Senate candidate and former paramilitary leader Guy Philippe has threatened a “civil war” if the Privert government fails to hold elections on April 24. Efforts to restart the electoral process have been stalled by a stand-off between interim President Jocelerme Privert and pro-Martelly legislators, who insist on quick elections without a verification of the vote. Philippe’s threat to resolve Haiti’s electoral crisis through violence would seem very real, given the recent parade of militiamen sympathetic to PHTK on February 5. Despite his bellicose comments and his name appearing on the U.S. government’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) wanted list for drug trafficking, the international powers do not appear concerned by Philippe’s political involvement or his repeated threats of violence.
In a February 29 radio message commemorating the 12th anniversary of the 2004 coup d’État, Philippe accused President Privert of wanting to hold on to power beyond his 120-day term limit and warned of “a macabre plan, a Machiavellian plan to bring the country directly into a civil war.” Philippe called for “vigilance” on the part of former soldiers and others who had fought against the “dictatorship” of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004, and declared that “there are people who are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice if necessary.” Philippe concluded by saying:
Once more, we say no coup, no Machiavellian plan will pass. No one in power will be able to be my enemy. There’s an election that needs to happen, and it will happen. And if it doesn’t happen, neither Parliamentarians, nor the provisional president, nor anyone with any repressive force they know and have in their service, no one will be able to hold back this people, no one will be able to hold back these honest citizens, no one will be able to hold me, Guy Philippe, back. Thank you.
In a subsequent television interview at his home in Pestel, Philippe reiterated this message, stating that a civil war would break out if the “Lavalassian tendency” tried to stay in power. “I believe Privert has no choice; he must organize elections or he must leave power May 14.” Philippe also denounced Prime Minister Fritz Jean’s appointment as contrary to constitutional norms.
Philippe’s political position mirrors that of Youri Latortue and other PHTK-aligned figures, who have alleged that Jean, a former governor of Haiti’s central bank, is too close to Lavalas and is thus not qualified to handle the resumption of elections. At issue is whether or not the interim government will conduct a verification of vote on August 9 and October 25. Pro-Martelly candidates, including presidential candidate Jovenel Moïse, are widely suspected of having benefitted from fraudulent votes in previous rounds.
Philippe ran for Senator of the Grand’Anse, finishing first with 22.5% of the vote on October 25. Violence, confrontations and allegations of ballot-stuffing were rife in the Grand’Anse during the first-round legislative elections on August 9. These disruptions meant that for the constituencies of Pestel, Anse-d’Hainault/Les Irois, Jérémie, Corail and Roseaux (5 out of 9 in the department) only 70.7% to 75.9% of tally sheets were received by the CEP’s Tabulation Center. The CEP ultimately decided to withhold publication of first-round results until after October 25, when Senate voting was re-run in Jérémie and Pestel (Philippe’s hometown). Philippe’s party, Consortium, ran candidates in the region and has two deputies in the new parliament. Louis-Jodel Chamblain, a notorious leader of the death squad FRAPH during the 1991-1994 coup, ran under the Consortium banner as a candidate in Les Anglais-Chardonnières, Sud. Chamblain served as Philippe’s lieutenant during the 2004 paramilitary insurgency and was acquitted of the 1993 murder of pro-democracy activist Antoine Izmery in a widely-denounced retrial after the coup.
Haitian human rights groups, election observers and opposition parties continue to call for a verification commission as an indispensible step before resuming the electoral process, even if this means extending the term of the transition government. Moïse and his parliamentary allies, on the other hand, insist that the elections be held on April 24, as called for in the political accord, and on the basis of the current results. They strongly oppose any verification commission. Philippe’s statements clearly place him in the latter camp. The political party he leads, Consortium, is reputed have had close relations with former President Michel Martelly. During the presidential campaign, Jovenel Moïse was photographed with Guy Philippe when he toured the Grand’Anse.
Philippe’s threats of a civil war may be a bluff to frighten the Privert government. But the danger cannot be lightly dismissed, given the apparent influence Philippe has over recently-mobilized paramilitaries seen in Port-au-Prince and other towns on February 5. After the cancellation of second-round elections by the CEP on January 22, Guy Philippe had denounced opposition protesters as “anarchists” and declared that he and his men were “ready for war.” Days later, nearly a hundred armed men in green military fatigues claiming to be members of Haiti’s disbanded military paraded menacingly through the streets of several Haitian cities, as negotiations over the creation of an interim government were unfolding. Clashes between the paramilitaries and anti-Martelly protesters left one paramilitary member dead.
The international community has been surprisingly silent on Philippe’s calls to arms. U.S. representatives in Haiti have made no comments about the threat of armed rebellion by pro-Martelly paramilitary forces or the inflammatory calls to insurrection made by Philippe. When opposition protesters committed acts of vandalism in late January, however, State Department envoy Kenneth Merten reacted by strongly denouncing these incidents as “electoral intimidation” that was “not acceptable.” The UN, for its part, merely "noted with concern the organized presence of several dozen people in green uniforms, some armed."
The complacency of the U.S. is all the more intriguing, given that Philippe is wanted by U.S. law enforcement for involvement in drug trafficking and money laundering. Philippe has been on a DEA fugitive list for years and has escaped numerous attempts to arrest him. A DEA spokesperson confirmed he remained a fugitive, adding that he has proven to be “very elusive,” and that the U.S. Marshalls had been given apprehension authority. However, a spokesperson for the Marshalls replied that this was not the case, stating given the “solid information” possessed by the DEA “about the subject’s whereabouts,” there was”no reason” to transfer apprehension authority. The DEA later acknowledged its sole responsibility for apprehending Philippe. Despite his rising public profile, however, Philippe has yet to be arrested.
Interestingly, the DEA has had the cooperation of the Martelly administration in other high-profile cases. In an interview with the New Yorker’s John Lee Anderson, a DEA informant said that no one was particularly concerned about allegations that Martelly’s associates were involved in drug trafficking or corruption, because "whatever else Martelly had done, he complied with the DEA’s local operations."
Human rights groups worried prior to the start of the 2015 elections that Haiti’s next parliament could become a redoubt of drug dealers, criminals and human rights abusers. The political involvement of Guy Philippe, who is on the U.S. government’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) wanted list for drug trafficking, and his political party Consortium underlines how real this concern is.
Transcript of Guy Philippe’s February 29 radio address (translated from Kreyol):
We greet every Haitian, everyone who loves their country. Today is an important day, February 29. Not only is it my birthday, but what’s more important is that it’s the day—in 2004—where Haitian men and women put their heads together to say “no” to a dictatorship. And they stood before a bloody regime that Jean Bertrand Artistide put in place to end it and give Haiti rest, to give the country another chance.
I know there are many things you were waiting for that haven’t been done. I also know, and everyone must know, that there are many Haitians who sacrificed their lives to make that day possible, like Clotaire Jean-Baptiste. Some citizens abandoned family, wealth and everything they had so they could fight for the country, for Haiti.
So I tell all those people, everyone in the private sector, everyone who’s in the universities, everyone who was in the military or ex-military as they call it, everyone who stood and fought to say “no” to that dictatorship that Jean Bertrand Aristide put in the country.
Today once more, the country is going through a difficult time, a hard time. Every Haitian always thinks that they are the clever one and another is the imbecile. Today, we see that there is a plan—a macabre plan, a Machiavellian plan to bring the country directly into a civil war. I’ll remind all the actors, all the people who are making these decisions like a crazy person: Remember what happened in 1915. Remember what brought us to the American occupation. It was exactly the obstinacy of the men who were making the decisions that brought us all the things we faced, provisional government after provisional government, and that made what happened happen: Vilbrun Guillaume Sam and then – occupation.
We’ll remind everyone that there’s an accord. And today we have the chance that the person who is president of the Republic is the one who discussed the accord, he’s the one who signed the accord, he’s the one who said everything the accord says is possible, and he’s the main beneficiary of the accord. So we are counting on his good faith. We are counting on his patriotic sense. We are counting on the love he might have for the country, so he doesn’t think like all the others that he can hold on power and perpetuate a regime that can’t be perpetuated.
We ask the Parliamentarians to take responsibility. The people have lost faith in everyone. The people have lost faith in all the leaders, because they think they can buy us. Because they know we have a price. We ask you to think about Haiti, think about the country.
I’m taking this opportunity to call for vigilance from all our soldiers, all our people, all the authentic Haitians who believe in Haiti, to stand strong and firm and if Haiti needs them, to answer the call. So today is a big day for me. I say “Congratulations” to all these soldiers, who stopped Jean Bertrand Aristide in his dictatorial tracks. And it’s a point of pride for me that I was the chief commander of this rebellion. And I say to all those people, “thank you.”
Twelve years later, we haven’t lost like everyone is saying. It’s not true: There’s been progress made, steps have been taken, there’s more liberty in the country. But it’s step-by-step. I tell them to believe in the country. And I tell my Haitian brothers and sisters: believe that there are people who still love Haiti and there are people who are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice if necessary. Once more, we say no coup, no Machiavellian plan will pass. No one in power will be able to be my enemy. There’s an election that needs to happen, and it will happen. And if it doesn’t happen, neither Parliamentarians, nor the provisional president, nor anyone with any repressive force they know and have in their service, no one will be able to hold back this people, no one will be able to hold back these honest citizens, no one will be able to hold me, Guy Philippe, back. Thank you.
Transcript of Guy Philippe’s March 7 interview with Radio Télévision Hirondelle (translated from French):
I don't think Lavalas, or people from the Lavalassian tendency can take power-- hold on to power, it will be difficult, it will be complicated, and if Privert stubbornly refuses to give up power, you'll see, he'll lose -- Haiti as well.
But we must prepare ourselves to counter the derives of this regime. We have seen that from the start, Mr. Privert wanted to violate the laws of the Republic, that Mr. Privert chose a Prime Minister without taking into account the rules of the Constitution, we saw that Mr. Privert would like to hold on to power. So, my message was a message for vigilance, a call for vigilance to all authentic Haitians, Haitians who love their country, patriots to prepare themselves to defend Haiti if necessary.
I believe Privert has no choice; he must organize elections or he must leave power May 14.
If he is stubborn - if he really wants to hold on to power, I believe we are heading directly towards a civil war. That's not what I want, but it is my assessment.