Ile à Vache Under Siege

by Kim Ives (Haiti Liberte)
The government of President Michel Martelly
is literally sealing off the Haitian island of Ile à Vache, on which the
residents are rising up against government plans to throw them off their land.
Mar. 11, Haïti Liberté journalists
discovered in the southern city of Aux Cayes that agents of the Martelly
government had paid off boat captains, who take people to the island, not to
accept Haitian passengers.
over 120 heavily armed officers of the Haitian National Police’s Departmental
Unit for the Maintenance of Order (UDMO) and the Motorized Intervention Brigade
(BIM) have been deployed to the island to uproot residents and control
protests. Already 20 families have been dispossessed, according to the
Organization of Ile-à-Vache Peasants (KOPI or Konbit peyizan Ilavach), which is
leading the resistance on the island. Meanwhile, KOPI’s vice president,
journalist/policeman Jean Maltunès Lamy, has been arrested and jailed in the
National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince, which is illegal since it is in a
different department (West) than Ile à Vache (South).
a May 10, 2013 presidential decree declaring the island was a “zone of public utility,” Martelly’s
government has begun to implement its plan to kick peasants off their land and
townspeople out of their homes and turn the entire island into a tourist
and Haitian human rights activists seeking to reach the island last week in
order to investigate the situation there found that the Haitian government had
paid the captains of small boats that ferry people out to the island 10,000
gourdes ($225) to only accept foreigners on their vessels. The normal cost of a
round-trip to the island is 4,000 gourdes ($90).
takes about 40 minutes to travel by boat to the 20 square mile island about 10
kilometers southeast of Aux Cayes. It was once a base of the renowned English
pirate Henry Morgan (c.1635–1688).
on the island began to escalate after Tourism Minister Stephanie Balmir
Villedrouin gave a 90-minute presentation to a group of farmers on Jan. 16.* In
response, on Jan. 17, several hundred of the island’s 20,000 residents
demonstrated, blocking road, burning tires, closing schools and businesses, and
chanting “Ile à Vache is not for sale,
neither wholesale or retail!
week earlier, on Jan. 9, island residents threw stones at Fernand Sajous, one
of the owners of the island’s Abaka Bay Resort, Fritz César, the local
unelected interim representative of the central government, and Dorcin Fresnel,
a secretary of state for agricultural production, after a public meeting about
government plans turned sour, according to Jean Claudy Aristil of Radio VKM
(Vwa Klodi Mizo our Voice of Claudy Museau).
to KOPI, UDMO soldiers were deployed on the island on the night of Feb. 9, and
beat residents Charles Laguerre, Bertin Similien, Maxo Bell, forcing them to
remove the barricades they had erected in protest. The next day the UDMO
policemen beat up a girl, Rosena Masena, in the township of Madame Bernard,
according to KOPI.
Feb. 14 on Radio VKM, one of KOPI’s organizers said that the residents of Ile à
Vache do not recognize the Presidential decree divesting them of their lands
and denounced the increased police presence. Historically, there have only been
two police officers for the whole island. The KOPI leader asked for solidarity
from Haitians around Haiti and its diaspora.
Feb. 20, more than 40 soldiers from the BIM arrived on the island and destroyed
several houses, according to KOPI. The next day, KOPI Vice President, Jean
Matulnès Lamy, himself a police officer, was arrested. Mr. Lamy was imprisoned
without being brought before a judge, and many KOPI members went into hiding.
The same day, Ile à Vache residents, brandishing tree branches and singing rara
songs, protested in the township of Kay Kòk to demand Lamy’s release and to
oppose a government delegation’s inauguration of a new community center,
restaurant, and radio station. The demonstrators complained that their calls
for a high school and vocational school have been ignored and that local
masons, foremen, and technicians were passed over for the construction work in
favor of people from out of town. The islanders expressed doubt that the
government was promoting “eco-tourism” on the island when it has cut down Ile à
Vache’s only forest to build an airport.
President Marc Lainé Donald (Jinal) said that KOPI still wants the May 10, 2013
presidential decree rescinded, saying it “reflects
a macabre plan, a rat trap, a collective suicide, that aims to drive all the
residents from the island. It is a cultural genocide…
the morning of Feb. 25, soldiers of the BIM, firing live ammunition, attacked a
peaceful demonstration of about 1,000 Ile à Vache residents near the Madame
Bernard township. The assault was led by the local interim governor, Fritz
César, who carried a 9-mm handgun and pointed out which protestors should be
beaten or arrested. About 12 people were injured, and two men – Carl Oza and Aizan
Silien – were arrested. The injured included Adrien Justin and Genel Justin.
Although it was raining, the demonstration started spontaneously when the
island’s residents learned that Mr. Lamy was taken to court but was not heard
by a judge and instead taken to the National Penitentiary.
Feb. 27, 2014, Sen. Pierre Francky Exius, Chairman of the Senate Committee for
Justice and Security, said he would summon Justice Minister Jean-Renel Sanon
and the Chief of Police to discuss the Ile à Vache situation. Senator Exius
called the arrest of Mr. Lamy “political
and based on “a supposed event which is
over one year old and hence no longer anything in flagrante delicto.
Mar. 1, Tourism Minister Stephanie Villedrouin traveled to Ile à Vache, but
KOPI members, still in hiding because they are vilified as “bandits” by the government, refused to
meet with her. KOPI said that island residents will not meet with government
representatives until after:
1. The May 10, 2013 decree to expropriate their lands is rescinded.
2. The 100 BIM soldiers are removed from the island.
3. Jean Maltunès Lamy is released.
4. The defamation campaign on Haitian radio, labeling KOPI members as “bandits,” is stopped.
islands residents accuse government officials of lying, insisting that 20
families have already been dispossessed, although they were promised that no
one would be.
an effort to quell and appease the uprising, Minister Villedrouin held a press
conference in the capital on Mar. 10, saying that “nobody is going to be expelled from Ile-à-Vache” and “up until now, no individual has been
” according to Alterpresse.
said that “measures for compensation are
foreseen for the families living in places affected by the plan to build hotels
on the western point of the island,
” Alterpresse also reports.
            “Families will be dealt with on a case by
case basis,
” she said. “Nothing is
going to be done in an arbitrary manner.
and BIM police officers had been dispatched to Ile-à-Vache, Villedrouin said,
following “violent demands” and “with the aim of stabilizing the area.
the minister’s comments are belied by the government’s apparent efforts to seal
off the island. A delegation of the Dessalines Coordination (KOD), a new
political party, was among those seeking to get to Ile à Vache on Mar. 11. The
KOD members had to hunt down a private boat to take them to the island.
            “Our delegation has come to Ile-à-Vache to
bring KOD’s solidarity to the island’s people, whom the government of President
Martelly and Prime Minister [Laurent] Lamothe is trying to uproot with the
complicity of imperialist governments,
” said KOD delegation leader Oxygène
David. “Our delegation had a hard time
getting to the island. People here tell us that the government has stepped up corruption
in an effort to prevent progressives from other places from coming to give
solidarity to the island.
David also pointed out that “the
government had Jean Maltunès Lamy arrested and deported him all the way to the
National Penitentiary in Port-Au-Prince without any judge in Aux Cayes charging
him with a crime. This is an act of kidnapping because it has no legal or
juridical foundation which would allow them to arrest someone in Aux Cayes and
then jail them in Port-au-Prince. Any indictment must be done in Aux Cayes’
jurisdiction and then the person goes before a court in that jurisdiction.
addition to supporting KOPI’s demands, KOD has joined with the population of
Ile à Vache in forming three demands:
1. The unconditional liberation of everybody arrested in demonstrations
on the island.
2. The rescinding of the illegal decree declaring the island a tourist
development zone.
3. For the government to stop repressing the island’s people and to
withdraw all of its BIM police from the island.

Much of the reporting for this article was drawn from the website Haiti Chery of Dady Chery. Her
excellent updates can be found at