CIA report on Haiti found no abuse that others saw

December 19, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service Newsday contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- At a time when human rights monitors charged the Haitian military was terrorizing its people last year, a senior CIA analyst visited the country and reported, "There is no systematic or frequent" murder of civilians.

In a classified CIA memo obtained by the Miami Herald, the analyst said he saw "no evidence of oppressive rule" in Haiti 10 months after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in a bloody coup.

Brian Latell, the national intelligence officer for Latin America, effusively praised military-backed Prime Minister Marc Bazin and military chief Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras in the memo dated July 21, 1992.

"I do not wish to minimize the role the military plays in intimidating, and occasionally terrorizing real and suspected opponents," Mr. Latell wrote, "but my experiences confirm the [intelligence] community's view that there is no systematic or frequent lethal violence aimed at civilians."

The memo was circulated among Bush and Clinton administration policy-makers. It clashes starkly with accounts of conditions in Haiti by leading human rights groups and with the State Department's assessment of military repression at the time.

"Obviously, we have visited two different countries," said Carlos Salinas, Amnesty International's program officer for Latin America and the Caribbean, who estimates that more than 2,000 civilians have been killed by Haitian authorities since the 1991 coup. "That anyone could go to Haiti at that time and not observe repression by the military is absurd."

The memo also provides an unfiltered glimpse of the handiwork of Mr. Latell, a 30-year career officer, who caught headlines in October by presenting a highly critical, classified portrait of Father Aristide to Congress, just as the Clinton administration was considering whether to use military force to restore him.

A Miami Herald investigation found no evidence to support a key assertion by Mr. Latell and CIA Director R. James Woolsey -- that Father Aristide had been treated for mental illness at a Montreal hospital in the early 1980s. Several lawmakers later voiced concerns about the quality and objectivity of the CIA reporting on Haiti, and President Clinton said he simply did not believe the agency's conclusions about Father Aristide.

CIA spokesman Kent Harrington declined to comment Friday and said Mr. Latell was bound by CIA rules not to discuss matters of intelligence.

As the national intelligence officer for Latin America, Mr. Latell maintains a high-profile, public position as a senior analyst and liaison to other U.S. intelligence agencies, particularly the Pentagon and the National Security Agency. He is the CIA's conduit to the policy-making community, has the final say on intelligence estimates for Latin America and works directly for the CIA director.

His memo, "Impressions of Haiti," was based on a five-day trip Mr. Latell took in early July to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The Haitian National Assembly had installed Mr. Bazin as prime minister a few weeks earlier, with a nod from the military.

After meeting with several Haitian officials, Mr. Latell was impressed with the government, making no mention of Mr. Bazin's support for the coup that toppled Father Aristide.

"These meetings reinforced my view that Bazin and his supporters are perhaps the most promising group of Haitian leaders to emerge since the Duvalier family dictatorship was deposed in 1986," he wrote.

General Cedras, the military leader who has presided over a period of deepening repression and humanitarian crisis, won similar approval.

"Gen. Cedras impressed me as a conscientious military leader who genuinely wishes to minimize his role in politics, professionalize the armed services, and develop a separate and competent civilian police force," Mr. Latell wrote. " . . . I believe he is relatively moderate and uncorrupt . . . he compares especially favorably to nearly all past and most present senior military commanders."

Despite the failure of recent initiatives, diplomats are trying to keep alive efforts to restore exiled Haitian President Aristide.

Friday's announcement of meetings tomorrow in Washington with Father Aristide and Tuesday in Haiti with General Cedras follows this week's rebuff of calls by acting Prime Minister Robert Malval for another round of meetings.

Mr. Malval had asked all parties in the Haitian conflict to meet, but the effort fell through when Father Aristide's supporters objected, saying it opened the way for the military to consolidate its hold. There are also fears in the Aristide camp that the international community is planning to abandon efforts to force the return of Father Aristide.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.