Six months ago, reports of a violent massacre in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of La Saline started to spread on Haitian social media and Whatsapp group messages.
There were photos and horrific stories of killings and torture of men, women and even children.
There was very little official information about what happened in La Saline, a neighborhood hard-hit by violence and extreme poverty. The area is also well known for being able to mobilize or thwart protests. The killings took place during a wave of anti-government protests in Haiti last year.
Jacqueline Charles is the Caribbean Correspondent for the Miami Herald. She recently broke the story about the first official account from Haitian police about what’s being called the La Saline massacre. It’s now an ongoing investigation.
Charles spoke with WLRN reporter Nadege Green.
WLRN: First, describe for us the La Saline neighborhood in Port-au-Prince? What is it like and who lives there?
Charles: La Saline is an impoverished community in Port-Au-Prince that is adjacent to the Haitian parliament and also next to a very popular market. It's an open air market where there are merchants who come from all over the country to sell but it really is an area that is disenfranchised.
Houses are cinder block or with, you know, corroding rooftops, the alleyways [are] very narrow to the point that two people can’t even walk shoulder to shoulder there.
For all intents and purposes we will consider it to be a slum or ghetto.
In November of last year, news started getting out as most news does out of Haiti—on Whatsapp—about rampant killings in the neighborhood. What were people sharing and saying?
I received some of those images and there were images of pigs looking through piles of garbage and then you would see body parts at some point. You know, people started thinking, “This isn't real right?”
I mean, we were seeing these images, we were hearing the stories, but no one could really say how many people died.
Based on your reporting, what do we know about what happened in La Saline? And how did you get the police report that confirms this thing happened?
I received the report because I have a source who shared the report with me.
I'm not supposed to have this report, it's an internal report that was sent off to the judiciary, but it was confirmed to me that, indeed, you do have a genuine copy of an internal police investigation on this massacre.
What we know from the report itself, as well as some other investigations that were done independently by human rights groups, is that this massacre occurred over four days, November 13th through the 17th [in 2018].
On the 13th of November, sometime before 4 o'clock in the afternoon, this is when the rampage started. You had armed gangs going door to door within that community. They were searching for people. They were shooting people. They were dousing them with gasoline, setting them on fire.
Even children were not spared and the police note this in this report. In one case, there was a baby who was also chopped up. Other children have been reported missing and their parents have not seen them since.
The police refrain from actually saying how many people were killed, raped or even abducted. But in the police report itself they interviewed over 70 victims.
We know that we're talking about dozens of people and, unfortunately, we may never know how many people were actually killed in La Saline during that four-day carnage.
Were you able to find out why this happened?
La Saline [massacre] happened in between two of the largest antigovernment protests that took place last year in Haiti.
When I spoke to human rights individuals -because the police do not go into this, but the human rights organizations that did their own independent investigations-, Fondasyon Je Klere and the National Human Rights Defense Network, both of them found similar issues.
One is that prior to the La Saline massacre there were members of the opposition who had gone and made announcements about upcoming anti-government protests on November 18.
Human rights people tell me the goal was to create a climate of insecurity in order for the people in La Saline to not come out of the slum and take part in the antigovernment protests.
Prior to the massacre’s commencement, witnesses have told police at least two senior government officials distributed police uniforms. They provided government vehicles. They provided money and they provided guns.
This police investigation found not only gangs that were implicated in these killings and torture, but also Haitian government officials?
One of those officials, Joseph Pierre Richard Duplan, is the delegate for the western region, which includes the metropolitan Port-au-Prince. He is the representative of President Jovenel Moise. Now, Mr. Duplan went on the radio a few days ago and he basically denounced these human rights reports and basically accused human rights investigators or organizations of trying to demonize him and that he was not a bandit.
Interesting enough, he did not address the police finding in this internal investigation, which basically echoes what these independent human rights investigations also found.
The other individual, Fednel Monchéry, happens to be the executive director of the Ministry of Interior. I tried to reach out to him. He did not respond to Miami Herald's requests for comments.
What happens next?
What happens next is we have to see what is the Haitian justice system going to do. What is President Jovenel Moise going to do? Is he going to actually address the issue of La Saline?
Yes, you are innocent until proven guilty, but what will he do in respect to these two senior government officials who have been named not just by human rights investigators, but now by his own police force and their internal investigation?
And also with Haiti’s judicial system, which we know has its own problems, it’s corrupt, it’s dysfunctional. Will there be an investigative judge who will now carry out his or her own investigation into this massacre to get at least some answers?