Less than four weeks into the year, more than 180 Haitians have been found in Caribbean waters, almost all of whom were sent back to Haiti, the refugee agency said. Four others are being held in Dominica, their fate unknown, spokeswoman Charity Tooze said. The numbers, which are unusually high for such a short period, have drawn new attention to the problem. Whereas Cubans are screened by U.S. officials to see if they merit protection as refugees, Haitians are not, the U.N. refugee agency said. Haitians are considered for asylum only if they scream or otherwise call attention to themselves in a manner indicating they are terrified to return home (Los Angeles Times, 25 January 2013).
The policy appears to be part of an old double standard in which Cubans immigrants are granted more consideration for being accepted into the US than Haitian immigrants are. It is especially cruel considering that there has been very little permanent reconstruction since the 2010 earthquake and Haitians have suffered 7,000 deaths from a UN peacekeeper-triggered cholera epidemic. In addition, the May 2011 election of “Stealth Duvalierist” Michel Martelly as Haitian president has undoubtedly worsened the country’s human rights situation. Supporters of the former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was overthrown by a bloody US-backed coup in 2004, may be among those seeking asylum in the US and other Caribbean countries.
In fact, the current situation brings to mind the plight of Haitian refugees in the early 1990s. During this time period, countless Haitians were fleeing the first coup against Aristide that occurred in 1991. Then-US President George H.W. Bush implemented a Coast Guard policy of stopping boatloads of refugees and escorting them back to Haiti. Upon entering office, Bill Clinton upheld this policy despite previously criticizing Bush for his “cruel policy of returning Haitian refugees to a brutal dictatorship without an asylum hearing.” During this time period many Haitian refugees were held indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay, where US Army Intelligence and the the INS obtained intelligence about popular movements working within Haiti for use by the coup regime:
Various U.S. agencies possess rich lodes of intelligence: [USAID], from its program for financing and guiding Haitian popular groups; the Immigration and Naturalization Service, with computerized files on 58,000 political-asylum applicants; and Army Intelligence, via the S-2 section of the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion, which has been assigned to monitor the refugees at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp.
According to a report by Capt. James Vick of the 96th, who also served in Panama and in Desert Storm, the unit develops “networks of informants” among the Haitian detainees and works with Marine Corps Counterintelligence in “identifying identifying ringleaders of unrest and in weeding out troublemakers.” According to Captain Vick, the Creole-speaking interpreters at the camps submit to daily debriefings which “yield. . . an information harvest” on possible “destabilizing influences.” In August, Haitians at the Guantánamo Bay camp rebelled against the use of Duvalierist, openly anti-Aristide interpreters, some reportedly related to leaders of the FRAPH.
The 96th’s files on refugees, of course, enter the military intelligence system.
One of the key I.N.S. figures involved in Haiti policy is an archetypal practitioner of such operations. Gunther Wagner, a veteran of Hitler’s army, was recruited by the United States as a military policeman in occupied Germany and went on to serve the United States in Vietnam (in the Phoenix assassination program) and in Nicaragua (as an A.I.D./C.I.A. trainer of Anastasio Somoza’s National Guard) before working for Somoza personally and then returning to the U.S. fold as head of the State Department’s Cuba-Haiti task force. In 1992, as an I.N.S. intelligence man, he wrote a study that involved compiling files on hundreds of refugees who’d been turned back from the United States and ended up asserting that 95 percent of Haitian political asylum claims were fraudulent (Nation, 3 October 1994).
It is highly likely that such intelligence operations are still continuing today. The US remains deeply hostile to pro-Aristide forces and is committed to maintaining the neo-liberal status quo, even if that means working with old-fashioned Duvalierists such as president Martelly.