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Immediately after Transparency International took its turn trying to beat the Haitian government’s credibility senseless, the so-called independent voices of the US press stepped in to deliver a few more uncritical yet fatal blows. The message of these so-called independent voices was uncannily similar and nearly indistinguishable: Amiot Metayer was a demon created by the devil President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The underlying theme was that the Haitian government deserves to fall because it has brought violence on itself through its own actions. Never mind that the violence against the government is being led by Jean Tatoune, a former member of the CIA-inspired Front for Advancement and Progress in Haiti or FRAPH, who has a history of betrayal where Metayer is concerned.

On October 12th, novelist Amy Wilentz wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “At the end of September, a thug from one of Haiti's notorious shantytowns was murdered, his body left for the flies, both his eyes shot out by whoever did the deed. By all accounts, Amiot Metayer was not a good man, but the future of Haiti may turn on his assassination.”

To add more of her famous artistic license Wilentz continues, “Metayer's killing is in the grand style, down to the shot-out eyes, signifying perhaps that he had seen too much. That's the Haitian street interpretation, in any case.” This last sentence, despite its disclaimer, was clearly written to give credence to the opposition charge that Aristide had killed Meteyer in order to silence him.

Like tag-team bullies in a one-sided brawl, Jane Regan then took her turn in an article published in The Christian Science Monitor on October 16 entitled, “ Former Haitian allies become enemies: Weeks of protest have followed the killing of a government opponent.” Echoing Wilentz and the opposition’s accusation against the Haitian government, Regan wrote, “Metayer’s pro-government ‘Cannibal Army’ gang, some of whose members are armed, used to harass Aristide-opposition marches. Now, convinced that the strongman was eliminated because he had become a nuisance, the ‘Army’ has turned on Aristide and has kept Haiti's fourth-largest city shut for more than three weeks with violent protests and burning barricades.”

After Regan took her turn on the mat, long-time Aristide opponent, novelist Herb Gold, followed with an article in the San Francisco Chronicle on October 19th entitled, “Haiti is the tragedy you can dance to: Iraq and Afghanistan should take note of the Caribbean's failed experiment in nation-building.”  Having recovered from his hard work, sitting on the veranda of the Oloffson Hotel in Port au Prince, Herb Gold wrote, “When I left Haiti a few weeks ago, news came of the anonymous but unusually precise execution of a thug named Amiot Metayer, leader of the pro-President Aristide gang called the Cannibal Army. One bullet to the heart, one in each eye.”  Smelling blood and moving in for the kill Gold continued, “Under other Haitian regimes, the president's personal enforcers have been called Cagoulards, Tonton Macoutes, Attachés, and now for the ex-saintly priest Aristide, the poetically named Chimères, or chimeras. Metayer was an elite case, a megathug…”

Besides giving nearly the same spin on events in Haiti, these articles have more in common than meets the eye.  One would find it hard to believe they could not manage a single quote representing the views and opinions of the hundreds of thousands of Aristide supporters in Haiti. Given Wilentz, Regan and Gold’s rendition of the truth, these people no longer exist.  It is probably too much to ask given that the voices in support of Lavalas have been absent from corporate media coverage of events in Haiti for quite sometime now.  As was the case in Venezuela, the strength of the opposition to the government is exaggerated while pro-government support is at best, understated, and at worst, not mentioned at all.

Perhaps the most glaring omission on their part is any attempt to explain who Amiot Metayer really was. Was he just “not a good man” as Wilentz would have us believe? Was Metayer merely a “strongman” enforcer for Aristide and a “megathug”, as Regan and Gold have claimed? As usual, the context is missing because Metayer’s real history is inconvenient to their one-dimensional message. It may be inconvenient for these worthy scribes to put a human face on Amiot Metayer, but his personal history must be told to fully understand the impact of his murder. It also contributes to understanding who would have the most to gain by killing him.

Metayer was a native son of the coastal township of Gonaives in Haiti. He grew up in a slum known as Raboteau. He was no saint in his personal life, few of us are, and it was said he would drink too much when stress got the better of him. He could be hardheaded and self-serving but no one who knew him questioned that he believed in putting the interests of Haiti’s poor majority ahead of the wealthy elite and their golfing buddies in Washington D.C.

Metayer joined the growing movement calling for the ouster of the Duvalier regime at about the same time as his friend from a rival neighborhood, Jean Pierre, a.k.a. “Jean Tatoune.” Metayer’s lessons were hard won over the years he struggled, first against the Duvalier regime as a youth, and later as an adult against the military dictatorship that overthrew Aristide in September 1991.

Amiot Metayer sacrificed much following Haiti’s last military coup. He dropped out of law school because of his determination that democracy and Aristide should return to Haiti. He built clandestine networks of supporters who would plaster Gonaives with the president’s photo when such a simple act of resistance could easily get you tortured and killed. Metayer was also one of the pioneers of  “flash demonstrations” against the dictatorship where hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of Lavalas supporters would appear out of nowhere to protest for five minutes and then disappear before the military and their henchmen arrived on the scene. According to Brian Concannon, who works for the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, a group of lawyers helping Haitian victims and the judiciary prosecute human rights cases, “In Gonaives, especially later in the coup, they would light tires and run.  The soldiers would come and put it out, but not before a black cloud of resistance rose above the Gonaives plain, visible for miles.”

Perhaps one of Metayer’s greatest weaknesses was his loyalty to his friend Jean Tatoune even after the first in a long list of personal betrayals. Tatoune informed the military of his friend’s whereabouts and the strategy being used to organize resistance against the dictatorship. Tatoune’s betrayal led to one of the Haitian military’s most infamous crimes during their rule, the Raboteau Massacre. Jean Tatoune was rewarded with a new car and money, and finally with a position in the CIA-inspired death squad the Front for Advancement and Progress in Haiti or FRAPH.

In the now famous Raboteau trial, Colin Granderson, who headed the joint United Nations/Organization of American States' mission monitoring human rights, testified that by early 1994, the repression had forced the resistance to stop making public protests everywhere, except in Raboteau.  The military took vengeance against Metayer by arresting his father and brother and trashing the family’s house. They beat one of his sisters, who was eight months pregnant, so viciously her body expelled the small, bloodied corpse of her unborn child. Afterwards, the US embassy offered Metayer’s family political exile far from their homeland as they have done with so many key militants of Lavalas before and since.  While he encouraged his family to go and the US government resettled them in the mid-western United States, Amiot Metayer refused to leave and stayed behind to continue the struggle.

The people of the Raboteau neighborhood in Gonaives still recount how Metayer was forced to live in hiding after Tatoune’s betrayal. They tell how he survived for a time by sleeping in makeshift hammocks that hung under the toilet in the small space above the excrement at the bottom of larger outhouses. Half dead and feverish from being bitten by rats and insects, he would later regroup to create a network of small fishing boats off the coast where he would live and continue to organize the resistance.

Metayer always remained loyal to his people after Aristide’s return in 1994: he remained in the neighborhood, living in his parent’s very modest home in Raboteau.  He did not wear expensive clothes or drive flashy cars.  He found jobs for the poor youth of Raboteau, helped the sick out with medical bills and made sure that people had enough to eat.  For this reason many people in Raboteau continue to mourn his passing and hold him in high esteem, including those who disapproved of some of his tactics. Some say he was too heavy-handed in responding to the opposition but others, who share his fears, ask what could you expect from a man who suffered so much under the Cedras dictatorship? This situation intensified following pipe-bombings and drive-by shootings, which were widely ignored by the international community, during the last presidential elections. After the elections, the political atmosphere was polluted even further when the Democratic Convergence openly called for the return of the Haitian military as part of its platform. As one observer noted, “In their mad rush for power they had become so hateful they would return the same military to power that has historically been responsible for so much death and suffering in Haiti, as long as it serves the purpose of destroying President Aristide’s legacy. The one incontestable achievement of President Aristide is that he abolished those predators. And what of the poor who suffered so much at the hands of the military? Can you not understand how frightened they must be that the same military who raped their mothers, sisters and daughters is being asked to return to power by the opposition in Haiti? Can we not understand how the brutal murder of 7,000 of their own people, at the hands of the same military, frightens them to their core, making them increasingly angry and defiant? Is this really so difficult to understand as events unfold in Haiti today?”

This was the reason, according to Haitian officials, that president Aristide met with Metayer’s family in the national palace to pay his condolences. It was to recognize a man who is considered a hero by many in the struggle for democracy in Haiti. Wilentz, Regan and Gold went for straight-up demonization and omitted any reference to Metayer’s history. This myopic approach to journalism only served to bolster charges by the opposition that Aristide’s meeting was only intended to buy Metayer’s family off and keep them quiet. After reading the words of this cacophonous trio wouldn’t you tend to believe the opposition claim that this was the only motive behind the president’s meeting with the family of his alleged victim?

What is the other important but widely ignored context to Metayer’s killing? Just three days before his murder, President Aristide assured the people of Haiti, and the international community, that new elections were possible. A press release dated September 19, 2003 confirms this: “President Jean-Bertrand Aristide held a press conference this morning reiterating that local and parliamentary elections will be held this year. This comes a day after the new US Ambassador to Haiti, James B. Foley, presented his credentials to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide at Haiti's National Palace.” Calling for elections that the opposition is sure to lose is dangerous business in Haiti.

Next, Part 3

The Bush Administration’s End Game for Haiti

Kevin Pina is a documentary filmmaker and freelance journalist who has been working and living in Haiti for the past three years. He has been covering events in Haiti for the past decade and produced a documentary film entitled "Haiti: Harvest of Hope". Mr. Pina is also the Haiti Special Correspondent for the Flashpoints radio program on the Pacifica Network's flagship station KPFA in Berkeley CA.



November 6, 2003
Issue 63

is published every Thursday.

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