On the morning of February 5, moments before her umpteenth press conference, Cheryl Little received an unsettling phone call. For Little, the crusading supervising attorney at Miami's Haitian Refugee Center, unsettling phone calls have been part of the daily grind since a September 30 military coup toppled Haiti's fledgling democracy and spurred thousands to flee the island. The calls intensified in late November, after Little filed a suit against the United States government demanding that refugees at the naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, be granted fair interviews before repatriation.
Informants detailed abuses by Immigration and Naturalization Service personnel in Guantanamo, the duplicity of Washington's diplomatic corps and, more than anything, the violence done in Haiti to supporters of exiled president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Little, ever-wary of being fed false information, remained skeptical about the dispatches.
But the man who called her on February 5, she quickly decided, was no flake. In soft, measured tones, he told Little that 42 refugees, sent back to Haiti in November after brief INS interviews, had escaped the country again and been returned to Guantanamo in January. This time, however, the "double-backers" had provided stories of arrests and torture credible enough that the INS had granted 41 of them provisional asylum status.
If true, the accounts directly contradict the State Department's stubborn contention that Haitians are not being subjected to government reprisals upon return and strike at the cornerstone of the Supreme Court's January 31 decision to okay mass repatriations.
To check out the rumor, Little immediately phoned the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. Officials there not only confirmed the story, but faxed her five recent accounts given by double-backers to the commission's legal protection officer in Guantanamo. Eventually fifteen accounts were made available to refugee advocates, and, later, the media.
During the past week, the State Department has initiated investigations, and officials say their findings reveal blatant contradictions in several of the testimonials. In one case, says a State Department official, U.S. embassy staffers in Haiti interviewed two Haitians the double-backer said had been killed. In another case, a refugee claimed that he and fellow repatriates were rounded up and imprisoned. But inmates in the same Port-au-Prince prison, several of them foreigners, told embassy staff they'd never seen any repatriates jailed.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, adds that the State Department has eighteen staffers probing the claims full- or part-time. He admits the investigations do not conclusively refute the double-backers' claims, but maintains refugees have grossly exaggerated the danger they face in Haiti. "If this kind of random, scattershot violence is occurring, why aren't we seeing a flood of refugees heading over the border to the Dominican Republic?" he asks. "Why did the majority of the refugees given safe haven in Venezuela and Honduras choose to return to Haiti?"
Little, in turn, contends that embassy apparatchiks are hardly qualified to divine truth amid Haiti's jungle of political repression. "Come on," she scoffs. "If you were a Haitian activist approached by an official from the United States government for questioning, would you tell them everything you know? We're on the phone with people in Haiti every day who tell us that many returned refugees have gone into hiding, in fear for their lives."
Meanwhile, refugee advocates continue to compile affidavits from translators at Guantanamo, journalists, and activists in Haiti, asserting the dangers refugees face upon return and noting the slipshod nature of the INS's screening process. As of this past Friday, some 35 percent of the 15,000 refugees who have left Haiti since the coup have been granted provisional asylum status. More than 5000 refugees have been forcefully repatriated since the Court's ruling, which is being appealed. And of the more than 8000 who remain in Guantanamo, half have yet to be interviewed.
Amid all the bureaucratic bandying, something of the Haitians themselves, the people and their stories, seems to have been overlooked. Thus, the accounts below, transcribed directly from the United Nations' statements.
Bona fide horror stories?
In either case, they speak to the desperation of refugees who, having failed to preserve their own fragile forms of liberty, have been instructed to worship the U.S. version of democracy from a safe distance.
Individual Case: Similus, Thomas
Date of birth: 30 August 1970
Place of birth: La Gonave
Place of residence: Cite-Soleil (Port-au-Prince)
IC's father, a member of the Lavalas Party, was shot dead on 1 November 1991. IC was member of Association des Jeunes de Cite-Soleil, a pro-Aristide youth group. After soldiers came to IC's house to question him about his political activity, IC fled to La Gonave and left Haiti on 13 November. He fled along with his cousins, [illegible].
IC's boat was interdicted by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) on 14 November. IC had INS cutter interview, which lasted almost an hour. IC was brought to Guantanamo (GTMO), among a group of 245 Haitians. IC explains that of the 245, sixteen were permitted to stay in GTMO, while the remaining 229 were forcibly repatriated to Haiti aboard a USCG cutter on 17 November.
The cutter arrived in Port au Prince on 18 November. The pier was full of soldiers. IC saw foreign journalists on the dock. IC explains that the journalists spoke to some of the repatriates but left before the entire group was disembarked from cutter. Upon disembarkation, the soldiers lined up the repatriates into two rows and then escorted them into the Red Cross building. Inside this building, the Red Cross asked IC for his DOB, address, and signature and gave IC $10. After IC left the Red Cross building, a soldier on the dock asked him for his name and address. IC responded with accurate information.
While IC and one cousin waited near the dock area for transportation to Cite-Soleil, they heard shooting at the docks. As she ran by them, one woman exclaimed that a passenger from their boat had been shot. Because of the shooting, IC and his cousin ran from the dock area. They separated and IC took side streets to his home in Cite-Soleil.
During IC's second day at home, soldiers came to IC's house and asked for him. His mother told them IC was not there. That same day, soldiers went to the house of IC's cousin, Lifete Similus (who had been repatriated with IC and had given the military his address at the docks), and arrested him. This cousin's body was found that same day on a street some distance from his house. The body was dressed in military clothing and riddled with bullets. IC did not see the corpse but his mother described the scene to him.
During the late afternoon of that same day, soldiers came into IC's house and arrested him. IC was handcuffed, shoved into a military truck, and taken to the National penitentiary. At the prison, he was put into a room with twelve other people. IC recognized five of these people as members of the group that had been repatriated with him on 18 November. They were all from Port-au-Prince and included (1) Bijou Villard, (2) Charles Ketson, (3) Joseph Wetserd, (4) Dieulifaite Francois, and (5) Emilias Francois.
The detainees were beaten daily with wet towels and were never fed. IC was not beaten and was fed because the soldier who was ordered to guard the cells had been IC's classmate. IC and this classmate, who had joined the military, Succes Linbord, had attended L'Ecole Wonderful together. This school is located in Douillard, outside of Port-au-Prince. IC's friend told IC to move to the back of the cell each time he knocked to retrieve prisoners. IC observed some of the beatings through a small hole and heard screams. His friend, the prison guard, described other beatings to him and told IC that some of the detainees had already been killed because they had fled Haiti. This guard told IC that the others would also be killed for the same reason.
IC was detained for three days. IC's friend planned an escape by bringing IC a woman's outfit. During the third day of detention, IC escaped from the prison, disguised as his friend's girlfriend. IC went to his home.
The next day, IC's friend, Succes Linbord, came to IC's house and informed IC that the prison chief had noticed IC's absence and demanded that Linbord bring IC forward. This friend urged IC to leave his neighborhood and told IC that he himself was going to escape to Santo Domingo.
After a few more hours at home, IC's family gave him money and told him to flee to La Gonave. IC therefore took a boat to La Gonave. As he was boarding the boat in La Gonave, military guards called out his name from a list, along with others, but IC did not respond and the soldiers did not recognize IC.
Upon arriving in La Gonave, IC met briefly with grandfather, who gave him food and told IC to stay in hiding. IC's grandfather informed him that he had heard IC's name announced on the radio, as a prison escapee who must be caught. IC went into hiding in the bush and survived on food from friends. On 9 January 1992, IC saw a boat leaving La Gonave. He hailed its passengers, explained his situation, and asked for their permission to board the vessel. The passengers let him aboard. IC recognized about twenty people, as members of the group that had been repatriated with him on 18 November. There was a total of 189 people aboard the vessel IC boarded in La Gonave.
(interviewed by INS/civilians three times since arrival in GTMO)
IC: Fito, Jean
DOB: 30 years old
POR: Cite-Soleil (Port-au-Prince)
IC departed from Haiti on 10 November; IC was repatriated from GTMO on 17 November. IC was a campaign organizer ("mandateur") for the FNCD and threw his political documentation overboard before the USCG cutter arrived in Port-au-Prince on 18 November at 3:00 p.m. IC was repatriated with his common-law wife, [illegible] Bontemps, and child, Marie [illegible]. IC also notes that he was repatriated with IC [illegible].
IC noted presence of military, both in uniform and civilian clothing on the docks. IC was able to identify the civilians as members of the military due to the semi-automatic weapons they were toting. Several soldiers had the repatriates form two lines and led them into the Red Cross building.
In the building, the Red Cross read individual names from a manifest, in the presence of miliatry officials. Those called out were given $10. IC's wife's name was called and she was given $10. After IC's name was not called, he approached an official in civilian clothing for the $10. Official responded that (a) if his name was not on the list, he could not have come from the boat and (b) if he was indeed disembarked from the boat, he was part of the group which had denounced the Haitian authorities and his country to the United States, upon which IC subsided.
After several hours in the Red Cross building, IC left the docks with his family. The dockside gate was guarded by armed military officials who asked the repatriates for their addresses. IC gave his correct name but inaccurate address to one of these men.
IC's wife decided to remain to Port-au-Prince with the child. IC himself took a bus to Petit-Goave with the $10 provided by his wife. The bus was stopped at Carrefour, where a military checkpoint was systematically searching all vehicles. Three soldiers approached the bus. One ordered the driver and two passengers on the front seat out of the van. Another entered the bus while the third blocked the bus door.
The soldier on the bus was recognized by IC as having been implicated in the murder of a young teen-ager in Petit-Goave. This soldier asked for those who had been returned to Haiti by boat. The passengers remained silent. In response, the soldier put a gun to the head of one of the passengers and demanded that he point out all the passengers who had boarded the bus at the dock. The threatened passenger pointed toward a group of passengers in one area of the bus. The soldier then beat these passengers with his rifle butt, while his colleague continued to block the bus exit.
The soldier once again put his weapon to the passenger's head and demanded that he single out those who had come from the docks. The passenger then identified individuals. The soldier handcuffed these people, forced them off the bus, and ordered them into a military truck. IC believes there were at least 20 people in the group taken off the bus. IC identifies all of these passengers as members of the group repatriated with him. IC describes that a woman, Marie [illegible], whom he knew from Petit-Goave and who had been repatriated with him was part of the group pulled off the bus. She was ordered off the bus along with her husband and child.
IC was permitted to remain on the bus because the bus driver, also from Petit-Goave, told the soldier that IC was his assistant. IC explains that the soldier had no reason to disbelieve the driver's assertion because IC was poorly clad. IC uncertain of fate of detainees since bus was ordered to move prior to departure of military truck.
When IC finally arrived in Petit-Goave, his mother told him that soldiers had come looking for him and urged him to hide. IC took a boat to La Gonave that night. He hid in La Gonave until he left Haiti for a second time on 9 January 92.
IC: Dorvin, Anthony
DOB: 1 Jan 59
IC was a pro-Aristide campaign organizer ("mandateur") who organized the distribution of campaign material. During elections, IC monitored voting, working out of the local electoral office. IC also made several media appearances as a political spokesman. While interrogating those who distributed campaign materials in Petit-Goave, the local police found out that IC was the source of materials.
IC was informed by friends that the police were searching for him and went into hiding on 3 October 91. IC left his home with his common-law wife, Jean Saintamene. IC and his wife then took a boat to La Gonave, where they hid in the brush, until they were able to leave Haiti by boat on 13 November 91. They were interdicted by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) cutter #119 on 14 November. IC states that he had an INS cutter interview which lasted 3-4 minutes. IC asserts that he did not have adequate opportunity to describe his political activism and his fear of persecution. IC describes that of the 245 persons interdicted, 16 were screened in to remain in U.S. custody while the remaining 229 were returned to Haiti. IC states that he and his wife were repatriated on a USCG cutter which arrived in Port-au-Prince during the afternoon of 18 November 91.
IC describes that the repatriates were met by soldiers and armed civilians as they were disembarked. The soldiers organized the repatriates into two lines and escorted them to the Red Cross facility. Inside the Red Cross building, IC was approached by American journalists who asked him, among other questions, whether he intended to leave Haiti again by boat. IC avoided the questions as he feared repercussions by the soldiers inside and around the building. Haitian officials in the Red Cross building then asked IC for his name, address and DOB; IC was given $10.
IC left the Red Cross facility at approximately 7:00 p.m. accompanied by his wife. Soldiers still surrounded the facility exit. IC and his wife tried but failed to find a bus to Petit-Goave. IC then called a taxi so they could go spend the night at his aunt's house, located at Fontainemara 35, in the Carrefour district. As IC and his wife entered the taxi, IC saw three policemen get into a Datsun behind the taxi. The Datsun followed the taxi, keeping a short distance behind.
When the taxi stopped at IC's destination, Fontainemara 35, the Datsun stopped behind the taxi. As IC's wife was getting out of the taxi and IC was paying its driver, the policemen ran out of the Datsun and captured IC's wife. IC began to run and one of the policemen followed him. IC jumped his aunt's yard and then ran into her house. The policeman did not follow IC inside the house. IC spent the night with his aunt. IC has heard no news about the fate of his wife since her abduction.
The next morning, IC began to walk to Leogane. After arriving to Leogane, IC took a boat to La Gonave, via Petit-Goave. IC remained in hiding in La Gonave and where he met up with several of the people with whom he had been repatriated; together they planned their second departure from Haiti. IC describes that there were about 300 people in hiding together with IC in La Gonave. IC departed Haiti anew on 9 January 92. There were 189 persons aboard the vessel. IC has not heard from his wife and does not know what has happened to his family in Haiti.
(interviewed by INS/civilians two times since arrival in GTMO)
IC: Augustin, Mr. Wilner
DOB: 23 June 1968
IC departed from Haiti on 12 November 1991, was interdicted by the U.S. Coast Guard on 13 Novmeber 1991, and was returned to Haiti pursuant to an onboard interview conducted by an INS official, on 18 November 1991.
IC states that it was approximately 3:00 p.m. when the Coast Guard cutter arrived in Port-au-Prince. He noted the presence of several members of the Haitian military on the docks, along with some foreign journalists. One of the journalists accompanied IC to the Red Cross premises. IC's name was called and he responded. He was asked to sign several forms but did not wait to accept the U.S. $10 offered, since he was scared that he would be harmed by the soldiers who were on the premises.
IC states that there were two doors leading out of the Red Cross premises. He chose to leave by the back door since he wished to avoid detection by the military. Upon leaving the premises, IC turned into Rue Tirmasse, where he saw the body of his cousin and fellow-repatriant, Jacques Placide, lying on the road with bullet wounds in the head. IC fled from the area in panic. He did not take any form of public transport due to the presence of the military in the area, and walked through circuitous routes to a friend's house in Port-au-Prince, where he stayed for three days. IC left for his domicile in Petit-Goave on the third day.
On the day of IC's arrival in Petit-Goave, soldiers came to his house to look for him. IC does not know how the soliders had been informed of his presence in the area. He escaped by breaking a window in the back of the house and fleeing into the brush. His mother remained in the house and was beaten and arrested by the military. IC was informed of the latter by one of his friends with whom he sought refuge, and who went to IC's house to check on his mother. IC remained in hiding until he was able to flee to La Gonave in a small boat.
As the soldier beat the passengers, his colleague blocked the exit.
IC asserts that he did not have an opportunity to describe his activism and his fear of persecution.
IC: Dennis, Mr. Remis
DOB: 1 Jan 1957
IC left Haiti for the first time on 13 November 1991. His boat was interdicted by the U.S. Coast Guard on 14 November 1991. Pursuant to an onboard interview conducted by an INS official, IC was returned to Haiti on 18 November 1991.
IC arrived in Port-au-Prince at approximately 3:00 p.m. IC claims that there were members of the Haitian military along with a group of foreign journalists on the docks while he was disembarking from the cutter. The above mentioned journalists directed IC to the building where the Haitian Red Cross was processing the returnees. Some of the journalists accompanied IC to the building.
IC's name was called from a list by Red Cross officials, and he was given U.S. $10 in an envelope. He was also asked to sign several forms. IC uncertain as to the purpose of these forms. IC heard the sound of shooting while leaving the Red Cross building, although not in the immediate vicinity. While IC was returning to his domicile, he met a neighbor who informed him that his house was occupied by the Haitian military.
IC went to his mother's house in Carrefour, where his mother informed him that Arnold Augustin, a friend and fellow-repatriant, had been arrested by the military in Petit-Goave for having denounced the Haitian authorities to the U.S. IC's mother had witnessed the arrest while in Petit-Goave, and had told IC that Arnold had been beaten by the military during his arrest. IC mother also informed him that his wife, Solange Hippolyte, had been arrested by the military, taken to the barracks, threatened, and slapped on the face, in an attempt to glean the IC's whereabouts.
IC's mother gave him some clothes and money and urged him to leave immediately with his wife, for their own safety. IC borrowed his cousin's car and left with his wife for Petit-Goave and La Gonave.
IC: Paul, Mr. Ovide
DOB: 15 Jan 1972
IC left Haiti on 13 November 1991, was interdicted by the U.S. Coast Guard on 14 November 1991, and was returned to Haiti (pursuant to an onboard interview by an INS official) on 18 November 1991.
IC states that the Coast Guard cutter arrived in Port-au-Prince at 3:00 p.m. IC noted the presence of many soldiers and some foreign journalists on the docks. On his way to the Red Cross premises upon disembarkation, IC was accosted by one of the soldiers who asked him whether he had returned on the "American boat," and whether he had been amongst those who had criticized the Haitian military to the U.S. authorities. IC felt safe in the presence of the foreign journalists and therefore responded in the affirmative.
IC entered the Red Cross premises, was asked to sign some forms, was given U.S. $10, and left the building at approximately 8:00 p.m. IC alleges to have walked some distance away from the docks through circuitous routes in order to avoid the soldiers, but was intercepted by some soldiers who dragged him aside and beat him repeatedly claiming that he had left Haiti and denounced the Haitian military to the U.S.
IC returned to his domicile in Cite-Soleil. Two days later, soldiers came to his house and questioned him regarding the reasons for his departure from Haiti, and also asked him whether he had been a member of the FNCD. The soldiers left after having questioned him.
Five days later, IC's mother informed him that several of the other repatriates in Cite-Soleil had been similarly arrested and questioned by the military, and that two of them, Jean Claude and Tissant (last names unknown), had not been seen again after their arrest.
On the same day, the soldiers came a second time to IC's house. IC fled from his domicile and went to Petite Goave (his mother's birth place) by bus. The bus in which the IC traveled was not intercepted by the military. Upon arriving in Petit-Goave, he was informed by some of his friends there that one of them had been arrested by the local military and had been imprisoned for five days. Since IC had also worked as a "mandataire" of the FNCD in Petit-Goave, his friends informed him that he would not be safe there, and that the soldiers would be looking for him there as well. IC left Petit-Goave and went to La Gonave in a friend's boat.
IC: Saintil, Princivil
DOB: 12 February 1968
IC left Haiti on 13 November 1991, with (1) Bonnetemps, Ilomene (mother), (2) Jean, Marie [illegible] (sister),(3) Saintil, Marie Lourde (wife), (4) Bonnetemps, [illegible] (brother). IC was repatriated form GTMO on 17 November and arrived in Haiti on 18 November.
IC describes the presence of many soliders and armed civilians on the docks. The soldiers ordered the repatriates to assemble into two rows and walked them to the Red Cross bulding. IC was the first of his family to disembark from the cutter. Inside the Red Cross bulding, IC was taken to see Haitian immigration authorities. IC then spoke with a Red Cross official who registered his address. The Red Cross gave IC $10.
IC was separated from his family during the repatriate processing. IC left the Red Cross building at approximately 6:00 p.m. Outside the dockgate, he ran into a friend from Petit-Goave (a chauffeur) who drove him home. IC arrived in Petit-Goave between 9-10:00 p.m.
IC was informed by close friends that military was searching for seventeen persons in his neighborhood, who were targeted as Aristide supporters and as repatriates. The seventeen names had been announced at the barracks/station ("caserne") which IC claims were provided to the seven military posts between Petit-Goave and Port-au-Prince (PAP) by PAP authorities.
Three days later, soldiers in a white car came to IC's house to arrest him. IC escaped from his house through a back window, IC then left for La Gonave. While in hiding in La Gonave, IC met up with IC [illegible], Joseph, who had been repatriated with him. IC left Haiti for a second time on 9 January, along with IC's [illegible], Joseph, and Fito, Jean.
IC: Coffy, Herold
POB: Croix de Bouquet (Arcahale)
POR: Cite-Soleil (Port-au-Prince)
IC originally departed Haiti on 13 November 91. IC was returned to Haiti on 18 November 91, arriving in Port-au-Prince at approximately 3:00 p.m. IC was repatriated with a friend, Leslie Dorsa. IC states that there were many soldiers on the pier. IC was then taken to the Red Cross facility by soldiers, at approximately 3:30 p.m. IC was separated from his friend Dorsa, during disembarkation. IC explains that he was among the group of repatriates that entered the Red Cross facility while the USCG cutter and foreign journalists and other American civilians remained in the proximity of the building. IC estimates that he completed processing in the Red Cross at [illegible].
As IC left the dock area with several other repatriates, soldiers followed the group. The other repatriates waited for a bus to Leogane; IC quickly got on a bus for Carrefour. During IC's first week in Carrefour, IC's brother visited from Petit-Goave and told IC that he had seen soldiers kill IC's repatriate-friend Leslie Dorsa. His brother explained that soldiers had arrested Dorsa upon his arrival in Petit-Goave by bus from Port-au-Prince.
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On 20-21 November, IC heard news of other repatriates on the radio station Radio Galaxie. The radio reported that the soldiers had beaten and shot many of the repatriates who returned to Haiti on a USCG cutter on 19 November. The report detailed that these murders had taken place on the streets near the dock area, as the repatriates were searching for transportation home. The report explained that the repatriates had been attacked because they had left Haiti and been returned from U.S. custody.
IC explains that on 27 November 91, soldiers came looking for IC at his father's house in Cite-Soleil. After IC's father refused to divulge IC's whereabouts. the soldier shot the father dead. IC, who was still in Carrefour, was informed of the incident by his younger sister and three persons from his father's neighborhood.
IC then traveled to Petit-Goave by motorbike for his father's funeral. On his way back to Carrefour, IC was followed by soldiers, who ultimately overtook him and tried to stop him. As IC jumped off his bike, he fell on his head but he managed to escape.
IC made his way back to Petit-Goave by bus and then took a boat to La Gonave. IC left Haiti anew on 9 January 92.