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17449: (Chamberlain) Gangsters switch sides in Haiti (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
Gangsters Switch Teams, Some Remain Militantly Pro-Aristide
By Amy Bracken
PORT-AU-PRINCE, 26 Nov 03 (IPS/GIN) -- It is a fairly common practice at
Haitian funerals to wear T-shirts bearing the name and a silk-screened
photo of the deceased.
At the ceremony for Rodson "Colibri" Lemaire on Nov. 13, the shirt fronts
were standard : "Adieu Colibri" written around a picture of an
angry-looking 23-year-old - yet another casualty of the gang war that
plagues the capital’s slum Cit‚ Soleil.
But the words on the backs of the shirts suggest that this particular
murder marked a turn in the significance of the war : "Thank you, Mayor
Fritz Joseph, for this blow !"
Immediately after the gang member was shot to death with 19 bullets on Oct.
31, friends and family hurled accusations at rival gang leader Fleurival
They said Wilme organized the murder under orders from Mayor Joseph and
local police, on a mission to eliminate gangs that posed a threat to
President Jean-Bertrand-Aristide followers into the streets to call for his
These are the "chimeres" (pro-government gangsters) or "OPS Lavalas"
(popular organizations fighting for the parts in power) that regularly
disrupt anti-government rallies by throwing rocks, waving guns or yelling
threats. Now hundreds of these rebels are turning against the president,
defying simple labels and possibly reshaping the landscape of political
First in Gonaives, now in Cit‚ Soleil, President Aristide and some local
politicians have suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of the bad
As with the murder of Amiot "Cubain" M‚tayer, a gang leader who controlled
the port town of Gonaives, last September, supporters of Colibri - the word
for a Haitian hummingbird - reacted to his death by taking to the streets
to call for an end to Aristides’ reign.
In the seven weeks since M‚tayer’s death, more than 20 people have been
killed Gonaives. In the two weeks since Colibri’s demise, at least seven
people have been killed in Cit‚ Soleil. In both cases, demonstrators say
they will not stop asking for his resignation until Aristide steps down.
But there are some clear differences between the cases of Genovese and Cit‚
In the latter, the death toll after Colibri’s murder reflected little more
than the continuation of a trend (people had been killed in gang violence
each week before then). In Cit‚ Soleil the fight is essentially between
rival gangs with unclear connections with the police commissariat, the
magistrate and the president. In Genovese, the fight is between M‚tayer’s
followers and the police.
All this suggests that politics, the probable source of violence in
Genovese, might be merely a pretext for the gang violence in Cit‚ Soleil.
However, like in Genovese, some gangsters in Cit‚ Soleil, when they speak
of Aristide, speak of betrayal.
Robenson "Labanye" Thomas, the head of Colbiri’s gang, after whom the gang
is named, is in hiding. Other members of the gang, which dominates the
Boston district of Cit‚ Soleil, are eager tot speak their minds.
"It’s Labanye who helped Aristide become president," said gang member
Mesidor Berthony. But Labanye later changed his mind about the president,
he said, and now "Wilme is collaborating with Joseph and the police to kill
anti-Aristide gang members."
Guillaume Sanon, also a gang member, said the Aristide of today is a
different person from Aristide the priest of the 1990’s
"Aristide used to come all the time to Cit‚ Soleil to talk to the people.
Now he never comes," he said. "The former Aristide would never accept
people suffering in Cit‚ Soleil. Now he doesn’t care."
Sanon said Colibri had helped Aristide by attacking his opponents.
"Aristide is expressing his ingratitude toward Colibri."
Sanon said despite Colibri’s work for the president, the deceased wound up
penniless and that the family and gang had to raise money for his funeral.
The event ended up being a joint funeral, with the coffins of three
strangers lined up at the front of the church.
"Dread" Wilme, so named because of his long, uneven dread locks, leads the
gang that dominates the Drouillard neighborhood of Cit‚ Soleil. He appears
to have money, especially with his new basketball outfit-matching blue and
yellow down to the shoes, and his collection of expensive firearms. But his
house, where he lived with his wife and three young children until they
fled for safety, is a spare shack with little more than a television, and
he said he takes no money from police or government.
Wilme, whose shoulder bears a clearly recent bullet wound he said he
received from a Boston gangster, condemned his rival gang for its
opposition to the president.
"I’m not okay with people who say down with Aristide," he said. "I don’t
tolerate that. The Labanye gang is not chief of the country, so I don’t
accept Labanye demonstrating against Aristide."
Wilme said the only solution to Cit‚ Soleil’s violence is to get ride of
Sanon of Labanye said the solution is for human rights organizations and
the international community to intervene to protect him and his fellow gang
After Colibri’s death, Organization of American States (OAS) special
mission representative David Lee issued a statement expressing regret that
the victim had been executed rather than brought to justice for crimes
against humanity. Lee had made the same statement after the death of
Like M‚tayer, Colibri had attacked anti-Aristide protesters, including the
Group of 184, a large and growing coalition of organizations calling for
Aristide’s departure from office.
Now the deceased gangsters’ followers are taking to the streets to say
exactly what 184 is saying : Aristide must go. This is why Interior
Minister Jocelerme Privert and government spokesman Mario Dupuy both call
these gangs "the armed branch of the opposition." And Lavalas spokesman
Jonas Petit said M‚tayer’s followers turned against the president when they
were adopted by the opposition.
Both sides deny any collaboration, or even contact, with each other. But
members of the opposition champion the cause of the new enemies of their
enemies, backing them in their accusations that the president was behind
the murders of M‚tayer and Colibri.
Dr. Luc Mesadieu, a surgeon and dentist who heads the opposition party
MOCHRENA, the Christian Movement for a New Haiti, divides his time between
Port-au-Prince and Genovese, where MOCHRENA is based, and where Mesadieu
and others in the organization have been under attack from M‚tayer and his
followers for years.
In 2001, the vice-president of MOCHRENA’s house was torched by M‚tayer’s
gang. But Mesadieu believes that M‚tayer’s followers are in the right
today. "Now those members of the gang understand very well the politics of
Aristide," said Mesadieu, and they are broadcasting this to the world.
But is it really beneficial to have some, even a minority, of the gangsters
on one’s side ?
An anti-Aristide march of roughly 350 university students in Port-au-Prince
on Nov. 15 was mostly peaceful, but it became messy at the end when rocks
where thrown, and not only by pro- Aristide thugs trying to break up the
protest. Some protesters reportedly threw rocks at counter- demonstrators
This made demonstrators look bad enough that Aristide’s foreign press
liaison Michelle Karshan took the unlikely step of circulating by email an
Associated Press article about an anti-Aristide protest.
And still Aristide clearly continues to have the support of a powerful
group of gangsters. On Nov.15, a Group 184 demonstration near the National
Palace drew thousands of Aristide opponents from across the country, but
their demonstration was disrupted by thousands of Aristide supporters, some
throwing rocks and even attacking at least one anti-Aristide protester.
The pro-Aristide rock-throwers have done their cause a disservice by
creating a strong link in the minds of government skeptics, including the
international community, between the governing party and violence. If more
gangsters switch sides, one can only wait and see if it will bring peace or
merely less credibility to the side that opposes the president.