Sister Carol Ries and Lori Richardson of the Washington, D.C.-based Quixote Center painted a terrifying picture as they described their recent trip to Haiti. "People cannot gather in more than groups of two," they said, "so if there are three, even in church, people are taking a risk. In fact there have been occasions where the military has moved inside and shot people."
They spoke of messages pressed into their hands advising them of clandestine meetings with Haitians who had walked more than seven hours to tell their stories. The two women heard accounts of priests being beaten; they heard of the people's pervasive fear of the brutal "section chiefs," the lowest level of the Haitian military hierarchy, who are at the heart of the human rights violations there. Ries and Richardson said that the infamous Tontons Macoute (Haitian death squads) of the Duvalier dictatorships have reappeared and form yet another fearful element of repression.
Haiti remains a police state since the military's September 1991 overthrow of democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Aristide ascended to governance less than a year before with 67 percent of the popular vote, and it is to forestall popular support for his return to power that the forces of repression operate with impunity in Haiti.
International efforts to reinstate Aristide, especially those of the Organization of American States, have failed. Some say this is due to complacency with Haiti's status quo on the part of the Bush administration and others. Nevertheless, grassroots movements in the United States and elsewhere have pressed unceasingly for Aristide's return as Haiti's legitimate head of state.