Originally: “Chimeres” Defy Powell Right in Front of the Presidential Palace

December 2, 2004

On Wednesday, the “Chimeres,” armed Haitian activists claiming allegiance to former president Jean Bertrand Aristide, pushed their boldness to the point of defying American Secretary of State Colin Powell with gunfire in front of the presidential palace during his meeting with Haitian leaders.

Piled on top of a “tap-tap”, a mass-transit vehicle, a group of about fifteen chimeres opened fire only one hundred meters from the gates of the always-securely-guarded Haitian presidential palace, reports an AFP journalist.

Waving as they shot, they quickly departed. Jordanian troops from the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (Minustah), posted nearby, then riposted with heavy automatic rifle fire.

After that intense shooting which lasted a few minutes, sporadic gunfire from lighter weapons was heard before calm returned. Meanwhile, the vast plaza, which extends in front the imposing white presidential building, had emptied of passers-by as well as passing cars.

According to hospital sources, eight people suffered gunshot wounds.

Bernard Gousse, Minister of Justice and Public Safety, and Chief of Police Leon Charles, told AFP that “this provocation, to which Minustah instantly responded, was motivated by the presence of the international media” which would provide the attackers with “maximum publicity.”

American television media broadcasted some muddled pictures showing military personnel lying behind vehicles, or firing toward the plaza.

The Secretary of State – a former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest military rank in the United States – did not seem particularly moved by this spectacular incident. He merely emphasized, at a press conference, the need to “rapidly organize the Haitian National Police.”

He also responded in the negative to the question about whether or not Marines should be returned to Haiti, while confirming the United States’ confidence in Minustah.

The American Secretary of State also indicated Washington’s support to the inter-Haitian “dialogue” scheduled to begin next year under UN sponsorship.

Mr. Powell emphasized the importance of Haitian economic development, and of “disarmament” by “clearing weapons from the streets.” “In our view, for democracy to succeed there should be economic opportunities for Haitians,” he said, while also stating that he had assured Haitian leaders of the U.S. commitment to the “reconstruction of Haiti.”

Mr. Powell, who will leave his office within the next few weeks, boarded his plane in the early afternoon without further incidents.