Originally: Haitian Escapes Charges: Fugitive is viewed as Aristide enforcer
A Haitian judge has dropped charges against the country’s most infamous fugitive, Amiot Metayer — a self-proclaimed pro-government gang leader whose ”Cannibal Army” is accused of preying on opposition members.
Metayer was charged with arson for setting houses afire in a gang war in the coastal town of Gonaves. Jailed a year ago, Metayer was freed in a spectacular prison break three months later after his supporters ran a bulldozer through a cell wall.
For months the government refused to rearrest him, saying that plucking Metayer from his neighborhood and supporters would only provoke a bloodbath. But two other judges on the case questioned the government’s will. Both then fled the country — including one to South Florida — saying the government pressured them to drop the charges.
Meanwhile, Metayer enjoyed his freedom, even calling a news conference in front of the Gonaves police station.
On Thursday, government prosecutor Louizelme Joseph told Radio Metropole that a judge withdrew Metayer’s arrest warrant because there were no grounds for the charges.
Joseph said he didn’t know if Metayer would be sought for other crimes of which he is accused, although government spokesman Mario Dupuy said he still could be charged for escaping from jail. About 150 other inmates escaped during the jail break.
The former longshoreman is perceived as such a public threat that groups from human rights observers to a delegation of the hemisphere’s top diplomats have clamored for his arrest. They argue that to allow Metayer to remain free would allow his band to terrorize those who oppose the government.
ALLIES OF GOVERNMENT
The Cannibal Army is one of several so-called grass-roots organizations in Haiti describing themselves as pro-government militants who are fighting for the poor, but whom human rights observers blame for threats, political violence and organized crime.
After a visit in March by a delegation from the Organization of American States, the government said it would arrest Metayer. Supporters said he had fled to the neighboring Dominican Republic, although other witnesses said he was spotted in Gonaves.
Metayer’s freedom continues to be a sticking point with international observers who say President Jean-Bertrand Aristide hasn’t done enough to make Haiti safe. The inability to arrest Metayer could further endanger the country’s relationship with its neighbors and the United States.
After hearing the news Thursday, Investigating Judge Marcel Jean, who once had the Metayer case, said he was disappointed. Jean said he was pressured by a member of Aristide’s staff to drop the case. When he refused, he was put on a list of people not allowed to leave the country. He finally fled this spring and is with friends in Palm Beach County.
”Someone can’t kill people, burn their houses, and burn the courthouse and not be brought to justice,” Jean said. “I think this raises serious questions about the future of the country. This country has no future if this is how justice will be treated.”
Herald staff writer D.E. Leger contributed to this report, which was supplemented with material The Associated Press.