Jean-Pierre Cloutier

Note : The Sansariq article follow-up.

Following the August 3 incidents in Jeremie involving Bernard Sansaricq and a small group of his followers, the authorities have virtually blanketed the area from press coverage. After the terse communique issued following the events that said the army was giving chase to the "group of terrorists," the government has kept silent. However, disquieting reports of repressive measures against the population of the Grand'Anse started filtering to the capital. Monsignor Romelus, bishop of Jeremie, was the first to sound the alarm and to protest the torture, harassment and persecution inflicted on the peasants by the army in order to find Sansaricq and his group. Families were reported having to flee their homes in fear of reprisals conducted by the army and police.

Then, on August 21, Pastor Sergo Juste from Duchity (small village approximately 20 miles from Jeremie) went public on Radio Haiti Inter denouncing the behaviour of the army. According to Pastor Juste, on Friday, August 14, an army truck arrived in Duchity, and soldiers proceeded to interrogate the residents of the village and of the surrounding localities. Several people were beaten by the soldiers who, apparently acting on rumours that Bernard Sansaricq was in the area, were out to arrest him. Then on Monday, August 17, some soldiers disguised as peasants combed the area seeking information from the population on Sansaricq. This led investigators to the house of one Cladenor Antoine, who admitted under torture having welcomed three individuals who had arrived at his house late one night asking for a place to sleep. The three men left early the following morning. Asked by his interrogators if one of the men was Sansaricq, Antoine said he did not know. The peasant subsequently was beaten to death by the soldiers, taken to another village, where he was buried. The exact burial place was not disclosed to the family by the army. But the search continued for information on Sansaricq and his place of hiding after the death of Cladenor Antoine, and more people were beaten up for allegedly having helped the fugitives.

A genuine coup de theatre in the Sansaricq case came on the evening of Monday, August 24. Radio stations in Port-au-Prince received copies of a cassette recording made by Sansaricq, presumably from his hiding place in the Grand'Anse on August 20. In the 20-minute message, the fugitive gave his version of the events having led to what he called an assassination attempt on himself led by the army. He confirmed the theory expressed in our summer issue that mentioned his being in Jeremie for a government commission hearing on the 1964 Jeremie massacre in which most of his family was slaughtered. Already, on August 1, his vehicle had been shot at by men in civilian clothes near Tapion, about 50 miles from Port-au-Prince, as he was driving toward Jeremie. On the morning of August 3, the house he had rented in Jeremie was surrounded by tactical intervention units. A young man that was visiting the house was shot to death by the soldiers, and Sansaricq fearing for his life and those of the people with him at the time decided to make a break for it. The group fired a couple of shots in the air, and as the soldiers retreated, was able to drive away taking one of the army's jeeps in the process. They later abandoned their vehicles and took to the mountains on foot.

For a man on the run, Sansaricq sounded very calm and articulate on the cassette recording distributed to radio stations, and aired either in parts or in its entirety over the next two days. He claimed a constitutional right to having had weapons in his rented house in Jeremie. He said he wanted to attend the commission hearing because he had documents proving generals Namphy and Regala's direct participation in the 1964 Jeremie massacre. As for the allegations made in the government communique to the effect that he and his group were terrorists, he said that if he was a real terrorist, he could have killed at least 50 or 60 soldiers during the days that followed his escape. He then concluded by appealing to the armed forces to stop the brutal repression in which they had engaged in order to find his place of hiding and punish those who had helped him.

Another sounding board for protest against this repression was Pastor Alain Rocourt's answer to Pastor Sergo Juste's declarations of a few days before. Himself a victim of the 1964 events as he was a pastor in the area, the now-member of the Provisional Electoral Council representing the Reformed Cults asked himself if a recurrence of the "Jeremian Vespers" were not to be feared. It certainly did not help Pastor Juste much, as he was forced to go into hiding after his declarations to escape retaliation from certain elements from within the armed forces.

By this time, in some sectors of the population, Sansaricq had become a folk hero. People were eagerly waiting for the second message promised by him in his recorded communique. On August 26, the daily newspaper Le Matin reported that the army operation triggered two weeks before in order to find Sansaricq had seemingly ended. It also hinted that the fugitive had secretly made his way back to Port-au-Prince. At least, we can now ascertain that if he had not reached the capital city yet, he was not far from having done it. On Monday, August 31, Agence France Presse announced he had taken refuge at the Argentine embassy where political asylum was granted to him. On the following day, the Haitian government issued a brief communique saying that indeed Sansaricq had, disguised as a priest, been taken by the Argentine embassy and that it (the government) was taking "appropriate actions."


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On this site: May 18, 1997