by Isabelle Papillon
When Lucmane Délille, Port-au-Prince’s
district attorney, summoned former President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide to appear before him on Wednesday, Jan. 9 to answer
patently frivolous complaints, it caused a great awakening of
the Lavalas masses, alarming those in Haiti and abroad
who thought it was time to behead Aristide’s party, the Lavalas
Indeed, tensions ran high that
day when thousands of Aristide’s supporters massed outside the
courthouse where Aristide was summoned to appear before Délille
at 10 a.m.. Similar outpourings took place in Haiti’s major
cities like Cap Haïtien, Gonaïves, and Jérémie. However, when
the prosecutor saw the crowds, he decided, at the urging of
Aristide’s lawyers, to go meet with the former head of state at
his home in Tabarre, on the northern outskirts of the capital.
When the crowd heard that news,
the thousand of demonstrators marched, jogged, and ran from the
courthouse to Aristide’s home, about four miles away.
What exactly happened at
Délille told journalists that
he had a cordial conversation with Dr. Aristide. The
conversation was very brief, no more than 30 minutes. There was
a massive police presence. Not since his return to Haiti on Mar.
18, 2011 after seven years in exile had so many police officers
been mobilized to provide Aristide security. It appears that day
was the first time that district attorney Délille realized that
he was dealing with a former head of state and that meeting with
Aristide posed a security problem.
Délille also pretended that he
interviewed Aristide. But, according to a reliable source who
was at the meeting, Délille’s assistant, Paul Eronce Villard,
conducted most of the interview. There was also in Délille’s
delegation a senior official of the Justice Ministry whose name
was not revealed.
This raises an important
question: who was the Justice Ministry employee, and why was he
Aristide’s lawyers were also
present: Mario Joseph, Dabia Jean Lunès, Camille Leblanc, Joël
Petit-homme, Newton Saint-Juste, and Guy César. According to
them, the meeting was very cordial. Délille’s team displayed no
arrogance and did not conduct the meeting as an interrogation or
Aristide’s lawyers said they
took the opportunity to object to the proceeding. Délille was
acting on two complaints, the first that Aristide was
responsible for the losses some people incurred after investing
in a cooperative bank which failed during his time in office.
One lawyer argued that "a head of state cannot be aware of a
contract between two private individuals."
The second complaint was
brought by Sony Thélusma (Ti Sony), who, as a child, had lived
at Lafanmi Selavi, an orphanage Aristide ran in the 1980s.
Thélusma, who was allied with pro-coup forces in the years
before the Feb. 29, 2004 putsch against Aristide, claimed that
his former mentor raised money for the orphanage which was then
misspent on political projects. The lawyers said that there is
no evidence whatsoever to support that claim and that Fanmi
Selavi fed and housed hundreds of poor street children.
Despite the cordiality and the
lawyers’ objections, Délille sent the case to an investigating
judge, the equivalent in Haitian law of convening a grand jury.
The investigating judge can choose to proceed with the
prosecution or dismiss it, or even to have Aristide arrested.
Many parliamentarians have
strongly criticized Délille and the government for their action.
Senators Moïse Jean Charles, John Joël Joseph, and Jean-Baptiste
Bien-Aimé, among many others, said that the questioning of
Aristide amounts to political persecution carried out by the
government to undermine the Lavalas Family leader. Sen. Bien-Aimé
said that President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent
Lamothe fear that the power and popularity of the Lavalas Family
would hurt them in upcoming elections and that they had to do
everything to discredit and destroy Aristide's popularity.
Meanwhile, Sen. Jean-Charles accused Martelly of instigating the
legal proceedings against Aristide. Other parliamentarians
called on Délille to resign.
Durin Duret Junior, president
of the National Association of Haitian Magistrates (ANAMAH) and
Carlos Hercule, president of the Federation of Bar Associations
of Haiti, said that Délille had proceeded illegally.
"This is a real spectacle that
we’ve witnessed this Wednesday in Port-au-Prince," Duret
said. “A magistrate must operate in compliance with the law and
legality. Once the standards are not met, there is automatically
a risk of hurting oneself. Prosecutor Délille’s conduct
in the case of the former priest of St. John Bosco continues to
sully the institution and as a result the judicial system
The big question is this: are
Délille and the Martelly/Lamothe regime really trying to uphold
justice and the rule of law by embarking on this adventure?
Martelly, showered with
accusations that he is behind Aristide’s prosecution, denies it.
However, Aristide’s supporters point to a growing number of
legal anomalies and “dirty tricks” under his administration: the
November 2011 arrest of Deputy Arnel Bélizaire, despite his
parliamentary immunity; the unlawful arrest and imprisonment of
21 Lavalas supporters hours after a Jan. 1, 2013 demonstration;
the release from jail of Martelly’s Special Adviser, Calixte
Valentin, who murdered Octanol Dérissaint before numerous
eye-witnesses; the alleged involvement of National Palace
security chief, Marc-Arthur Phébé in the Clifford Brandt
kidnapping ring; and finally the case of Josué Pierre-Louis, the
hand-picked president of Martelly’s contested Permanent Electoral
Council, who is credibly accused of raping a subordinate.
Despite the alarm and outcry of
his supporters, Aristide continues to preach peace. “Honor and
respect for each person who is making a big sacrifice by
marching under the hot sun for democracy to give justice and
peace,” Aristide said in a statement issued after the
demonstration outside his home. “Honor and respect for that
great patriotic sacrifice. I’d like to embrace each of my
sisters and brothers who were in the crowd, but unfortunately
that is not possible. Allow me to tell you ‘thank you’ while I
renew my engagement to always remain faithful to you all. Haiti,
our mother, is thirsty for peace for her children. In mutual
love, we will continue to protect that peace so that every
Haitian, without distinction, lives with peace in his head and
in his stomach.”
The massive mobilization to
defend Aristide certainly surprised Délille. Anxiety and
disappointment were clearly visible on his face as he stood
before television cameras after the meeting in Tabarre.
Meanwhile, Lavalas militants, some of whom had been
divided by secondary differences, were energized and emboldened
by their massive show of unity on Jan. 9.