Walking a tightrope
between hope and fear: Northern Haiti one year after the coup
Published at: Portland
Independent Media Center
( For the article plus images see:
Sasha Kramer, March 17, 2005
On Feb. 22, 2004, the former
military violently invaded Cap Haitien
and the surrounding towns, killing police officers and organizers and
burning public office buildings. Guy Philippe, a former soldier
trained by the U.S. in Ecuador and accused of numerous human rights
violations, acquired a building in downtown Cap Haitien that became
the headquarters for his new political party FNP.
During the first months of the coup, repression against Aristide
supporters was especially severe in this area. People reported that
pro-democracy activists and their families were rounded up and
stuffed into shipping containers then left to die at sea, thousands
of elected officials fled to the mountains, radio stations were
burned, and schools and literacy programs closed down.
As of Feb. 22, 2005, the former military had officially abandoned
their office building and many of them had left Cap Haitien, moving
to other rural areas or to Port au Prince. This dramatic shift in
power over the course of the year was the result of many forces but
most notably the courageous activism and dedicated struggle of the
Haiti’s bicentennial year will be remembered as one of intense
struggle and political repression. Amazingly, despite thousands of
illegal detentions and politically motivated killings, resistance to
the unelected government continues to grow and the democracy movement
has had some amazing victories in the face of tremendous repression.
These victories are certainly a cause for hope, but the people of
northern Haiti have been down this road before and they remain on the
defensive, poised for the potential backlash.
I. Piti piti zwazo fe yon niche (Little
by little the bird makes its
nest): Events in northern Haiti leading up to the one year
anniversary of the coup
Since the massive peaceful demonstration in Cap Haitien on Dec. 16,
the political landscape in Northern Haiti has been marked by several
key events. On Jan. 19, after several weeks of relative calm, a group
of heavily armed former soldiers marched through Cap Haitien. The
Chilean UN stopped them and disarmed several of them.
Two days later the former soldiers took to the streets in greater
numbers again with heavy arms. On this occasion the UN did not stop
them, and they entered the poor neighborhoods, attempting to arrest
several people and provoking angry responses from the residents.
In the popular neighborhood of Lafocet, the soldiers killed a woman
and wounded many unarmed civilians. UN troops arrived on the scene
just after the woman was killed, and no arrests were made.
Following waves of popular protest and communication with Jean
Charles Moise, popularly elected mayor of Milot, now in hiding,
representatives of the Chilean UN got on the radio and said that the
former military cannot openly bear weapons, nor are they authorized
to make arrests. They also met with leaders of the former military
and told them they cannot enter the neighborhood of Lafocet again.
On Tuesday, Feb. 1, two men wearing Aristide T-shirts were arrested
in Cap Haitien during the Carnival festivities. This again provoked
an angry response from the population, and the district attorney
ordered the men released the next day.
On Feb. 4, Antonio Renaud, a member of the peasant movement of Milot
and father of four children – and close associate of Jean Charles
Moise – was shot by two men who rode through Milot on motorcycles.
forces were contacted and escorted Antonio to the hospital. He
survived the attack but has now been forced to flee into hiding.
These incidents created an atmosphere of heightened tension in
But tension creates movement, and these events brought people into
the streets. Many among the political opposition to Aristide who
financially backed the former military have become disenchanted with
the current government and disgusted with the actions of the
ex-soldiers. Seeing that their support was waning on all fronts, many
of the soldiers left Cap Haitien as the anniversary of the coup
approached, clearing the way for a cautiously celebratory atmosphere
during the Feb. 27 demonstration.
II. Bel dan pa di zanmi (Beautiful
teeth don’t mean he’s your
friend): A sad anniversary, a peaceful demonstration laced with
On Feb. 27, 2005, over 10,000 people took peacefully to the streets
of Cap Haitien calling for an end to political persecution and the
return of constitutional authority, including the physical return of
President Aristide. The demonstration in Cap Haitien coincided with
demonstrations throughout Haiti and internationally during the week
of Feb. 22-March 1, marking one year since the overthrow of the
democratically elected government.
The demonstrators were joined by two international observers from the
Bay Area and flanked on all sides by heavily armed UN troops and
Haitian National Police. Despite the imposing police presence, the
march proceeded largely without incident, and the demonstrators sang
and danced their way through Cap Haitien for over three hours in the
roasting midday sun.
Lavalas organizers and UN forces both expressed some frustration with
the Haitian National Police, who have been implicated in illegal
arrests and intimidation of Lavalas supporters. The fact that no one
was injured during the demonstration was a testament to the
demonstrators’ commitment to nonviolence as well as the importance
UN protection and international media coverage.
A minor incident during the demonstration served as a reminder that
the current political climate dictates that exhilaration is always
accompanied by fear and any situation can turn at the slightest
provocation. Jean Charles Moise came out of hiding to attend the
demonstration and, as on Aug. 14 and Dec. 16, supporters gathered
around him singing and chanting.
As the crowd thickened, someone spotted several Chilean soldiers
walking through the crowd. Fearing that they were approaching Moise,
several people pushed him and urged him to run. When Moise ran, many
people panicked, suspecting that UN troops had arrested him. Some
people threw rocks, and one UN soldier sprayed tear gas.
The commotion lasted only a few minutes, after which UN troops
managed to assure the crowd that they had not arrested Moise, and the
demonstration continued on until its peaceful conclusion an hour
later. No one was hurt during the incident, and the Chileans later
communicated with Moise and the misunderstanding was cleared up. This
situation highlights the tenuous relationship between Lavalas
organizers and the Chilean troops in northern Haiti where mistrust is
still prevalent despite the good intentions of many individual
The relationship between the UN and the majority of the population is
complex and marred by the dual communication barriers of language and
mistrust. Many people are angry that the UN arrived in Haiti after
the overthrow of the democratically elected government.
In direct violation of their OAS (Organization of American States)
obligations to support democracy in the hemisphere, countries
throughout Latin America have deployed troops to Haiti to “stabilize”
the country by providing support to the U.S.-backed unelected
government. Additionally, for the past several months, the radio has
been broadcasting reports of UN inaction and complicity in illegal
arrests and politically motivated executions in Port au Prince. These
issues, among others, have created a barrier of mistrust that will be
difficult to deconstruct and in some cases is a critical mechanism
for self preservation.
People said that they want the UN to focus on the part of their
mandate that requires them to serve as genuine peacekeepers and
protectors of human rights. When asked “what would you like to
the UN doing,” people responded that they would like for the UN
accompany Lavalas organizers back to their communities, provide
protection for peaceful organizing and participate in development
Several UN officials who were interviewed said that they would very
much like to be able to provide these services but that they do not
currently have the funding or the manpower to do so. Chilean forces
have repeatedly asked the UN to provide them with more troops so they
can patrol the rural areas around Cap Haitien where human rights
abuses are rampant and with money for development work.
Unfortunately, these requests have not been answered, as the larger
UN mission is bound by a faulty mandate dictated by international
forces intent on erasing the Lavalas party from the political process.
III. Lave men siye ate (Wash
your hands then dry them in dirt):
Liberation or calm before the storm – northern Haiti since the
anniversary of the coup
The hard won liberated space that has been created in northern Haiti
cannot be tolerated by an interim government that is rapidly losing
support on all fronts. Since the demonstration on Feb. 27, the
unelected Prime Minister Latortue has twice visited Cap Haitien, each
of his visits straining the city’s fragile peace.
One week after the demonstration, Latortue made an unannounced visit
to Cap Haitien, presumably to speak at the university. During his
visit, the district attorney, who ordered the release of the Lavalas
supporters illegally detained during Carnival, was fired. This sent
loud signal to those involved in the judicial system that providing
justice is no longer a duty but a risk and those interested in self
preservation would be well advised to tow the police and government
line. There are also reports that Radio Etincelles, one of the few
stations not controlled by right wing forces, was shot at during
Latortue’s visit, and the transmitter was damaged.
After a day of vigilante justice and retribution, the prime minister
is said to have spent the evening in the nearby town of Milot,
birthplace of the Haitian revolution, home of Jean Charles Moise, and
a strong base of Lavalas support. Apparently he arrived in town with
a heavily militarized escort of police.
The group went to the palace of San Souci where several people saw
them drinking and celebrating. Soon after they arrived, loud
explosions rocked the town, and hundreds of frightened citizens,
including Jean Charles Moise and his associates, fled into the woods
afraid for their lives. No one was directly injured during the
commotion but several people with heart conditions were hospitalized
and many people spent the night sleeping under bushes.
Since no one in the town was invited to join in the prime minister’s
festivities, it is unclear exactly what caused the explosions. Many
people are certain that shots were fired. Perhaps the shots were
targeted, or perhaps it was the random shooting of drunken soldiers.
Others claim that the explosions were caused by fireworks. Regardless
of the source, the intent was clear: to terrorize an unarmed
population, to send a message that the victories of the pro-democracy
movement in Cap Haitien and Milot will not be tolerated without
The following day, the Chilean UN was contacted, and they sent a team
to Milot to investigate. They could not be reached for comment, but
for the next several nights they patrolled Milot. Organizers
expressed tempered gratitude for the UN presence and the situation
retuned to relative calm.
Then the following Sunday, March 13, Latortue returned to Cap
Haitien, this time working in tandem with UN forces. A massive
disarmament campaign was announced to the people, and approximately
300 former soldiers were rounded up; most of them voluntarily
The population was elated and eagerly participated in the roundup,
pointing out hiding places and celebrating in the streets. The 300
soldiers were put on a bus, and the people of Cap Haitien were led to
believe that they would be disarmed and arrested.
The celebration was short lived as the international media broke the
real story the following morning. In total, only seven antiquated
weapons were seized from the 300 soldiers, and the bus that was
thought to be taking them to prison was actually taking them straight
to the police academy in Port au Prince where they will each be paid
$5,000 in back wages, retrained, armed and redeployed as legitimate
agents of the state.
Now the people of Cap Haitien have been granted a temporary reprieve
from the former military only to await their return as legitimate
authorities of the state, “legally” armed by the international
community and backed by UN troops hamstrung by a mandate dictated by
U.S. and French interests.
Sasha Kramer, sash@stanford.
edu, a Ph.D. candidate in biology at Stanford, just returned from
for the article plus images see:
Forwarded by the Haitian Lawyers' Leadership Network
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The Haiti Resolution:
1. Support the return of constitutional rule to Haiti by restoring all
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and murderers from sectors in their police force,
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