Photo Credit: Meridith Kohut, The New York Times

By Garry Pierre-Pierre

Two days after Guy Philippe was arrested in Haiti by Haitian police officers and extradited to Miami on drug charges, I received an email urging Haitians to sign a petition calling on the U.S. State Department to release him to the Haitian authorities. Philippe, who has been wanted by the U.S. Drugs and Enforcement Agency for more than 10 years,  was nabbed on Thursday, Jan. 5  outside a radio station in Petion Ville minutes after he gave an interview.

Here is what the petition read:

  1. Request a Review of the Protocol of the Arrest.
  2. Release the Senator to His Peers for Local Due Process.
  3. Revise International Agreement between Countries as to not Subjugate the rights of Local Elected Officials. The Laws of Justice of the United States can be applied in due time before or after the Elected Official is in function.

What is curious to me is that this petition is coming from a group of Haitian Americans, who are clearly ignorant of international laws and U.S.-Haiti relations, and know precious little about Philippe and his nefarious role in the mess that is Haiti today.

Philippe, a former police officer, ran for president and was recently elected a senator from the Grand Anse region.  He was to take the oath a week or so before his arrest. Philippe’s election as a senator would have given him immunity from prosecution, but he was arrested before he was sworn in.

I first came to hear of Philippe when a mutual friend called me frantically on a cold night in 2003. The friend wanted to know what I could do to help Philippe and a band of rogue police officers who had ran afoul of Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s corrupt rule. They were in the lam in Cap Haitien. I told the friend that they should try to get to the U.S. embassy to seek refuge. The friend replied somberly that the U.S. had revoked their visas. Why I asked, they were accused of being involved in drugs. I calmly said that there was nothing I could do and hung up the phone.

A year later, Philippe would emerge as a leader of a rag tag bunch of former soldiers of the disbanded Haitian Armed Forces and would topple Aristide as Haiti was celebrating its 200 anniversary as the first black republic in the world. Oddly enough, this man who was under investigation by US authorities was allowed to march across the country from Cap Haitien to the gates of the destroyed National Palace and forced Aristide out of the country into exile, first in Central African Republic and then to South Africa, where he spent years teaching at a university until his return to the politically troubled Caribbean nation in 2011.

In the intervening years, Philippe has become a brazen personality and developed a myth of invincibility around his persona. He has escaped the reach of law enforcement officers by mere seconds. He openly gave interviews to radio stations and goad his nemesis to come get him. His luck ran out last week when he was nabbed. Philippe was taken to Miami where he awaits his day in court. He is innocent until proven guilty and he has hired an attorney to defend him.

Without Philippe’s bogus coup d’etat, there would have been no UN troops in Haiti. By extension, there would have been no cholera. So when we rightly denounce the UN’s presence in Haiti we have to ask ourselves, why was the UN in Haiti in the first place? Haiti is the only country in the world with a UN force without having gone through a true civil war. Our zero sum politics got us where we are today and given the latest political upheaval, Haitian leaders have shown they’ve learned nothing and are dammed to repeat the same mistakes of the past.

I have never met Philippe and I don’t know whether or not he’s guilty. The American judicial system will be the final judge. However, I believe that his arrest is a seminal moment in Haitian politics and society. I hope it sends a strong signal to law breakers that they can’t act with impunity and that no one is above the law. This year we have seen too many miscreants elected to Parliament.

I believe the number one plague in Haiti is the lack of the rule of law or the enforcement of the law by Haitian authorities who are unwilling to bring those who violate the law to justice. That fundamental flaw is at the root of the problem and has stifled economic and social growth. I hope that whatever the outcome in Philippe’s case, Haitians start to understand that no one is above the law. I’m deeply disappointed that some Haitian Americans would start a petition on behalf of Philippe. Where is that support for the late Father Jean Marie Vincent,  Mireille Durocher Bertin, Antoine Izmerry, Jean Dominique, Felix Lamy and so many more. These are people who were murdered in cold blood and to this day none of their assassins have been brought to justice. The diaspora’s outrage over Philippe’s arrest is misguided and deeply troubling.

Garry Pierre-Pierre is a Pulitzer-prize winning, multimedia and entrepreneurial journalist. In 1999, he left the New York Times to launch the Haitian Times, a New York-based English-language publication serving the Haitian Diaspora. He is also the co-founder of the City University Graduate School of Journalism‘s Center for Community and Ethnic Media and a senior producer at CUNY TV.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply