SANSARICQ IN JEREMIE (1)
Note : The first of three texts on the Sansariq incident in Jeremie, August 1987.
On Monday, August 3, reports from Jeremie indicated a group of armed men led by Bernard Sansaricq had encountered the Armed Forces in a gunfight. Rumours of the group offering $1,000 to anyone who joined their cause in overthrowing the government prompted a justice of the peace into probing into the matter. Accompanied by an escort from the police, he tried to search the hotel where the Sansaricq group was staying, but was met with gunfire and grenades according to a government statement. Representatives from the authorities fled the scene, leaving behind a vehicle which was used by Sansaricq to leave the city. On its way out, the group would have set fire to one of the military posts of the city.
Sansaricq, leader of the Parti Populaire National Haitien-PPNH (National People's Party of Haiti), is a long time opponent of the Duvalierist regime. In 1964, most of his family had been murdered during the "Jeremie Vespers," an action undertaken by the army and the tonton macoutes in Jeremie that left several hundred dead, including women and children. In 1965, he had participated in an invasion attempt led from the Dominican Republic, and in 1982 had tried another invasion in Tortuga Island. Returning to Haiti in 1986 after the downfall of Jean-Claude Duvalier, he started campaigning for the presidency. Recently, he had formed the Coalition for the Final Struggle with Sylvio Claude (Christian Democrat Party of Haiti) and Yves Volel (Christian Democrat Rally).
A fact overlooked by many observers is that on the same morning the incident happened in Jeremie, former macoute Saintange Bontemps was to appear in court resulting from an inquiry commission report on the "Jeremie Vespers." In September 1964, a group of military and macoutes had murdered a great number of people from Jeremie. An invasion attempt had failed a few weeks before, led by a group of 13 young persons calling themselves "Jeune Haiti." Most of the victims of the massacre were relatives of members of the insurgent group. The events remained one of the darkest moments of the dictatorship, and of course no inquiry was ever conducted by the authorities. The massacre had been ordered by Duvalier himself, and some of the henchmen were rewarded for having participated.
But on April 23, 1986, then Minister of Justice Francois Latortue telegraphed the Government Commissioner in Jeremie, Jean Bellavoix Leone, instructing him to open an investigation on the 1964 events. Leone followed course, interviewed survivors of the massacre and witnesses, and on August 31, 1986, submitted to Carl Auguste, Director of Judiciary Affairs at the Ministry of Justice his report. Copies were also sent to Francois Latortue, minister of Justice who had ordered the investigation, and Ernst Trouillot, director general of the Ministry.
The report states that following the invasion attempt, Duvalier had put Abel Jerome, district commander, in charge of a reprisal operation in Jeremie. A commission formed by civilians and military personnel was also dispatched from Port-au-Prince to oversee the operation. Although his direct participation in the slaughter of several families is not established, Minister of Interior and National Defense, and member of the National Council of Government General Williams Regala was a member of that commission. Saintange Bontemps,one of the participants in the massacre, and Dr Pierre Mayas, a witness, testified to that effect during the investigation led by Leone.
Whether Sansaricq was in Jeremie to attend the trial of Saintange Bontemps, or whether he had the intention to seek justice himself is speculation. What is certain is that he and his group were armed, were involved in an exchange of gun fire with the police and military, and then fled the city. As of Wednesday, August 5, and in spite of a government communique saying that all efforts were deployed in order to find the group, no news came as to its whereabouts. In view of the tense situation in the city at that time, the trial of Saintange Bontemps was remanded.
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