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Investigative Report Concerning Tensions on Île à Vache

lundi 26 mai 2014


In August 2013, the Martelly-Lamothe government began a tourism development project on Île a Vache. Having been neither been consulted nor informed of the early development of this project, and believing that their opinions had not been considered, residents on the island engaged in a number of protests. These protests have led to arrests, police brutality, and general tension between the authorities and the population of Île a Vache.

In order to better understand the situation and the potential for human rights violations, a delegation comprising members of DOP, POHDH and RNDDH, appointed by the CE-JILAP and the Collective for Housing Rights (Collectif du Droit au Logement) visited Île a Vache from March 11 through March 13, 2014. The delegation wishes to share its observations and conclusions with all those concerned.


Over the course of this investigation, the team encountered many groups of concerned parties on Île a Vache, among which are :

1- Members of civil society organizations : Action Citoyenne pour l’Ile à Vache (ACI), Konbit Peyizan Ilavach (KOPI), Oganizasyon Fanm Ilavach (OFAIV)

2- Members of the Haitian National Police (PNH) and members of the Corps d’Intervention pour le Maintien de l’Ordre (CIMO), a specialized unit of the PNH

3- Île à Vache’s Justice of the Peace

4- The Interim Municipal Council

5- Representatives of health institutions

6- The manager of the community restaurant established by the government

7- A dozen victims

Meetings and focus groups were used to gather information. This methodology permitted the delegation to conduct a reliable diagnosis of the situation and to understand the truth of the situation unfolding on Île a Vache.


The commune of l’Ile à Vache is situated in the South Department, ten (10) kilometers southeast of Les Cayes. Its 45.97 km2 surface area is divided into twenty-six (26) localities. Île a Vache, known for its beautiful beaches and lush vegetation, is home to an estimated population of twenty thousand (20,000) inhabitants who subsist on agriculture, fishing, and animal husbandry. It is the most virgin island of the Caribbean. However, basic social services are practically nonexistent. Healthcare, education, etc. are hard to come by.


1. May 10, 2013 Decree

On May 10, 2013, the Martelly-Lamothe government made a presidential decree that the entire commune of Île a Vache as well as the coastal areas surrounding it were to be a reserved zone and a tourism development zone.

The population was not informed of this decree except by way of the press or hearsay. Rumors spread about relocation and expropriating landowners via eminent domain, which created a climate of fear. The island’s inhabitants did not want to be stripped of their land holdings or forced to leave the island.

2. The Île a Vache Tourism Development Project

Touted as “one of the last true treasure islands of all the Caribbean, untouched, unspoiled, and entirely unique” with more than twenty (20) practically deserted beaches, the development of Île a Vache is the cornerstone of the Minister of Tourism’s national plan to attract visitors for exclusive luxury vacations.

According to this plan, the guiding principles of tourism development are the respect of cultural integrity, the protection of the environment, the sustainability of tourist products, the quest for energy independence, the active involvement of local communities, and the fair sharing of the benefits. The State must, according to this plan, play a role as facilitator in partnership with the private sector to develop a durable eco-tourism.

The plan, which is accessible online , proposes a building project with 1,500 total units, including hotel rooms and villas which will be rented or sold to individuals. The villas will be divided into around 20 hamlets. A central village will be the point of arrival and departure for tourists. Located near the main northern port, it will serve as the main hub of services and entertainment such as restaurants, bars, a spa, pools, etc. The hamlets will be connected by pathways that can be traveled on foot, by bicycle, on horseback, or in electric golf carts. The bays will be dredged at Madame Bernard and at Kay-Kòk to allow yachts and pleasure craft to dock ; additionally it will allow electricity to be run to the island and permit the construction of an underwater museum.

To allow for greater air traffic, an international airport is planned for the eastern part of the island with a 2.6 km runway. Flights would be able to enter from Port-au-Prince, Miami, Santo Domingo, etc. In order to transport passengers among the airport buildings, a 15 km perimeter road is planned.

The population on the island will benefit from a new community center complete with a library, a theatre, a cybercafé, a community radio station, agricultural infrastructure, and training programs focused on the efficient management of aquatic and agricultural resources. In addition, a renovated public market and health center at Madame Bernard, freshwater wells across the island, public solar lighting, school improvements, and a solid waste processing facility are all planned.

After the Minister of Tourism Stephanie Balmir Villedrouin presented this plan, the government issued a call for proposals for a number of important projects. Those included in this call included private investors, national companies, and foreign interests. The due date for these proposals was August 12, 2013.


1. Commencing the Tourism Development Plan

On August 20, 2013, government representatives Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, Minister of Tourism Stephanie Balmir Villedrouin, Interim Agent Fritz Cesar, and Deputy Jean Thanis from the Cayes-Île a Vache district broke ground on the construction of four projects :

-  An international airport (at Bois Boutout)

-  A community center (at Kay-Kòk)

-  A community restaurant (at Kay-Kòk)

-  A community radio station (at Twou-milye)

At the end of September 2013, the National Land Registry Office (ONACA) began a vast surveying project on the island. The Dominican construction company Estrella began clearing fields and gardens by tractor ostensibly to prepare for a cross-island road.

In October 2013, a community organization called Citizen Action for Île a Vache (Action Citoyenne pour l’Île à Vache/ACI) asked for an audience with Interim Agent Fritz Cesar. However, during the audience, instead of responding to questions regarding the nature of this project, the Interim Agent arranged for ACI to meet with members of the government, notably the Minister of Tourism. Therefore in November 2013, the members of ACI presented themselves to relevant authorities in Port-au-Prince. In less than ten minutes, Ms. Stephanie Balmir Villedrouin gave explanations about the project, which were comsidered rushed and uninformative by the members of ACI. This further angered the islanders.

2. A Tense Situation on Île a Vache

From the beginning of this project, the details of which are presented above, the commune of Île a Vache has experienced a turbulent situation, notably due to the fact that the population was informed of the project in advance. This anger was exacerbated following the audience with the Minister of Tourism, which did little to correct a popular dirth of information concerning the future of the island and its inhabitants. Certain parties state that the inhabitants will be relocated while others believe that they will simply be expropriated.

Therefore, many individuals decided to protest their malcontent by holding rallies.

To this effect, on December 27, 2013, the first large protest took place against the government project. Over the course of this protest, the participants made clear their demand for precise answers concerning :

 The government project (development plan for the island)

 The four construction projects

 The destruction of peasant landholdings

Many other protests followed, January 3, 2014 and February 8, 2014 respectively, as well as during the period of February 21-February 25, 2014. The demands were always the same.

Yet despite these actions, no member of government or local authority figure came forward with convincing explanations for the population. On the contrary. Three of the four construction projects begun on April 20, 2013 continued. In December 2013, they were completed ; namely, the community center, the community restaurant, and the community radio station.


To restrain the population and nip in the bud any future protests, the government authorities took a number of actions designed to reinforce the repressive capabilities of the State in the island :

1. Reinforcement of Local Courts

On February 10, 2014, the Minister of Justice and Public Security transferred Maniche’s Justice of the Peace Nephzer Louis Jean as deputy Justice of the Peace in order to reinforce Île a Vache’s judiciary capacity. The new judge brought the number of judges serving the island to two.

Additionally, since February 2014, the Court of First Instance of Les Cayes maintains prosecution annex on the island. During this same period, on February 12, 2014, Sir Raymond Bergeau was appointed and inaugurated as substitute commissioner for the government in this annex, but he had not yet been placed in the commune of Île a Vache.

2. Reinforcement of the Haitian National Police

On Saturday, February 8, 2014, forty special forces police officers came to reinforce the National Police stationed on Île a Vache. Twenty of these agents were from the Intervention and Order Maintenance Corps (CIMO) and were deployed near Kay-Kòk, and the other twenty were members of the Motorized Intervention Brigade (BIM) and were stationed around the center of Île a Vache at Madame Bernard. One should note that before the arrival of these special forces, les than a dozen administrative police officers were present in the commune and, according to the majority of those interviewed, this commune had a reputation for being very calm.


The bolstering of the State’s repressive capabilities, especially the increase in National Police forces on the island, led to a stark rise in acts of repression against the population. The costs are heavy. Many were arrested and beaten by agents of the Haitian National Police. More than a dozen people claim to have been victims during the most recent protests on the island.

The overwhelming majority of these victims are women who say they were mistreated and beaten at the hands of BIM agents who forced them to clear roadblocks that had been made from coconut tree trunks.

Some examples :

• On February 8, 2014, during a protest organized around La Hatte, a group of BIM agents assaulted a numer of victims, among them : Rosena MACENA, Roselène FAUSTIN, Antony PLACIDE, Bertin Joseph SIMILIEN.

• February 21, 2014, the National Police arrested Officer Jean Matulnès Lamy in Port-au-Prince. Lamy is considered as the head of the protest movement on Île a Vache. Nevertheless, justice officials questioned about the motive for this arrest say Lamy was arrested for his implication in an incident that took place at Carrefour de l’Aviation, a commune of Cité Soleil, on January 8, 2013 during which time an individual was killed.

• Between February 21 and February 25, 2014, many protested for the liberation of Mr. Lamy. However, the protest that took place on the 25th was met with violence at the hands of the BIM near Madame Bernard. At least two people were arrested on counts of attempted harassment and serious injury against Interim Agent Fritz Cesar. These two men, Edmond Edouard and Lethé Ferguens, confirm that they were savagely beaten by the police. They were freed the same day.

Moreover, the Madame Bernard Health Center treated seventeen cases of knife injuries and others who were victims of blunt trauma either from rocks or from National Police beatings. Finally, at least three of these victimes was also psychologically assaulted.

Of the seventeen victims, the delegation was able to interview eleven. These were :

1. Guerline FELIX
2. Rosena MACENA
3. Joseph Wilner Bertin SIMILIEN
4. Adrien JUSTIN
5. Justin GENEL
6. Vanot Delva
7. Ducken Gracout
8. Roselène FAUSTIN
9. Antony PLACIDE
10. Dorléan Timomène
11. Lethé FREGUENS

Certain victims had very poignant stories to tell. Here are some examples :

1. February 8, 2014, Guerline Feliz, a 37-year-old mother of three living near La Hatte was a victim of physical violence instigated by agents of the BIM. She returned from the market when the aforementioned agents arrived and forced her to remove a roadblock made of coconut tree trunks.

2. February 8, 2014, Rosena Macena was at her home when BIM agents ordered her to remove tree trunks that were blocking the road, which she refused to do. She only complied at gunpoint. She since claims to have suffered a hemorrhage.

3. Joseph Wilner Bertin SIMILIEN, pastor, founder of the Good Samaritan School in La Hatte (l’Ecole Bon Samaritain), has been an inhabitant of the region since 1977. February 8, 2014, he went to the church where he noticed heavily armed police officers. Moved by fear, He entered the courtyard of a fellow parishioner’s house. But upon entering he found more police. Seeing them, he tried to run. The police intercepted him and forced him onto the ground. They stomped and beat him.

Faced with this wave of repression, many have been obliged to go into hiding for fear of becoming the next victim of the National Police’s violent interventions.


Seeing that the persecution has not dampened the resolve of the population and in order to find some positive takeaway from this crisis on the island, on March 1, 2014 the Minister of Tourism had a meeting with representatives of the thirteen extant platforms on the island. During this meeting, which was also attended by the interim agents of Fritz Cesar, Sergot, Forestal, and Fresnel Thanis, as well as Deputy Jean Thanis from the district of Cayes-Île a Vache, the Minister tried to make a presentation about the project, but it fell flat among organization leaders who first demanded that the population be given justice prior to any dialogue about the development plan. Their conditions for justice are these three items :

1- Unconditional release of Jean Matulnès Lamy
2- Annulment of the May 10, 2013 decree
3- Removal of all BIM agents

Feigning a reaction, the Minister suggested that they petition Prime Minister Lamothe, which they did that same day.


The investigation that the delegation lead on Île a Vache permitted one to note a flagrant absence of communication between the initiators of the tourism development project-namely, the current government-and the population. This lack of communication is what brought about a climate of fear and protest on the island. All the actions undertaken for this project up until the present have gone without the consent of the population and without even informing the inhabitants.

Furthermore, it is deplorable that the authorities have decided to prioritize the economic dimensions of this development project at the expense of others, notably sociological and demographic dimensions.

However, the majority of the people interviewed in the context of this survey are not opposed to a development project aimed at transforming the commune or at least improving their poor living conditions. Nevertheless, they fear that this project of the Martelly-Lamothe government presents a threat to the population since it does not consider the interests of the commune’s inhabitants.

One must note that it is threatening to suddenly witness a group of individuals clearing fields and cutting roads all without giving the landowners or the population in general any explanation. It is therefore the manner in which the Government executed this project that poses problems. Consequently, this situation of anger expressed by the inhabitants of Île a Vache is the result of strategies employed by the authorities from the beginning to implement the tourism development plan, strategies that risk compromising the future of the project.

Moreover, the inhabitants of the island fiercely denounce the presidential decree made by Mr. Martelly on May 10, 2013, which declared the commune to be a reserved zone and a zone of tourism development. In making this decree, the State did not respect the mandates of Article 40 of the Ammended Constitution relating to the right to information.

Similarly, the State’s deployment of forty specialized agents of the National Police proves that the authorities wish to intimidate the population of the island and to prevent them from protesting. These agents have used unnecessary force and beaten islanders-particularly women. Their deplorable interventions constitute a flagrant violation of Article 28 of the Ammended Constitution, which stipulates, “All Haitians have the right to express their opinions on all subjects in whatever way they choose.”

The peasants’ gardens were destroyed without any compensation from the authorities for the victims, victims who have no means to make their voice heard.

Additionally, during this survey, the delegation noted that the repressive tools of the State were reinforced in the commune of Île a Vache. Without any doubt, this reinforcement can be explained by the government’s desire to effectively squash any and all dissent that could prevent it from accomplishing its goals. However, human rights organizations implicated in this investigation can attest that if the Government tries to forcibly implement this project on the island, it will have to contend with large-scale popular movements to block their work. The consequences of development for this island are clear and precise. A commune development project must begin with :

• The construction of primary, secondary, and professional schools ;

• The construction of hospitals, roads, and recreational infrastructure such as soccer/football fields, basketball and volleyball courts, etc.

Moreover, it is regrettable that these days the State, supposedly the primary guardian of its citizens, forgets all its responsibilities and actively participates in perpetrating acts of repression and violence against its own citizens.

Lastly, the arrest of Officer Jean Matulnès Lamy, a native son of Île a Vache and local rganization member, constitutes a violation of human rights because there was no flagrant offence in his case. The Government Commissioner did not have any official charges, a plaintiff, or a weapon that would allow him to issue a warrant. In this case, one must remember that denunciation is not sufficient cause to issue a warrant. Article 19 of Criminal Instruction Code clearly lays out the procedure the Commissioner is to follow in such cases. And although human rights organizations encourage the judiciary to crack down with all lawful force on those implicated in cases of murder, they also implore that the Law be respected and the tools of the judicial system not be toyed with.


The human rights organizations make these recommendations to the Martelly-Lamothe government :

1- Respect the fundamental rights of the inhabitants of Île a Vache, among others the right to healthcare, education, work, and the right to not be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

2- Clearly explain the entire project to the population.

3- Compensate victims of expropriation and damage to their fields.

4- Involve the community in the different phases of the plan’s implementation.

5- Create an intensive training program for islanders to increase the skilled workforce.

6- Take action against the members of the National Police (PNH) who beat or mistreated the population.

7- Demand professionalism from PNH agents in their interventions.

8- Bring suit against the agents of the PNH who were guilty of beating or mistreating civilians and compensate the victims.