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Gonaïves Resistance Front /
Artibonite Resistance Front

Two principal armed groups took part in the armed revolt that toppled the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004. One is the Gonaïves Resistance Front, led by Jean Pierre Baptiste (alias Jean Tatoune), Buteur (Butteur) Métayer, and Wynter (Winter) Etienne. This is the group that initiated the insurrection with the seizure of Gonaïves on February 5, 2004. A second group, headed by Guy Philippe and Louis Jodel Chamblain, consists primarily of former members of the Haitian Armed Forces (Forces Armées d'Haïti, FAd'H) who slipped into Haiti from the neighboring Dominican Republic. They have called themselves the National Liberation Front. Though their political antecedents vary greatly, the two principal armed groups share a common pattern of serious human rights violations.

Like Louis Jodel Chamblain, Jean Pierre Baptiste (alias Jean Tatoune) was convicted of "voluntary, premeditated homicide" in the 1994 Raboteau Massacre (AI 16 Feb 2004, Charles 15 Apr 2002). Unlike Chamblain, who fled Haiti, Baptiste was imprisoned in Gonaïves. But on August 2, 2002, members of an armed gang popularly known as the Cannibal Army rammed a hole in the prison wall with a stolen tractor, freeing 160 inmates, including Baptiste (MIAMI HERALD 9 Jul 2002).

The Cannibal Army, formally known as Popular Organization for the Development of Raboteau, was the personal armed force of Gonaïves strongman Amiot Métayer. It was formed in the 1980s in a poor seaside neighborhood of Gonaïves to resist Duvalierism. Because of its opposition to the "de facto" military regime of 1990-1994, it was targeted for attack by the army and FRAPH, leading to the Raboteau Massacre. Following the restoration of democratic rule in 1994, it became one of many "popular organizations" (organizations populaires) promoted by LaFamni Lavalas as vehicles of community empowerment. According to Cannibal Army members, they were first armed in the year 2000 to provide protection to polling places for that year's elections. In December 2001, following the armed attack on the National Palace, they were approached by messengers from Aristide asking for their support in putting down a "coup d'état." They responded by torching the homes of opposition leaders, including the home of evangelical Protestant Minister Luc Mésadieu in northern Gonaïves. The gang killed two members of Mésadieu's opposition Christian Movement for a New Haiti (MOCHRENHA), and burned their bodies (Norton 18 Dec 2001 & 6 Aug 2002, Wilson 13 Feb 2004, HRW 27 Feb 2004).

Foreign governments and international human rights organizations then challenged the government to prosecute vigilantes as a sign of good faith in upholding the rule of law. In July 2002, police arrested Métayer on charges of masterminding the violence in Gonaïves. On July 8, Métayer supporters responded by torching the Gonaïves customs house, demanding his release. Though the government did not release Métayer, it did transfer him from Port-au-Prince to the Gonaïves prison, from which he was soon freed by fellow gang members on August 2. The Cannibal Army then burned down the Gonaïves city hall and courthouse as thousands of protestors took to the streets to demand the ouster of President Aristide. Soon thereafter, Métayer dropped his call for Aristide's removal amid speculation that a private deal had been struck (MIAMI HERALD 9 Jul 2002, Norton 6 Aug 2002, NEW YORK TIMES 10 Aug 2002).

In February 2003, Investigating Judge Marcel Jean fled to the United States, after being threatened by "people from the National Palace" for refusing to clear Métayer. The following month, deputy prosecutor Henock Genelus fled to the Dominican Republic with his family. He said he had refused to dismiss charges against Métayer at the request of a representative of President Aristide, and that he left "to escape being killed" (Norton 18 Mar 2003). On May 15, government prosecutor Louizelme Joseph told Radio Métropole that the new judge assigned to Métayer's case had dropped all charges. From Florida exile, Investigating Judge Marcel Jean, who had previously been assigned the Métayer case, said "Someone can't kill people, burn their houses, and burn the courthouse and not be brought to justice . I think this raises serious questions about the future of the country. This country has no future if this is how justice will be treated" (Lynch 16 May 2003).

On November 21, 2002, Radio Étincelle in Gonaïves suspended broadcasting after Cannibal Army activists accused the station of "working for the opposition," and threatened to burn it down. Four days later, assailants set fire to the studio, damaging a generator and other equipment (CPJ 2003). In response to threats from the Cannibal Army, four journalists - Jeaniton Guerino and Gedeon Pesendien of Radio Etincelles, Jean-Robert Francois of Radio Métropole, and Henry Fleurimond of Radio Quiskeya - went into hiding, then fled to the Dominican Republic on February 14, 2003 (Cala 18 Feb 2003).

On September 22, 2003, Métayer was found dead on a side street of Gonaïves. He had been shot at close range, once in each eye, and once through the heart. He had last been seen leaving his home in the company of a former government employee who was a frequent visitor to the Presidential Palace. Concluding the assassination had been ordered by President Aristide, the Cannibal Army began blocking Gonaïves streets with burning tires, and with barricades assembled from old car frames, boulders, and trash (Norton 24 Sep 2003, Regan 26 Sep 2003, MIAMI HERALD 4 Oct 2003, Williams 29 Nov 2003).

Violent protests continued intermittently until February 5, 2004, when the group seized control of the city and renamed itself the Gonaïves Resistance Front. At least seven persons - including three police officers - were killed and twenty injured in gun battles before the police fled. Gang members set fire to the home and gasoline station of Mayor Stéphan Moïse, as well as the homes of other known Aristide supporters. They also torched the police station as officers fled, and released more than a hundred inmates from the city jail. Confiscated police weapons were distributed to rebel supporters. On the following day, thousands of demonstrators shouting "Aristide must go!" vowed to repel any attempt by the government to retake the city (AP 6 Feb 2004, LOS ANGELES TIMES 7 Feb 2004, Ottey 7 Feb 2004, THE GUARDIAN 7 Feb 2004).

The government attempted to regain control of the city on February 7, but was repulsed. A convoy of 150 heavily armed police officers arrived from Port-au-Prince. Thousands of residents stoned them as they passed, then surrounded them, cutting off escape routes with barricades of burning tires, auto carcasses, and boulders. Several police officers were killed; one was lynched; the bodies of others were dragged through the streets and mutilated (Ottey 8&9 Feb 2004).

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:40:43 ZULU