La Scierie Killings
A report from Anne Fuller
Anne Fuller <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This is the English version of an article published in the Nouvelliste for the weekend of April 9-10 under the headline "A Propos du massacre de la Scierie".
[quote]The February 2004 Killings in La Scierie
By Anne Fuller
I spent two and a half days in St Marc in late March of last year looking into the killings that were reported to have happened there the previous month. A number of foreign and Haitian reporters had passed through the city in February as the opposition to the Aristide government swelled, and they described a place of fear, empty of most of its citizens.
The Haitian human rights group NCHR had already spent many days in St Marc, pursuing the facts and helping the victims of what was already known as the Massacre
of La Scierie to get organized and tell their stories to the justice system. NCHR readily shared its contacts with me (and later its lists of victims), and these were very useful.
But NCHR to date has not made a public report of its findings in St Marc. And its use of the word “genocide” to describe what happened in St. Marc, along with the claim that “at least 50 people” died have tended to shape public perception and feed the very political debate that has ensued, concerning especially the role of then Prime Minister Yvon Neptune in the events at La Scierie.
Associates of the former president scoff at NCHR's claims and cite reporters' mention of “a few” bodies. Meanwhile, supporters of the movement that forced Aristide out, including many people in St Marc, insist that Neptune was responsible for the crimes committed there and must respond to the charges in court in St Marc.
International human rights observers inside and outside the country, and diplomats, tend to see the Neptune
arrest as a bad mistake of the Latortue government and surmise that the Haitian justice authorities have little or no evidence against Neptune.
I have no information about who may have given what orders to commit violence in St. Marc in February. But I can report in some detail –although much more could be discovered -- on what happened there, who died and under what circumstances.
The killings in St Marc occurred in the last days of the Jean-Bertrand Aristide government, in a context of an armed rebellion that made common cause with a broad-based civilian opposition. Throughout 2003, that opposition had been growing in strength, as the government—really the President — sometimes allowed and at other times saw to it that protests were repressed by police, gang members or paid vagrants known as chimères.
In St Marc, the President's leading proponents were the members of Bale Wouze or Clean Sweep. This increasingly heavily armed group was organized around the elected Lavalas Deputy Amanu
s Mayette, a man of intemperate language and little understanding of the meaning of democracy. Mayette and his group had supporters in St Marc—there are always those who benefit from ties to the powerful—but they were quite unpopular as a whole and acted as if they were above the law.
The best organized group opposing the government was RAMICOS, the Rassemblement des Militants Consequents de la Commune de St. Marc, founded in 2001 and based in the La Scierie neighborhood of east central St Marc.
On February 5, 2004, the heretofore mainly nonviolent and broad-based national civilian opposition movement was transformed by the appearance at the side of the prickly and dangerous Gonaives Resistance Force (formerly the pro-Aristide Cannibal Army) of ex-soldiers of the disbanded Haitian military, declaring their intention to force Aristide from power.
These armed groups overwhelmed the Gonaives police in two days and drove them out of the city, killing seven policemen in the fighting, and lo
sing perhaps two of their own.
In St Marc that same day, a large crowd led by RAMICOS, according to reporters, stormed the main police station, freeing all the prisoners as the police fled. The streets filled up with barricades and hundreds of people looted shipping containers along the port. Two people were reported killed that day, one of them Linda Senatus, 34.
Opposition forces controlled the city for two relatively calm days. But on Monday, Feb. 9, police from special units including the USPGN or Palace Guard, reclaimed St. Marc with help from Bale Wouze. The only death recorded for that day was Marc Antoine Civil, said to have been killed by Bale Wouze.
Prime Minister Neptune flew in by helicopter, viewed the city, and gave a press conference, much of it in English to the foreign press. He is quoted as saying, among other things :
"What we are doing is to make sure that peace is re-established. We are encouraging the police to get together with the population so that th
e cycle of violence can cease." Also, "We ask all the population that wants peace to mobilize against the spiraling violence," and "We can't deny the population the right to defend themselves." Also, “The national police force alone cannot re-establish order.”
An unknown number of police from specialized units remained in St Marc, and together with Bale Wouze, cracked down very hard on opposition members around the city. Refugees streamed out of the city. On February 10, according to several reports, including the local judge's, Bale Wouze members shot and killed Anserme and Wilguens Petit-Frere, then set afire their house in the Portail Montrouis section.
Meanwhile, in La Scierie, RAMICOS supporters mounted barricades to prevent Bale Wouze and police from entering their neighborhood.
Quite early in the morning of Wednesday, Feb. 11, heavily armed police working with Bale Wouze exchanged fire with RAMICOS and then broke through the barricades. Police also fired from a helicopter that
circled over the area and pursued people fleeing up the nearby mountainside, Morne Calvaire. The government's forces, led by Bale Wouze by all accounts, also came into the area on foot and in vehicles.
Compiling the available information, I believe at least ten and possibly twelve people were killed in the La Scierie neighborhood and on the nearby mountainside that February 11. Some but not all were RAMICOS members and sympathizers but they were mostly lightly or not at all armed
The Bale Wouze group set fire to at least six buildings in the center of the neighborhood, including the home of RAMICOS' leader. Four of those buildings were burnt to the ground and residents and journalists distinguished the remains of several bodies in the ashes—testimonies conflict but there were at least four and maybe six; one reporter described three bodies in the ashes of one building, two in another and one in a third.
The attackers set a fire in a small warehouse just around the corner and I heard
testimony from the mother of Kenol St. Gilles, 23, that she saw the attackers toss her son, wounded but still alive, into the burning building.
A journalist who ranged up the mountain on February 13th reported seeing four or possibly five bodies there. He couldn't be sure because the dogs had eaten much of the evidence.
Killed that day, along with Kenol St. Gilles, were Bruce Kener Pierre-Louis, 28, taken from his house and beaten in front of his sister who says he was not a RAMICOS member, Leroy Joseph, 23, a RAMICOS leader who was dragged away in front of his wife by Bale Wouze, Francky Narcisse, brother of RAMICOS' leader, Stanley Fortune, Makens Louis, Bosquet Paustin, and Mexil Cadestin. That evening a husband and wife who worked as caretakers for a property at the corner of Chavannes and Louverture Streets owned by the Paultre family were burned to death when Bale Wouze forces set fire to the building they were living in.
There was another incident that same day and it has been
difficult to understand where it fits in the timeline or if it was reprisal or justification for further violence. Several sources say that two wounded supporters of Bale Wouze sought medical attention at the clinic belonging to a cousin of Deputy Amanus Mayette. (According to a Bale Wouze member interviewed by Haiti Progrès in the United States, they were hurt when the Bale Wouze headquarters was fired upon.) About 9 AM, RAMICOS members got to the clinic and ordered the doctor to turn over the two. When he refused they burned down the clinic; one of the wounded persons, a woman, is said to have died anyhow.
>From the 11th on, St. Marc appeared deserted. A journalist who visited on the 13th reported, “The city was as dead. The only people about were Bale Wouze types riding around in trucks with guns, wearing olive green and khaki.”
And the killing continued. From the 13th to the 17th seven others were killed or disappeared reportedly by Bale Wouze: Yveto Morancy, an opposition activist
from Avenue Maurepas, Gaston St. Fleur, Nixon Francois, Laurestre Guillaume, a well-known middle-aged community activist nicknamed Blooo, Sandy Cadet, Wislet Charles, and Guernel Joseph.
On February 21. the bodies of three men identified as Jean Louis Joseph, Guernael Joseph, and Jonal Joseph (said not to be of the same family), were found in a parking area near the port and later identified by the judge.
The last person reported killed by pro-government forces was Jonas Nelson, beaten and forcibly disappeared on Feb. 26.
President Aristide left the country early in the morning of February 29th. When the news reached St. Marc, the tables swiftly turned. Members of the population—too many to identify as far as I can tell and not in an organized manner—rounded up five (some say four) Bale Wouze members, killed them, set fire to their headquarters (also the home of Amanus Mayette), and threw their bodies in. The men have been named as Judner Emile, Patrick Fleury, Dieulifait Fleury, J
onel Emile and Jeanty.
Two days later, the Bale Wouze leaders known as Somoza and Armstrong were caught in nearby Arcahie and lynched.
Bale Wouze's Dauphin Ronald (“Black Ronald”), Harmony Ronald, and Mathieu Raphael, more fortunate, were arrested in Port-au-Prince very early in March, as was Deputy Amanus Mayette on March 29.
Former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune turned himself in to the police on June 27 after learning an arrest warrant had been issued based on several charges including ordering and taking part in the massacre at La Scierie.
I count a definite 27 people killed before February 29 and seven from Bale Wouze after. There may well have been somewhat more than this, their names and identities lost. A doctor with an international mission told me that the hospital treated 27 persons for bullet wounds between February 2 and 29. Did all of them survive? Haitians ought to welcome further investigation into the La Scierie Massacre and I hope NCHR will release a detailed rep
Facts are better than accusations. They are essential to building a justice system worthy of popular trust. Haiti's present government has not done much to inspire confidence in the blindness of its justice. Fair treatment of those accused in the La Scierie killings would be a big step forward.
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