At least 9 demonstrators killed during
march on Haiti's Flag
Day Marchers face down US Marines, shout 'Liberty or death,' 'Bring back Aristide'
by Ezili Dantò
May 18 is Haiti's Flag Day, and a demonstration was planned and authorized by the police authorities. Copies of the authorization letter, dated May 10, were sent by Fanmi Lavalas to the United Nations, OAS and CARICOM.
Yet today the Haitian police, along with U.S. Marines, shot indiscriminately into the crowd aiming to break up the demonstration.
"They slapped us hard today," one of the demonstrators stated over the phone from Port-au-Prince. "But we slapped them right back because they thought all their killings of Lavalas and torturing had intimidated us all into hiding in our own country. They did not expect so many of us to take to the street to ask for the return of President Aristide and the disbanding of the army soldiers who are now running the Haitian National Police. That's why we slapped them back."
According to this source, which shall remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, the demonstration was to start in the Bel-Air neighborhood at 10:00 this morning, going on until 3 p.m. with a church service to follow.
Reports are still coming in as to exactly what happened, but according to eyewitnesses, around 8:00 this morning, as people assembled for the march, a force of U.S. Marines arrived in full combat gear and shot in the air to disperse them. They dispersed and reformed again at different locations throughout the city. This happened throughout the day.
The demonstrators were demanding a stop to the slaughter of Lavalas voters, a stop to the witch hunt and arbitrary arrests and tortures, the return of President Aristide and the removal of the U.S. Marines, other foreign troops and the rebel, ex-soldier police who are now terrorizing them hand in hand.
The demonstrators came out in massive numbers. They attempted to march peacefully and had no weapons, only the Haitian flag. But as the crowd got bigger, it is reported the Marines got madder and more surprised, more frustrated, and started shooting directly into the crowds. People in the hundreds of thousands were singing "Libete ou lamo" (Liberty or death) and refusing to be intimidated, even as their fellows kept being cut down by police and U.S. Marine bullets.
At least four people were killed in the area where the demonstrators who reached us by phone were demonstrating. The police and Marines took away three bodies. Other witnesses report at least five others have been slaughtered.
The demonstration was so large that no one could observe it all. Organizers say that 30,000 to 50,000 are estimated to have been in the streets at one time or another today.
At least three eyewitnesses corroborated this particular story: One Haitian woman seized the fourth body when it fell next to her, refused to give it to the Marines. She removed ALL her clothes to show she had no weapons while Marines surrounded her at gunpoint as she cursed in Kreyol (Creole), calling on the revolutionary ancestors and shouting "Liberte ou lamo!" She picked up the dead body herself and put it on her bare back, daring the Marines to kill her also while she carried it away.
People who saw this cannot stop talking about it, nor marveling and crying, all at the same time. Reportedly, the "blan" (the "white" soldiers) looked at each other, shook their heads and backed off, letting her carry the body which she wrapped around her naked torso in a huge blue and red Haitian flag. All the while singing "Bring back Aristide" and "Liberty or death."
Today's killings and arrests are seen by the demonstrators as part of the U.S.'s 14-year campaign to destroy the Haitian poor's thirst for their vote to be counted - just another elevated version for the hunting down of supporters of Fanmi Lavalas, the terror campaign aimed at the systematic dismantling of the party. For each one they kill, a thousand more branches will rise, one demonstrator told us over the phone, just like Toussaint L'Ouverture and President Aristide said when they both got abducted out of Haiti.
These Haitians we talked to believe that the violent arrest of renowned singer and humanitarian activist SÚ Anne (Annette Auguste) in the early hours of May 10 (see last week's Bay View) was intended to stop today's march from taking place. Yet they confirm the Lavalas cleansing, like ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, will only serve as a rallying point for the people to fight on until democracy is restored and the lawful and principled will of the Haitian masses is respected.
One Haitian directly involved in the march said, "It's unbelievable how the U.S. Marines stood in the background sometimes as the former disbanded soldiers and FRAPH soldiers, now in the police, slaughtered the marchers. If they (the U.S. Marines) weren't there, the people would take down the hated soldiers and take back their country."
Another responded, "President Aristide called for U.S. help to shore up our old civilian police. Bush sent the Marines to shore up the people's enemies, to help the rebels. Now they are doing this job, slaughtering Aristide supporters under the guise of being MIF (Multinational Interim Force) 'peacekeepers.'"
Reportedly, the Haitian National Police position today (www.AHPhaiti.org/ndujour.html) is that Lavalas officials did not have permission to demonstrate today because the police were not notified of the demonstration. The permit, however, signed by Altieor James of the Haitian National Police, duly approved the route and authorized the demonstration. The route to be taken has been clearly delineated in the request for the permit. A copy is available upon request.
Several tens of thousands of people began the march in Bel-Air and made their way toward the Champ-de-Mars, as planned. Nevertheless, throughout the day, the Haitian police, using a new SWAT unit called CIMO that includes the bloody former Haitian military, opened fire into the air and apparently also toward the ground.
The demonstrators retreated and the demonstration re-formed in other parts of the capital. Besides the four killings already mentioned, there are reports that an unknown number of demonstrators were also killed and their bodies taken away by police in plastic bags. Many others were arrested and put in custody.
The Multinational Interim Force was reportedly present in more massive numbers at the Champ-de-Mars and is said to have been very hostile, threatening and intimidating the demonstrators, aiming their weapons at them and doing nothing to restrain the Haitian police as they slaughtered the unarmed demonstrators.
The U.S. Marines shot twice at an American journalist who was with the demonstrators filming the carnage - filming how this new CIMO Special Forces team from the Haitian police were slaughtering the people as the U.S. Marines stood in the background, when they weren't directly participating themselves.
The fact is that the demonstrators duly alerted the Haitian police about the demonstration a week ahead of time, sent a copy of the notification to the UN, OAS and CARICOM, and received written approval. Those facts should have required the U.S. Marines and other MIF to provide protection for the demonstrators.
Under no circumstances is there legal justification for the use of lethal force such as was used today by the U.S. Marines and former Haitian soldiers-now-turned-police against peaceful demonstrators.
It is also reported that "students who where demonstrating, prior to the coup d'Čtat, against President Aristide, have joined in with the Lavalas demonstrators demanding the occupation to end."
Eyewitnesses say that one Lavalas victim died in a hail of U.S. Marine bullets, falling back with one hand held high making the "five-year sign" for President Aristide to serve out his term and holding the Haitian blue and white flag in the other hand. His body was taken away by the U.S. Marines in a plastic bag.
At press time Tuesday night, witnesses are reporting U.S. Marine helicopters all over the poor neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince, flying low and landing with troops in full combat gear on wartime alert mode. A source who contacted MIF spokesperson Lt. Col. Lapan reports, "He said that there may be violence tonight, that he feels the day is not over yet.
Ezili Dantò/Marguerite Laurent, known as the hip hop lawyer, is an entertainment attorney and chair of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network, dedicated to protecting the civil, human and cultural rights of Haitians at home and abroad. Keep up with the latest news on Haiti at www.margueritelaurent.com/campaigns/campaigns.html and www.haitiaction.net.