- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 24, 2006

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A radio advertisement urging Haitians to reveal illegal weapons caches to the U.S. Embassy has angered politicians and fueled debate on whether the troubled Caribbean nation has become a tacit U.S. protectorate.

The embassy denied any attempt on its part to undermine Haiti’s sovereignty, but critics say U.S. authorities have taken over the proper role of the Haitian police.

In a paid commercial broadcast in Creole on Haitian radio, U.S. officials promise compensation to those who provide information about the location of weapons or people who have them.

Haiti has been plagued by political and gang violence since Jean-Bertrand Aristide was pushed from the presidency in 2004. The poorest country in the Americas, it has relied since then on U.N. peacekeepers for security and on foreign aid for funds.

Efforts by police and U.N. peacekeeping forces to disarm slum gangs and former members of Haiti’s disbanded army have had little success, despite assurances by some gangs that they would hand over their guns after President Rene Preval, a one-time Aristide ally, was elected this year.

It was not immediately clear whether the new advertisements would have any impact on the gun violence.

“You who are listening, if you have information about people who would hide heavy weapons, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince,” says the U.S. Embassy advertisement, which provides a telephone number to call.

“The calls will be treated confidentially, and you will be amply rewarded,” it says.

A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said the initiative was not meant to threaten Haiti’s sovereignty.

“We work very closely with the Haitian police and U.N. troops to improve the security climate in Haiti,” she said, declining to clarify whether the information collected by the embassy would be given to Haitian police or U.N. troops.

The spokeswoman said the embassy was responsible for countering threats to the security of U.S. citizens, but that it was also very concerned about improving the security of all Haitians.

A Haitian Cabinet minister said he was offended.

“I am not a spokesman for the government, but as a Cabinet member, I feel offended that a foreign embassy can be allowed to air such ads in my country,” he said. The minister asked not to be identified because he was not an official spokesman.

Evans Paul, a former mayor of Port-au-Prince who ran unsuccessfully for president this year, also complained that foreign powers had turned Haiti into “some sort of protectorate, even though they did not officially call it that name.”

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