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News :: Human Rights
Hatians Protest Flag Day: U.S. Marines Preside Over Massacre
01 Jun 2004

By G. Dunkel
Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the June 3, 2004
issue of Workers World newspaper


By G. Dunkel

May 18 is Flag Day in Haiti. The holiday marks Jean-Jacques Dessalines'
creation of the Haitian flag 201 years ago during the final struggle
against the French slave masters. This year it was the occasion for a
major outpouring of protest against the Feb. 29 coup that ousted
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the ongoing U.S.-French occupation.

In Port-au-Prince, thousands of people gathered in the poor neighborhood
of Belair starting at 8 o'clock in the morning. By 9:45 they were
marching from the Per petual Church toward the Champ de Mars, a park in
front of the Presidential Palace. They sang "Liberty or death" (Libète
ou lamò), the slogan that Dessalines adopted along with the flag, and
chanted "Return our elected president Jean-Bertrand."

Marchers also denounced rampant infla tion, cuts in wages, and witch hunts
against Aristide supporters by the former military and FRAPH death squad

Within a few blocks they met a line of Haitian National Police (PNH)
backed up by U.S. Marines with heavy machine guns and armored personnel
carriers. The cops fired tear gas and bullets into the air, and then at
the protesters. At least one protester, Saintus "Titus" Simpson, was
shot in the head and died.

The demonstrators retreated and broke into smaller groups, spreading out
to the poorer sections of the capital. Soon contingents had gathered in
Solino, Fort National and Lalue, as well as Belair, and headed again
toward the Champ de Mars. The protests continued into the evening, with
more casualties.

Marguerite Laurent of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership, citing sources at
the scene, said police killed at least four demonstrators. Radio Ginen,
a local station in Port-au-Prince, said it had reports of at least nine
demonstrators killed.

According to Laurent, "One woman seized the fourth body that fell next
to her, refused to give it to the Marines. She removed all her clothes
to show she had no weapons while Marines surrounded her at gunpoint as
she cursed in Creole, calling on the revolutionary ancestors, and
shouted 'Liberte ou lamo!' She picked up the dead body herself and put
it on her bare back, daring the Marines to kill her also while she
carried it away.

"Reportedly, the 'blan' [white soldiers] looked at each other, shook
their heads and backed off, letting her carry the body, which she
wrapped around her naked torso in a huge blue and red Haitian flag."

Haiti Progress newspaper reported some demonstrators started chanting
"Sèl solisyon se yon revolisyon" ("The sole solution is a revolution")
as the day wore on because it's impossible to celebrate Haiti's Flag Day
or have an election under occupation.

U.S. Marines and the PNH claimed this was an illegal demonstration. But
protest organizers from Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas party had a sealed and
dated permit.

The role of the U.S. Marines was key. A march participant said, "It's
unbelievable how the U.S. Marines stood in the background sometimes as
the disbanded soldiers and FRAPH soldiers, now in the police,
slaughtered the marchers. If they [the Marines] weren't there, the
people would take down the hated soldiers and take back their country."

Laurent said that many marchers believed that the violent arrest of
popular singer and Aristide supporter Sò Ann (Annette Auguste) in the
early hours of May 10 was calculated to stop the May 18 march from
taking place.

At 12:30 a.m., a Special Forces squad of approximately 20 U.S. Marines
executed a military assault on the home of this 69-year-old grandmother,
who just left the hospital. All 11 people in the house, including Sò
Ann's 5-year-old grandchild, were hooded, handcuffed and forced to lie
on the ground while Marines ransacked the house.

- END -
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