Jean-Pierre Cloutier

Note : Initially published in October 1987 in The Haiti Times. Volel's murder was one of the several political assasinations that marred the post-Duvalier era as supporters of the former regime tried to offset the democratic process.

The leader of the Rassemblement Démocrate Chrétien Haïtien (RDCH), lawyer Yves Volel, was shot and killed on October 13 at 10:45AM, in front of the Recherches Criminelles building, by police officers in civilian clothes as he was protesting the illegal detention of one of his clients. He had convened the press at 10:00 AM in front of the Recherches Criminelles (police headquarters). At the said time, he showed up carrying his lawyer robe, and holding in his hand a copy of the Constitution. He addressed the crowd of local journalists in Creole for about 10 minutes, then as he wanted to speak in English to some members of the foreign press, a group of men in civilian clothes approached Volel shouting "Long live Volel for President!" but started shoving him and shooting in the air. In the chaos that ensued, Volel fell to the ground, a bullet in the neck and another in the chest. Journalists were also shoved, and Télé-Haïti saw its video tape of the incident confiscated. As the shooting had stopped, reporters were kept away from the body of Volel. A wind of panic spread through the surrounding streets and shop owners started closing their doors. The body laid on the ground for about an hour, without the slightest medical attention, and was then taken away to the State Hospital morgue.

Explaining the reasons that brought Mr. Volel to try and obtain the release of Jean Raymond Louis may be left to the deceased himself as he spoke to the press seconds before being shot: "I am presenting myself in front of the Port-au-Prince police headquarters with in my hand the Constitution as the lawyer of Jean Raymond Louis. Last Friday afternoon, at 16:48 PM, as I was coming out of the Income Tax Office, I heard someone calling me. [Ed. Note: the Income Tax Office is adjacent to the police headquarters building's north side, where the detention cells are located.] "Maître Volel! Maître Volel! Maître Volel!" I looked up toward the windows of the cells, I saw someone and had time to take that person's name. His name is Jean Raymond Louis. I asked him how long he had been detained there. He said it had been more than a month. I asked him if he had appeared in court, in front of a justice of the peace, of a government commissioner, or in front of any court of his peers. He replied he had seen no one. I asked him why he had been arrested, and he replied he didn't know, but he had been told it was political. He then asked me to alert the Provisional Electoral Council, but I told him the PEC had nothing to do with it. However, as a lawyer, I'll see what I can do for you. As I was talking to him, I saw his head go down and heard him shout 'Don't beat me! Don't beat me!' Yesterday I heard on the radio the interview with Daniel Narcisse who had been arrested and detained at the Recherches Criminelles talking of an individual named Jean Raymond Louis, and that as he was talking to me they [prison guards] took him from the window and severally beat him up. They later took him to another cell. My friends, the 1987 Constitution for which the people voted, in its Article 25.1 clearly states 'No one can be interrogated in the absence of his lawyer or a witness of his or her choice.' [At this point, a car horn was heard] You may honk all you want, I'll go on talking. This detention is illegal, they can't hold him for more than 48 hours without sending him to court. This is the reason why, as a practising lawyer, and defender of Jean Raymond Louis, I am asking to see Jean Raymond Louis, and to ask the police to respect the Constitution on illegal detention, and to release him immediately. If the police is not satisfied with the Constitution, I know what I will do legally. I talked on Saturday morning with the Under-Secretary of State for Justice who promised me he would see the chief of police to investigate the case. But as I have received no communication from the Under-Secretary of State on the matter at hand, whom by the way I consider as an honest person, but as I have not received any communication from him Saturday, Sunday or Monday, I have the right to believe nothing has been done in the case of Jean Raymond Louis. Right now, I am calling on the press to contribute to the education of the people, to the education of the army. I am calling upon all military of good faith, soldiers, former brothers in arms of mine, to all soldiers and officers, for you to understand that tomorrow, the repressive system that could affect you, your families,your children, brothers and sisters, to you that would like to see the law be respected in Haiti, that the current situation just can't goon. It is our own race and blood, our friends, our brothers that are beating us up, torturing us. The stick with which we are beaten may fall on the big leaders' children tomorrow, even on the big leaders if they are not big leaders any more. So let us all work in discipline so that the law may triumph in our country. I will now go inside, and ask to meet the chief of police to see what he will do in such a case, and in the case of 44 persons inside which don't even have room to sleep.They are beaten regularly. According to the law, this is not a detention canter. After 48 hours, if you are to be detained, it should be at the Penitencier National. So I'll go and discuss this with the chief of police. I know him, and he used to talk among friends, when he wasn't chief yet, that he disagreed with what was going on inside this place under Duvalier. I will ask him if he forgot his discontent now that he is the chief. Thank you." At this point, he wanted to address the few foreign journalists in English, but was cut off by the group of armed civilians coming from the police headquarters. All he had time to say before he was first hit by one of the men was "Mister Jean Louis..."

According to the official version issued less than two hours after the incident, and contradicting every witness statement, Volel would have showed up in front of the police headquarters with a group of armed people. After haranguing a crowd that had gathered for half an hour, a gun shot which was to act as a "signal" for an attack on the police station was fired. Several more shots were fired in the ensuing chaos as, the communique says, Volel and his supporters were trying to obtain by force the release of Jean Raymond Louis. Volel himself was carrying a Colt .45 registration number 21609. The communique was signed by Colonel Grégoire Figaro, Chief of Police of Port-au-Prince. It was quickly picked up by the Haitian Embassy in Washington which assured its diffusion there, reinforcing the authorities' theory that Volel had died as a result of an armed confrontation.

On the next day, it was learnt that the person who acted as a press liaison agent for the RDCH and who was accompanying Mr. Volel at the time of his death was missing.

Yves Volel, 52, was a graduate of the Military Academy, promotion of 1954, the same as Lt-General Henri Namphy. Under the Duvalier regime, he had taken to exile and had returned early after the downfall of Jean-Claude Duvalier. During his 25 years in abroad, spent mostly in New York, he had set up a refugee help committee called "Operation Exodus." His first political allegiances were with the Parti Démocrate Chrétien d'Haïti-PDCH of Pastor Sylvio Claude. But after a divergence of view with Claude, he founded his own party, the RDCH. The party was part last summer during the "Rache Manyok" operation of a group called "Coalition for the Final Struggle." Although his candidacy had not yet been officialized, posters had appeared a few days before his death announcing his intention. He had, last summer, been the victim of a shooting incident as he was driving home on Delmas Road. His car had been shot at, but Volel who always carried a gun (for which he had a permit) had returned fire and gotten away without injury.

Yves Volel acted as civil prosecutor in the trial of Luc Desir, former political police chief under the Duvaliers, held shortly after the regime's demise. He also acted as defense lawyer for CATH trade unionist Auguste Mesyeux last June. Another resounding case in which Volel was involved was the court suit involving himself and Finance Minister Leslie Delatour. The Finance minister had abruptly put an end to Volel's contract as legal advisor to the Minoterie d'Haïti in January 1987, and this without the consent of either the director-general or the board of directors of the Minoterie. Volel had sued for damages to his reputation and asked a symbolic $1 penalty from Delatour. Delatour was suing on the same grounds and was asking $1 million from Volel. The courts had decided in favour of Volel and condemned Delatour to pay the $1 asked by Volel.

On September 30 during a press conference, Yves Volel had called for the people to adopt "legitimate violence" in order to defend itself against the terrorist actions perpetrated by the macoutes who want to disrupt the coming elections. "What is needed is the triumph of popular will. And in order to do so, the people themselves must defend their victory over Duvalierism."

Reactions condemning the killing of Volel came from all sectors of the social and democratic life, at home and abroad. Some insisted on the fact that "normal, free and honest" elections were impossible in light of the Volel "assassination." Others asked for a national day of mourning. The Komite Inite Demokratik-KID, a political pressure group, asked if the Volel incident was what Lt-General Henri Namphy meant as he returned from his back slapping visit to the United States as he stated "Games are over, now we're onto serious business." Pierre Metellus, a renowned Haitian author, called the press from Paris to express his shock and disgust at the news of Volel's death.


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On this site: May 18, 1997