By Andrea Schmidt, Haiti Information Project, Sept. 27, 2005
Today, I met the infamous "chimeres" - two young men, Lavalas activists from the Delmas 2 sector of Bel Air, one of Port-au-Prince's popular neighborhoods. Their names are Désir St Phard and Fan Fan Fénélon, and they are on the run. When I left them late this afternoon, they didn't know where they were going to sleep tonight. But they know where they want to be in a few months, if they can make it
Fénélon was a guard at the National Palace, on duty the night of February 29, 2004, when Aristide's presidency was kidnapped by U.S. marines. He remembers the half hour of darkness in the palace — the black out during which Aristide was put into a helicopter and flown into exile — and his frustration at his inability to prevent what took place.
Since that black-out, Fénélon has felt threatened. He had every reason to believe that he was a potential political target of paramilitaries led by Guy Philippe (an ex-member of the Haitian army and former police chief, trained by U.S. Special Forces in Ecuador in 1994) who led the rebellion against Aristide or others backed by Group 184 — the alliance of civil society (mostly business elites) behind the 2004 coup d'état. But he says that fear didn't stop him from working with Désir and other young Lavalas activists from trying to organize against rising unemployment among the people in their neighborhood — many of them people thrown out of the civil service after the interim government took power.
Things got worse.
Fénélon and St-Phard recount how from July 6 to 23 of this year, a dozen unidentified men wearing balaclavas came and torched fifty-four houses in Delmas 2 to the ground. Why? Because the residents were associating — maybe even organizing — with Fénélon, St-Phard and their colleagues. Then a month ago, a friend and colleague of theirs named Tou Tou was hacked to death by paramilitaries wielding machetes.
So now they are hiding, and there is no one to back them up. The Fanmi Lavalas party to which they remain faithful is distracted by the upcoming elections, and the popular movement that brought that party to power twice in ten years is being severely repressed. The sort of violent repression that people like Fénélon and St-Phard have experienced over the past year is only the latest tactic in a long list used by the U.S., France, Canada, and Haitian elites to undermine, divide and ultimately destroy that movement.
The interim government instated after the coup has not protected them, allowing them instead to be targeted by the national police force in the name of security, and scapegoating them for all the kidnappings that have beset Port-au-Prince over the past year and a half. They are bestialized by the national and international press with the pejorative label "chimère" — a reference to the mythical monster which is part serpent, part goat and part lion. And MINUSTAH forces participate in the criminalization, refering to them as gang members and "bandits," their neighborhoods as gang-infested areas to be pacified.
So Fénélon and Désir are in hiding, moving from place to place, keeping a low profile, not seeing their families much, and trying to avoid the same fate as their friend Tou Tou. Now they want to go to Canada, to find some safety there.
Fénélon and Désir fit a profile — not of gang members or monsters, but of people in need of protection from political persecution. The question is, will Canada accept them as refugees, when that would mean admitting that the Canadian government — which supported the coup and which contributes to the MINUSTAH mission here — is playing a role in creating the very conditions that have left these two young men in need of protection?
Posted July 24, 2023