Former Haitian prime minister Yvon Neptune (2002-2004) appeared before investigative judge Lamarre Bélizaire at the judge's Port-au-Prince office on Aug. 22 to answer questions in an inquiry into allegations of corruption and drug trafficking during the second administration of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004). Bélizaire has notified the authorities that 33 people, most of them connected with Aristide's Lavalas Family (FL) party, are not permitted to leave the country because of their connection with the investigation. After the Aug. 22 session, Neptune, who has broken with Aristide, told reporters that he had no problem answering Bélizaire's summons. (Radio Kiskeya, Haiti, Aug. 23)
Lawyers for Aristide, on the other hand, have challenged Bélizaire's entire inquiry and his qualifications to head it. Aristide was reportedly ordered to appear before Bélizaire on Aug. 13, but human rights advocate Mario Joseph, Aristide's lead attorney, said the former president never received the summons. Joseph himself went to Bélizaire's office to deliver a letter on the subject, but the judge wasn't present. Aristide's legal team is demanding that Bélizaire be removed from the case on the grounds that there were irregularities in his appointment as judge and that he is a member of the center-right Tèt Kale Haitian Party (PHTK) of President Michel Martelly (tèt kale is Creole for "Bald Head," a nickname for the president). Lavalas supporters have maintained barricades around Aristide's house in the northeastern suburb of Tabarre since mid-August in case Judge Bélizaire issues an arrest warrant for the former president.
Aristide's backers aren't the only ones questioning Bélizaire's investigation. "This case should be handled by another judge, one who understands respecting the law," Pierre Espérance, the director of the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) and a longtime Aristide opponent, told the online Haitian news service AlterPresse. "Judge Lamarre lacks character and temperament. He kneels before the executive." According to Espérance, Bélizaire hasn't had training to investigate financial crimes. "If he stays on the case, it's because he has a personal interest." (AlterPresse Aug. 13, Aug. 13; Radio Kiskeya Aug. 17, Aug. 17)
The Haitian court system is often accused of being influenced by political interests. On Aug. 11 a court in the northwestern city of Gonaïves sentenced Wilford Ferdinand ("Ti Wil") and his cousin Alix Suffrant ("Bout Zòrèy") to nine years at hard labor for the April 2007 murder of Johnson Edouard, a former correspondent for the weekly Haïti Progrès and a regional coordinator for FL. Ferdinand was a leader in the so-called "Cannibal Army," a local group that initially supported Aristide but later joined right-wing paramilitary groups seeking his overthrow. Ferdinand charged that the sentence against him was politically motivated. "Investigative judge Pierre Michel Denis is a member of the Lavalas Family party," Ferdinand said. But he thanked the public ministry's representative, Enock Géné Génélus, for his help. Normally the public ministry, responsible to the Martelly government, would be expected to lead the prosecution; in this case, it supported the defendant. (AlterPresse, Aug. 14)
In a major embarrassment for the criminal justice system, 329 prisoners broke out of the prison in Croix-des-Bouquets, northeast of Port-au-Prince, on Aug. 10. One of the escapees was Clifford Brandt, a wealthy business leader's son who is charged with masterminding the October 2012 kidnapping of other members of the elite. There was speculation that Brandt's backers were behind the massive jailbreak. Brandt was captured two days later by Dominican soldiers in Hondo Valle, just across the border from Haiti. As of Aug. 13 only some 20 of the escaped prisoners had been recaptured. (AlterPresse Aug. 13, Aug. 13)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, August 24.
See our last post on the prison crisis in Latin America.