Originally: Les nouveaux tontons macoutes
A refugee in France, the Haitian ex-police officer Jean-Panel Charles reveals the terror that reigns in the police stations of his country.
In the mid-1990s, moved by idealism, Jean-Panel Charles, now thirty-six, joined the Haitian police. “I dreamed of serving the democracy that President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, restored to power by the United States, promised to found.” But the dream turned to ashes. A witness to the arbitrary crimes of the regime, this police officer formerly assigned to the Delmas 33 station went into exile on August 8. He went out with a bang: before leaving Haiti for France, where he has applied for political asylum, the police officer went on several local radio stations to describe in great detail the daily brutality, torture and murder that took place in his police station in Port-au-Prince.
Interviewed in a Paris bar, he said resignedly,
“For two years, the police force has specialized in rapes, thievery, beatings, and summary executions followed by disappearances.” He went on, “The situation clearly deteriorated with the launch of Operation Zero Tolerance at the end of June 2001. Since then the ?attachés,? low-life of the Lavalas party of President Aristide, moved into the police stations with the blessing of the head of state.” Armed civilians, uneducated and unpaid, with jeans and black T-shirts as uniforms, these new Tontons Macoutes persecuted the activists of the political opposition.
They also went after the small businesspeople, car owners, or anyone with money. “They are cruel and illiterate and stop at nothing in their brutality: I saw pregnant women slapped or beaten with cocomaques (clubs),” the ex-cop said. They organized themselves into small gangs with names like “coffin army” or “cannibal army.”
Torture scenes in a secret cell
Bastion of the “attachés”?numbering two hundred, as against fifty police officers? the Delmas 33 police station is a sinister scene of torture. “They are held in a secret cell. Then, the victims are often carried out in a trash can at night, under the pretext of a transfer to a hospital.” Charles Jean-Panel estimates “at least a hundred” as the number of the assassinations carried out by his police station in one year.
Angered by these practices, this police officer saved the lives of some in policy custody. For some weeks he heard through an opening the voices of petty thieves, “Save us! They are going to kill us tonight.”Immediately, Jean-Panel Charles entered their names onto the prison roll. This was a formality omitted by the attachés so as to leave no trace of their murderous activity. Jean-Panel Charles alerted the very active National Coalition for Haitian Rights, which regularly visited the police stations to uncover irregularities and denounce them on local radio stations.
“I understood that my days were numbered.”
At the end of July, this too-conscientious police officer was summoned by his superior, the station chief Emmanuel Monpremier. “He asked me what was wrong with me. Then he threatened me. I understood that my days were numbered. After recording my testimony on a cassette and giving this forty-five-minute recording to Radio Métropole and Radio Kiskeye, I went into hiding.”
Uprooted, Jean-Panel Charles has become a Parisian. Without news of his family, he remains in the atmosphere of fear that reigns back in his neighborhood. “Evenings, they would gather around seven o?clock and the attachés would get into police cars. They would stage phoney searches and stop among groups of people to rob them.” If this was not anarchy, it was a reasonable facsimile: “The least quarrel among neighbors could end in bloodshed. To resolve their differences, certain of the inhabitants appealed to the attachés, who made themselves available to the highest bidder.” This was said in despair by the Haitian dissident refugee in Paris, haunted by his memories. His dreams of democracy are gone.