|| US Marines
dispute Bay View's account of Haiti Flag Day protest
On Thursday and again on Saturday, the Bay View received email messages from U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. David Lapan, spokesman for the Multinational Interim Force in Haiti, wanting to "correct the record regarding MIF forces and U.S. Marines." Lapan is disputing our coverage of the May 18 protest by 30,000 to 50,000 Haitians, headlined "At least 9 demonstrators killed during huge march on Haiti's Flag Day," in last week's Bay View. This response to Lapan by journalist and documentary filmmaker Kevin Pina, an eyewitness, is followed by Lapan's first message, then by responses from Pierre Labossiere and Wanda Sabir and finally by Lapan's second message.
by Kevin Pina
I was an eyewitness to events of May 18 and wish to publicly respond to a letter written to the SF Bay View by Lt. Col. Dave Lapan, USMC, director, Public Affairs Office of the Combined Joint Task Force, Haiti. His letter was a response to an account of events on May 18 written by attorney Marguerite Laurent and published in the Bay View May 19.
While it is true I did not see the Marines fire into crowds, it is also true they were not required to do so, as they left that dirty work to the SWAT team of PNH or Police Nationale de Haiti (which Lapan should know is the correct acronym, by the way, not HNP). The role of the Marines was to enter the heart of the neighborhood of Bel Air with an extraordinary show of numbers and firepower in a clear effort to intimidate the community.
The Lavalas demonstrators had decided earlier to use the area in front of Perpetual Catholic Church in Bel Air, after receiving a legal permit to demonstrate from the police, as a rallying point for their intended peaceful march demanding the return of their constitutional President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Should Lapan decide to question whether Lavalas received such permission to demonstrate, I have a copy of the approval document with an official PNH stamp bearing the signature of a senior officer.
Lapan is indeed correct in describing the Marines as having "assisted" the PNH. While the Marines intimidated the community with an excessive show of armaments, or what he calls a "security presence," the demonstrators would then mass to leave the area and march down toward Champ de Mars. As they descended, the Marines became conspicuously absent as SWAT teams wearing black battle gear suddenly drove up to the front of the march and opened fire. It had the appearance of a clearly designed and coordinated strategy between the U.S. Marines and the Haitian SWAT team to forcefully break up an otherwise peaceful march.
Many inquiries have been made at the General Hospital morgue in Port au Prince and private morgues throughout the capital by countless families who have been unsuccessful in finding the whereabouts of missing relatives who publicly identified themselves with Lavalas. These instances of disappearances have grown in such frequency that it has led many of the poor, whether rationally or irrationally, to believe that the U.S. Marines may have a morgue of their own hidden somewhere in the area of the capital.
Lapan states, "Press accounts here in Haiti are that one person - not nine - was killed during the demonstration. It remains unclear how that person died." As to the actual number killed on May 18, I can guarantee Lapan that the investigation continues by credible human rights activists and journalists. I wonder if he and his forces can claim they are doing more to investigate the truth other than relying upon "press accounts."
As to his statement about the one person confirmed killed by a less than reliable Haitian press, I can state that I was a witness to the killing of Titus Simpton. Yes, Lt. Col. Dave Lapan, USMC, you should at least know the victim has a name and an age like yourself: Titus Simpton was 23.
After this, I attempted to film the faces of the SWAT team members who shot towards the crowd and they immediately responded by firing off two rounds in my direction. That Lapan states he does not know this is disingenuous, as I later reported it to an Officer Vasquez and gave him the license plate number of the vehicle the SWAT left in shortly after the murder of Simpton. Given his sense of duty and military discipline, he must also know I have since been contacted on two other occasions to verify the information.
I have interviewed every single member of Annette Auguste's household, and they all tell the same story. At 12:30 a.m. on the morning of May 10, a Special Forces team of the U.S. Marines violently invaded her home using explosive devices, terrorizing the occupants. I have photos of the damage and the paraphernalia left behind, including blasting caps and M-60 fuses.
The Haitian police never entered the premises nor did any official magistrate of the Haitian government. This was a unilateral home invasion undertaken exclusively by U.S. forces as the PNH stood outside watching from their vehicles. A warrant was asked for several times by those inside, and none was ever produced at the scene.
While Lapan states that this armed assault was undertaken "for questioning about threats to our forces and to stability and security in Haiti," he then contradicts himself by stating that PNH arrested Auguste on an outstanding warrant. Again, every single occupant and neighborhood dweller who witnessed this event states quite clearly that PNH never entered the premises.
If this overwhelming testimony is true, then why on earth are the U.S. Marines executing arrest warrants for the Police Nationale de Haiti? The larger question to Lapan is, where is the evidence to back up the U.S. claims that Auguste was at any time a threat to "his" forces and "stability and security in Haiti"? Provide us with the evidence and hold yourself to the same standards of proof you demand, or maybe we should just listen to the Haitian press and accept it as gospel.
When Annette Auguste was arraigned this week, the only charge made before the court was a weak accusation of purported participation in events that occurred at a university campus last Dec. 5. There was never any mention of her being a threat to U.S. forces, stability and security in Haiti.
In fact, the presiding judge never showed up to the evidentiary hearing on May 20, and Auguste's lawyers suspect this is because it is clear there is no evidence to justify continuing her incarceration. Unless this is a stalling tactic to allow more time for Lapan and "his" forces to prepare a stronger case for what appear on the surface to be specious and outrageous charges targeting an individual for her political beliefs.
Can we believe Lapan and the U.S. government when they state that "last week's arrest of Annette Auguste by the Haitian National Police had nothing to do with planned Flag Day activities"? The only way to answer that is by citing the role this brave woman has played in organizing previous peaceful marches and rallies in defense of democracy in Haiti.
Anyone who knows Auguste's history is well aware of the huge cadres of women who heed her call in Haiti and identify themselves by dressing in white. Of course, Lapan could not be expected to know this, as he has not been here that long and his knowledge of the history and culture come from "official" briefings prepared for him by military intelligence specialists.
Did Annette Auguste's arrest have any impact on the peaceful May 18 Flag Day demonstration demanding Aristide's return? You certainly prove you know little about Haiti if you think it didn"t. Lapan's response is either mere rhetoric approved by his superiors or proves how little he actually knows about contemporary Haitian history.
My final offering concerning the arrest of Annette Auguste is this letter sent May 11 from Congresswoman Maxine Waters to Secretary of State Colin Powell which shows the serious questions raised by this incident.
"Dear Secretary Powell:
"I write to urge you to immediately investigate the circumstances of the arrest of Anne Auguste (SÚ Ann), a well-known Haitian woman, who was arrested on or about 12:30 a.m., May 10, 2004, by U.S. military personnel in Haiti, acting as part of the Multinational Interim Force (MIF). I have seen reports that indicate that U.S. soldiers blew up the gates at Anne Auguste's home with grenades and entered her house carrying machine guns. Eleven occupants of the house, including two children, were taken into custody and interrogated. Anne Auguste was arrested and transferred to the Haitian National Penitentiary.
"Ms. Auguste is an elderly Haitian woman on medication who is recovering from recent surgery. Her grandson, who was one of the children detained and who was placed in handcuffs, is a five-year-old boy. It is virtually impossible to believe that an elderly woman and a child needed to be subjected to such overwhelming force, even if the MIF deemed it necessary to interrogate them. Ms. Auguste remains under arrest. While she was finally taken before a judge today, she still has not been charged with any crime.
"It is critical that you explain why Ms. Auguste is being detained or release her immediately. I urge you to conduct an immediate investigation into the circumstances surrounding her arrest in order to determine the reasons for her arrest, the charges against her - if any - and whether excessive force was used against her or other occupants of her household. If it is determined that excessive force was used, it is imperative that you act to hold accountable those who were responsible.
"Finally, I urge you to monitor the actions of U.S. armed forces in Haiti and ensure that they not take any actions that could endanger the very Haitian people whom you say they are there to protect. I would appreciate it if you would contact me as soon as possible to clarify the circumstances of Anne Auguste's arrest and to advise how you intend to proceed. I look forward to your prompt response.
"Maxine Waters, Member of Congress"
As far as the question of who fired upon me, I stated earlier it was elements of the Haitian SWAT team who were being "assisted," to use Lapan's word, by the U.S. Marines. That does not mean that I was not threatened by the U.S. Marines. Before the killing of Titus Simpton, I was disgusted, as an observer and journalist, to see how the U.S. Marines coordinated and provided cover for the Haitian National Police to attack the peaceful march by Lavalas on May 18.
As I was filming in one of the calmer moments of that day, one of the Marine grunts asked me, "What's up?" I made the mistake of giving him my honest opinion, to which his commanding officer on the scene responded by threatening to handcuff me and arrest me on the spot.
I provided him with my press credentials and asked him to identify himself. He purposely hid his name tag under the strap of his M-16 and refused three requests I made for him to identify himself. He threatened me again with immediate arrest if I did not leave "his" Marines alone.
I considered it a display of arrogance and abuse of authority that has come to symbolize the U.S. Marine presence in Haiti. In my opinion, the Marines are being used as pawns in a foreign policy debacle in the making by the Bush administration.
The U.S. forces are now trying to pretend they have no control over the Haitian police, while they were clearly seen collaborating and directing their movements. Even if Titus Simpton was the only murder victim on May 18, my photo of him drawing his last breath before dying is a symbol for the new nightmare the Bush administration now calls democracy in Haiti.
The Haitian people deserve better, the average American soldier deserves better and the American people deserve better.
Kevin Pina is associate editor of the Black Commentator (www.blackcommentator.com) and special correspondent for Flashpoints on KPFA radio in Berkeley, the flagship station of the Pacifica Radio Network.