As President convalesces in Florida, confusion and chaos grow in Haiti

Protest of killing of policeman Walky Calixte on April 17, photo Melinda Miles.jpg
Protest of killing of policeman Walky Calixte on April 17, photo Melinda Miles

By Kim Ives and Isabelle Papillon, published in Haiti Liberte, April 25, 2012

Nearly a year after President Joseph Michel Martelly's inauguration, Haiti appears to be descending into anarchy. Rebellion among policemen and former soldiers is growing, and several high profile killings have contributed to the atmosphere of crisis permeating the country.

Meanwhile, rumors and doubts about President Martelly's health continue to swirl as he reportedly recuperates out of the country from a post-surgery pulmonary embolism which caused him to fly hastily to Miami on April 16. He had been in Florida from April 4 to 12 to undergo shoulder surgery.

On April 17, a few dozen former soldiers, many of them armed, barged into a session of Haiti's deputies to demand that they ratify Martelly's Prime Minister nominee, acting Foreign Minister Laurent Lamothe. Intimidated, the deputies adjourned, although they had been meeting to review Lamothe's ratification.

Acting Prime Minister Garry Conille, who resigned under pressure from Martelly on Feb. 24, called the paramilitaries' action an "assault on the public order" and called an emergency meeting of all the acting ministers for April 18. Not one of them showed up, presumably in solidarity with Martelly. Senator Kély Bastien described the ministers' boycott of the meeting "rebellious," but it was not the first time they had refused to be summoned by Conille.

On April 19, Conille convened a meeting of the Supreme Council of National Police (CSPN), including Justice Minister Michel Pierre Brunache and Haitian National Police (PNH) chief Mario Andrésol. The meeting, which failed to produce any plan of action, was also attended by representatives of the international community. "If the presence of armed men does not bother the Executive, it is because it feels comfortable" with them, said Senator Kély C. Bastien.

Senator Andrice Riché was more direct. "No paramilitary force could exist in the [national] territory without the complicity, tolerance and the blessing of those in power," he said. "Democracy is in danger."

The Chamber of Deputies announced a work stoppage to protest the paramilitaries' assault. The lower house's first secretary, Jude Charles Faustin, said that the deputies would not resume their posts until they got a satisfactory explanation from Martelly's executive.

On April 23, Lamothe submitted 59 personal documents to the deputies, which a special commission of the lower house will review for ratification.

Police in rebellion over murder of a colleague Meanwhile, a policeman's murder, also on April 17, has sparked demonstrations and a walkout by PNH officers. In broad daylight in the capital's Martissant 27 neighborhood, gunmen fatally shot and then stole the vehicle of Walky Calixte, 27, an Agent II assigned to the Directorate of Traffic and the Traffic Police (DCPR).

Walky's killing came hours after he arrested the driver and close associate of Port-au-Prince legislative deputy Rodriguez Séjour for illegal possession of a firearm. The driver was later released after the intervention of senior state officials, including Justice Minister Brunache and District Attorney Jean Renel Sénatus.

Upon his release and accompanied by Deputy Rodriguez, the driver is said to have uttered death threats against Walky Calixte. Three hours later, the policeman was dead.

The next day, April 18, Deputy Séjour went to Radio Caraïbes to deny reports he was the "intellectual author" of Walky's murder. Policemen descended on the station, firing their guns off outside and demanding his immediate arrest. The deputy barely escaped from the radio in a chaotic scene.

Since then, the police have been on strike in solidarity with their slain colleague, creating massive traffic jams throughout the capital. In Carrefour, on the Rues des Rails, area residents held protests on April 19 and 20 to protest Walky Calixte's killing. The residents said that Calixte was an "exemplary man" who was part of the PNH's 18th promotion and graduated with a psychology degree from the State University's Faculty of Humanities.

More protests involving burning tire barricades were held in the capital on April 23, paralyzing traffic and commerce. The policemen's strike call has been 90% respected. Almost nowhere in Port-au-Prince does one see a policeman on the street.

Demonstrators say their movement is not just for Walky but for all police officers enduring mistreatment from Haitian authorities who think they are above the law. Walky's father, Ezekiel Calixte, said his son played a major role in supporting the family. "The best assistance that we expect from the authorities is that they provide justice for our son," he said.

Judicial authorities and the police say they are vigorously investigating Calixte's murder. District Attorney Sénatus said he has already issued arrest warrants for suspects. One of Walky's suspected killers known as "Johnny," wounded in the thigh and groin by the slain policeman, died from his wounds at the Cuban-run Peace Hospital on Delmas 31, Sénatus said.

The killing has also created tension in the Chamber of Deputies. The lower house's president said that Deputy Séjour, who still has parliamentary immunity from prosecution, is now in a safe place until the investigation sheds more light on the matter.

Police chief Andrésol has sought to calm the PNH ranks and get them back to work. "The police are not allowed to strike or to take part in protests," Andrésol publicly declared on April 23. "All sorts of people are now trying to manipulate the police, including drug traffickers and those who cannot enter the institution."

On the evening of April 18, another murder shook the country. At the Haitian/Dominican border town of Fond Parisien, Calixte Valentin, one of President Martelly's close political advisors, allegedly shot dead a merchant, Octanol Dérissaint. Killed with three rounds, Dérissaint, 32, was the father of two children, including a three-month-old infant.

On April 20, the district attorney for the jurisdiction of Croix-des-Bouquets, Mario Beauvoir, arrested Valentin, who was then transported to a jail in Port-au-Prince.

As the situation worsens, politicians are weighing in. "We are in a country which is like an aircraft without a pilot, a ship without a rudder," said Mirlande Manigat, Martelly's challenger in the March 20, 2011 election, noting that during Martelly's absence this month there is no real prime minister, only the resigned Conille, to step in and assume the reins of power. "So the state has no leader right now in Haiti."

Deputy Accluche Louis-Jeune of the OPL for the Dame-Marie constituency opined that the "political situation in Haiti has never been so confused. We are facing a real political imbroglio compounded by a set of affairs which are sensitive, to say the least. Parliament is unable to assume its role as the final bulwark, and the Executive is in agony." He appealed for an emergency convention for "a political dialogue with all forces in the country" to avoid the country's "total collapse."

Haiti's progressive forces, grouped in anti-imperialist organizations, fronts, unions, and parties, are preparing for severe political turbulence in the weeks ahead, as different factions of Haiti's ruling groups vie for power. Although weakened by the 2004-2006 coup d'état and disenfranchised by the illegal 2010/2011 elections, Haiti's popular sector has been regaining its strength and organizational footing.
 
"The people must get ready to rise up," said Sen. Moïse Jean-Charles, who has led the charge in Parliament against the Martelly regime's corruption and flouting of the Constitution. "We have to gird ourselves to save this country from the disaster that Martelly has brought upon us."