“This is How Duvalier Started”: Critics of Haitian President Imprisoned
by Meena Jagannath and Fran Quigley
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI. An unrelenting sun beats down on the streets of downtown Port-au-Prince, and sweat pours off the three dozen men and handful of women who sing, dance, and wave home-made signs as they block the entrance to the government Ministry of Social Affairs.
This is the latest in a series of weekly demonstrations by the grassroots organization MOLEGHAF, (Movement for Liberty and Equality by Haitians for Fraternity), calling for the government to create jobs and increase social support in this country with 80% unemployment and widespread poverty. Some of the signs read, MOLEGHAF Di Fók Nou Travay: MOLEGHAF Says We Must Have Work. Most of the protest songs are directed to Haiti’s President, Michel Martelly: “Martelly has left us behind!” a young man shouts through a megaphone.
A police truck filled with five rifle-toting members of the Haitian National Police tries to pass directly through the group. The protesters stop and surround the truck, banging pots and pans within inches of the pointed rifles. It is a tense moment, all the more so because MOLEGHAF members know well the risk they are taking.
It was at a similar demonstration a few weeks ago when police arrested two of the group’s leaders, longtime activists David Oxygène and Dukens Charles. Days later, four more MOLEGHAF members were arrested in their home. Oxygène was charged with breaking the window of a car belonging to the director of CONATEL (National Coordination of Telecommunications), while Dukens asked the police to arrest him to be in solidarity with his fellow activist. The activists say the charges are completely unfounded, but Oxygène and Charles remain incarcerated in the National Penitentiary. The other four MOLEGHAF members who were arrested have been released, but Oxygéne was recently transferred to a section of the prison called "Titanic 5-6," notorious for its hard-core inmate population and deplorable conditions, including extreme overcrowding and lack of beds and toilet facilities.
Attempts to reach the Government of Haiti for comment on the arrests were unsuccessful.