Monday, October 16, 2006

Haitians Demonstrate for Aristide's Return and to Obtain Genuine Democracy

Thousands join protest marches in Port-au-Prince and Cap Haitien

Death-squads and U.N. Step Up Attacks on Pro-Lavalas Neighborhoods

By Dave Welsh
Haiti Action Committee

What is the reality of Haiti under foreign occupation today?

Right-wing death squads, working in tandem with Canadian-trained Haitian Police, continue to ravage with impunity the pro-Lavalas neighborhoods that make up the majority of Haiti’s capital city. No one is disarming the death squads or bringing them to justice.
The 9,000 Brazilian and other U.N. troops and tanks continue to fire heavy weapons into densely-populated civilian areas, and U.N. Special Envoy Edmond Mulet has vowed to intensify these operations. Residents believe their neighborhoods are targeted because they are considered bastions of support for the Lavalas movement of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The resistance that will not die -- Thousands march to end the reign of terror

On September 30th a crowd of many thousands marched through Port-au-Prince, demanding an end to this reign of terror and "Down with the occupation!" Slogans denounced members of the small Haitian elite and their foreign sponsors [in particular the US, France, Canada and Brazil] – the ones the marchers hold responsible for what Jamaican writer John Maxwell calls “the Holocaust still under way in Haiti.”

The demonstration commemorated the 15th anniversary of the first coup against President Aristide in 1991. It was spearheaded by the September 30th Foundation, an organization of victims of the '91 coup, together with other organizations resisting the 2004 coup and current repression.

The march stepped off from the site of St. Jean Bosco Church [where Aristide had ignited a huge mass movement in the 1980s that ended up toppling the Duvalier dictatorship], and proceeded through the popular districts of Cite Soleil and Bel Air to the city center….They demanded freedom for jailed Lavalas activist Rene Civil, former parliamentarian Amanus Mayette and all the estimated 1000 political prisoners still in Haiti’s jails….They demanded justice and an end to impunity…. an end to the persecution of Lavalas people by the Haitian justice system..

Marchers called for the immediate return of President Aristide. “He is a citizen of Haiti,” went one chant. “He doesn’t need a US or French visa to return to Haiti.”….Another chant denounced a proposal to bring back the hated Haitian army, disbanded by Aristide in 1995; many of the police and paramilitaries terrorizing popular neighborhoods today are former military….A large gathering of protesters also marched in the northern city of Cap Haitien on September 30, chanting “Long live Aristide!”

Another sign of the Haitians’ refusal to accept the imposed “reign of terror” was the triumphal, early September visit to Cite Soleil by So’Anne – her first since her recent release from two years in prison. Tumultuous crowds greeted So’Anne [a grassroots political leader and folksinger] as she toured various neighborhoods within the vast community of Cite Soleil – cheering her call for restoring Haiti’s sovereignty and democracy.

New offensives by U.N. soldiers, police & death squads – “A war against the poor”

1. New assassinations and massacres in the Martissant/Grande Ravine district

Between September 24 and 26, the Little Machete Army (Lame Ti Manchet, a death squad with close ties to the Haitian National Police) went on a three-day killing spree in the Delouis neighborhood; eight were killed, others wounded, AHP reported. Deputy Jean Cledor Myril "invited police authorities to shoulder their responsibilities to prevent [them] from continuing to kill, steal and burn." (Agence Haitienne de Presse)

On September 21, community leader Esterne Bruner, who had called for strong action against the death squads, was assassinated with gunshots to the face. According to AHP it was the work of the Little Machete Army. Mr. Bruner, a father of six and coordinator of the Grande Ravine Community Human Rights Council, had been working to get help and justice for victims of the July 6-7 massacre in Grande Ravine.

On the night of July 6-7, 2006, a group of heavily armed men including Lame Ti Manchet massacred at least 22 people [five of them children], wounded some 15, and burned 20 houses in Grande Ravine. The names of the dead are documented, as are the names of many of the killers, who are well known to the townspeople of Grande Ravine and well known to the police. One eight year old girl told a Haiti Action Committee (HAC) delegation last August that she had lost both her parents in the massacre. [Esterne Bruner, who had taken over care of the little girl as her guardian after the death of her parents, was himself killed barely two months later.]….UN troops from Sri Lanka, UN police from Nigeria and Haitian police are all stationed in this hillside community. But residents told the HAC delegation that these armed, uniformed “peacekeepers” have shown no interest in bringing the killers to justice.

Martissant was also the scene of the police-orchestrated “soccer field massacre” before 5,000 witnesses on August 20, 2005, during a soccer game organized by the US government agency USAID. Police chief Mario Andresol admitted [during an October 2005 interview with the Commission of Inquiry] that the original police plan was to seize Lavalas activists at half-time, as they were pointed out by police informants. At a signal from Inspector Jean-Michel Yves Gaspard, police opened fire on the soccer fans, as film cameras rolled. The Little Machete Army, carrying machetes distributed earlier by police, then moved through the crowd, hacking to death those fingered as Lavalas, while UN troops, stationed close by the soccer field, did nothing. [The next day, the Little Machete Army returned to terrorize Grande Ravine, burning down houses including the shop of community leader Esterne Bruner.] A police investigation documented involvement of 20 police officers in the Soccer Field Massacre, and 15 of them were arrested. But by March 2006 all police had been exonerated and freed.

2. Intensified UN military operations – Neighborhoods under lockdown – Checkpoints of an oppressive occupation

Incursions by MINUSTAH (UN troops) and shootings happen every day now in Lavalas strongholds like Cite Soleil. UN tanks rumble down the streets of these crumbling districts like they own the place. Sandbagged bunkers bristling with barbed wire -- with machine guns pointing out nervously at the civilians walking by – conjure up televised images of other occupations in Palestine or Iraq.

On August 24, an International Human Rights Delegation witnessed at close range an attack by UN “peacekeepers” on the community of Simond Pele, in Cite Soleil. Brazilian MINUSTAH troops in four tanks pumped multiple rounds of heavy caliber ammunition into houses in this densely populated residential area. The only other presence seen on the streets were unarmed civilians, including small children. A young man, Wildert Samedy, 19, was killed in the assault, while he was on the roof fixing his radio antenna. This followed a series of deadly Brazilian attacks in Simond Pele in the preceding days….While the delegation was in Simond Pele, a UN dump truck and bulldozer arrived, dumping a load of dirt to block one of the entrances to the neighborhood. A resident noted that blocking entrances was a tactic used by MINUSTAH prior to the July 6, 2005 Cite Soleil blitzkrieg massacre, in which 60 civilians were killed by UN troops, tanks and helicopters under Brazilian command….“The indiscriminate UN attacks on civilians in the poor neighborhoods have got to stop,” said a delegation statement. “The residents of Cite Soleil have repeatedly said they want an end to the violent repression of the country’s poor by Haitian police and the UN occupying force.”

Then in mid-September, UN Special Envoy Edmond Mulet, civilian chief of MINUSTAH, brazenly announced a new escalation – increased UN troop levels, military occupation of new areas of the capital, and 32 new checkpoints where citizens will be subjected to search and interrogation, harassment and intimidation. (Reuters) Foreign troops giving orders to Haitians in their own country! “This is a war,” said one Cite Soleil resident, “against the poor.”

In January 2005, John Maxwell wrote a memorable and still-timely column about Haiti in the Jamaica Observer. “The world," he wrote, " not paying any notice to the 200-year Holocaust still under way in Haiti. There, too, the people in hazard must feel tortured and murdered by the indifference of a world conned into believing that the high-minded leaders of the United States, France, Canada and Brazil have the interest of the Haitian people at heart, when their agents torture, murder, maim and rape Haitians for no better reason than that [the Haitians] support their democratically elected and unconstitutionally removed president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.”

For more information, contact Haiti Action Committee 510 483 7481, email or visit This article, written October 10, 2006, draws on the findings of a Labor/Human Rights Delegation to Haiti in June-July 2005; an International Human Rights Delegation to Haiti in August 2006; interviews by the Commission of Inquiry of the International Tribunal on Haiti, conducted October 2005 in Port-au-Prince; as well as observations and interviews in Haiti by the author. Many thanks to the Haitian reporters who provided eyewitness accounts of the Sept. 30 demonstrations and So’Anne’s Labor Day visit to Cite Soleil.

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