Haiti : The terrible truth about Martissant
mardi 13 février 2007
By Michael Deibert 
Submitted to AlterPresse on February 12, 2007
Haiti’s Commission Episcopale Nationale Justice et Paix recently released a report  covering the human rights situation in that impoverished Caribbean nation of 8 million from October until December 2006. The report therein concluded that 539 people were killed by violence in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan region alone in 2006, and especially noting the southern Port-au-Prince district of Martissant, where citizens have been at the mercy of warring gangs with varying political affiliations engaged in sustained conflict since June 2006. A freelance Haitian journalist Jean-Rémy Badio was murdered  in his home, evidently by gang-affiliated gunmen from the area, last month.
There have recently been attempts by some - writing, as always, from the safety of the United States - to exculpate one of the gangs in Martissant, the Baz Grand Ravine loyal to the Fanmi Lavalas party of former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, from involvement in the appalling violence terrorizing the community there, instead attempting to suggest that the bloodshed comes only from one side, the Lame Ti Manchèt (The Little Machete Army), affiliated with the Ti Bois and Déscartes districts of the neighborhood, and said to be loyal to a former Haitian police captain and other political elements. Simply put, these statements would appear to be intentional fabrications by the writers, conceived with the intention of deceiving the public, and ignoring the fact that, since the August 2005 slaying of at least a dozen people at a soccer match in the district, and indeed long before, 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 Manchèt, 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.
Our conclusions were by no means unique. In fact, they merely reinforced two years of on-the-ground reporting by Haiti’s courageous journalists that the wealthy foreign supporters of one of Haiti’s political factions would seek to willfully hide from the English-speaking public. Of course, well-to-do activists in North American will point to the fact that many of Haiti’s radio stations are owned by some of the wealthier elements in Haiti’s stratified society and therefore, by implication, the reporting of the brave, working-class journalists there, conducted in Haiti’s native Kreyol in the slums before the reporters return to humble homes often lacking electricity or running water, is somehow worthless. Don’t believe it. In addition to the bald-faced hypocrisy of ignoring their own privileged place in the world economy, these first-world apologists do a great disservice to individuals who have consistently, through coup and junta and street violence from many sides, displayed what their detractors lack : the courage to report from the ground. A few of the more relevant examples of their work (recast by the stations in French for international comprehension), reporting from the scene of the violence are as follows :
A 23 August 2005 broadcast  from the capital’s Radio Kiskeya stated "inhabitants of various districts of Martissant (a southern slum of Port-au-Prince) launched an S.O.S to the authorities on Monday so that they would forcefully intervene in a zone infested with heavily-armed gangsters. These inhabitants, the majority of them young people coming from 4th and the 5th Avenue Bolosse, describe the reactivation in the district of groups armed under the regime of Jean Bertrand Aristide which have made their residence in the Grand Ravine zone of Martissant."
The 19 November 2005 article  "Nouvelle montée de tension à Martissant" from the Haitian media outlet AlterPresse stated "The tension went up of a notch these last days within Martissant, in the southern sector of the capital, where confrontations have occurred between rival bands, residents told AlterPresse. Clashes have occurred on several occasions during the last 8 days between the armed bands from Grande Ravine and the Lamè Ti Manchèt, leaving at least 2 dead and several casualties by bullets."
A 6 November 2006 statement  by the president of Haiti’s senate, Joseph Lambert, himself a member of the Lespwa party of Haiti’s popularly-elected president René Préval, where Lambert directly referred to the violence in Martissant as being part of "Operation Baghdad II," in reference to a fall 2004 explosion of violence by Aristide partisans, and went on to say that "Operation Baghdad 2 takes the form of a means for a sector to politically pressure the executive (branch) in order to find employment."
A 4 December 2006 broadcast  from Radio Kiskeya which stated that "according to residents (of Martissant) a local gang called Base Pilate was responsible for four murders. The leaders of this armed group are insane with rage after the death of a police officer considered to be one of their allies...The Base Pilate is committed, under the umbrella of the armed gangs of Grand Ravine, to fight without mercy against the Lamè Ti Manchèt, another rival band based within Sainte-Bernadette lane."
An 8 December 2006 broadcast , again recorded on the ground in Martissant, from Radio Metropole, stated "Heavy shooting was recorded in the zone of Martissant yesterday ; witnesses confirm that gangsters of Grand Ravine associated with the gang Base Pilate tried to launch an attack against the districts of Déscartes and Martissant 1. Residents of Déscartes and Martissant 1 affirm that 2 people were killed and several others wounded yesterday evening. "
A 19 January 2007 broadcast  from Radio Kiskeya, which stated that "A wild war has been underway for several months among gangs called Base Pilate and Lamè Ti Manchèt, which imposes the law of the jungle on Bolosse, Grand Ravine and Ste-Bernadette."
Likewise, the links of the Aristide government with armed gangs in the capital and elsewhere in Haiti are well-known and long-standing, and have been covered by, among other reporters, National Public Radio’s Gerry Hadden, The Boston Globe’s Steven Dudley, The Miami Herald’s Marika Lynch, my own reporting from Haiti  and, of course, Haiti’s own embattled press.
Reporting in a 10 February 2004 piece  for National Public Radio entitled "“Haitian Gangs Combat Demonstrators," Hadden reports how a gang leader dubbed Francois "strolls through his filthy fiefdom, several armed lieutenants following behind. Most passersby avoid his eyes, appearing uncomfortable. Francois does not have a real job, though he says he’s tried to find one. He says he got the money for a rape victim from the government in exchange for his primary work, defending President Aristide in the street...On a recent morning, students marching downtown were once again stoned by young mean claiming allegiance to the government."
In a 19 February 2004 article , Dudley described the armed gangs that formed the core of Aristide’s latter-day supporters thusly : "Their leaders have ominous names like ’One Shot to the Head’ and ’Caesarean Section.’ They have up to 30 men in each group, many of them teens, patrolling neighborhoods across the city with M-4 carbines and Beretta 9mm handguns with which they enforce their own justice. They allegedly traffic drugs, extort money from locals, and steal cars. Still, they insist they aren’t gangs ; they call themselves "popular organizations" or OPs, and they form the core of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s governing party, Lavalas."
Recounting the aftermath of a massacre of government opponents in the Haitian town of Saint Marc in a 24 February 2004 article , Lynch writes that "St. Marc has been under a terrifying lockdown by the police and a gang of armed pro-Aristide civilians called Clean Sweep...The two forces are so intertwined that when Clean Sweep’s head of security walks by, Haitian police officers salute him and call him ’commandant.’"
Lynch’s account is confirmed by that of human rights researcher Anne Fuller , a Haiti veteran fluent in Kreyol who spent two and a half days in St Marc in late March 2004 looking into the killings that were reported to have happened there the previous month.
"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," Fuller writers "Some but not all were RAMICOS (anti-government) members and sympathizers but they were mostly lightly or not at all armed."
"I count a definite 27 people killed before February 29 and seven from Bale Wouze after," Fuller writes, referring to "Clean Sweep" by their Kreyol name. "There may well have been somewhat more than this, their names and identities lost."
Indeed Haitian journalist Nancy Roc, recipient of UNESCO’s Jean Dominique Prize for Freedom of the Press in 2002 and the Freelance International Press’s Best Radio Journalism prize in 2004 has written that "a major part of Aristide’s heritage was the financing and creation of heavily-armed gangs. Violence in Haiti may be partially due to social injustice indeed, but it is also...highly political, commanded and co-opted by the old regime."
Those of us who have followed Haiti for many years also 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 siege of the neighboring Fort Mercredi district in June 2001. Following the murders, Bien-Aimé was reported to have met with Aristide at the National Palace along with what was left of a local Fort Mercredi gang, where 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 of the favored dumping grounds for victims of political murders by Haiti’s previous dictatorships. The veracity of Bien-Amié’s involvement in the massacre as well as the circumstance of his disappearance, has been noted in a 25 June 2001 broadcast from Radio Haiti-Inter , a 9 June 2005 release from the Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (RNDDH) human rights group  and a 2003 release by Amnesty International . Bien-Amié’s alleged involvement in the disappearance of the Nanoune Myrthil infant was reported in an August 2003 interview  with former deputy mayor of Port-au-Prince Jean-Michard Mercier.
Though I have often written that I have far more sympathy for some elements of Haiti’s gang culture than I do for the corrupt politicians who cynically use them , , now, more than ever, the international community must demand human rights for all in Haiti, without distinction for political affiliation, as it is truly the only way forward. With so many lives lost in Haiti over the last several years, with so many thousands orphaned, burned out of their homes and clinging with their fingernails to the economic wreck that the ship of state has become, Haiti’s friends at home and abroad owe the Haitian people at least that much. It is what those who genuinely care about Haiti, not guided by narrow political ends nor co-opted by the extravagant financial largess of the country’s various political actors, need to keep pushing for.
 "Vyolans nan lari zòn metwopolitèn nan 3 mwa : oktòb pou rive desanm 2006," Komisyon Episkopal Nasyonal Jistis ak Lapè (Commission Episcopale Nationale Justice et Paix), 25 January 2007.
 "In Haiti, photographer gunned down after receiving gang threats," Committee to Protect Journalists, 25 January 2007.
 "Critiques contre les violences des groupes armés," Radio Metropole, Port-au-Prince, 6 November 2006.
 "Nouveaux affrontements entre les gangs de Martissant, 4 morts ," Radio Metropole, Port-au-Prince, 8 December 2006
 "Aristide’s Tinderbox : Haitian Militants Losing Faith in President’s Promise of Reform" by Michael Deibert, Village Voice, August 28 - September 3, 2002.
 “Haitian Gangs Combat Demonstrators,” Gerry Hadden report for National Public Radio‘s “All Things Considered,” 10 February 2004.
 “Militias’ might key to Aristide’s grip on power,” by Steven Dudley, Boston Globe, 19 February 2004.
 “Town taken from rebels feels heat of reprisal,” by Marika Lynch, The Miami Herald, 24 February 2004.
 "Radio Haiti Inter, Port-au-Prince, 25 June 2001, BBC Monitoring Service"
 "RNDDH calls the public’s attention to certain areas of the 3rd District of Port-au-Prince," Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (RNDDH), 9 June 2005 http://www.rnddh.org/article.php3?id_article=227.
 "Ballots instead of bullets," by Michael Deibert, Newsday, 6 November 2005 .
 James Petit-Frere and his child, Cité Soleil, summer 2002.