Haiti, Miami, and Violent Rebellion

The Metayer brothers and the fall of Jean-Bertrand Aristide

The United States, meanwhile, had begun withholding aid money from Aristide's government and redirecting it to nongovernmental organizations. U.S. officials were pressuring Aristide on a host of issues; if he wanted the flow of money to resume, he had to take steps to reform the police and disarm the OPs. They also brought up another nettlesome subject: Amiot Metayer. On September 22, 2003, Metayer's mutilated corpse was found in the port city of St. Marc, about 25 miles south of Gonaives.

It was a convenient end to an inconvenient man.

Haiti in revolt (clockwise top left): Butteur Metayer 
touring the streets of Gonaives; the bust of his 
murdered brother Amiot above his grave; the Gonaives 
police station after the rampage
Photos by Tristram Korten
Haiti in revolt (clockwise top left): Butteur Metayer touring the streets of Gonaives; the bust of his murdered brother Amiot above his grave; the Gonaives police station after the rampage

"We talked with Cubain the day before," recounted Jacques Antoine Madene, the Metayers' cousin who lives in North Miami, using Amiot's nickname. "Butteur was staying with me for vacation."

During the conversation, Madene said, both he and Butteur warned Amiot to be safe. "I told him: 'My cousin, you be very careful. This month is very dangerous.' Butteur told him, too: 'Don't go out. I don't want anything to happen while I'm not there.' And Cubain says, 'I'm not going out, I'm staying home. To prove it to you, a friend came up from Port-au-Prince to visit. We stay here and have some drinks.'"

The friend was Odonel Paul, a former employee at the National Palace. Paul is now suspected of killing Metayer.

Madene, along with Butteur and his mother and other family members, returned to Haiti for the funeral. Afterward, Butteur decided he would remain and fight. But he took his family to the airport in Port-au-Prince to send them back to Miami. Government officials approached him there and took him to meet with Aristide. According to Butteur, Aristide expressed sorrow over his brother's death, asserted that he was not involved in the murder, and that the people of Gonaives needed peace now. He then presented Butteur with a check for traveling expenses: "Aristide give me like $6000 and say, 'I'm going to give you justice, Butteur, don't worry about that.' I say, 'You cannot buy my brother for $6000.'" He refused to accept the money. (Ira Kurzban, general counsel for Aristide's government, confirms that the president made an offer "of assistance" to Butteur and his mother to express his condolences.)

Aristide ordered that Butteur be escorted back to the airport and put on a plane to Miami. But Butteur feigned that he had left his passport in Gonaives. The officials reluctantly agreed to drive him home to retrieve the document. After they departed, however, Jacques Madene called members of the Cannibal Army from the airport. When Butteur arrived in Gonaives and entered his brother's home, supporters were waiting. They locked the door and told the officials to leave.

A war had started.

The fighting in Gonaives was intense. After months of street riots, Butteur's men attacked the police station in early February. Fire and bullets masticated the structure into fist-size chunks of concrete. The burned-out frames of at least ten vehicles still lie scattered in front. A special police force, aided, some say, by OPs (also called chimeres, a term that has come to mean thug), arrived from Port-au-Prince but were repelled in a firefight that left many dead. The Cannibal Army, now renamed the Liberation Front, was joined by Guy Philippe, an exiled police chief implicated in a previous coup attempt, and Louis Jodel Chamblain, a former military officer accused of human-rights violations. They brought truckloads of reinforcements. (Kurzban maintains Butteur was merely a convenient front for these men, who had conspired a long time for this coup.)

"It's a big fight," Butteur told me. Then, motioning to a new four-wheel-drive Hyundai Terracan, he added, "That's why I've got this car, the chimeres Lavalas come in this car and we kill them and take their car. We got like eighteen car like that."

The government collapsed, the police fled, and Butteur was now the sole authority figure in the region. He spends his time roaming the dusty streets of Gonaives and its outlying villages with his rebel guards, young men in floppy hats and T-shirts who tote automatic weapons. They monitor the cleanup effort as civilians dig out from the ravages of battle. At the height of the fighting a month ago, the roads were impassable, strewn with burning tires, cement blocks, and the scorched carcasses of cars. Now most of the streets are clear.

Butteur pointed to the lines of smartly dressed children in blue school uniforms walking down the street. "You see what happen in Gonaives City?" he said. "No communauté international in Gonaives City, yet the school is open, the bank is open, no one go to rob the bank. We got good security in Gonaives City." He smiled. It was more than his countrymen in Port-au-Prince could say. There the schools remain closed and gunfire crackles day and night.

Butteur said he hopes to give up his weapons and return to a job he had at the port. But not until international forces are in place to ensure security. There are still chimeres in the hills. "We're waiting for the U.S. and the French," he reported. "I've already told them: When Aristide out of power, I put the gun down or give the gun to the new president. But not now, because without them we don't have no security in Gonaives City."

Then, he laughed, he can continue his vacation in Miami.

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