Originally: Haiti stuck in bog of uprising’s bloodshed


Chicago Tribune

ST. MARC, HAITI – (KRT) – Amarzil Jean-Batiste was hiding under a car as she

watched two men toss her eldest son, who was wounded, into a burning

building during a wave of political violence in this provincial town.

“He was crying, `Mother, please come get me,'” recalled Jean-Batiste, 43. “I

couldn’t help him. I had to leave. I didn’t want to die.”

Jean-Batiste’s son Kenol St. Jule, 23, is one of scores of St. Marc

residents allegedly massacred last year as militia and police swept into an

opposition stronghold during the final days of President Jean-Bertrand

Aristide’s presidency.

But Aristide supporters have a different version of events, alleging that

only a handful of residents were killed as pro- and anti-Aristide forces

fought for control of this crumbling port city 50 miles northwest of the

Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

The controversy surrounding the events in St. Marc have ignited a furious

political battle in this shattered Caribbean nation and symbolize the deep

divisions that wrack Haiti 15 months after Aristide’s departure.

Former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and former Interior Minister Jocelerme

Privert – top officials in Aristide’s government – have been in custody for

months while a judge investigates whether there is enough evidence to charge

the men and proceed to trial. The judge said she expects to make a decision

by early summer.

Neptune and Privert have gone on extensive hunger strikes demanding their

unconditional release, and the former prime minister is reportedly in

critical condition.

Petitions by both men to move the judicial proceedings from St. Marc, where

emotions run high, were rejected by Haiti’s highest court even though

diplomats say it’s unlikely the men can get a fair trial in the city.

“I did not go to St. Marc, not before, not during and certainly not after

the events,” Privert wrote in statement to the Chicago Tribune. “I am a

political prisoner, and everyone knows this.”

But Pierre Esperance, director of the National Network for the Defense of

Human Rights, said that forces acting under the direction of Neptune,

Privert and Amanus Mayette, a pro-Aristide lawmaker and militia leader,

killed at least 25 people in St. Marc.

Esperance visited St. Marc two days after the killings began and described

seeing five corpses being eaten by stray dogs. Several residents also saw

piles of corpses burning in an opposition neighborhood and watched as

pro-Aristide forces fired at residents scurrying up a barren hillside to

flee the violence.

For many Haitians, St. Marc represents a key test for the nation’s collapsed

justice system.

“We are focusing on the massacre because this is something that was planned

at the highest level of government,” said Esperance, a frequent Aristide

critic. “We want this trial to be a model so that it becomes an example

against impunity.”

But Esperance and other victims’ advocates are concerned the international

community is pressuring Haitian officials to release the two men because

their imprisonment is jeopardizing crucial elections scheduled to begin in


Leaders of Aristide’s Lavalas Family party, the nation’s most potent

political force, are threatening to boycott the vote unless Neptune and

other party leaders held for alleged human-rights violations and other

crimes are freed. Diplomats fear a boycott could further polarize Haiti.

Juan Gabriel Valdes, the United Nations envoy to Haiti, said the agency is

closely monitoring Neptune’s condition but has no plans “to interfere in the

judiciary process.”

Still, Valdes said the U.N. is “very concerned about the impact that this

situation might have on the general political process.”

The rebellion against Aristide began in early February 2004 when

gang-members opposed to the once popular president staged a violent uprising

in the key city of Gonaives, about 25 miles northwest of St. Marc.

Police in St. Marc, the last major city between Gonaives and Port-au-Prince,

fled their posts several days later after being attacked by a mob led by an

anti-Aristide gang known as Ramicos, according to residents.

Neptune flew by helicopter to St. Marc on Feb. 9 and vowed to restore order.

Two days later, special police units backed by a pro-government gang called

Bale Wouze, or “clean sweep,” broke through Ramicos’ barricades, scrambled

down a narrow dirt road and attacked the gang’s headquarters, according to

residents and human rights groups.

Smoke billowed from the area as homes and cars were set ablaze and gunfire

rang out, witnesses said.

“Both opposing camps would have done everything possible to keep St. Marc

under their control,” said Ronald Saint-Jean, coordinator of the Committee

for the Defense of the Rights of the Haitian People, a pro-Lavalas

organization. “It was a confrontation between two groups.”

Saint-Jean asserts that no more than five people were killed in the clashes.

But Terry Snow, a 40-year-old Texas missionary who has lived in St. Marc

since 1991, describes a one-sided affair in which Ramicos was quickly routed

by the more numerous and heavily armed pro-Aristide forces. Then, he says,

the killing began.

Snow later visited the Ramicos headquarters and counted 10 bodies piled in

the charred rubble of two homes.

“I’m positive there was not a gun battle,” he said. “If there had been one

there wouldn’t have been that kind of massacre.”

One of the homes belonged to Fetiere Louidort, a Ramicos leader who was

feeding his goats and pig when pro-Aristide forces attacked. Louidort hid in

an adjacent building and describes black-clad police and Bale Wouze shooting

at residents running for cover.

“When they finished killing them, they burned their bodies,” Louidort said.

Anne Fuller, a consultant for the New York-based Human Rights Watch,

estimated that at least 10 people were killed during the Feb. 11 attack.

“Some but not all were Ramicos members and sympathizers but they were mostly

lightly or not at all armed,” Fuller wrote in an article published last

month in the Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste.

Fuller wrote that as many as 11 other St. Marc residents were killed by

pro-Aristide forces between the Feb. 11 attack and Aristide’s exile on Feb.


Residents took revenge in the days after Aristide’s departure. At least six

Bale Wouze members were rounded up and executed, including one notorious

leader who was beheaded and dismembered, according to residents, local

officials and human-rights advocates.

Today, Ramicos militants are a powerful presence in St. Marc, reclaiming the

dusty lot that serves as their headquarters and marking the site of the

alleged massacre.

The militants are demanding that Neptune and Privert be charged and

convicted, even though they offer scant evidence directly linking the two

former officials to the killings.

“We hope the justice system does its job,” said Thompson Charlienor, St.

Marc’s deputy mayor and a Ramicos leader who heads a victims’ advocacy