Haiti: UN ‘peacekeepers’ fire on protesters

At least two Haitian protesters were wounded by gunfire and another apparently shot dead in two days of opposition demonstrations in Port-au-Prince Dec. 12 and 13; there were also protests in the northern cities of Cap-Haïtien and Gonaïves. The demonstrations, which drew thousands, came as the government of President Michel Martelly ("Sweet Micky") was taking steps aimed at defusing a political crisis that has been building for several months.

The Dec. 12 demonstration started with a gathering at the ruins of the Saint-Jean Bosco Catholic church; protesters then marched through a number of working-class neighborhoods and approached the site of the National Palace, which was destroyed by a January 2010 earthquake, in the central Champ de Mars park. At this point security forces, including at least one contingent from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), dispersed the marchers with tear gas grenades and gunfire. Spokespeople for the international group said its members only used tear gas and fired in the air, but a video seems to show at least two men from MINUSTAH taking aim and shooting at eye level; one wears a blue cap and fires a pistol, while the other wears a blue helmet and fires a rifle.

It is unclear from the video whether the men were using live ammunition. Two people were reportedly wounded by gunfire and taken to the hospital during the Dec. 12 march, but who shot them wasn't reported. This was said to be the first time in several months that MINUSTAH, a joint police-military operation led by Brazilian officers, intervened in an anti-government demonstration. (AlterPresse, Haiti, Dec. 13, Dec. 15; VICE, Dec. 13)

Protesters accused Haitian police of shooting a man dead the next day at the Dec. 13 protest; the victim "had a visible bullet wound in his chest," according to the Miami Herald. "[N]o one died in today's protests," police spokesperson Gary Desrosiers claimed. He suggested that somebody "put the body there." (MH, Dec. 14, from correspondent)

The protests followed several days in which President Martelly made apparent concessions to government critics. On Dec. 9 an 11-member "consultative commission" that Martelly named on Nov. 28 presented its recommendations for a sweeping series of resignations, which the commission called "patriotic sacrifices." The officials asked to resign included Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe; Arnel Alexis Joseph, the controversial president of the Superior Council of the Judicial Branch (CSPJ); and the entire Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), which has failed to organize legislative elections scheduled for 2011. The commission's report also called for the immediate release of "a number of people" who have been arbitrarily detained and "classed as 'political prisoners.'" The report laid out a timetable for reforms and agreements intended to clear the way for elections next year and head off a constitutional crisis likely to occur when the terms of one-third of the country's senators expire on Jan. 12.

Martelly announced his acceptance of the report in a radio address the evening of Dec. 12, and Prime Minister Lamothe taped a resignation speech the evening of Dec. 13, although it wasn't broadcast until early the next morning. The government also seemed to be moving on at least some of the cases of arbitrary detention. Rony Timothée amd Byron Odigé, two opposition leaders in prison since Oct. 26, were released on Dec. 11, in time to participate in the Dec. 12 protest. Police agent Jean Matulnès Lamy, who had been imprisoned since Feb. 21, was freed on Dec. 12; he was arrested after leading other local residents in protests against a tourism project on Ile-à-Vache, a small island southeast of Les Cayes in South department.

It was far from certain that these moves would satisfy the protesters who have been demanding Martelly's resignation. At the Dec. 12 demonstration human rights attorney André Michel said democratic forces needed to continue to push for the liberation of more prisoners, including Louima Louis Juste, Jean-Robert Vincent and the brothers Enold and Josué Florestal. (AlterPresse, Dec. 12, Dec. 12; MH, Dec. 14, from correspondent)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, December 14.