At least four people died in an unsuccessful effort by the Haitian National Police (PNH) on July 23 to remove some 140 families from the La Visite National Park, south of Port-au-Prince in the Southeast department. The police operation–which included 36 riot police from the Order Maintenance Departmental Unit (UDMO), departmental police director Ovilma Sagesse, six police vehicles and one ambulance—was ordered by the national government’s Environment and Public Security ministries.
Residents resisted an order to vacate and threw rocks at the agents, who fired on the protesters. Witnesses said eight people were killed, but only four bodies had been found as of July 27; the victims were identified as Désir Enoz, Nicolas David, Robinson Volcin and Désir Aleis. Four children were reported missing, and three houses were burned down. The police reported five injured agents. “In the face of the aggressiveness of these individuals [the residents], we had to suspend the operation to avoid having victims,” police director Sagesse said on July 24. With the agreement of the local population, a four-member committee was set up under the supervision of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) to investigate the incident.
Small farmers have reportedly been living illegally in La Visite since 1942. By clearing forest areas for farmland, the residents have lowered the water table in the park, which is a source of water for the Southeast and West departments, including Jacmel and the capital. Successive national governments have tried negotiations to get the residents out of the park, with no success.
The government of current president Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”) has taken a hard line on squatter communities that it says endanger the environment. So far the only inducement it has offered the farmers is a package of 50,000 gourdes (about US$1,189), half in advance and half after they have left. The residents say this isn’t enough to buy land to replace what they would lose. A July 28 statement from MINUSTAH backed up the residents, saying forced expulsion without an alternative for adequate housing is contrary to international regulations on human rights. (Haïti Libre, July 27; Haiti Libre, July 28)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 30