Editorial: Dechouke Boukman (Destroying Boukman), 21 March 1998

In this 1998 editorial, Jean Dominique takes to task the American missionaries who have come to Haiti to proselytize and “dechouke Boukman” — to destroy the reputation of Boukman, a slave who was one of the early leaders of the Haitian Revolution.  Boukman is said to have led a ceremony at Bois Caïman, which missionaries describe as a “pact with the devil.”  In tearing down Boukman, Dominique argues, evangelicals not only disparage the vodou religion, but also undermine the very legitimacy of the Haitian Revolution.

As Dominique points out, intolerance and persecution of vodou believers had been occurring throughout the 20th century, most notably during the 1940s, when the Catholic Church undertook a massive “antisuperstition campaign” in which vodou temples were destroyed and adherents were forced to renounce their religion.

This kind of hidebound intolerance persists among US evangelicals to this day, illustrated most famously when Pat Robertson blamed the 2010 earthquake on Haitians having made a “pact with the devil” to secure their freedom from France.

Inter-Actualités Magazine, Special Report: The Slaughter at Jean Rabel, late July 1987

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Download: Inter-Actualités Magazine, Repòtaj Spesyal: Masak Jean Rabel (l’Hécatombe de Jean Rabel), fen jiye 1987 (1)

Inter-Actualités Magazine, Repòtaj Spesyal: Masak Jean Rabel (l’Hécatombe de Jean Rabel), fen jiye 1987 (2)

 

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As news of the massacre of peasants at Jean Rabel reaches Port-au-Prince, Jean Dominique tries to make sense of the situation based on the scarce information at hand.  All that is known is that a group of peasants in the grassroots group Tèt Ansanm who were demanding land reform have been killed by other peasants as the result of the machinations of Duvalierist landowners.  Jean Rabel is in a remote area and the press can not yet go there.  There are conflicting reports about the number of dead; tens to hundreds are reported dead, and there is the possibility that the death counts have been inflated by the aggressors.

July1989_chantepeyizan_cartoon_1 copy

Cartoon from Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen’s 1989 pamphlet commemorating the Jean Rabel massacre. Wealthy landowners, the army, the Church, and the US, among others, are destroying Haitian peasant farmers. (Source: Radio Haïti Inter paper archive.)

This program revisits several other recordings — the July 3, 1987 interview with members of Tèt Ansanm in which they they warn that the situation is getting more perilous for Jean-Marie Vincent’s missionary team, the July 28, 1987 broadcast from Radio Soleil in which members of Tèt Ansanm who escaped the massacre described what they saw and experienced, Konpè Filo’s interview with Rémy Lucas and Jean-Michel Richardson earlier in 1987 after the violence at Gros Sable, and Michèle Montas’ interview with Father Jean-Marie Vincent on July 28, 1987.  While Jean-Marie Vincent is careful not to criticize Church authorities directly, the Association Nationale des Agronômes Haïtiens is more direct in its denunciation; in an open letter, they claim that bishops and priests have long been attacking Tèt Ansanm and Father Jean-Marie’s missionary team through inflammatory sermons, and that the Church is implicated in this violence.  According to speakers from the community of Plaine de l’Arbre, Tèt Ansanm had also been promoting national production and the consumption of local agricultural products by blocking imported food and food aid (manje sinistre), which created resentment for peasants whose families could not eat without this aid.  The recording concludes with Father Jean-Marie’s words on the future of Tèt Ansanm and grassroots peasant organization.

Inter-Actualités Magazine, Special Report on Jean Rabel: Land Ownership, Anti-Communism, the Catholic Church, and Rumors, 16 August 1987

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Download: Inter-Actualités Magazine, Repòtaj Spesyal sou Jean Rabel: Pwopriyetè Tè, Anti-Kominis, Legliz Katolik, ak Twipotaj, 16 daout 1987 (1)

Inter-Actualités Magazine, Repòtaj Spesyal sou Jean Rabel: Pwopriyetè Tè, Anti-Kominis, Legliz Katolik, ak Twipotaj, 16 daout 1987 (2)

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Three weeks after the massacre at Jean Rabel, the independent media is still forbidden to visit the area, so Jean Dominique sits with Michèle Pierre-Louis (who had recently visited the region as part of Mission Alpha) and agronomist Chavannes Jean-Baptiste (the founder of the Peasant Movement of Papaye) to discuss the aftermath of the massacre and the factors underpinning it. Pierre-Louis observes a great deal of hostility toward Jean-Marie Vincent and his missionary team among the peasants of Lacoma. But this hostility is the product of intentional strategy, one that the local landowners adopted when Tèt Ansanm’s ideology called into question existing social structure.

Cartoon from Tèt Kole's 1989 pamphlet commemorating the Jean Rabel massacre.  Peasant farmers plan to cut down the tree of injustice and oppression with the axe of liberation.  (Source: Radio Haïti Inter paper archive)

Cartoon from Tèt Kole’s 1989 pamphlet commemorating the Jean Rabel massacre. Peasant farmers plan to cut down the tree of injustice and oppression with the axe of liberation. (Source: Radio Haïti Inter paper archive)

These landowners — threatened by the possibility of losing their traditional power amid post-Duvalier political change — have manipulated the peasants of the Jean Rabel area, pitting them against one another, currying favor with certain groups of peasants with promises of land redistribution and favoritism. They have created a situation, in Jean-Baptiste’s words, in which the “little dog eats the little dog, poor peasants are killing poor peasants just like themselves.” According to Jean-Baptiste, the landowners and their allies (including certain radio stations and the traditional Catholic Church) have been part of a misinformation campaign, accusing Jean-Marie Vincent of being a communist, creating a climate of fear in which peasants believe that communists are going to seize their land, homes, and possessions. Divisions within the Catholic Church — between the traditional, reactionary Church hierarchy and the “ti legliz” preaching liberation theology and promoting the rights of the poor dispossessed peasantry – are also responsible for the massacre, and, according to Jean-Baptiste, the Church should be held responsible. Interview Jean Dominique.

Father Jean-Marie Vincent on the Jean Rabel Massacre, 28 July 1987

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Download: Pè Jean-Marie Vincent pale sou masak Jean Rabel, 28/7/1987

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Father Jean-Marie Vincent — Catholic priest and director of Caritas — speaks about the recent massacre of peasants in Jean Rabel, northwest Haiti. He blames an alliance of local oligarchs (the Lucas family and Jean-Michel Richardson) and macoutes; they in turn blame Father Vincent, claiming that he armed the members of Tèt Ansanm and incited them to violence. He says he is used to being blamed, attacked, threatened, and called a communist; it is to be expected when one organizes with peasants and encourages them to defend their rights. He rejects claims that the members of Tèt Ansanm are responsible for the violence in Jean Rabel, saying instead that the oligarchs and macoutes are creating a climate of fear and making the victims out to be the aggressors. Father Vincent explains that the conflict began when peasants in Gros Sable reclaimed their land after the departure of Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986. It reached its peak with the massacre in Jean Rabel, which has lasted several days. Relatively few people died on the first day, but in the following days, brigades under the direction of those oligarchs attacked and killed people as they attempted to return home and within the hospital. These powerful landowners have impunity. When asked about the Catholic Church’s position (as there are local church authorities who are in opposition to Tèt Ansanm and part of the attacking forces), Father Vincent replies that his order and Caritas have an official mandate to work with and organize the peasants, but that he does not want to risk saying more than that and will wait for higher church authorities to explain their position. Local landowners and oligarchs are profiting from post-dictatorship political instability, leveraging their economic and social capital to crush peasant movements. Father Vincent does not believe that this will be the end of Tèt Ansanm; grassroots peasants groups are the only hope for the masses, so despite suffering and death, they will not disappear. Interview Michèle Montas.

Jean Rabel Massacre – Father Jean Rénald Clérismé, Nicol Poitevien, and Jean-Michel Richardson, 30 July 1987

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Download: Jean Rabel – Pè Jean Rénald Clérismé, Nicol Poitivien, ak yon moun enkoni kap defann grandon yo

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Part 1 (0:00 to 3:51): Father Jean Rénald Clérismé makes a hurried call to Radio Haiti-Inter about the terror faced by the peasant members of Tèt Ansanm in the area of Beauchamp near Jean Rabel. The peasants are afraid to sleep at home, because people come to their homes at night to threaten them.Uniformed aggressors are all over the area, looking for members of Tèt Ansanm and threatening them. They have forbidden Tèt Ansanm and Caritas to have meetings, they are pillaging the peasants’ goods, and they have burned down the house of an agronomist who works with Tèt Ansanm and threaten to burn down more peasant homes. Father Clérismé names the four principal aggressors. He says the worst part is that the Haitian Army is responsible for having sent them.

Part 2 (3:55-8:54) Interview with Nicol Poitevien, one of the landowners from Jean Rabel who is accused of being responsible for this violence. Poitevien claims that everyone’s got it wrong: it’s the members of Tèt Ansanm and specifically Father Jean-Marie Vincent who are responsible for the violence, not himself and the other local oligarchs. “The name ‘gwoupman’ is a nice name, but what they’re doing isn’t nice.’ Poitevien claims the peasants are being manipulated and used by “communist” Father Vincent.

Part 3 (8:56-15:00): Jean-Michel Richardson defends the Poitevien, Lucas, and Richardson landowners, claiming that Father Vincent’s missionary team has been organizing the peasants of Tèt Ansanm to engage in dechoukaj, burn down houses, and injure other peasants. He would like to have a press conference to present his proof of this, and says that for every ten peasants who are members of Tèt Ansanm, he’ll show you ten peasants who are victims of Tèt Ansanm.

Tèt Ansanm members’ testimony, 3 July 1987

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Download: Sitiyasyon nan Jean Rabel avan masak la, 3 jiyè 1987

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Tèt Ansanm members’ testimony; July 3, 1987: Disturbances in and around Jean Rabel since General Namphy, the head of the ruling Conseil National de Gouvernment (CNG) visited the region. In rural areas around Jean Rabel, the macoutes, local leaders and police have come together to destroy Jean-Marie Vincent’s Catholic mission that has been working with peasant organizations. Since Friday they have been in La Montagne, and the surprising thing is that the direktè katechis (local catechism instructors) are collaborating with the macoutes. There have been attacks against the Catholic missionaries and the peasants themselves. Local civil, military, and religious authorities are not protecting people. They have come to Port-de-Paix to ask for authorities to intervene.

Jean Rabel Massacre, Radio Soleil, 28 July 1987

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Download: Masak Jan Rabel, Radyo Solèy

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A journalist (from Radio Soleil) speaks to two witnesses – an unnamed man and woman — of the ongoing massacre in Jean Rabel. The witnesses report that while the massacre officially occurred on July 23, 1987, it is in fact ongoing. The aggressors  have formed special paid brigades and are continuing to threaten people in prison and in the hospital as well as their families, and to systematically kill peasants injured and hiding in the brush. The aggressors have also started rumors and are creating panic, so that people in the town of Jean Rabel falsely believe that the peasants are going to come kill them. These two witnesses have come forward to Radio Soleil to plead for assistance. A lot of talking and discussion is going on in Port-au-Prince, but people in the capital don’t realize that the massacre is still going on and people are dying every day. The speakers call on the Catholic Church, the bishops, the Red Cross, or any moral person to come with enough cars to transport and save the 120 or so people “who are left, whom they haven’t yet killed.” They say it is a duty for the Church to save them.