Massacres perpetrated in the 20th Century in Haiti
1986-1991: Military Coups and post-Duvalier repression
Between the fall of the Duvalier regime in 1986 and the December 1990 election, a series of short-lived military governments and coups d’Etat punctuated the 5-year inter-regnum. After a short period of collective hope, political repression resumed. Several notorious macoutes, such as William Régala, one of those responsible for the Vêpres Jérémiennes, were promoted to political posts. During this period, the social movements fighting for the establishment of democracy, human rights and the rule of law were persecuted by the military, former macoutes and paramilitary groups called “attachés.” The military killed political activists and journalists and organized their “disappearance.” According to Pierre-Charles (2000: 208), more than 1,500 people disappeared between 1986 and 1990, most of them under the rule of General Henri Namphy, between March and October 1987.
1986 (April 26): Event known in collective memory as the “massacre of Fort-Dimanche.
Army soldiers and “attachés” opened fire on a peaceful demonstration attempting to honor the victims of the Duvalier regime in the Fort-Dimanche prison (the date of April 26th was also in reference to the 1963 killing). The number of victims was 15 according to collective memory and 8 according to the Human Rights Watch report (1996). To this day, no judicial inquiry has been opened on this event.
*** (NCHR, 1986: 18-19; Human Rights Watch, 1996)
1987 (July 1-3): Army soldiers killed 22 workers on strike in the harbor of Port-au-Prince.
The strikers were part of a broader movement for democracy. To this day, no judicial inquiry has been opened on this event.
*** (ICHR, 1988; Wilentz 1990; Pierre-Charles, 2000: 141)
1987 (July 23): Event known in collective memory as the “Jean-Rabel massacre.”
In the vicinity of Jean-Rabel (in the Northwest of the country), paramilitary groups led by macoutes and acting upon orders from a local land oligarch, Rémy Lucas, killed at least 139 peasants (300 according to various human rights groups and the OAS, and 1,042 according to Nicol Poitevien, one of the self-proclaimed assassins). Even the most conservative estimate makes it one of the largest massacres on a single day in Latin America in the 20th century. This massacre occurred a few days after Lieutenant-General Namphy, one of the leaders of the ruling junta at the time, visited the area and publicly supported the Lucas family and their rights to the land they claimed. The dysfunctional Haitian judicial system, plagued with incompetence and the lack of resources, was unable to carry out and conclude its investigation of this event. Faced with considerable pressure from human rights groups, the Minister of Justice eventually issued an arrest warrant on September 13, 1995. In January and February 1999, Rémy Lucas, Léonard Lucas and Jean-Michel Richardson were detained for a short period. On July 23, 1999, the Minister of Justice created a judicial commission to supervise the investigation which, to this day (May 2005), has still not been completed.
*** (ICHR, 1988: 81; United Nations, 2000: 9)
1987 (July 29): Army soldiers fired on a crowd protesting against the army’s celebration of the anniversary of the foundation of the macoutes.
The total number of victims, 22, was disputed. Soldiers collected several bodies, which were not seen again.
* Pierre-Charles (2000:143).
1987 (November 29): Event known in collective memory as the “massacre de la ruelle Vaillant.”
Under the rule of General Namphy, at dawn on an election day, a group of 50 to 60 armed men, composed of soldiers in civilian clothes as well as macoutes, killed at least 16 civilians in a polling station of the Ecole Nationale Argentine Bellegarde, a school in Port-au-Prince. The soldiers first shot at voters in the waiting line with automatic weapons, before continuing their attack with machetes inside the polling station. The fact that most of the victims were killed with machetes indicates that this was an attempt to terrorize the population and impede the voting process on that day. The total number of victims in Port-au-Prince that day was at least 34, although an observer interviewed by the ICHR (1988: 84) quoted the figure of 200. According to Danroc and Roussière (1995: 21), 60 other individuals were killed in the département (district) of Artibonite alone, also in an attempt to obstruct the election.
In 1991, the Minister of Justice of President Aristide’s first government accused army General Williams Régala, who was Minister of Defense at the time, of having ordered the killing and hence, requested his extradition from the Dominican Republic, where he was living in exile, but to no avail.
*** (ICHR, 1988: 81-84; Danroc and Roussière, 1995: 21; ICHR, 1992)
1988 (September 11): Event known as the “massacre de Saint-Jean Bosco.”
Under General Namphy’s rule, unidentified armed men (probably former macoutes) killed at least 13 individuals (and wounded 80 more) inside the Saint-Jean Bosco church in Port-au-Prince, during Sunday mass. The assault lasted three hours, during which the attackers faced no opposition from the army, whose barracks were located opposite the church. This church was the parish of the priest (and future President) Jean-Bertrand Aristide, then a staunch opponent of military rule and Duvalierism, who may have been the original target of the attackers, before he was evacuated from the church. In 1991, the Minister of Justice of President Aristide’s first government accused Frank Romain, who was Mayor of Port-au-Prince at the time, of having organized the killing and hence, requested his extradition from the Dominican Republic, where he was living in exile, but to no avail.
*** (ICHR, 1988: 22-23 and 103; ICHR, 1992)
1990 (March 12): Event known as the “massacre de Piatre” (also pronounced Piâtre or Piastre).
Under the rule of interim President Ertha Pascale Trouillot, in the rural area of Saint-Marc (in the Artibonite discrict, North of the capital), three dozen army soldiers and armed local civilians killed 11 peasants, in the villages of Piatre, Déjean, Dupervil, Ka Jan and Ti Plas, in the context of a land conflict between local peasants and big landowners. In December 2003, more than 13 years after the event, the investigative magistrate (who was the seventh to work on the case) issued a report indicting 53 suspects, including the various landowners and General Prosper Avril, for nine charges including murder.
*** (United Nations, 2000: 9, NCHR, 2004)
December 1990-September 1991: Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected President on December 16, 1990 and was sworn into office in January 1991.
He was overthrown and exiled on September 30, 1991.
1991 (January 7): In Port-au-Prince, mobs of civilians supporting President-elect Aristide chased and killed macoutes, alleged macoutes and other supporters and alleged supporters of the Duvalier regime, after a failed coup attempt led by chief macoutes and former government minister Roger Lafontant.
The exact number of victims still remains unknown. According to an OAS report (ICHR, 1991), which does not provide details on its sources and its methodology, 75 individuals were killed and 150 wounded, all of them (sic) macoutes or persons directly associated with Roger Lafontant. These figures were contested by interviewed witnesses. Many of the victims targeted were believed to be voodoo priests because of their alleged involvement with the Duvalier regime. The killings were part of déchoukaj against macoutes, who were attempting to interrupt the democratic process at the time. Jean-Bertrand Aristide had not been sworn in yet when this event took place, and the interim government was led by Mrs. Trouillot, a civilian.
* (These events were often mentioned in interviews with witnesses and in an OAS report (ICHR, 1991: 469) but no exhaustive study has been conducted on the subject
1991 (January 17): In Gervais, Artibonite, 12 peasants were killed and 8 “were disappeared” (while 20 others were wounded and 494 houses were allegedly set on fire).
The background of the event, the persons responsible for it and the perpetrators seem to remain subject to discussion. According to a diocesian commission (Danroc and Roussière, 1995: 160-162), which photo-documented the event, the perpetrators were an army unit assisted by armed men acting on behalf of a local landowner. According to an OAS report (ICRH, 1991), the roots of the killing lie in a land conflict in the village of Terre-Cassée, near Gervais, Guyton and Coligny, opposing several peasant families and local small landowners since 1973. A few days prior to January 17, a Justice of the Peace had ordered the arrest of 27 peasants from Gervais after the destruction of a storage area belonging to another party to the conflict. On January 17, the Section Chief (a local official) and his subordinates killed a peasant while executing the Judge’s arrest order. Shortly afterwards, peasants from Gervais avenged this by killing the Section Chief’s subordinates. Later on the same day, peasants from Guyton and Coligny, assisted by army soldiers from Saint-Marc, Artibonite, travelled to Gervais and carried out further killings in retaliation.
** (Danroc and Roussière, 1995: 160-162; ICHR, 1991: 470)