Two journalists have been shot and burned to death in Haiti by a gang while reporting on the lack of security in the country’s capital.
Amady John Wesley, a reporter for Radio Écoute FM, died alongside Wilguens Louissaint when members of the Ti Makak gang attacked them in Petion-Ville, a suburb of the capital Port-au-Prince, on Thursday.
The pair had gone to the area along with a third reporter, who escaped, to report on a gang turf war engulfing the neighbourhood when the attack took place.
Radio Écoute, which is based in Canada, told CNN that gang member had shot and then burned the journalists alive.
‘We condemn in the strongest terms this criminal and barbaric act,’ said Francky Attis, general director of Radio Ecoute FM.
His statement denounced the ‘serious attack on the rights to life’ and on ‘journalists exercising their profession freely in this country.’
Haiti, a Caribbean nation which shares an island with the Dominican Republic, has been in turmoil since a devastating 2010 earthquake killed tens of thousands and destroyed much of its capital.
The country has been struggling ever since, and in July last year the situation took a rapid turn for the worse when President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in his official residence – with suspicion falling on his political enemies.
Amid the general lack of order, criminal gangs have flourished and taken control of some of the island’s infrastructure.
What began as a turf war in Port-au-Prince’s poorer neighbourhoods has now spread to wealthy areas of the capital and its outlying suburbs and villages.
Laboule 12, where Thursday’s killings took place, has been at the centre of a bitter gang war as rival factions try to secure control of the road that runs through it.
It is one of the only routes into or out of the capital from the southern half of the country, other than a highway which is already controlled by another gang.
Haiti recorded at least 950 kidnappings in 2021, according to the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, based in Port-au-Prince.
Under-equipped and facing heavily armed criminal groups, Haiti’s police have not organised any large-scale operations against the gangs since March 2021.
On March 12, four police officers were killed in an attempted raid in a Port-au-Prince neighbourhood, known to be used by one gang as a holding area for kidnap victims.
Their bodies and equipment were never recovered.
The gangs’ impunity highlights the weaknesses of Haiti’s criminal justice system, in which investigations are rarely successful.
The April 2000 assassination of Haitian journalist Jean Dominique, the island nation’s most famous reporter at the time, remains unsolved.
In June 2021, journalist Diego Charles was killed, along with an opposition political activist and 13 other people. The perpetrators of the Port-au-Prince shooting have not been identified by law enforcement.
Photojournalist Vladjimir Legagneur never returned from a March 2018 reporting trip to the poor neighbourhood of Martissant – now entirely controlled by gangs.
The police have yet to release the results of a DNA test they said they would conduct on a body found a few days after his disappearance.
Investigations into the murders of two other journalists, in June and October 2019, have also not been completed.
Haiti: An island nation born in blood and ruled over by a series of dictators including the ruthless Papa Doc and his son Baby Doc
The modern nation of Haiti was born in 1804 from a long and bloody revolution by slaves and free people of color against the French and it has suffered a turbulent history ever since.
Its first century of independence largely saw political instability with a succession of brutal dictatorships interrupted only by brief stints of democracy and foreign occupation. The US occupied the country – which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic – from 1915 to 1934.
Its most notorious leaders were the father and son dictators Pap Doc and Baby Doc, who ruled for three decades that saw an estimated 90,000 people die.
Francois Duvalier – who was known as Papa Doc for his previous career as a medical doctor – came to power as president in 1957 on a populist and black nationalist platform.
He survived a military coup the following year and his regime became one of the most repressive in the Western hemisphere, relying on its death squad, the Tonton Macoute, to kill opponents.
Duvalier solidified his rule by incorporating elements of Voodoo into a personality cult and in 1964 he declared himself as president for life.
Papa Doc promoted ‘Noirisme’, a movement that sought to highlight Haiti’s African roots over its European ones while uniting the black majority against a mulatto elite in a country divided by class and colour.
It is estimated 60,000 people were killed before Duvalier died in 1971, passing on the presidency to his son Jean-Claude.
Baby Doc was a 19-year-old chubby playboy when he ‘inherited’ the country – one of the world’s poorest – from his despotic father after he died suddenly of an illness.
His son continued the oppressive regime and hundreds of political opponents were either executed or simply disappeared.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch estimated that up to 30,000 Haitians were killed, many by execution, under the regime of the two Duvaliers, which lasted nearly three decades.
But there were some improvements for the people of Haiti under the younger Duvalier. Echoes of press freedom and personal criticism, never tolerated under his father, emerged – sporadically – because of international pressure.
Still, human rights groups documented abuses and political persecution. A trio of prisons known as the ‘Triangle of Death’, which included the much-feared Fort Dimanche for long-term inmates, symbolized the brutality of his regime.
As president, he married the daughter of a wealthy coffee merchant, Michele Bennett, in 1980.
The wedding was a lavish affair, complete with imported champagne, flowers and fireworks. The ceremony, reported to have cost $5 million, was carried live on television to the impoverished nation.
Duvalier and his wife Michele had two children, son Francois Nicolas ‘Nico’ Duvalier and a daughter, Anya.
Under Duvalier’s rule, Haiti saw widespread demographic changes. Peasants moved to the capital in search of work as factories popped up to meet the growing demand for cheap labor. Thousands of professionals fled a climate of repression for cities such as New York, Miami and Montreal.
And aid began to flow from the United States and agencies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. The tourists followed, some in search of a form of tropical hedonism that included booze, prostitution and Voodoo ceremonies for which the country became legendary.
Tourism collapsed in the early 1980s after Florida doctors noted that an unusual number of AIDS cases were coming from Haitian emigres, even though the disease was believed to have been brought from the U.S.
But it was corruption and human rights abuses that defined Duvalier rule.
Facing accusations of corruption, torture and other human rights abuses, Duvalier fled to Paris in 1986 following mass protests, the desertion of the Tonton Macoute and pressure from the U.S.
In the wake of the younger Duvalier’s ousting, the country turned on his security forces, slaughtering them by the thousands.
His departure ushered in a period of halting democracy that has continued with tumultuous elections.
Former Roman Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president in the country’s first free elections in 1990. But he was overthrown in a coup, reinstated, ousted a second time and finally sent into exile under pressure from the United States, France and Canada.
Rene Preval came to power in elections in 2006, followed by former carnival singer Michel Martelly in 2011.
Moise then won a disputed election and took power in 2017 but was soon hit by protests triggered by fuel shortages that turned violent.
He was further undermined when in 2019 court auditors investigating where $2 billion in aid from a Venezuelan oil fund had gone found that companies run by him before he became president were ‘at the heart of an embezzling scheme.’
Moise insisted he could stay on as head of state until February 7, 2021 – an interpretation of the constitution rejected by the opposition.
The businessman had governed by decree without any parliamentary checks since 2020.