The Cite Soleil Massacre Declassification Project
Keith Yearman, Assistant Professor of Geography, College of DuPage

 

On July 6, 2005 United Nations "peacekeeping" forces in Haiti (MINUSTAH, the United Nations Stabilization Mission for Haiti) raided the slum of Cite Soleil. What happened during the raid was disputed, until the following documents were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Keith Yearman.

The State Department's reviewers searched the Central Foreign Policy Records, uncovering ten documents. One document was released in full, six documents were released with excisions, and three documents were withheld in their entirety. The released documents appear below.


Brazil Shows Backbone: A NarcoNews Article

By Keith Yearman ,
Posted on Sun Jun 24th, 2007 at 09:01:08 PM EST

While the world's attention was focused on the London subway bombings in July 2005, Brazilian soldiers with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) was busy wreaking havoc on the city of Cite Soleil.  The assault on the city resulted in numerous civilian deaths, although the exact number remains a source of controversy.  Now, one year after the massacre, the State Department has released several cables surrounding the Cite Soleil massacre.  These heavily-excised documents, requested under the Freedom of Information Act, suggest Cite Soleil was to be the target of at least one more assault.  Additionally, they raise the question as to whether United Nations forces knew their actions on July 6 would result in heavy civilian casualties.   Cite Soleil had been under UN attack for the months preceding the massacre.  Dread Wilme, the primary target of the July 6 mission, was named a “gang leader” by the US government, the Haitian regime and the United Nations.  On April 4, 2005 Wilme gave an interview with New York's Haitian radio station Lakou in which he described MINUSTAH's attacks on the city:

“MINUSTAH has been shooting tear gas on the people. There are children who have died from the gas and some people inside churches have been shot. The Red Cross was with us. The Red Cross was just here and might have just gone on to pick up more children and adults who have gotten shot. The Red Cross is the only one helping us. The MINUSTAH soldiers remain hidden in their tanks and just aim their guns and shoot the people. They shoot people selling in the streets. They shoot people just walking in the streets. They shoot people sitting and selling in the marketplace.”

The July 6 raid was, according to a July 20, 2005 cable from the United States Mission at the United Nations, “meant to be a surgical operation to detain [Wilme]…the aim was not to kill Wilme or his supporters…MINUSTAH's soldiers went into the area on July 6 for only 5 to 6 minutes to complete the operation.”  The cable, written by Deputy Chief of Mission Anne Patterson, blames the massacre on gangs which “‘went crazy' and retaliated against some Cite Soleil residents who were rumored to by MINUSTAH informants.”

The Deputy Chief of Mission to Haiti, Douglas M. Griffiths, seems to rebuke Patterson's description of the purpose of the July 6 operation.  In a July 12 cable, he specifically refers to a contact's “orders to participate in the attack on Dread Wilme” (emphasis added).  

Additionally, US Ambassador to Haiti James Foley suggested the July 6 operation was much more severe than Patterson's portrayal.  In a July 26, 2005 cable Foley reported,

“MINUSTAH's after action report stated that the firefight lasted over seven hours during which time their forces expended over 22,000 rounds of ammunition and received heavy fire in return…As the operation was a raid, MINUSTAH did not remain in the area to do an assessment of civilian or gang member casualties, nor were they able to recover any of the gang members' bodies.”  

The damage was significant, as a source within MINUSTAH told the Ambassador.  “Given the flimsy construction of homes in Cite Soleil and the large quantity of ammunition expended, it is likely that rounds penetrated many buildings, striking unintended targets.”

How Many Deaths?

Griffiths, in one of the first cables filed after the operation on July 6, reported the “killing [of] gang leader Dread Wilme and an unspecified number of his associates.”  On July 12, Griffiths reported “MINUTSAH was being accused of killing more than twenty women and children.”  His source described the statistics as “credible.”

Foley's July 26 cable is entitled “Human Rights Groups Dispute Civilian Casualty Numbers from July 6 MINUSTAH Raid.”  In this cable, Foley accused Marguerite Laurent of the Haitian Lawyer's Leadership Network of taking “the lead on spreading massacre rumors on the internet…[she] cited conclusions of a San Francisco-based labor and human rights delegation which claimed video evidence of the massacre.”

Foley also wrote of the Doctors Without Borders facility near Cite Soleil, which reported receiving 26 gunshot victims, of which twenty were women and one was a child.  Foley also mentioned Seth Donnelly's interview on Democracy Now, in which an estimate of thirty deaths was provided.  Donnelly was on the aforementioned delegation.

Responsibility

The Cite Soleil attack was carried out by Brazilian soldiers, although the MINUSTAH's Brazilian commander, General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira, claimed the operation was carried out by Jordanians.  According to Foley, “It is noteworthy that Heleno attributed the operation to Jordanian troops…when MINUSTAH's after action report states that the Jordanians played only a minor role, providing perimeter security and firing approximately five percent of the rounds.”

Jean Marie Guehenno, Undersecretary General of the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations, provided a briefing to the UN Security Council in late July regarding Cite Soleil.  According to Guehenno, 440 soldiers were involved in the main attack, with 1,000 more on the perimeter.   Thus, the Jordanians on the perimeter fired little more than 1,000 rounds, while the Brazilians carrying out the main raid fired approximately 21,000.  

As Foley put it, “It remains unclear how aggressive MINUSTAH was, though 22,000 rounds is a large amount of ammunition to have killed only six people…” Deputy Chief of Mission Griffiths, in his July 12 cable, suggests that MINUSTAH was undisciplined, that [excised] “may bring a welcome dose of discipline to MINUSTAH's military operations.  Continued pressure in New York would be helpful…”

Yet, the Ambassador continued with the official line of blaming “gangs” for most of the killings.  “The picture that emerges from this operation is that of a Cite Soleil completely controlled by gangs who are able to turn any story to their advantage and can easily manipulate public opinion…”

Foley suggested MINUSTAH create its own propaganda campaign.  “MINUSTAH has allowed rumors of a massacre to continue by not countering with a sufficiently transparent account of the resistance they encountered in carrying out the operation; resistance that included coordinated ‘fire and maneuver' tactics by gang members and at least 4 molotov [sic] cocktails (a Chilean engineering truck emerged from the operation with 41 bullet holes).”

Brazil Shows Backbone – Cite Soleil Targeted Again

By August 1, Foley was praising the Brazilians in a cable entitled “Brazil Shows Backbone in Bel-Air.”  According to Foley, “The security situation in the capital has clearly improved thanks to aggressive incursions in Bel Air [a Port-au-Prince neighborhood] and the July 6 raid against Dread Wilme in Cite Soleil…Post has congratulated MINUSTAH and the Brazilian Battalion for the remarkable success achieved in recent weeks.”

But Griffiths' July 12 cable also suggested more attacks on Cite Soleil had been in the works.   The cable discusses how MINUSTAH, six days after the massacre, chose to “abandon the planned attacks on Cite Soleil because too many people would be killed, both civilian and military.”  Whether this “collateral damage” was considered prior to the July 6 raid is unknown.

Conclusion

The London Independent broke a story in January 2006 concerning Cite Soleil.  An internal United Nations report admitted civilians may have been killed.  However, keeping with the official line, the UN report suggested most of those killed were killed by gangs, and not the 22,000 rounds of ammunition fired by UN soldiers.  MINUSTAH still has a heavy presence in Cite Soleil, engaging in a major battle June 7, 2006.  Civilians were killed, but once again the number is a source of controversy.

 

The Document Collection

"Haiti: Dread Wilme Killed; HNP More Active." Cable from US Embassy Port au Prince to State Department Headquarters. July 6, 2005. Cable Number: Port au Prince 001796. Confidential. Source: Freedom of Information Act release (2005-05-081) to Keith Yearman.

Douglas M. Griffiths, the number two in the Embassy, provided one of the earliest reports on the raid. "MINUSTAH launched an operation into the Bois Neuf area of Cite Soleil, reportedly killing gang leader Dread Wilme and an unspecified number of his associates. [EXCISED]. This will temporary knock the gangs off their feet, but any number of gang leaders can rise to fill the vacuum left by Wilme's death."

Perhaps not knowing the severity of the raid, Griffiths encouraged further activity. "MINUSTAH needs to keep up the pressure with continuous small and medium sized operations."

"Haiti Post-Dread Wilme: MINUSTAH Takes off the Pressure." Cable from US Embassy Port au Prince to State Department Headquarters. July 12, 2005. Cable Number: Port au Prince 001829. Confidential. Source: Freedom of Information Act release (2005-05-081) to Keith Yearman.

Terming the attack on Wilme a "surgical strike," Griffiths is apparently reporting on a conversation with MINUSTAH commanders. "MINUSTAH has effectively abandoned the long-delayed assault of Cite Soleil...the surgical strike on Dread Wilme and his headquarters has put the gangs on the defensive and brought them to the negotiating table."

"MINUSTAH's passivity is frustrating," noted Griffiths. Yet he also admitted "MINUSTAH was being accused of killing more than twenty women and children." His source found the statistics "credible."

"Haiti: MINUSTAH/DPKO on Reports on Excessive Civilian Casualties." Cable from the US Permanent Mission to the United Nations to State Department Headquarters. July 20, 2005. Cable Number: USUN 001642. Confidential. Source: Freedom of Information Act release (2005-05-081) to Keith Yearman.

The State Department's mission to the United Nations was meeting with representatives of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) to discuss the situation in Cite Soleil. "In a conversation with USUN [political officer] on July 18, [the source] described the situation in Cite Soleil as very dangerous, and that MINUSTAH's soldiers went into the area on July 6 for only 5 to 6 minutes to complete the operation...[the source] lamented press reports citing 50-60 deaths following the raid, saying that neither MINUSTAH nor DPKO has information that supports the press reports."

Also, "the July 6 MINUSTAH operation that killed gang leader Dread Wilme was meant to be a surgical operation to detain him...the aim was not to kill Wilme or his supporters."

"Human Rights Groups Dispute Civilian Casualty Numbers from July 6 MINUSTAH Raid." Cable from US Embassy Port au Prince to State Department Headquarters. July 26, 2005. Cable Number: Port au Prince 001919. Confidential. Source: Freedom of Information Act release (2005-05-081) to Keith Yearman.

MINUSTAH's After Action Report offered a sharp contradiction to what the Department of Peacekeeping Operations had been reporting. In this cable from Ambassador James Foley, "MINUSTAH's after action report stated that the firefight lasted over seven hours during which time their forces expended over 22,000 rounds of ammunition and received heavy fire in return." A [source within] MINUSTAH "acknowledged that, given the flimsy construction of homes in Cite Soleil and the large quantity of ammunition expended, it is likely that rounds penetrated many buildings, striking unintended targets. As the operation was a raid, MINUSTAH did not remain in the area to do an assessment of civilian or gang member casualties..."

It is also noteworthy the Brazilian commander of MINUSTAH, General Heleno, told a San Francsico-based labor and human rights delegation that a Jordanian battalion led the operation. "MINUSTAH's after action report states that the Jordanians played only a minor role, providing perimeter security and firing approximately five percent of the rounds. It remains unclear how aggressive MINUSTAH was, though 22,000 rounds is a large amount of ammunition to have killed only six people."

"Haiti: Update in Security Council on Haiti." Cable from the US Permanent Mission to the United Nations to State Department Headquarters. July 28, 2005. Cable Number: USUN 001716. Unclassified. Source: Freedom of Information Act release (2005-05-081) to Keith Yearman.

The State Department's number two in New York, Anne Patterson, reports on a briefing by the Undersecretary of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. "440 troops were directly involved in the July 6 raid that killed Dread Wilme, and an additional 1000 secured the perimeter area.

"Brazil Shows Backbone in Bel Air." Cable from US Embassy Port au Prince to State Department Headquarters. August 1, 2005. Cable Number: Port au Prince 001964. Confidential. Source: Freedom of Information Act release (2005-05-081) to Keith Yearman.

Ambassador James Foley praises Brazilian soldiers, writing "The security situation in the capital has clearly improved thanks to agressive incursions in Bel Air [a Port au Prince neighborhood] and the July 6 raid against Dread Wilme in Cite Soleil."

"Post has congratulated MINUSTAH and the Brazilian Battalion for the remarkable success achieved in Bel Air in recent weeks."

"UN Shifts Focus From Disarmament to Violence Reduction." Cable from US Embassy Port au Prince to State Department Headquarters. August 10, 2005. Cable Number: Port au Prince 002032. Confidential. Source: Freedom of Information Act release (2005-05-081) to Keith Yearman.

A source meeting with Embassy personnel suggested "the death of Dread Wilme July 6 and the pacification of Bel Air in this summer opened a door of opportunity into the slums.