Residents of Martissant, a sprawling poor section along the southern part of Port-au-Prince, have accused Lame Ti Manchèt (the Little Machete Army), a civilian vigilante group, of having a role in the killing of freelance photojournalist Jean-Rémy Badio on January 19 2006. According to SOS Journalistes, of which Badio was a member, he was assassinated after taking photos of the killers. They state that his family received multiple death threats. Agence Haitïenne de Presse (AHP) reports that according to Badio’s close friends the victim had been the object of death threats from members of the vigilante group "the Little Machete Army" and that "residents of Martissant accuse the Little Machete Army of committing most of the killings in the area".
An early press release put out by the Paris based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) attempted to place the blame for the murder on not only Lame Ti Manchèt but also another group known as Baz Gran Ravine which has no reported involvement in the killing. RSF’s Directrice générale in Canada Emily Jacquard wrote, "Two armed gangs – Lame Ti Manchèt (Little Machete Army) and Baz Gran Ravin (Big Ravine Base) – have been fighting for the control of Martissant for the past two years".
The report, without mentioning the resident’s charges against Lame Ti Manchèt for having a role in the murder of Badio, also failed to mention that the overwhelming amount of documented political killings in Martissant over the last two years have been conducted by Lame Ti Manchèt, this includes a massacre of 21 people, the burning down of 300 homes 7/9/06, and a massacre carried out jointly with the Haitian police at a USAID sponsored soccer tournament 8/20/05. In contrast to massive evidence showing violent rampages by Lame Ti Manchèt, people on the ground in Martissant consistently explain that since 2004 the Baz Gran Ravin (Big Ravine Base) has served as a self-defense grouping.
Soon after the 2004 coup it is believed that Lame Ti Manchèt came into existence under the tutelage of the illegal Latortue regime whose mission was to "eliminate people hostile to the interim regime". (AHP 1/23/07) A young journalist Abdias Jean was executed, with a bullet in his head, by police of the interim government in January of 2005. RSF and other groups seen as partial to Haiti’s interim authorities failed to report on the killing.
According to reports from AUMOHD, a human rights group active in Martisant, the 2006 massacre conducted by Lame Ti Manchèt "was meant as a smoke screen to provoke Baz Gran Ravine into a retaliation and thereby distract from the push to get police and civilians involved with Lame Ti Manchèt into jail. AUMOHD’S community human rights council (CHRC) coordinator, Esterne Bruner, was assassinated by Lame Ti Manchèt 9/21/06. But there has not been any retaliation reported. Instead the CHRC, non-violent and non-partisan, continues to prosecute all the killings".
The Institute for Justice and Democracy (IJDH) in Haiti observes, "The Little Machete Army will keep going until someone stops them. They carried out the August 2005 soccer game massacre with the help of police, and right near a MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti) observation post. Then they struck again the next day, burning house after house. They did a series of attacks in the summer of 2006. But neither MINUSTAH nor the PNH will go in and arrest the leaders."
Footage from the August 2005 soccer game massacre appeared in New York Times author Walt Bogdanich’s documentary "Haiti: Democracy Undone". It shows well equiped police officers, with Lame Ti Manchèt serving as police attaches, running into a screaming crowd.
Under international pressure from human rights groups, the PNH with the assistance of Sri Lankan MINUSTAH troop succesfully arrested and jailed fifteen members of the Haitian police department cited in the official police investigation as working with Lame Ti Manchèt. But the arrested individuals were released on personal recognizance in February of 2006. On October 19 2006 Judge Peres Paul issued his final judgment releasing all the police officers from any responsibility but named civilians in the case who he referred to criminal court.
Human rights organizations have decried Judge Peres Paul, who as a supporter of the interim government, released police officers that were known to be working with Lame Ti Manchèt. PNH chief Mario Andersol later criticized corruption among the judiciary, a group of whom went on strike in response. The civilian members of Lame Ti Manchèt referred to criminal court by Judge Peres Paul were Marck alias Ti Ink, Tél Kale, Kiki Ainsi Connu, Roland Toussaint, Frantz alias Gerald Gwo Lombrit, Roudy Kernisan alias commandante Roudy (head of Lame Ti Manchèt), Carlo alias Choupit, and Jean Yves alias Brown.
Guyler Delva of the Haitian Associaon of Journalists (AJH) has denounced the killing of Badio on numerous Haitian media outlets. Amnesty International has also issued a press release denouncing the killing of Badio. The Associate Press reports that Fred Blaise, a U.N. police spokesman, explained that gang members were suspected in the shooting but no arrests have been made. Following the recent murder of Badio, Haiti’s Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis authorized MINUSTAH soldiers to increase patrols in Martissant.
Thousands have been killed in Haiti since the unconstitutional overthrow of its elected government in February 2004. A scientific study done through random spatial sampling and published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, found that between early 2004 to mid 2006, 4,000 people were killed by the interim government’s forces and its armed supporters in the greater Port-au-Prince area. The second half of the study which its authors presented this month shows that the vast majority of those targeted were supporters of Lavalas and Lespwa.
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JEB SPRAGUE is a graduate student and freelance journalist.