Haiti: a legislator is jailed on President Martelly’s orders

Haitian police arrested legislative deputy Arnel BĂ©lizaire at Port-au-Prince’s international airport on Oct. 27 as he returned from an official visit to France; the agents then took him to the National Penitentiary in the capital. Chamber of Deputies president Sorel Jacynthe and a delegation of other legislators were kept from entering the airport to welcome BĂ©lizaire, while several hundred demonstrators protested outside and chanted slogans against Haitian president Michel Martelly. The president himself left for the US the same day for unexplained health reasons. This was his second medical trip to the US since he took office in May; he was expected to return on Nov. 6.

Martelly’s government charged that BĂ©lizaire, who represents the Delmas and Tabarre districts of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area, had taken advantage of the January 2010 earthquake to escape from the penitentiary, where he had been imprisoned on a weapons charge since 2004. Martelly and BĂ©lizaire had had a shouting match in the National Palace on Oct. 12, and on Oct. 14 and 16 Martelly made a request for the justice system to arrest fugitives from justice who were in the Parliament.

BĂ©lizaire was released on Oct. 28, but the arrest resulted in strong protests from legislators, who noted that their immunity from prosecution could only be suspended by the Parliament itself. There were also questions about the claim that BĂ©lizaire was a fugitive from justice, since the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) had cleared him to run for the deputy post in the November 2010 elections; he won the seat in a March 2011 runoff. Right after the arrest, 71 of the 99 members of the Chamber of Deputies signed a resolution demanding the resignation of Justice Minister JosuĂ© Pierre-Louis, Interior Minister Thierry Mayard-Paul and other officials, while 16 of the 30 senators signed a resolution charging that Martelly harbored a “desire…to restore dictatorship.” (AlterPresse, Haiti, Oct. 27, Oct. 28; AP, Oct. 28, via CBS News)

Security employees at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport held a brief strike on Oct. 28 to protest actions by Interior Minister Mayard-Paul and his bodyguards during BĂ©lizaire’s arrest. Employees charged that in addition to violating the airport security zone, Mayard-Paul had personally hit several of the airport guards. (Radio Kiskeya, Haiti, Oct. 29)

Arnel BĂ©lizaire—whose first name is also given as “Anel,” following the pronunciation in Haitian Creole—seems to have an interesting and contradictory record. According to Pierre EspĂ©rance, executive director of the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH), BĂ©lizaire was arrested on Sept. 14, 1995, for abus de confiance (breach of trust or embezzlement) but was freed four days later. He was arrested again on Oct. 14, 2004, for possession of automatic weapons, EspĂ©rance says, but escaped from the National Penitentiary during a mysterious mass jailbreak on Feb. 19, 2005. Dominican authorities arrested BĂ©lizaire on charges of auto theft and weapons possession on July 2, 2005; he was quickly extradited to Haiti and returned to the National Penitentiary on July 4. (HaĂŻti Libre, Haiti, Oct. 24)

Currently BĂ©lizaire seems to have some connection to the Lavalas Family (FL) party of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004), since he ran for deputy as a candidate of the Veye Yo (“Watch Them”) party, which ran FL politicians when the FL itself was denied ballot status. But when he escaped from prison in 2005 BĂ©lizaire was described as a leader of the ex-soldiers who helped overthrow Aristide in February 2004. He even claimed that while he was in prison in February 2005 the de facto government of GĂ©rard Latortue offered him $10,000 to murder Aristide’s prime minister, Yvon Neptune, who was also in the National Penitentiary. But he said he decided instead to protect Neptune during the chaos of the Feb. 19 jailbreak. (People’s World, May 13, 2005)

It is not clear whether Deputy BĂ©lizaire is the Anel BĂ©lizaire who was held in US immigration detention at the Krome center in Florida starting in 1998; the detainee carried out a hunger strike there in 1999 and 2000. (Immigration News Briefs, January 2000)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 30.

See our last post on Haiti.