Originally: ST-MICHEL DE L?ATTALAYE :
PRESENTATION of ST-MICHEL DE L?ATTALAYE
Situated in the northeast of the Artibonite Valley, the municipality of Saint-Michel de l?Attalaye represents one of the most important municipalities of the department, not only due to its surface area but also due to the size of its population of approximately 130,000 residents.  St-Michel is surrounded by the neighbouring towns of Marchand Dessalines, Ennery, Marmelade and Maïssade and is composed of the following eight districts: Platana, Camathe, Bas-de-Sol, Lalomas, l?Hermite, La Cidras, Marmont and l?Attalaye.
The district of Marmont is comprised of forty-five villages, divided into nine blocks or zones, two of which are Nan Pòl and Gigoté, the scene of a bloody conflict in the month of April, and subsequently the subject of this report.
Nan Pòl, the largest zone in the district, is a one-hour drive southeast from of the centre of St-Michel and represents the political, administrative and economic centre of the district with the following structures located there:
– the town market
– the Office of the District Administrative Council (CASEC)
– one national school and two private schools
– the largest churches
– vestiges of former military outposts
Gigoté, on the other hand, located an hour’s walk from Nan Pòl, is the garden of the district and a unique area in St-Michel de l?Attalaye due to its thirty-five hectares of irrigated land planted with rice, vegetables, mangos, sugar cane and other crops.
Since the departure of former President Jean Bertrand Aristide, overall anarchy has reigned across Haiti. If the situations in urban centers have been more controllable, it is an entirely different story in certain rural municipalities where the law of jungle prevails. It is here that armed groups affiliated with the former regime have taken refuge. At the same time, members of CASEC offices will not hear of turning over their power. As members of the former military enjoy waves of sympathy and support, former Section Chiefs have re-claimed their territory. In a many cases, these groups are controlled by bandits and ex-convicts thirsty for money. State institutions are taken over by the strongest group. Thus was the climate of overall chaos that led to the conflict in Nan Pòl, Gigoté and St-Michel de l?Attalaye.
From 11 to 13 May 2004, a delegation from the Human Rights Platform and National Coaliton for Haitan Rights carried out an investigation in the area so as to better understand what actually took place.
ORIGIN of the CONFLIT
?Baz dèyè kay mè? ? a group of Lavalas supporters characterized by their intolerance, aggressiveness and acts of intimidation against Lavalas opponents ? set up their headquarters behind a convent in St-Michel de l?Attalaye. The group was provided with weapons and ammunition by the former Lavalas municipal deputy, Joël Costumé.
Upon his return from Nassau where he had been living, Michel Volmar (alias Hendell, also known as ?le diaspora?), was physically assaulted in front of the Lavalas base headquarters. Vexed and aggravated, Volmar decided to inform the Front de Résistance de St-Michel de l?Attalaye (whose base is located behind the town?s police station) of the incident.
On 12 January 2004 the terms of the members of different District Administrative Councils within St-Michel came to an end. As no decision was taken as to whether or not they should maintain their posts, the Front de Résistance decided to fill the vacancies without any consideration or consultation.
On the arrival of former military personnel in St-Michel de l?Attalaye on 8 February, the Front de Résistance joined up with the Front National, creating a significant force, which enabled them to control the entire municipality of St-Michel de l?Attalaye.
A self-proclaimed Council, supported by the Front, composed of Frantzdy Gilles Guerrier (coordinator), Yvonel Monestime (member), and Anel Auguste Verstilus (member), took control of the district. The same scenario has been repeated in several other districts, with the exception of Platana and Hermite where two former section chiefs, Malgré Chily and Gecillon, have taken control.
Michel Volmar (alias Hendell), the town leader in the Front de Résistance, accompanied the former military personnel everywhere they went and actively took part in the armed rebel movement. When the former military eventually decided to leave St-Michel de l?Attalaye, they naturally left the town under Volmar?s control.
The self-proclaimed Council in Marmont did not take long to stir up the resentment and anger of the population with its behaviour. The following incidents sufficiently attest to this:
a) During the month of March, during a descent on the town of Barade in the district of Marmont, Frantzdy Gilles Guerrier carried out twenty arrests for the sole purpose of extorting money. Those arrested were forced to pay twenty thousand gourdes in exchange for their freedom.
b) A certain ?Ti Nèg? was arrested for having stolen a cow. The animal was returned to its rightful owner and Ti Nèg was forced to pay five thousand gourdes (5,000 gdes) to Frantzdy Gilles Guerrier in exchange for his release.
c) On 13 March 2004, two (2) children began fighting close to a water source. As soon as he was informed, Frantzdy sent two (2) CASEC attachés who proceeded, with difficulty due to the protests of onlookers, with the arrest of the two (2) children.
Upon hearing the news, Jésula Versius (better known as TiRaje), the mother of one of the children, went to the CASEC office to inquire about the reasons for her son?s arrest. At her appearance, one of the arresting attachés, Dieujuste Jean, began shooting at her. Versius was taken to the hospital in St-Michel de l?Attalaye and later to Pignon, where she died of her injuries three days later .
As a result of the general indignation of the population outraged at this brutal murder of a mother of ten children, Dieujuste Jean was driven to the St-Michel police station. Several days later, he escaped.
d) In Marmont plaintiffs were required to pay fifty gourdes, in addition to procedural fees (the dispatching of CASEC attachés) and fees fixed at the discretion of the man in charge ? to be paid to the CASEC coordinator.
e) It was this same CASEC coordinator who determined, as he pleased, the taxes to be paid on market days by the population. On 27 April and 1 May 2004, each person going to the market in Nan Pòl (shoppers, venders, or simply the curious) were forced to pay ten gourdes to raise funds, according to him, for purchasing ammunition.
f) The CASEC office is being used as barracks, a prison, a court house, an annex of the tax collection office (Direction Générale des Impôts – DGI), a torture chamber where individuals are detained, beaten, and held for ransom etc.
Thus, it is within this oppressive climate of intimidation and abuse that the events of Gigoté evolved and eventually exploded.
On 23 April 2004, Prophète Pierre (a resident of Gigoté), was surprised to find a goat belonging to a certain Salnave Raphaël in his garden. He captured the goat and proceeded to go on to work in another garden. Sometime later, Salnave, the goat?s owner, passed by and simply took back his goat.
In the meantime, Prophète Pierre filed a complaint with Yvonel Monestime [CASEC member] in Gigoté. Arrested by a CASEC attaché, Salnave was taken to the office of Yvonel Monestime to be ?judged?. Before a decision was rendered, Prophète demanded five thousand gourdes in damages and interest from Salnave, who in turn, claimed that he only had five hundred gourdes.
For reasons of competency, Yvonel Monestime declined to make a decision in the case and decides to send the case to the ?State Prosecutor?s Office? in Nan Pòl; in other words, to the central CASEC office presided over by the famous Frantzdy Gilles Guerrier.
This decision angered members of the population who qui accused Yvonel of refusing to use his authority to settle a simple question, all things considered, preferring rather to refer the question to Frantzdy who would complicate matters and senselessly torture Salnave. In solidarity, they decided to collect funds to help Salnave get out of this difficult situation. There efforts were in vain as the Yvonel?s decision stood. The case was sent to the ?State Prosecutor?s Office? and the responsibility of taking Salnave to Nan Pòl was entrusted to two CASEC attachés.
Unhappy with the decision, the population contested the authority of Frantzy team, put in place by force illegitimately and illegally. Salnave was eventually rescued from the hands of the attachés.
The next day 24 April 2004, informed of the incident, Frantzdy Gilles Guerrrier sent Etienne Chavannes (alias Saint-Croix) and Céontès Jacques to Gigoté to arrest Salnave. The population resisted and challenged the authority of the attachés, who were forced to return to Nan Pòl empty-handed. Furious, Frantzdy Gilles Guerrier decided to go to Gigoté himself, leading a “battalion” of twenty-five armed men intent on crushing the rebellion in Gigoté and arresting Salnave.
By the time of their arrival, the population had had time to take refuge in the hills surrounding the vast plain of Gigoté. Alaby Décimus [a member of the population] decided to head back down to the town to negotiate with Frantzy and his group. Despite his good intentions and pleas, Décimus was killed, in cold blood, after being shot several times.
This senseless killing revolted the rest of the population of Gigoté. With machetes in hand, the population mounted an assault against Frantzdy?s group following after them on the road as they returned to Nan Pòl. Etienne Chavannes (alias Saint-Croix), one of Frantzdy?s group was captured and killed by machete blows.
Michel Volmar (alias Hendell), having learned of the death of a member of the Front de Résistance [Etienne Chavannes] came to back up Frantzdy, providing men, weapons and ammunition. One more time, they headed for Gigoté on 25 April 2004.
Given the strategic character of Gigoté, their approach and advancement was discovered, allowing the much of the population to take cover in the hills between St-Michel de l?Attalaye and Marchand Dessalines.
Mme Rosemond Noël (née Ysranette Céant), a young bride of ten months and nine months pregnant who at the time was attending a service conducted by Lessage Décimus at Eglise Pèlérin de Gigoté, was unable to flee due to her condition. She was trapped, beaten and trampled upon. Taken to the hospital, she later died on 11 May after having given birth to a healthy baby.
Unable to find any other lives to take, the Hendell-Frantzdy group took to pillaging and burning homes and plantations, and slaughtering the town?s livestock.
Summary of Results
The aftermath of the events in Gigoté is distressing:
I- three dead:
– Alaby Decimus, killed on 24 April 2004 by Sergo Olbrice (alias Argo), one of the armed men belonging to Frantzdy?s group ;
– Etienne Chavannes (alias Saintcroix Lepéché), lynched by the population of Gigoté in retaliation for the murder of Alaby ;
– Mrs. Rosemond Noël (née Ysranette Céant), nine-month pregnant woman, who was trampled upon and assaulted by armed men with ties to Frantzdy and Hendell.
II- three gunshot wound victims:
– Phanor Décimus, several wounds from fragments shot from a 12-gauge shot gun;
– Wilbert Noël, shot in right side of the neck; and
– Lafontant Décimus, shot in the left foot.
III- significant material damage
– 163 houses of “68 lakou” pillaged and burned;
– large and small livestock killed :
§ 8 pigs ;
§ 12 cows ;
§ 13 goats ;
§ 1 horse ;
§ 1 mule;
– several dogs and poultry killed;
– gardens/plantations devastated and destroyed by fire.
The impact of these events on the population is enormous:
1- the population of Gigoté has been totally impoverished and devastated;
2- the residents of Gigoté are no longer able to go the market in Nan Pòl ;
3- Three schools closed;
4- The children of Gigoté are unable to attend school;
5- Residents of Nan Pòl are unable to work in the gardens in Gigoté ;
6- Fear has been instilled in other towns and villages in the area.
The events that took place in Gigoté were not the result of an ideological conflict between Lavalas and the Front de Résistance, as one might believe, given that the CASEC cartel of Marmont (that was replaced by the Front de Résistance) was from the Organisation Politique de l?Opposition (OPL), a political party in opposition to Lavalas. In reality, the conflict is witness to the serious reality of an institutional void that has existed in municipalities across the country since the elimination of the Section Chief system.
The lack of minimal security conditions in the countryside is not new, and is to some extent the reason why many members of the Municipal Councils have transformed the CASEC system into a repressive structure. Municipalities with populations of thirty to forty thousand are left to function without the presence of a single police officer.
The situation, which began festering prior to 29 February, continued to degenerate after the resignation of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide. The weakness of the State, or rather the absence of the State, favored such a situation. The Justice of the Peace of the municipality was unable to speak about the events of Gigoté for reasons of order and security. Three under-equipped police officers are responsible for providing security for the entire municipality of St-Michel de l?Attalaye with a population of 130,000 residents. Conditions such as these are conducive to those wishing to take advantage of the situation. If nothing is done, the possibility of a recurrence of such an incident in other parts of the country is quite likely. It is essential that the root of the conflict is addressed. As such, POHDH and NCHR make the following recommendations:
1- Establish an emergency fund for the victims of Gigoté in order to help them rebuild their lives;
2- Disband and disarm the armed gangs operating in St-Michel de l?Attalaye as well as other parts of the country;
3- Government nominations for members of District Administrative Councils (CASEC) within the 565 municipalities of the Republic;
4- Install, as quickly as possible, a police post in each of the districts of the Republic, with a minimum of three police officers per district;
5- Arrest and prosecute Michel Volmar (alias Hendel), Frantzdy Gilles Guerrier, Serges Olibrice (alias Argo), Marie Yolette, Dieujuste Jeune and their accomplices for their participation in the serious events that took place in Gigoté ; and
6- Re-open the schools that have been closed in Marmont and assure the safe and free circulation for all the residents of Nan Pòl and Gigoté.
 See IHSI : Inventory or Resources and Potentiality of Haiti, municipality of St Michel, 1998
National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR)
Coalition National pour les Droits des Haïtiens
9, Rue Rivière
Tel: 509.245.3486 / 245.5821