with several members of an opposition party in a sweep that critics charge was aimed at the political opposition.
"They never even told me why they wanted me or what I had been charged with," Morin said upon his release.
"I think this was just an attempt to humiliate me. I told them that as a citizen I have no problem answering their questions, but this situation was unacceptable."
Guy Delva, secretary-general of the Association of Haitian Journalists, said, "Mr. Morin will return to answer questions from Haitian National Police commissar Josue Pierre Louis as per an agreement with the authorities."
Haitian National Police authorities were not immediately available for comment.
No details were available on Morin's alleged link to the kidnap ring, which police say has been targeting members of wealthy families and demanding heavy ransoms.
There have been sporadic arrests of gang members in the capital's Cite Soleil shantytown in connection with the kidnappings.
On Wednesday police spokesman Jeannot Francois denied the arrests had been politically motivated saying that those arrested "were present with the suspects during the mission and were taken into custody accordingly."
It was not immediately clear whether the charges against Morin would be dropped.
Along with Morin, who said he does not belong to any political organization, more than a dozen others were arrested including eight activists of the opposition Confederation of Democratic Unity party (KID).
Among the KID members seized was Jean Mandenave, a former deputy in the Haitian parliament. KID leader Evans Paul charged that the arrests were "another example of actions to thwart negotiations and intimidate the opposition and the press."
The opposition Democratic Convergence
coalition, of which KID is a member, has been locked in a bitter, nearly two-year dispute
with the government of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Lavalas Family party
over disputed elections held in May 2000.
Domestic and foreign critics charge the elections were rigged to give Mr. Aristide's party more seats than were its due.
Despite several calls by Aristide for negotiations, including marathon mediation efforts by the Organization of American States, the two sides have not met in over a year. As a result of the stalemate, over $500 million of desperately needed foreign aid has been withheld.
Posted at 12:39 a.m., Friday, February 15, 2002
Young Haitian woman on trial in Quebec for murder
At first, it was widely believed that baby Francesca Amedee-Daigle, one of the two children from a previous marriage of Gaeten Daigle, a resident of Charlebourg, Quebec, died of natural causes. And this was on December 20, 1999. But thanks to a competent police investigation, a few weeks ago the police of that municipality took Ginette Constant, 25, a Haitian national, out of the circulation, charging her with the murder of her husband's baby, Francesca.
Opening the murder case against Mrs. Constant this week in a Quebec Court, the prosecutor largely presented an horrifying story of baby Francesca's murder.
"This chamber will now begin the trial of Mrs. Ginette Constant for the brutal murder of Francesca Gaeten-Daigle. On December 20, 1999, Mrs.Constant turned the cold water on after putting Francesca Amedee-Daigle on her back in the bathtub; and yet holding Francesca Amedee-Daigle in the cold water for about 45 minutes, despite the fact she continued to cry, before she expired, reveals a calculated cruelty on the part of Mrs. Ginette Constant," the prosecuting attorney told the trial judge.
"For a crime of this magnitude before this chamber, which Mrs. Ginette Constant managed to hide for more than two years, but first by pulling the baby's body out of the cold water and then dress it before running to a next door neighbor to ask for help," added the prosecuting attoeney "we must enforce the law when it is broken; this court, and this trial in particular, must give the most powerful demonstration that the calculated savagery of Mrs. Ginette Constant on that day of December 1999 is not above the law and that she, the perpetrator, must be found guilty of the crime she is accused of having committed and ultimately be accordingly severely punished," the prosecuting attorney told the trial judge."
Mrs. Constant, who after Francesca's funeral said in a long letter to friends how much she was going to miss the victim, showed no emotion during the opening of her trial.
"I had no intention to kill Francesca, but was only trying to cause her to get sick," Mrs.Constant told the court in fluent and accented Canadian French.
Nine killed in Haiti festival accident
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb 15 (Reuters) - A speeding truck plowed into a musical procession during Haiti's rural festival of "rara," killing nine people and injuring 20 others, hospital officials said on Friday.
The truck's driver fled the scene of Thursday night's accident outside Leogane, 20 miles (32 kms) west of Port-au-Prince. He had not been caught.
The victims were treated locally, with those suffering serious injuries transferred to hospitals in Port-au-Prince.
Rara, often referred to as "rural carnival," takes place every year after Port-au-Prince's official Carnival celebrations. Country roads are lined with processions of thousands of peasants following bands of musicians in parades that cover many miles (kms) and last into the early morning.
Posted at 2:01 a.m., Thursday, February 14, 2002
In troubled Haiti, a tyrant's new cracks in the concrete; gangs want no more killings
Are things changing for the worse in troubled Haiti? Days after police or Lavalas police - more accurately, tyrant Jean-Bertrand Bertrand Aristide's police, took out of the circulation 14 opposition activists and journalist Jenet Morin, it accused them of belonging to a ring of kidnappings.
Evans Paul denied that the democratic opposition activists, who belong to his Unity Confederation Democratic Party, could could have been involved in something of this nature.
All of this came after brutal dictator Aristide, who declared himself president in 2000, was severely criticized by the international press last week over the largely fraudulent legislative elections of May 2000, in addition to his totalitarian rule.
One may agree or disagree with Mr. Paul. However, the question now is how many other freedom fighters will soon be accused by radical leftist Aristide, but through his thugs, of belonging to a ring of kidnappings.
In another development, about 15 gangs in the Port-au-Prince worse slum of Cite Soleil have expressed interest in putting an end to the violence that so far has claimed an innumerable number of lives - most of them, those of innocent people.
"We will do everything we can to change things for the better even if the government continues to remain silent about the despicable living conditions in our slum," the gang said Wednesday after an unprecedented meeting.
However, residents of Cite Soleil cannot say for sure that all will change for the better since four other violent gangs have vehemently refused to consign violence to the archives of history, meaning that they will continue to rob and kill residents as long as members' quality of life resembles that of a pig while tyrant and the once dirt poor Aristide, including his American wife Mildred Trouillot-Aristide, continue to live a life of extreme luxury at their expense.
And if this year carnival festivities in Haiti, which ended Tuesday after they started Sunday, will be remembered as a political tool employed by brutal dictator Aristide in an attempt to have the poor Haitians forget about their extreme suffering for a few days, they will also be remembered for the 350 or more people wounded, including the 40 arrests or so made by the police, mainly in Port-au-Prince.
Posted at 12:45 p.m., Wednesday, February 13, 2002
Drug convictions may not trigger deportation of Haitian man
A federal appeals court veered from legal precedent on U.S. deportation law yesterday ruling a state felony drug conviction does not necessarily give the government authority to deport an immigrant.
The ruling by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia overturned a lower court opinion in the case of Haitian citizen David Gerbier, a U.S. resident who was deported in 1999 under the Immigration and Naturalization Act. because of an earlier drug conviction in Delaware.
Chief Judge Edward Becker said Gerbier's 1997 drug-trafficking conviction could not trigger the law's punitive clauses because the offense was not an 'aggravated felony" under federal law. *(Reuters)
Posted at 12:01 a.m., Tuesday, February 12, 2002
15 opposition activists and one journalist detained in troubled Haiti
A year of kidnapping, arrest without a warrant and burning political opponents alive are what Haiti's tyrant and radical leftist Jean-Bertrand Aristide promised the country's democratic opposition.
Yet more than one month after Aristide's thugs promised to burn alive journalist Guy Delce Delva if he ventured into the provincial city of Saint-Marc, 15 democratic opposition activists and one journalist were detained Friday and Saturday in Port-au-Prince on the accusation that they planned to disrupt the three-day carnival festivities, which end Tuesday.
Posted at 10:40 a.m., Monday, February 11, 2002
An arm attack in the provincial city of Petit-Go‚ve; at least one police officer killed
The problems keep coming in Haiti's provincial city of Petit-Go‚ve, about 35 miles west of the trash-filled capital city of Port-au-Prince.
More than two months after radio journalist, Brignol Lindor, was hacked to death by chimŤres, or thugs, including then-Petit-Go‚ve's Deputy Mayor Dume Bonny, hired by the Caribbean nation' radical leftist and totalitarian dictator, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, about 10 gunmen, whose identity has yet to be known, attacked about 1:00 a.m. Sunday a police station in that western city of the country, killing at least one police officer, Ricardo Bastien, whose anti-Aristide's views were well known among his colleagues and others.
The victim often refused to execute bogus warrants issued for the arrest of freedom fighters.
Posted at 11:20 p.m., Friday, February 8, 2002
At least 15 Haitians electrocuted
Victim Haitians, always. At least 15 Haitians selling basic goods, or next to nothing goods, at an outdoor market in the Port-au-Prince section of Carrefour-Feuilles were electrocuted Thursday evening after a high-tension wire collapsed on them.
Angry residents thereafter took to the streets in protest blaming Electricitť d'Haiti, or Haiti Electricity, for negligence, which they said failed to fix previously reported relevant problems in their neighborhoods despite complaining several times.
Haiti, a pariah at the United Nations
Haiti is a founding member of the United Nations (UN) and has since successively voted on issues relevant to the affairs of the world body. But today, no more can the Caribbean nation helps determine the outcome of a vote on a particular issue, say sending a peace keeping force to Afghanistan to help maintain order there, in addition to others. There is a reason for this. Haiti has failed to pay its annual membership fee of $50,000.
Posted at 4:10 a.m., Friday, February 8, 2002
Haitian democratic opposition at the U.S. Department of State; bad news for tyrant Aristide
It was after a Jan. 31 meeting on Haiti's interminable political problems with United States Department of State Assistant-Secretary for Intermerican Affairs, Otto Reich, that Paul Denis, a member Haiti's democratic opposition, better known as the Convergence Democratique, said "We found the Americans to be very receptive."
Victor Benoit and Jose Nicolas, who also were participants in that January meeting, in addition to Denis, not only discussed the radical leftist and totalitarian dictatorship of Jean-Bertrand Aristide and its misdeeds with Assistant- Secretary Reich, but they successfully further enlisted the support of the U.S. so Haiti will in the near future, hopefully, become a democratic nation.
A fact that may, in part, attest to the U.S. support for a democratic Haiti is Secretary of State Collin L. Powell's remarks regarding the resumption of financial assistance to Haiti during a Nassau, Bahamas 14-nation Caribbean community, or CRICOM, meeting this week.
"We believe we have to hold President Aristide and the Haitian government to fairly high standards of performance before we can simply allow funds to flow into the country," said Secretary of State Powell who recalled his role along with former President Jimmy Carter and then-Senator Sam Nunn in brokering the agreement that led to the restoration of tyrant Aristide to power in 1994 after nearly three years in exile in Washington, D.C.
Sure Secretary Powell had a few more unpleasant words for Aristide, a man better known for his fiery sermons during his tenure as a Roman Catholic priest, in addition to his habitudes of urging his chimeres, or hired thugs, from the worst slums of the capital Port-au-Prince.
"We are terribly concerned about the political unrest that continues to haunt Haiti," Secretary Powell said.
"We are concerned about the government, and we do not believe enough has been done yet to move the political process forward, Secretary Powell said, also to the great dissatisfaction of Caribbean leaders, who, hoped to successfully lobby the Secretary of State for the resumption of aid the to dirt poor Caribbean nation.
The latest bad news for brutal dictator Aristide came just a few months after the European Union again said "only when there is democracy in Haiti and gross human rights violations are consigned to the archives of history will we resume our financial assistance for Haiti."
Tough year for Haitian President
By MICHAEL NORTON
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - Few Haitians celebrated the anniversary of Jean-Bertrand Aristide's inauguration, and some former supporters said they no longer recognized ``the priest in the president.''
The man who campaigned under the slogan ``Peace of Mind, Peace in the Belly'' instead has presided over increasing political instability and poverty in the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, said human rights advocate Jean-Claude Bajeux, a former Aristide minister.
Thursday was the anniversary of the inauguration of the second term for Aristide, a former Catholic slum priest who rose to power after the overthrow of dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier.
No new jobs have been created, and the average Haitian income is about a dollar a day. Prices have risen 80 percent in five years, while the economic growth rate has fallen below zero. Ecologists claim the current rate of soil erosion will leave Haiti with no arable land by 2040.
The 48-year-old president has blamed
the opposition's ``political cynicism'' and the international community's ``economic
After the 2000 elections, which Aristide's Lavalas Family party swept, the international community blocked hundreds of millions of dollars in aid saying the elections were flawed. The aid has been suspended until an agreement is reached with the opposition about new elections.
``Trouble in mind and hunger pains for the poor, that's what Aristide has delivered,'' said former supporter Pierre Cinola, a 44-year-old mason.
Opponents and former supporters have also accused Aristide of fueling political tension and violence, citing Aristide's ``zero tolerance'' policy that some say has amounted to mob justice.
``The human rights situation has clearly deteriorated.'' the National Coalition of Haitian Rights stated, accusing the Aristide of obstructing justice in the murder investigation of Haiti's most prominent journalist, Jean Dominique, who was assassinated in April 2000.
This week, ``Echo of Jean Dominique's
Voice,'' a group of the assassinated journalist's friends, said in a radio show that
Aristide had been acting ``like Pontius Pilate'' and that they were unable to recognize
``the priest in the president.''
In 1990, Aristide won Haiti's first free elections but was ousted in 1991 by a bloody military coup. He was restored to power in 1994, but was forced to step down in 1996 because his term had expired.
He finally returned to office after his party swept local and legislative elections in 2000. He was inaugurated Feb. 7, 2001.
At a news conference Monday, Aristide could boast of little, saying only that his people's misery hadn't exploded ``in a violent way.''
His government held no commemorative events Thursday, but noted that in the last year roads had been renovated, hospitals opened, electrical power increased and a literacy campaign launched.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday that the Bush administration would not agree to the release of aid to Haiti because ``we do not believe enough has been done yet to move the political process forward.''
Chances for an agreement with the opposition worsened after Dec. 17, when gunmen raided the Haiti's National Palace in what Aristide said was an assassination attempt.
At least 10 people were killed in the attack and subsequent violence.
``If misery hasn't exploded, it's no
thanks to Aristide. It's a tribute to the extraordinary patience of the Haitian people,''
Aristide offered Monday to include the opposition in the new Cabinet. The offer was promptly rejected.
Haitian senators say they received death threats
By Michael Deibert
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Three senators from Haiti's ruling Lavalas Family party said on Wednesday they had asked for government protection after receiving death threats, the latest development in a long and contentious probe into the murder of Haiti's most prominent journalist.
The three senators said they asked for official security measures after partisans of fellow Lavalas Sen. Dany Toussaint, named by an investigating judge as a suspect in the April 2000 slaying of radio commentator Jean Dominique, accused them of being agents of the CIA and threatened to kill them.
Sens. Prince Pierre Sonson, Gerard
Gilles and Lans Clones had angered Toussaint supporters by pressing for the legislative
body to lift his parliamentary immunity so that he could be questioned further in the
The probe of Dominique's murder has become a lightning rod for criticism of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his government's attempts to battle crime and corruption and establish the rule of law in Haiti, a Caribbean nation of 7.8 million plagued by street crime and drug trafficking.
"I am very afraid of these threats, and I take them very seriously," Gilles said.
The senators became concerned for their safety after a demonstration in front of the Senate last week, when Toussaint loyalists threatened to kill them if they continued demanding that Toussaint's parliamentary immunity be lifted.
Dominique, an adviser to then-President Rene Preval and Haiti's most influential commentator, was shot to death outside his radio station, Radio Haiti Inter. He had been critical of Toussaint, a former Aristide security chief who he viewed as a destructive influence on Haiti's fragile democracy.
Claudy Gassant, the magistrate who investigated the Dominique murder, formally declared Toussaint a suspect in the case and complained that government officials were interfering in the probe and, on occasion, threatening him.
Since shaking off the Duvalier family dictatorship in the 1980s, Haiti has struggled to establish stable democratic institutions. Aristide's first term as president was interrupted by a military coup in the autumn of 1991.
His second term, begun last February, has been plagued by political infighting, and his critics have cited the Dominique case as a prime example of his inability to stabilize the country's shaky judiciary.
Called in for questioning by Gassant last year, Toussaint arrived with a rowdy group of supporters and has since said that he is the victim of a conspiracy by the three senators.
Gassant's term in office expired last month and he left Haiti for the United States. Aristide replaced him.
Tensions in the case hit a boiling point last week when an internal report to the full Senate advised against lifting Toussaint's immunity and faulted Gassant's handling of the case. The Senate then decided to give the case further study.
Posted at 2:05 p.m., Thursday, February 7, 2002
U.S. resists Caribbean appeal for aid to Haiti
By Jonathan Wright
NASSAU, Feb 7 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on Thursday resisted Caribbean attempts to unblock aid to Haiti, saying Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide had not done enough on the domestic political front.
Members of the Caribbean Community CARICOM have asked the United States and other foreign donors to approve aid funds for Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.
But Powell, in Nassau to meet Caribbean ministers, told the Bahamian radio station Love 97: "We are concerned about some of the actions of the (Haitian) government. We do not believe enough has been done yet to move the political process forward to assure ourselves that additional aid will be used in the most effective way at this time."
"We believe we have to hold President Aristide and the Haitian government to fairly high standards of performance before we can simply allow the flow of funds into the country," the secretary of state added.
Nearly $500 million of international aid has been withheld from Haiti because critics abroad and at home say the way the results of the 2000 elections were calculated gave Aristide's Lavalas party more Senate seats than it was due.
A senior U.S. official said the dispute was mainly about some $200 million in funds from the Inter-American Development Bank and that even if the United States voted to release the money, the bank has problems with Haitian arrears.
"We now oppose any disbursement until the flawed election of 2000 is corrected. We want them to sit down with opposition and negotiate seriously and end the mob violence," he said
If the World Bank was to vote on loans to Haiti, the United States would abstain in the voting, another official added.
In the meantime, the United States continues to contribute money to nongovernmental organizations working in Haiti, but not to the Haitian government, he added.
The Bush administration has also cut by some $5 million the amount of aid earmarked for Haiti in its budget request to Congress for fiscal year 2003, but U.S. officials said that aid from other funds could make up the difference later.
The Bahamas is especially keen to see development funds flow to Haiti because of the problems it has with Haitian "boat people" who stray into its waters, either attempting to reach the United States or the Bahamas as a staging post.
Powell said the Caribbean request would probably be discussed when he meets CARICOM ministers later on Thursday.
The annual meeting will also talk about trade, migration, the regional AIDS epidemic and law enforcement.
The Bush administration calls the Caribbean the "third border" of the United States, after Canada and Mexico, and wants to stem the flow of drugs and illegal immigrants from and through the islands. The region receives small amounts of U.S. aid, bundled into a Third Border Initiative.
Powell said a priority for the United States was ensuring Caribbean cooperation in President Bush's "war on terrorism," especially by controls on migration and bank accounts.
But some of the Caribbean countries are heavily dependent on revenue from their banking activities and are reluctant to discourage wealthy private banking clients.
Posted at 1:120 p.m., Friday, February 1, 2002
The Miami Herald - Published
Former U.S. Special Forces guard Aristide
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO email@example.com
Fearing for his life after an apparent coup attempt in December, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti has significantly expanded his team of bodyguards, most of them veterans of U.S. Special Forces, according to sources in Haiti and Washington.
One U.S. government official said the number of bodyguards grew from about 10 to about 60 men and estimated the total cost at $6 million to $9 million a year, a considerable sum for the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
Aristide's contract with the California-based Steele Foundation, a private executive protection firm despite its name, also calls for a ``weapons package'' for the guards worth just under $1 million, the official added.
The tightened security reflects the political crisis facing the controversial Aristide, toppled in a military coup in 1991, restored after a U.S. invasion in 1994 and then re-elected in 2000.
Ken Kurtz, a managing director of Steele, confirmed the firm provides Aristide's ``presidential protection unit,'' but declined to comment on the reports that it has expanded or any other ``operational questions.''
``The government of Haiti, like any government after a violent incident such as happened [in December], would be interested in improving security,'' Kurtz said on the phone from San Francisco.
DEC. 17 ATTACK
On Dec. 17, two dozen heavily armed men attacked the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, killing two policemen and two passersby in an apparent coup attempt allegedly led by a former army colonel and two former police officials. Aristide was not in the palace at the time.
The president's opponents charged the attack was staged by the government to justify the mob violence against critics that followed, which left four more dead, but offered no evidence to support their claims.
Since then, Aristide is regularly escorted by a helicopter carrying bodyguards and a caravan of vehicles that includes a truck mounted with a machine gun, which was used by the attackers in the assault on the palace, Haiti residents said.
``There has been a significant increase in the security, from 10 to 60 bodyguards and a lot more heavy weaponry,'' said the U.S. official, an expert on security issues who declined to be identified.
The bodyguards are mostly veterans of U.S. Special Forces -- SEALs, Delta Force, Army Rangers and Marine reconnaissance units -- but include a handful of non-Americans, the U.S. official said.
Kurtz, a former Los Angeles police department official who joined Steele in 1997, has described the Haiti operation in public speeches as that country's first-ever ``privatized presidential unit.''
CONTRACT FOR YEARS
Kurtz said the Steele Foundation has had an ``executive protection'' contract with the Haitian government ``for years'' but declined to comment on the specifics.
Another firm offering high-level bodyguard services said it would normally charge $100,000 to $150,000 per man per year on a foreign assignment, more if the job is considered risky.
Most of Haiti's political violence in recent months has come from Aristide supporters attacking what they see as a disloyal opposition blocking the work of the former priest.
The Organization of American States voted earlier this month to send a permanent mission to Haiti to ensure the country's stability and called for an independent investigation of the Dec. 17 attack.
No justice for murdered prominent Haitian journalist
Sure, he calls himself Senator Dany Toussaint. But the de facto senator is better known by many, both in Haiti and abroad, as a key suspect, rather, in the early morning of April 3, 2000 brutal murder of renowned Haitian radio journalist, Jean Leopold Dominique, in the courtyard of his radio Haiti-Inter station.
Though long indicted, but the de facto Haitian Senate yesterday voted to preserve the immunity that Toussaint enjoys, suggesting that he cannot be taken out of the circulation.
Read Le Monde's article: french forum.
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