by Kim Ives (Haiti Liberte)
Jean Rony Philippe, a 44-year-old businessman and political activist from Haiti’s southeastern city of Jacmel, was driving home from Port-au-Prince on Apr. 3, 2014 when he was ambushed, robbed, shot, and left for dead by a eight heavily armed men. The crime, he believes, was ordered by former Sen. Joseph Lambert, who is today one of President Michel Martelly’s closest advisors.
“My family and I have become a problem for [Joseph ] Lambert,” Mr. Philippe said in a long interview with Haïti Liberté, in which he detailed the ambush and his long history of “political rivalry” with Mr. Lambert. “We are preventing him from controlling the [Southeast] department in its entirety, and I have been working hard to keep him from reigning as lord and master there. That is his problem with me.”
Despite much talk, especially in the Southeast department, that he was behind the attempted assassination, Mr. Lambert has offered no comment on the attack, nor have his political allies, Sen. Edwin “Edo” Zenny and Sen. Wenceslas Lambert, his brother.
Mr. Philippe’s charges come as restauranteur Woodly “Sonson Lafamilia” Ethéard, another close Martelly associate, turned himself into the Haitian police on May 8 on charges of involvement in a kidnapping ring known as the “Galil Gang.” Mr. Ethéard, who was on the run and in headlines for the past two months, is currently being held in a Croix-de-Bouquets jail alongside Clifford Brandt, another close Martelly associate who was arrested two years ago for heading another kidnapping ring but who has never been brought to trial.
Trained in Haitian universities as an agronomist, Mr. Philippe owns a supermarket and an electronics store in Jacmel and is the assistant treasurer of the Southeast department’s Chamber of Commerce. He is also a political activist in the grassroots Organization of 22 (OG-22), which is close to the Lavalas Family party, and was the vice president of the Southeast’s Departmental Election Office (BED) for the 2009 Senate elections and the first round of the 2010 Presidential elections.
Well-regarded in Jacmel, Mr. Philippe is local success story, having been born a peasant in nearby Belle Anse, where his family is still influential.
As he drove home from the capital on the day of the attack, Mr. Philippe noticed a grey Toyota Rav4 SUV following him. Just before he reached the Port-au-Prince suburb of Mariani, the Rav4 blocked him. Almost immediately his car was surrounded “by eight men, all armed with brand-new 9mm guns.”
After shooting him once, the assailants took 40,000 gourdes (US$886), his phone, two rings, and a bracelet, but he was still negotiating for his life.
“At last I realized that they wanted to kill me no matter what,” Mr. Philippe said. “Still very calmly, I told them, ‘if you want other things, just ask me. But let me live! Here is the key to my car. Take it with everything in it.’”
The men mocked him and shot him again. “I was hit by many bullets and finally, I fell down on the car seat, pretending to be dead,” the victim said.
After the men fled the scene, Mr. Philippe, bleeding profusely, drove himself to a nearby Haitian police station, and the police took him to the nearby hospital of Doctors Without Borders. He was transferred to and operated on at the Canapé Vert hospital. He then traveled to Brooklyn, NY where he underwent more surgery at Kings County Hospital. He is now recuperating in New York City.
Joseph Lambert has long been accused and suspected of involvement in drug trafficking and other criminal activities in the Jacmel region.
In a May 12, 2006 secret diplomatic cable provided to Haïti Liberté by WikiLeaks in 2011, then U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Janet Sanderson wrote that Mr. Lambert was reported to be one “of the best-known narco-traffickers in [Jacmel], distributing money for favors and engaging in vote buying... SIMO [U.S. Army’s Systems Integration and Management Office] and DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency] Port-au-Prince report that information on file reflects that he is suspected of association with known drug traffickers in Jacmel.”
In another secret Aug. 2, 2006 cable, Ms. Sanderson reported that Edmund Mulet, then the head of the UN Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH), complained that “drug trafficking has become an increasingly alarming problem, which is difficult to combat, in part because of the drug
ties within the Haitian Government. In this connection, he mentioned Senate leader Joseph Lambert and Security Commission Chair Youri Latortue,” another former senator who is today another close Martelly advisor.
In 2013, a young Jacmel man, Sherlson Sanon, claimed to have worked for Mr. Lambert as a hired gunman for over 10 years and to have been instructed by him to kill Deputies Sorel Jacinthe and Levaillant Louis-Jeune. In his confession to police, Mr. Sanon claimed to have engaged in drug trafficking and murder for Mr. Lambert as well as Sen. Zenny.
Asked by Haïti Liberté what he knew about Mr. Sanon’s charges, Mr. Philippe replied that he had “no elements to verify” the accusations but said that “one day the Haitian judicial system has to free itself from the claws of Joseph Lambert and of the government he belongs to if we want to shed light on certain cases in which he is implicated.”
This may be difficult because, according to Mr. Philippe, “in Jacmel, for example, Lambert named the state prosecutor, the justice of the peace (juge de paix), and the investigating judge also. The local chief justice (doyen) is under his control. If Lambert controls the justice system to this extent, who is going to arrest him, even if he is accused or found guilty of whatever? He will be declared not guilty, and that’s it.”
Mr. Philippe explained he had once reluctantly visited Mr. Lambert, on his invitation, because his brother had been falsely arrested. One phone call from Mr. Lambert to the local judge resulted in his brother’s immediate release from jail, he said.
“We need another governance, another Haiti,” Mr. Philippe concluded. “We need men and women who choose to go to universities to learn and to create jobs in the country, not choose to become criminals, kidnappers, or drug traffickers.”