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17374: Fuller: Anti-Lavalas protests in Cit Soleil: what's going on?
From: Anne Fuller <firstname.lastname@example.org>
from the Nov. 19-25, 2003 Haitian Times
Anti-Lavalas protests in Cité Soleil: what's going on?
By Anne Fuller
Special to The Haitian Times
There was unusual news in early November from Cité Soleil, heretofore a
fortress of support for Lavalas: demonstrations against President Aristide.
As in Gonaïves, bands of once unconditional Aristide defenders turned almost
overnight into ferocious opponents. For Cité Soleil, the decisive moment
was the October 31 assassination of the gang leader known as "Kolobri."
However this situation may evolve-the possibilities certainly include
further killings as well as new political switches-it is worth trying to
understand how Cité Soleil got to this point and what that says about Haiti
Kolobri, or Rodson Lemaire, only 23 years old, was perhaps the most feared
gang leader in the Cité. He was chief lieutenant and enforcer for "Labanyè"
(Thomas Robenson) who heads the once dominant baz from the Boston section.
Together they had killed and robbed a not insignificant number of other Cité
Labanyè and Kolobri, as they are universally known, were the kings of Cité
Soleil for less than three years- receiving invitations to the national
palace and special treatment from long-time departmental police director
Hermione Leonard. Their careers were a mixture of lurid crimes and
political operations and neither got rich; it seems almost poignant that
Kolobri's family and cronies must collect funds in order to bury him.
The gangs of Cité Soleil have been on-and-off allies of the police and the
national palace since at least 1996. The relationship goes far beyond
informer & cop, as is common in many places; fundamentally it is a political
relationship. The gangs carry out their criminal activities with impunity
as long as they help the police and political leaders.
Kolobri and his fellows often took their place among the Brigades Speciales
or BS forces that have been denounced by human rights groups, during
sensitive political operations. The most extraordinary and confirmable such
incident occurred in October of last year. Under pressure from the
international community to comply with OAS resolutions, the police force
undertook a number of highly publicized disarmament operations, including
one in Cité Soleil. On the afternoon of October 17, director Hermione
Leonard informed the gang leaders of her plans and then, helpfully,
collected their weapons and stashed them safely outside the Cité. That
night, she provided Labanyè, Kolobri and four others with police uniforms
and masks or cagoules. The gang members took places alongside police, not
all of whom knew what was going on, as they entered the Cité for an
imaginary disarmament operation. Mme. Leonard returned the stashed weapons
the next day.
Kolobri and Labanyè also led the group that at the behest of another local
police chief ambushed opposition activist Carline Simone in March 2003 when
she went to a meeting near Cité Soleil. She and her husband then spent
several days in illegal detention, before being freed following
And the two were key actors in the preparation of Cité Soleil's response to
the Group of 184's Caravan of Hope visit July 12. The then chief of
presidential security, Oriel Jean passed the word to Labanyè and Kolobri to
prepare burning tires, rocks and a propaganda campaign. Johnny Occilius, a
smart and savvy young popular organization leader with a no-show patronage
job at the Cité Soleil city hall, was party to the plans, but unbeknownst to
the others, was getting ready to tell all.
A few weeks earlier his government handlers had asked Occilius to help them
finger Kolobri, Labanyè and their high-ranking patron, Hermione Leonard, for
elimination as political liabilities. Already disillusioned with the
cynicism of his political missions, Occilius drew a line at involvement in
murder and made his well-known decision to leave the country. His
revelations rocked the political class certainly, but they shook Kolobri,
Labanyè and Hermione Leonard, too. The first public sign of this came
September 8, when the motorcade of President Aristide was stoned inside Cité
Soleil. After that, the Boston gang leaders began seeking ways out of
The new great Lavalas loyalist in Cité Soleil is Emmanuel "Dread" Wilmé, who
has been the arch rival of Labanyè and Kolobri since he lost a bloody
two-week confrontation in August and September of 2002. At least 20 people
died there, including three children and an old woman who burned to death in
some of the score of houses set afire. Labanyè, Kolobri, and their late
cohort Maxon Moreau (known as "Kolonel Gay" or "Ti Frè") forced Dread Wilmé
and many others to abandon their homes in the Cité. Wilmé and his allies
skirmished several times trying to get back in. On October 12, 2002, they
killed 12 people in Boston-controlled areas, but Boston retaliated and
executed an equal number in Bois Neuf, and held onto control. Dread Wilmé
is only 22 and spent part of his early life in President Aristide's Lafanmi
Selavi shelter for street kids.
Labanyè's erstwhile ally Maxon Moreau was not long for the world. More of
an outright criminal than a political operative, which was likely his
undoing, Ti Frè was 24 when his one-time partners, with police back-up, shot
him to death on November 7, 2002. His two brothers were executed the same
day; altogether they left eight young children.
Now, a year later it was Kolobri's turn. Labanyè told reporters this week
that his comrade had been ambushed by police. He charged that interior
minister Jocelerme Privert and Jean-Claude Jean-Baptiste, the former police
director who is an intimate of the president, were out to kill him. It is a
bitter betrayal he says, by President Aristide for whom he has given
It is a very nasty picture. A long-time Port-au-Prince human rights
monitor describes seeing three generations of Cité Soleil political/criminal
thugs rise and perish since 1994. Their life expectancy is very short; yet
young men whose world is the streets of Cité Soleil and whose ambitions do
not rise beyond it, continue to be recruited, used and then destroyed by
cynical political leaders.
Anne Fuller recently left the OAS Special Mission to Strengthen Democracy in
Haiti, where she was a human rights specialist. She is the author of
numerous reports on human rights in Haiti since 1988.