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#4261: The Raboto case moves forward - Boston Globe 6/11/00, p A1, by John Donnelly (fwd)
From: Catherine Orenstein <email@example.com>
By John Donnelly, Globe Staff, 6/11/2000
GONAIVES, Haiti - It was just another slaughter in Haiti.
Soldiers and police beat people in their homes here before dawn on April
1994. They shot them fleeing into the sea. It became a massacre marked with
And that normally would have been the end of the story, for Haiti's history
is full of bloody tales of the military acting as it pleased, crushing any
This time was different.
Months later, a US invasion force of 20,000 troops ushered out the
military leaders, and the victims in the Raboteau neighborhood of Gonaives
grew more determined not to allow what had happened that morning slip away
They demanded justice for the dead, whose estimated number is 15. So they
marched. At one protest, a chance bystander listened intently and decided to
get involved. He was Brian Concannon Jr. of Marshfield, a former corporate
lawyer bored with litigation that involved only big-money interests.
The government of Haiti hired him to help prepare the Raboteau case.
Suddenly, Raboteau became more than just another slaughter.
More than six years after the bloodletting, the case against 57 former
officials and private militia members is set to go to trial before a jury
The government hopes the trial will push forward its rudimentary attempts
building a civil society, showing the nation that the poor can find justice
in Haiti and need not risk a rickety boat ride to the United States to
a basic tenet of democracy.
It also hopes the case will win extradition for the leaders of the brutal
1991-94 military regime, including army commander Raoul Cedras, suspected
drug trafficker and Port-au-Prince police chief Michel Francois, and the
CIA-backed right-wing politician Emmanuel Constant. Constant and several
others cited by prosecutors live in the United States.
The case represents one of Haiti's first steps on the long road of seeking
truth and reconciliation for past injustices, joining a steadily growing
movement of countries facing their past and trying to heal deep wounds in
order to move ahead.
''I want the government to make an example of these people now in jail,''
said Gonaives Mayor Mary Nicolas, leaning on her door, which bears bullet
holes from the night of the massacre. ''People must be sentenced and shown
an example for everyone in Haiti that those committing massacres will serve
There are no guarantees, of course. The trial may yet be delayed. And even
if it goes forward, the case may prove an aberration and not inspire other
But there is strong evidence that for the first time a malfunctioning
judicial system has been forced to master a complex case: The defendants
had top-notch representation, unlike past human rights cases; the case has
advanced, if slowly, through two levels of appeal; close coordination has
been established among judges, prosecutors, police, and victims; and a judge
outlined the charges in a 173-page finding that Concannon calls ''the best
single document to come out of the Haitian justice system.''
''We're trying to make a clean break with the past, the pre-1994 years when
there was no justice system,'' Concannon said. Still, ''people we work with
are very apprehensive and skeptical. It's very frustrating because the
isn't functioning as well as it should be.''
Concannon, 36, the second of five children of two lawyers in Marshfield,
left the Boston firm of Mintz Levin in 1993 to work in international human
rights. He observed elections in El Salvador. And he was a human rights
worker in Haiti for nine months.
''In my Boston job, I didn't make the world any better whether I won or
cases,'' said Concannon, sitting in his Port-au-Prince office, which is the
size of a walk-in closet and which has three dusty suit jackets on hangers
that rest unsteadily on a window sill. ''I wanted to get into something that
whether I won or lost, or did a good or bad job, made a difference in the
scheme of things.''
The Raboteau case was just what he was looking for. ''People were singing
and chanting for justice,'' he said. ''They really inspired me.''
In 1995, the government established the International Lawyers Office to
investigate human rights violations. When Concannon took his job a year
later, he believed he would be in Haiti for six months, possibly a year.
''It's taken four years because that's how long these things take here,''
said. ''There's a Haitian proverb that says, `Behind a mountain there are
more mountains.' The main thing is that the system has never done something
Raboteau straddles a Caribbean bay, its maze of wide dusty streets leading
to salt pits at water's edge. In the pits, the water is the color of
In one pit, a body was dragged out a day after the massacre, likely by
foraging pigs. Another body was found in a boat called Dieu si Bon, or God
so Good, an expression usually followed by the phrase, ''Have mercy on us.''
At least three other corpses washed ashore.
Four days after the massacre, this reporter found Raboteau a virtual ghost
town. Front doors swung open, furniture was broken in pieces in streets and
only a handful of the neighborhood's several thousand residents could be
seen. Some brave teenagers led the way to two shallow graves that had been
partly unearthed by animals.
In a recent visit, residents vividly remembered the day the police ran
''Oh! That morning!'' said white-haired Joseph Morancy, 76, a former
cosmetics salesman. ''We have a saying. What happened then was pig in
Raboteau, and Raboteau was pig.''
He said police stole his life's earnings that day, the equivalent of
in cash that was hidden in his home. He wife grew so frightened by hooligans
smashing their possessions and threatening her that ''she became paralyzed.
Literally. She can't move. I lost sight of my right eye from that day on.
>From shock. Will we get justice? Oh! What is justice? That day turned me
a beggar. People are kind, but what can justice do?''
Next door was Nicolas. ''Lucky for me, I escaped just in time,'' she said.
''They shot at me, but missed. So they broke everything I owned, ripped the
telephone off the wall. I found everything in the street.''
In about 90 witness statements, Concannon and fellow human rights attorney
Mario Joseph, the victims' lawyer, have amassed a tale of looting and
Olgate Valcin's detailed seven-page summary, which touched on the
tensions between the community and authorities, addressed the fate of his
father, Valcin Valcius, 67, blind since the age of 40. Valcin said
Jean Tatoune and others entered his house. They ''beat my father with
rifle butts, and fists. The executioners stopped their torture when my
began vomiting blood.'' Outside the house, Valcin said, police Captain
Castera Cenafils gave orders.
Soon after, his father died.
The people charged in the crime, Cenafils, Tatoune and 20 other former
soldiers, police officers and attaches, now are locked up at the Gonaives
Standing on a concrete courtyard, a taciturn Tatoune, his arms crossed over
a tank top with ''Houston'' written across it, said he had nothing to do
the events of April 22, 1994.
''That night, I wasn't even around,'' said Tatoune, 42, father of 14
children, who has been in jail for five years awaiting trial. ''I was
elsewhere delivering food.''
He would say no more. Cenafils, though, was talkative. The government's
version, he said, was fiction. He described a group of ''terrorists''
attacking his police station early that morning and the police then
''One person died. If that. No one in the population was touched,'' he
''The system has dropped everything on my back. They cannot prove that their
story is true, that a massacre happened. I've never seen any death
Asked about the bodies found, Cenafils said no one could say the
circumstances of their death. Asked why the town had emptied out for days
after that April 22, he said, ''Maybe they were all at a party in a
Life in prison, he said, has been ''most difficult.'' One hardship has been
the lack of communication with family, including his mother and two sisters
in Boston. ''I miss them very much,'' he said.
In Boston, Roseluma Cenafils, his sister, said she worries about him.
is going on? My God, what is going on with my brother?'' she asked
rhetorically. ''You wait, you wait, you wait, nothing happens.''
Waiting, too, is Concannon's family, 30 miles southeast of Boston.
''Brian's had a tremendous commitment to helping other people,'' said Rose
Anne Concannon, his mother. ''But he's been gone too long. We miss him.''
Leaning back in his chair in Port-au-Prince, the sounds of car horns from
John Brown Avenue echoing in his office, Concannon said he would be staying
''as long as this case takes. I want to head back to Boston, but we have
something to finish here. How long can it take?''
This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 6/11/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.
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