This Week in Haiti,
Television viewers around Haiti were shocked by the images they saw
during the final days of July 1987. Ditches and bushes strewn with
lifeless dismembered bodies. Dozens of bandaged and bleeding peasants
lying on the floor of a rural medical clinic. A corpulent big
landowner sitting on a sofa proudly and virulently boasting to the
camera that he and his goons had killed
The scenes were the aftermath of the massacre of July 23, 1987 in the northwestern town of Jean Rabel, where armed gangs in the pay of big landowners attacked small peasants demonstrating for land redistribution in the region. Some 139 peasants were killed and many more wounded.
On the eleventh anniversary of the massacre, the peasant organization Tet Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen (Heads Together of Haitian Small Peasants) organized a commemoration in the northwest village of Bochan, near Port-de-Paix, to protest that none of the attackers have ever been tried, and only five are under arrest, and those only within the last six months.
On July 20, government authorities arrested Luckner and Danovil Saint-Vil, who are both accused of participating in the 1987 massacre. The arrests only came after Tet Kole held a July 17 press conference denouncing government inertia in pursuing those responsible for the massacre. Last January, ring-leader and big landowner Remy Lucas and two others were also arrested following popular outcry.
They have arrested two or three guys, but all the rest of the
criminals are free and walking around, complained Pierre Joseph, a
Tet Kole leader.
I don't think that the government has the will to
place the criminals who circulate in Jean Rabel under arrest. Why
can't they get their hands on them? The government has been
irresponsible and negligent on justice matters.
Joseph said that many of the victims of the 1987 massacre have gone to
live in other parts of Haiti or the Dominican Republic.
the children of those who died in Jean Rabel feel bitterly frustrated
today when they see a [supposedly] Lavalas government in power which
has wasted a lot of money and left the poor without any hope, he
said. (Many popular organizations, like the National Popular Assembly
or APN, do not consider the present Haitian government to be
Lavalas but rather one of opportunists who have betrayed the
democratic nationalist ideals of that movement as articulated in
Hundreds of peasants, popular organization militants, and their
supporters from around Haiti gathered for the commemoration which had
as its theme:
The criminals must pay for the blood of the small
peasants. The Tet Kole rally was held for the first time in Bochan
as a gesture to the 25 peasants from the area who died on July 23,
1987 after they had come to show their solidarity with the peasants of
Jean Rabel, where the annual commemoration of the massacre is
Meanwhile in Port-au-Prince, the September 30th Foundation, which last
week held its 39th weekly sit-in for justice in front of the National
Palace, also expressed solidarity with the massacre victims and
condemned government foot-dragging.
We have the impression that the
arrest of the [Saint-Vils] was done impulsively, said the
foundation's spokesperson, Pierre Antoine Lovensky.
Once in a while
you hear that they have arrested two people or that something
spectacular is being done, but in fact most of the criminals are still
freely walking around the streets of Jean Rabel and Port-de-Paix. So
it seems to be mere demagogy. When things are hot, they make some
arrests to calm people down.
Lovensky characterized the Saint-Vil arrests as
said that justice in Haiti was still in shambles.
The bad conduct
of the people in the justice apparatus, from its head to its toe,
works in favor of impunity, in favor of criminals, in favor of
Macoutes, and thus in favor of the return of a system of repression, a
system of the coup d'etat, he said.
In fact, Lovensky was addressing Justice Minister Pierre Max Antoine,
who has delayed or balked at firing corrupt reactionary judges and
prosecutors, laced the police and judicial apparatus with former
soldiers and Duvalierists, and taken
initiatives which can most
charitably be described as lethargic, non- responsive, and lacking
follow-through. His approach, of course, suits the U.S. State
Department but has enraged coup victims, popular organizations, and
human rights groups. Likely calculating that the best defense is a
good offense, Antoine routinely inveighs against the lack of justice
in Haiti, as if he were not responsible. This was precisely the tack
he took in his remarks at the massacre commemoration, which he
prudently attended with several other government officials.
The justice we have in Haiti today is in the same state as it has
been since independence [in 1804] and even before independence,
Antoine declared, using the
weight of history defense which has
become a favorite of President Rene Preval and his ministers over the
past two and a half years.
It is a justice which unfortunately
serves the big landowners and which is used against the poor, women,
and everybody who is exploited in the society. Goodness, what
I have been in office about 28 months, Antoine
Can you change something which as been there for 100 and
however-many years in only 24 months? he asked, shortening his
term just a little more to make his point. He abstractly called on Tet
Kole and other organizations to
continue your mobilization and
assured them that things would improve when his always-touted
on judicial reform -- unveiled over one year ago -- is passed by
Antoine's arguments did little to assuage the anger of Jean Rabel peasants over their inability to obtain justice. Unfortunately, the problem exists all over Haiti and shows no signs of being seriously addressed by Justice Minister Antoine or the Preval government as a whole.