Haiti: lawyer for homeless threatened with arrest

Haitian human rights attorney Patrice Florvilus and his supporters announced on Aug. 16 that he had been asked to appear at the government prosecutor’s office in Port-au-Prince on Aug. 19 in connection with a complaint from Reynold Georges, a lawyer for former “president for life” Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier (1971-1986). Florvilus heads the legal aid organization Defenders of the Oppressed (DOP), which was formed to help people left homeless by the January 2010 earthquake that devastated much of southern Haiti. The complaint appears to be in retaliation for a complaint the DOP filed against agents of the national police suspected of having murdered Meris Civil, a porter they arrested on Apr. 15 at the Acra displaced persons’ camp in the Delmas 33 section of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. According to Florvilus, fires were set on April 13 and April 15 at the camp, which occupies property claimed by Duvalier.

“Today freedom of expression and the practice of law are being threatened in Haiti,” Florvilus said at an Aug. 16 press conference. Reyneld Sanon, the executive secretary of the grassroots housing coalition Reflection and Action on Housing (FRAKKA), said the attack on the lawyer is part of a policy of discrimination, repression and forcible eviction targeting the displaced people still living in tents more than three years after the earthquake. Florvilus is being represented by attorneys Mario Joseph and AndrĂ© Michel, who, along with attorney Newton St-Juste, were themselves threatened with arrest by government prosecutors in September 2012. (AlterPresse, Haiti, Aug. 16)

AndrĂ© Michel was threatened with arrest again on July 26 when Judge Lamarre BĂ©lizaire requested that he and Enold Florestal—a friend or an employee of Michel’s, according to different accounts—appear in court in connection with the killing of Florestal’s brother-in-law, the student Frantzy Duverseau, on Oct. 18, 2010. The Duverseau family says Frantzy Duverseau had intervened when Florestal was beating his wife, Duverseau’s sister, that day. Florestal brought the police to the family home, according to the family, and a police agent shot Frantzy Duverseau dead when he failed to cooperate. It is unclear whether prosecutors have ever charged the police agent in the case or why the investigation is taking place now, three years later. The National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) charges that the government’s real intent is to persecute Florestal and Michel; Florestal and his brother JosuĂ© Florestal are plaintiffs in a case charging Sophia Martelly, the wife of President Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”), and his son, Olivier Martelly, with corruption. Michel is the attorney for the Florestals. (AlterPresse, Aug. 1)

Corruption charges against the Martelly family have also come up in connection with the sudden death on July 13 of Judge Jean Serge Joseph, who was investigating corruption complaints. Some witnesses claim that President Martelly and Prime Minster Laurent Lamothe met with Judge Joseph on July 11 and pressured him to drop the case, leading to speculation that the judge was poisoned after refusing to close the investigation. Martelly and Lamothe denied reports about the meeting. Joseph was a naturalized Canadian citizen, and his family had him buried in Canada after the Quebec province coroner’s office performed an autopsy. In early August the doctor in charge of the autopsy, Jean Brochu, backed up the Haitian authorities’ claim that Joseph had died of a cerebral hemorrhage. The coroner’s office will still run toxicology tests, but Brochu said the results wouldn’t be available until the fall. He didn’t expect the results to be definitive, since the body had been embalmed in Haiti. (AlterPresse, Aug. 1, Aug. 2Radio MĂ©tropole, Haiti, Aug. 5)

In other news, a group of unidentified people attacked two men they took for homosexuals in Port-au-Prince on July 19, the same day that some 1,000 demonstrators participated in a march against homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Police rescued the two men, said to be manicurists, according to police spokesperson Gary Desrosiers. (They were not killed, as some media initially reported.) On Aug. 10 a group attacked a house in the generally well-to-do suburb of PĂ©tionville where two men were holding an engagement party. Two cars were set on fire and windshields were broken, as were some of the windows at the house. Charlot Jeudy, president of the LGBT rights organization Courage, described the incident as a “homophobic attack” and “banditry.” (AlterPresse, July 20, Aug. 12)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, August 18.