by Randall White
Many at the funeral accused the U.N. of provoking a confrontation at the politically-charged event to disrupt the momentum and organizing of the popular movement – Fanmi Lavalas had called for a boycott of the June 21 runoff elections for the Senate. The boycott succeeded: Streets were empty and turnout was about 1 percent. When Lavalas candidates are allowed on the ballot, almost everyone votes.
The shooting occurred shortly after they had arrested another mourner – Denis Fernand of Bel-Air – wearing a T-shirt handed out by the Miami activist group Veye Yo founded by the liberation theology priest that displayed a picture of “Father Jery” in prison with the words, “Jery ou ale, Batay la ap kontiye” (“Jery, even though you leave us, the struggle will continue’). Thousands of activists all over Port au Prince are now wearing this T-shirt. Three HaitiAction.net correspondents were within 30 yards of the arrest and shooting.
The rationale provided by the U.N. soldiers for the arrest was spurious. It was claimed that Fernand, who has dreadlocks, was the wanted “gang” leader Komandan Toutou – who is well-known to be bald. Fernand was dragged off the seat of his motorcycle by his hair, as he was starting to leave the funeral. If the soldiers had wanted to avoid a confrontation with the funeral crowd, they could have taken their arrestee around to the front of the cathedral, which was mostly empty at the time.
Instead, they pushed Fernand through the already agitated crowd of mourners watching a procession of horse riders and the hearse taking the body of Father Jean Juste to Cavaillon, his birthplace, for burial. With the crowd shouting at the blue-helmeted soldiers to release Fernand as they were taking him away, the soldiers were frantically pointing their rifles at anyone nearby in a menacing fashion.
Shortly after the soldiers passed the TV trucks, they first shot several rounds in the air. Many eyewitnesses claimed that they saw several soldiers level their weapons at the crowd and started shooting. A video shows them shooting at crowd level from the back of a pickup truck that was leaving the scene.
Most people ran, ducked behind the few vehicles or lay on the ground, but the victim was just leaving the church and not part of the fracas. He was shot through his left cheek from one of the high-powered weapons.
This assassination enraged the crowd even more. Many in the crowd that was still coming out of the church started shouting about those who they believed to be responsible for the tragedy intended to mar the funeral and divert the news coverage away from the most significant elements. “President Preval sent his pickpockets into the funeral to cause trouble,” some said. Others were heard shouting, “Thank you, Bill Clinton! Your U.N. assassins have murdered another member of Lavalas!”
The reference reflects the common opinion that appointing former U.S. President Bill Clinton as the new U.N. envoy to Haiti has made no improvement in the brutal tactics experienced by Haitians from the U.N. occupation forces perceived to be acting as a proxy for U.S. interests. The U.N. soon released Fernand after momentarily looking at his ID and left in their vehicles.
A different group of militants picked up the body from the side of the church and brought it to the center of the plaza, where the TV crews had arrived to cover the scene. Then they picked up the body and carried it down to the National Palace.
“Preval and Lespwa [his political party] are doing everything they can to steal power in this county. You saw what happened March 19,” said one observer, referring to the first Senate election, which was boycotted by more than 90 percent of the electorate. “This will be a nomination, not an election.”
An employee of the cathedral recounted the events that led up to the shooting: “It was clearly a provocation by the U.N. to disrupt the funeral.”
Randall White is a long time member and webmaster for the Haiti Action Committee, www.haitiaction.net.