By Yves Pierre-Louis, Haiti Liberte (English page), Nov 2, 2011 www.haitiliberte.com
After five months without a legally established government, Haitian President Joseph Michel Martelly finally managed in October to nominate and have ratified by Parliament a prime minister, who has set up a government of 18 ministers and 19 secretaries of state.
But no sooner was Prime Minister Garry Conille installed in office than President Martelly provoked a new crisis by ordering the illegal and arbitrary arrest of Deputy Arnel Bélizaire (of the Chamber of Deputies, Haiti's lower house of Parliament) on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011 at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince.
The arrest was carried out by Port-au-Prince government prosecutor Félix Léger with the help of the Haitian National Police (PNH) and the soldiers of the United Nations occupation force, MINUSTAH (UN Stabilization Mission for Haiti).
Around 4 p.m. on Oct. 27, Deputy Bélizaire, who represents the capital's Delmas and Tabarre districts, returned from an official parliamentary visit to France using a diplomatic passport. As he stepped off an Air France jet, Haitian National Police (PNH) officers arrested him and took him directly to the National Penitentiary where he stayed overnight.
Martelly charges that Bélizaire is a convicted criminal who escaped from the Penitentiary during the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake and belongs back behind bars. His desire to imprison Bélizaire followed a heated exchange between the two men during an Oct. 12 meeting of the Chamber of Deputies' 'Group of 58 voting bloc with Martelly at the National Palace to discuss the ratification of Garry Conille.
Bélizaire explained his version of what happened at that meeting in an official Oct. 14 letter to Chamber of Deputies president Sorel Jacinthe. Following an introduction by Deputy Fritz Chéry, Deputy Virkens Derilus told Martelly that in order for the Chamber to ratify Prime Minister Conille's general policy declaration, the Group of 58 had been offered 50 million gourdes ($1.25 million) to be released to each commune (region in Haiti) and for communal leaders to be respected, , according to Bélizaire's letter. "The President responded: 'What is this shit?'"
Bélizaire quoted Martelly: "You know me. Nobody can make me do anything. I have a big dick which is too heavy for me. You can't do anything to me, and I'm not going to lose anything. If you want to do anything with me, you say President, this is what we'd like, and I'll see what I can do.'"
"At that moment, I intervened to say to the President that I did not agree," Bélizaire's letter continues. "He responded to me: 'My ass. You forget once I was with you one evening and we were helping people, and the next day you went on the radio and lambasted me; I didn't hear you, that's what people told me.' I told him: 'Mr. President, what they told you was right. I did lambaste you on the radio. Already I didn't like you.' At this point, the President lost all control, insulting me and threatening me (with every kind of cursing that there is) up to the point where he dared to tell me: 'Since I hear you have balls, prove it to me, I'm going to make it so you don't leave the Palace alive.'"
Following that meeting, Martelly swore that he would arrest Bélizaire.
So it was that last Thursday at the airport, all measures were taken to arrest the deputy. Police barred a parliamentary delegation, headed by Chamber of Deputies president Sorel Jacinthe, from entering the airport's diplomatic lounge.
"We are dealing with a supreme leader who is plunging into dictatorship and who should be following the example of others in the country today," said Jacinthe. "We are going to see Arnel to tell him that we are for democracy, for the separation of powers, and for respect of the Constitution." Jacinthe said that he feared a return to the status quo ante because he believes that Martelly has the highest disregard for freedom of the press and the legislature and holds former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier as his preferred political model.
The former Chamber of Deputies president, Lévaillant Louis-Jeune, meanwhile, said that the country experienced last Thursday the "D" day of a new dictatorship. He promised that when Parliament reconvenes in January 2012, there will be a proposal for the President's impeachment, pursuant to the Constitution's Article 186 which states: "The House of Deputies, by a majority of two thirds (2/3) of its members, shall indict: a. The President of the Republic for the crime of high treason or any other crime or offense committed in the discharge of his duties."
Many parliamentarians feel that Martelly committed a crime by arresting Deputy Bélizaire, despite their warnings that he should not, because the President flagrantly violated Article 115 of the Constitution which states: "No member of the Legislature may during his term be arrested under ordinary law for a crime, a minor offense or a petty violation, except by authorization of the House of which he is a member, unless he is apprehended in the act of committing an offense punishable by death, personal restraint or penal servitude or the loss of civil rights. In that case, the matter is referred to the Chamber of Deputies or the Senate without delay if the Legislature is in session, and if not, it shall be taken up at the next regular or special session."
Prosecutor Félix Léger claimed that; "Haitian justice is not dealing with a deputy," but rather, "Justice is dealing with a citizen." (The same semantic word-play was on display last week when PNH spokesman Gary Desrosiers called eight MOLEGHAF activists arrested for demonstrating outside the offices of the Department of Social Affairs last Tuesday, Oct. 25, "bandits.")
"There is a citizen who had trouble with the law, justice has done its job, that's what's important," said Léger, who seems (as Jacinthe noted last week) to be unfamiliar with Haitian law.
Leger explained, "There was a formal order by [Haitian] justice," (he should have said, "by President Martelly") "not to take him to the courthouse to be charged, but to take him directly to the National Penitentiary."
While the deputies were held outside the airport, Interior Minister Thierry Mayard-Paul entered with a squad of heavily armed bodyguards, in flagrant violation of airport security rules. Worse still, Mayard-Paul physically assaulted several airport security guards who got in his way, as did his armed henchmen. The badge of the airport security officer Fritz Dorcé was confiscated, which caused airport workers to stage a work stoppage on Friday, Oct. 28.
The day after his arrest, Deputy Arnel Bélizaire was taken to the Chamber of Deputies where he was received by hundreds of his supporters and colleagues. The deputies voted overwhelmingly for a resolution calling for the immediate resignation of four members of the Martelly/Conille government: the Minister of Justice and Public Safety, Josué Pierre-Louis; Interior Minister, Thierry Mayard-Paul; Secretary of State to the Presidency for Foreign Affairs, Michel Brunache; and Government Prosecutor of the First Court of Port-au- Prince, Félix Léger. If they do not comply with this injunction, they will be sanctioned when Parliament reconvenes in January 2012, deputies said.
In the Senate, 16 senators have signed a motion summoning Justice Minister Josué Pierre-Louis and Secretary of State Michel Brunache on Thursday, Nov. 3.
Prime Minister Garry Conille and Interior Minister Thierry Mayard- Paul are to appear before the Senate on Monday, Nov. 7. They will be asked to explain the government's project to restore the Armed Forces of Haiti.
A Senate committee has also been formed to investigate the nationality of several government members who are suspected of being foreign citizens. Everything is being put in place to bring down some of the ministers close to Martelly. Martelly left the country last Thursday, Oct. 27 to visit the United States for health reasons, according to a statement of the National Palace's Communications Office. He was expected to return home Sunday, Nov. 6, but faced with the tempestuous situation, it is reported he will return instead on Wednesday, Nov. 2.
The government has unleashed a political confrontation which may have far-reaching consequences. Meanwhile, the National Palace has taken steps to mobilize some sectors to welcome the President at the airport so as to project the image that Martelly is popular. This Wednesday, we're likely to witness another spectacle at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport.