Democracy, Now

Brooklyn Haitians blame the state for violence in Port-au-Prince

Lucas Batteau, a 45-year-old electrician, has to be prodded a little to show his radical side. In this, he's not unlike the others who lingered to talk politics and light candles for victims of state-sponsored violence in Haiti after Sunday's protest march down Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn.

Standing before a display of grisly, enlarged photographs—many depicting maimed bodies of people said to have been hacked or shot by the Haitian National Police—the co-organizer of the Brooklyn-based Committee Against Genocide in Haiti says he wants to raise consciousness because "people don't see this on CNN." This past weekend, like-minded activists in several cities across the United States staged marches and protests against supporters of Haiti's interim government.

Batteau and his fellow protesters blame increased violence in Port-au-Prince over the past year on the U.S., Canadian, and French administrations—all three generally credited with facilitating the ousting of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004. "I was not an Aristide fan," says activist Alex Colas, a 50-year-old service technician. "My views are different from his. But he was elected for a five-year term. Democracy is a principle."

Emblematic of the worsening violence is a widely reported police massacre that occurred at a soccer match in the Martissant neighborhood, south of the National Palace, on August 20.

Human rights observer Anne Sosin of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti told the Voice that police interrupted the game and ordered thousands of spectators to lie on the ground. Many tried to scramble away, climbing over the stadium barriers, only to find that police and civilians Sosin says were informants had encircled the outdoor arena. Armed with machetes, she says, the civilians hacked 10 to 30 people to death as police stood by.

"In some neighborhoods people run and hide when they see the police," Sosin says. "But Martissant has been quite calm in the past few months. People weren't expecting it."

Police spokesperson Gessy Cameau Coicou initially told the Agence Haitienne de Presse that she had received no report of the incident. When the killings began to receive international coverage, however, police said they were investigating.

Academics and human rights groups have long accused the Haitian police of terrorizing slums believed to be Aristide strongholds, and violence is expected to worsen as the November elections approach. Protestors in Brooklyn on Sunday said they have zero faith in the ability of the U.S.—supported interim government to conduct free and fair elections.

Carline Aurelus, 33, a mother and artist, says her extended family in Haiti will not vote because it would be "dumb for them to do so. The election is to keep people quiet—we are not ready for anything like this."

Batteau says it will be a "selection more than an election," because an election under what he calls a U.S. occupation "is illogical." The only solution, he says, is for Haitians to "take their destinies in their own hands."

But not everyone thinks that a boycott, or more fighting, is the best way to demonstrate anger toward the purported orchestrators of the coup. Some members of former president Aristide's party have pointed out that by not participating, liberal-thinking Haitians all but guarantee the success of any number of right-wing, militarist candidates.

This argument doesn't move Sunday's protesters. Having lived through the Duvalier regime, some say it's more important to take a stand against the coup than to strategize about who will take control next. Colas says his family in Haiti has not registered because "anyone who is elected will be a puppet," he says. "Not going to the elections is a vote against the U.S."

 
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