Friday, February 02, 2007

The terrible truth of Martissant

In Haiti’s senate, not even a year old, senator Gabriel Fortuné of the Union party, following up on his promise to elaborate on the corruption which he says is bedeviling the body, accused one of the main shareholders of the Société Caribéenne de Banque S.A. (SOCABANK), Haïtel chairman Franck Ciné, of bribing Haitian senators to vote (18 in favor, 16 opposed) for a negotiated resolution to a complex financial squabble between SOCABANK and the de la République d'Haïti (BRH). Thus far, the response from the executive branch of Haitian president René Préval to the uproar has been muted, but one hopes that a thorough and transparent investigation will soon follow.

In perhaps even more grim news, the Commission Episcopale Nationale Justice et Paix released a report covering the human rights situation in Haiti from October until December 2006 and therein concluded that 539 people were killed by violence in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan region alone in 2006, especially singling out the region of Martissant, where citizens have been at the mercy of warring gangs with varying political affiliations since June 2006. Freelance journalist Jean-Rémy Badio was murdered in his home, evidently by gang-affiliated gunmen from the area, last month.

There have recently been attempts to exculpate one of the street gangs in Martissant - the Baz Grand Ravine loyal to the Fanmi Lavalas party of former Haitian president Jean-Betrand Aristide - from involvement in the appalling violence terrorizing the community there, instead attempting to suggesting the bloodshed comes only from one side, the Lamè Ti Machet (The Little Machete Army), affiliated with the Ti Bois and Déscartes districts of the neighborhood, and said to be loyal to former Haitian police official Carlo Lochard and other political elements. Simply put, this is total, intentional fabrication and ignores the fact that, since June 2006, all armed groups in the neighborhood have been implicated in the grossest human rights violations by residents fleeing attacks speaking to Haitian and foreign journalists brave enough to venture there.

Last summer, the American photojournalist Thos Robinson, a Haitian radio reporter (whose perilous work dictates that he remain nameless) and I spent several days traveling through and interviewing residents of Martissant, during which time we were subject to extremely aggressive and unpleasant questioning by the gangs. The terror we saw that had been created by all the gangs, regardless of political affiliation, killing and burning the neighborhood, was truly an outrage to behold, and we left convinced that the Baz Grand Ravine, like the Lamè Ti Machet, was just another group cloaking their criminality and disregard for the community in the thinnest veneer of ideology, and were guilty of terrible human rights violations.

Those of us who have followed Haiti for many years recall that from 2000 until 2002, the most powerful gang in Martissant was run from Grand Ravine by Felix “Don Fefe” Bien-Aimé, an Aristide loyalist who orchestrated the murder of at least thirteen people when his faction conducted a ghastly all-night siege of the neighboring Fort Mercredi district in June 2001. Following the murders, Bien-Aimé met with Aristide at the National Palace along with what was left of a local Fort Mercredi gang. Under Aristide’s gaze, the gangs signed a joint statement declaring their conflict over. No one was ever arrested for the killings. Bien-Amié eventually scored a patronage job as the director of Port-au-Prince’s main cemetery, and was also said to have been involved in the disappearance of the newborn baby of Nanoune Myrthil from Port-au-Prince General Hospital on February 29, 2000. In September 2002, apparently having outgrown his usefulness (a pattern that would be repeated many times) Bien-Amié was arrested by Haitian police officers and "disappeared," his abandoned car later found burned out at Titanyen, once one ofthe favored dumping grounds for victims of political murders by Haiti’s previous dictatorships.

Though I generally refrain from posting graphic photos on this blog, respectful of the dignity of the human body in death as I am of the sensibilities of readers, I believe that the attached photo, taken by Thos Robinson and chronicling the aftermath of an attack by the Baz Grand Ravine on the neighborhood of Ti Bois, says a whole hell of lot with regards to whether or not the group is involved in violence. There are many more photos just like it. Now, more than ever, I am convinced that human rights must for all in Haiti, without distinction for political affiliation, is the only way forward. It is what we who genuinely care about Haiti, not guided by narrow political ends nor co-opted by the extravagant financial largess of Haiti’s various political actors, need to keep pushing for.

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