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The La Scierie Massacre

Anne Fuller, in Le Nouvelliste, 2005-04-17

Haiti Democracy Project web page item #2938 (http://www.haitipolicy.org)

This is the English version of an article published in
the Nouvelliste for the weekend of April 9-10 under
the headline "A Propos du massacre de la Scierie".
The February 2004 Killings in La Scierie. This version
appeared on Bob Corbett; reproduced here by author's
permission.

By Anne Fuller 

I spent two and a half days in St Marc in late March
of last year looking into the killings that were
reported to have happened there the previous month.  A
number of foreign and Haitian reporters had passed
through the city in February as the opposition to the
Aristide government swelled, and they described a
place of fear, empty of most of its citizens. 

The Haitian human rights group NCHR had already spent
many days in St Marc, pursuing the facts and helping
the victims of what was already known as the Massacre
of La Scierie to get organized and tell their stories
to the justice system.  NCHR readily shared its
contacts with me (and later its lists of victims), and
these were very useful.

But NCHR to date has not made a public report of its
findings in St Marc.  And its use of the word
“genocide” to describe what happened in St. Marc,
along with the claim that “at least 50 people” died
have tended to shape public perception and feed the
very political debate that has ensued, concerning
especially the role of then Prime Minister Yvon
Neptune in the events at La Scierie.

Associates of the former president scoff at NCHR’s
claims and cite reporters’ mention of “a few” bodies. Meanwhile, supporters of the movement that forced
Aristide out, including many people in St Marc, insist
that Neptune was responsible for the crimes committed
there and must respond to the charges in court in St
Marc.
International human rights observers inside and
outside the country, and diplomats, tend to see the
Neptune arrest as a bad mistake of the Latortue
government and surmise that the Haitian justice
authorities have little or no evidence against
Neptune.

I have no information about who may have given what
orders to commit violence in St. Marc in February. But I can report in some detail ­although much more
could be discovered -- on what happened there, who
died and under what circumstances.
The killings in St Marc occurred in the last days of
the Jean-Bertrand Aristide government, in a context of
an armed rebellion that made common cause with a
broad-based civilian opposition.  Throughout 2003,
that opposition had been growing in strength, as the
government—really the President — sometimes allowed
and at other times saw to it that protests were
repressed by police, gang members or paid vagrants
known as chimères.

In St Marc, the President’s leading proponents were
the members of Bale Wouze or Clean Sweep.  This
increasingly heavily armed group was organized around
the elected Lavalas Deputy Amanus Mayette, a man of
intemperate language and little understanding of the
meaning of democracy.  Mayette and his group had
supporters in St Marc—there are always those who
benefit from ties to the powerful—but they were quite
unpopular as a whole and acted as if they were above
the law.

The best organized group opposing the government was
RAMICOS, the Rassemblement des Militants Consequents
de la Commune de St. Marc, founded in 2001 and based
in the La Scierie neighborhood of east central St
Marc. 

On February 5, 2004, the heretofore mainly nonviolent
and broad-based national civilian opposition movement
was transformed by the appearance at the side of the
prickly and dangerous Gonaives Resistance Force
(formerly the pro-Aristide Cannibal Army) of
ex-soldiers of the disbanded Haitian military,
declaring their intention to force Aristide from
power.

These armed groups overwhelmed the Gonaives police in
two days and drove them out of the city, killing seven
policemen in the fighting, and losing perhaps two of
their own.
In St Marc that same day, a large crowd led by
RAMICOS, according to reporters, stormed the main
police station, freeing all the prisoners as the
police fled.  The streets filled up with barricades
and hundreds of people looted shipping containers
along the port.  Two people were reported killed that
day, one of them Linda Senatus, 34.

Opposition forces controlled the city for two
relatively calm days. But on Monday, Feb. 9, police
from special units including the USPGN or Palace
Guard, reclaimed St. Marc with help from Bale Wouze. The only death recorded for that day was Marc Antoine
Civil, said to have been killed by Bale Wouze. 

Prime Minister Neptune flew in by helicopter, viewed
the city, and gave a press conference, much of it in
English to the foreign press.  He is quoted as saying,
among other things :

"What we are doing is to make sure that peace is
re-established. We are encouraging the police to get
together with the population so that the cycle of
violence can cease."  Also, "We ask all the population
that wants peace to mobilize against the spiraling
violence," and "We can't deny the population the right
to defend themselves." Also, “The national police
force alone cannot re-establish order.”

An unknown number of police from specialized units
remained in St Marc, and together with Bale Wouze,
cracked down very hard on opposition members around
the city.  Refugees streamed out of the city.  On
February 10, according to several reports, including
the local judge’s, Bale Wouze members shot and killed
Anserme and Wilguens Petit-Frere, then set afire their
house in the Portail Montrouis section.

Meanwhile, in La Scierie, RAMICOS supporters mounted
barricades to prevent Bale Wouze and police from
entering their neighborhood.

Quite early in the morning of Wednesday, Feb. 11,
heavily armed police working with Bale Wouze exchanged
fire with RAMICOS and then broke through the
barricades.  Police also fired from a helicopter that
circled over the area and pursued people fleeing up
the nearby mountainside, Morne Calvaire.  The
government’s forces, led by Bale Wouze by all
accounts, also came into the area on foot and in
vehicles.

Compiling the available information, I believe at
least ten and possibly twelve people were killed in
the La Scierie neighborhood and on the nearby
mountainside that February 11.  Some but not all were
RAMICOS members and sympathizers but they were mostly
lightly or not at all armed

The Bale Wouze group set fire to at least six
buildings in the center of the neighborhood, including
the home of RAMICOS’ leader.  Four of those buildings
were burnt to the ground and residents and journalists
distinguished the remains of several bodies in the
ashes—testimonies conflict but there were at least
four and maybe six;  one reporter described three
bodies in the ashes of one building, two in another
and one in a third.

The attackers set a fire in a small warehouse just
around the corner and I heard testimony from the
mother of Kenol St. Gilles, 23, that she saw the
attackers toss her son, wounded but still alive, into
the burning building.

A journalist who ranged up the mountain on February
13th  reported seeing four or possibly five bodies
there.  He couldn’t be sure because the dogs had eaten
much of the evidence. 

Killed that day, along with Kenol St. Gilles, were
Bruce Kener Pierre-Louis, 28, taken from his house and
beaten in front of his sister who says he was not a
RAMICOS member, Leroy Joseph, 23, a RAMICOS leader who
was dragged away in front of his wife by Bale Wouze,
Francky Narcisse, brother of RAMICOS’ leader, Stanley
Fortune, Makens Louis, Bosquet Paustin, and Mexil
Cadestin.  That evening a husband and wife who worked
as caretakers for a property at the corner of
Chavannes and Louverture Streets owned by the Paultre
family were burned to death when Bale Wouze forces set
fire to the building they were living in.

There was another incident that same day and it has
been difficult to understand where it fits in the
timeline or if it was reprisal or justification for
further violence.  Several sources say that two
wounded supporters of Bale Wouze sought medical
attention at the clinic belonging to a cousin of
Deputy Amanus Mayette. (According to a Bale Wouze
member interviewed by Haiti Progrès in the United
States, they were hurt when the Bale Wouze
headquarters was fired upon.)  About 9 AM, RAMICOS
members got to the clinic and ordered the doctor to
turn over the two.  When he refused they burned down
the clinic; one of the wounded persons, a woman, is
said to have died anyhow.

From the 11th on, St. Marc appeared deserted.  A
journalist who visited on the 13th reported, “The city
was as dead.  The only people about were Bale Wouze
types riding around in trucks with guns, wearing olive
green and khaki.”

And the killing continued.  From the 13th to the 17th
seven others were killed or disappeared reportedly by
Bale Wouze: Yveto Morancy, an opposition activist from
Avenue Maurepas, Gaston St. Fleur, Nixon Francois,
Laurestre Guillaume, a well-known middle-aged
community activist nicknamed Blooo, Sandy Cadet,
Wislet Charles, and Guernel Joseph.

On February 21. the bodies of three men identified as
Jean Louis Joseph, Guernael Joseph, and Jonal Joseph
(said not to be of the same family), were found in a
parking area near the port and later identified by the
judge. 

The last person reported killed by pro-government
forces was Jonas Nelson, beaten and forcibly
disappeared on Feb. 26. 

President Aristide left the country early in the
morning of February 29th.  When the news reached St.
Marc, the tables swiftly turned.  Members of the
population—too many to identify as far as I can tell
and not in an organized manner—rounded up five (some
say four) Bale Wouze members, killed them, set fire to
their headquarters (also the home of Amanus Mayette),
and threw their bodies in. The men have been named as
Judner Emile, Patrick Fleury, Dieulifait Fleury, Jonel
Emile and Jeanty.

Two days later, the Bale Wouze leaders known as Somoza
and Armstrong were caught in nearby Arcahie and
lynched.

Bale Wouze’s Dauphin Ronald (“Black Ronald”), Harmony
Ronald, and Mathieu Raphael, more fortunate, were
arrested in Port-au-Prince very early in March, as was
Deputy Amanus Mayette on March 29.

Former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune turned himself in
to the police on June 27 after learning an arrest
warrant had been issued based on several charges
including ordering and taking part in the massacre at
La Scierie.

I count a definite 27 people killed before February 29
and seven from Bale Wouze after.  There may well have
been somewhat more than this, their names and
identities lost.  A doctor with an international
mission told me that the hospital treated 27 persons
for bullet wounds between February 2 and 29.  Did all
of them survive?  Haitians ought to welcome further
investigation into the La Scierie Massacre and I hope
NCHR will release a detailed report.

Facts are better than accusations.  They are essential
to building a justice system worthy of popular trust. Haiti’s present government has not done much to
inspire confidence in the blindness of its justice. Fair treatment of those accused in the La Scierie
killings would be a big step forward.