|Haiti Archives 1995-1996|
|28/11/95||THIS WEEK IN HAITI November 22 – 28, 1995 Vol. 13, No. 35|
“This Week in Haiti” is the English section of HAITI PROGRES newsweekly. For information on other news in French and Creole, please contact the paper at (tel) 718-434-8100, (fax) 718-434-5551
HAITI PROGRES “Le journal qui offre une alternative”
A REPORT FROM GONAIVES by Mark Dow
In November 1985, three demonstrating school children in Gonaives were gunned down by soldiers of the dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, sparking a nationwide uprising. A decade later, Gonaives is again a center of mobilization and tragedy. On Nov. 13, 1995, shots were fired into a crowd which had gathered to demand disarmament, killing 3 or 4 people (accounts vary) and leaving some 9 wounded.
The UN version of events claimed that the fatal shots came from the roof of a house belonging to one Ardy Richard, a reputed Macoute. However, Father Daniel Roussiere of the Commission Justice et Paix of the Gonaives diocese believes that the casualties resulted when UN soldiers fired on the crowd. In a Nov. 15 statement, Justice et Paix said that it “challenges the account put forward by the UN… [and] demands the rapid dispatch of a governmental and parliamentary fact-finding mission to shed light on the declarations of the UN.”
Roussiere admits that Richard may have fired in the air, but doubts he was responsible for the dead and wounded. In a tour of the area, Roussiere pointed to blood stains on the ground where the victims had fallen. Other buildings block any line of fire from Richard’s rooftop to the spots on the ground. Instead, Roussiere believes, and many people in the city testify, that the UN soldiers shot into the crowd.
In its statement, Justice et Paix notes that it has asked the Haitian National Police (HNP) “to communicate the results of ballistic tests on the bullets retrieved from the dead and wounded so as to determine what type of weapons were used to fire on the crowd.”
After the bloodshed of Nov. 13, “a climate of tension and distrust has developed… between the MINUHA and the population of Gonaives,” the Justice et Paix statement said. On Nov. 16, that tension still hung in the air. In Raboteau, the city’s slum that tumbles along the shoreline, angry women assured reporters that it was UN troops who had fired on the demonstrators with bullets and tear-gas days before. A beige pick-up truck carrying heavily armed US soldiers under United Nations command made several slow passes through the center of town. Throughout the morning, residents went about their business, in the teeming market and dusty streets. But in the early afternoon, as a helicopter circled overhead, burning barricades went up. A demonstration led by the Popular Democratic Organization of Raboteau (OPDR) surged up to the house of the late Herard Simon, a once powerful Duvalierist and hougan (voodoo priest). Simon’s wife and a number of his former henchmen still live in the house, demonstrators said, and they demanded to search it for weapons.
The beige pick-up with American soldiers was parked in front of the house, and two of the soldiers stood guard. They tried to control the crowd as it converged on the house. Many demonstrators carried sticks and rocks. UN soldiers of other nationalities as well as the HNP also arrived on the scene. The people were angry, and the soldiers tense. A US soldier threatened to confiscate the camera of an American filmmaker if she continued filming US soldiers; he said that she could film the soldiers from other countries, however.
A young soldier repeatedly told the crowd to “fe bak” (back up), but his other warnings were, ironically, in English: “put down that rock” or “put down that stick.”
To press their demand to search for weapons, demonstrators lit small fires not far from the wall surrounding the Simon house. Smoke added to the tumult.
Finally, a member of the HNP spoke to the crowd. “Everyone go home,” the policeman said. “There are no weapons here.”
One of the demonstrators asked: “Have any of the people gone inside?”
“No. What for?” the policeman responded.
The demonstrators persisted, and minutes later, the police and UN soldiers allowed the demonstrators to send 4 representatives to search the house, accompanied by the police. The search apparently turned up no weapons.
After the search, the crowd continued to surround the house but scattered when soldiers began firing into the air. A UN soldier from Benin, L. Klinkpe, who was acting as an intermediary between the people and the military, said afterwards that the shooting was provoked by people throwing rocks. Two alleged rock-throwers were taken away in the back of a UN truck.
After their dispersal, demonstrators reconvened in the center of town under the giant statue of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who led Haiti to independence in 1804. Amio Metayer, known as “Cubain,” a leader of the OPDR, announced that activities were finished for the day, but would begin again the next. Then he invited the UN soldier from Benin to speak to the crowd. Klinkpe took the bullhorn from Cubain and, in creolized French appealed for order. He asked the people not to burn houses and assured them that the UN wanted to implement disarmament.
Demonstrators began to shout “Ardy Richard!” Cubain asked Klinkpe where Richard was, and Klinkpe responded that his whereabouts were the responsibility of the HNP. The crowd continued its calls, and Cubain asked a member of the HNP to address the demonstrators. The policeman told the crowd that he did not know where Richard was.
“Up until now, the police say that they don’t know where Ardy Richard is,” Cubain said in an interview after the rally, “But we say that we must find Ardy Richard so that we can judge him.” Cubain also said that Richard and his family have foreign visas and that OPDR demands that they be stopped at the airport if they attempt to flee the country.
The discipline and tolerance shown by the demonstrators in Gonaives contradict the image of unbridled and fanatical mobs portrayed in the mainstream press. As one Haitian man told reporters as the demonstrator’s made their way to the Simon house: “They demand discipline; they don’t want disorder.”
As events in Gonaives and other cities around Haiti confirm, the Haitian people’s participation in the campaign to disarm and judge Macoutes and putchists is not bringing disorder, but rather is the only true path to peace and security for the country.
Photo 1: Demonstrators march through streets on Nov. 16 on the way to undertake an arms search.
Photo 2: Cubain, a leader of the OPDR, addresses the crowd beneath the statue of Jean-Jacques Dessalines.
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