The witch hunt against pro-democracy activists in Haiti intensified this week with the arrest of Yvon Neptune. Neptune served as Prime Minister under the democratically elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. After a violent military coup drove Aristide from power, Neptune became a prime target for anti-government militants. His home was looted and burned. Rebel leader Guy Philippe led a mob in a march on his office. After the installation of Gerard Latortue's puppet regime, Neptune, along with other former officials, was barred from leaving the country. Fearing for his life, he went in to hiding. News that his arrest warrant had been issued came shortly after he publicly denounced the new government's policies.
The authorities allege that Neptune was the mastermind of a "massacre" in the town of St. Marc during February. The sole basis for this allegation seems to be a report issued by the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR), a "human rights" organization with close ties to Lavalas opponents and Washington. The NCHR is notorious for its overt political bias and its troubling tendency to tell outright lies. NCHR director Pierre Espérance alleged that fifty people were killed in the "massacre." Subsequent investigations only turned up five bodies, and the circumstances of their deaths were unclear. When asked by AHP about the absence of bodies, Espérance claimed they had been devoured by hungry dogs. "As for the bones, they suffered the same fate", he said.
While there has undoubtedly been violence in St. Marc over the past few months, most of it has actually been the doing of Lavalas opponents. It is also likely that there were reprisals by Aristide supporters and people caught in the crossfire. However, if the whole story of what has happened in St. Marc were being told, it would be easier to understand why these deaths have taken place.
Starting in January, a rebel-aligned organization called RAMICOS began violent demonstrations and attacks against supporters of the Aristide government. RAMICOS is also a member of the Democratic Convergence, a U.S.-backed political organization dominated by Haitian elites. On January 15th RAMICOS set fire to the offices of Radio Pyramide and the homes of several Lavalas activists. They also attempted to free criminals who were being held in the St. Marc prison.
Violence intensified in February when RAMICOS attacked the St. Marc police station and looted and burned the customs house. The police, apparently in concert with the rebels, fled without putting up a fight and left behind all of their guns and ammunition. The charges of police complicity are bolstered by the fact that one of the stations commanders was a former member of the Haitian army and is close to Dany Toussaint, a notorious gang leader now aligned with Lavalas' opponents. Once RAMICOS had control of the town they tortured and killed several members of Fanmi Lavalas, according to the Committee for the Defense of Haitian People's Rights.
The government quickly launched a counteroffensive and was able to retake the town with the support of the local population. Yvon Neptune flew to the town by helicopter and was greeted by cheering crowds. This is when the alleged "massacre" was supposed to have taken place, but media reports from the time vaguely describe "clashes" between government supporters and rebels, with small numbers of deaths on both sides as well as a few people caught in the crossfire. Given the available evidence, it would seem the "massacre" of fifty people is a figment of Pierre Espérance's imagination.
However, if the government were really interested in cracking down on impunity and human rights violations, they may want to look in to the activities of RAMICOS after Aristide was forced from power. Refugees forced to flee the town gave the following account to journalist Kim Ives: "Seven young people, including two pairs of young brothers, were macheted or shot to death by pro-coup forces. The mutilated bodies were then paraded around the town and dragged by a rope behind a truck to terrorize the rest of the town’s population. They were then burned." After these atrocities the townspeople were effectively terrorized in to submission, allowing RAMICOS members to take over the telephone company, tax authority, and port authority in an attempt to control the local government for themselves.
If the provisional government cared a whit about "massacres" in St. Marc they would be rounding up every member of RAMICOS, but they aren't. They are targeting Neptune, along with many other former officials and activists associated with Lavalas, in an attempt to provide a de facto justification for their illegal hold on power.
Justin Felux is a writer and activist based in San Antonio, Texas. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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for Cassey Auguste