by Thomas Péralte and Kim Ives (Haiti Liberte)
On Oct. 30, hundreds of demonstrators marched from downtown Port-au-Prince to Carrefour to demand the release of Haitian grassroots opposition leaders Biron Odigé and Rony Timothée, who were arrested in a massive Oct. 26 demonstration.
The marchers also called for the release of dozens of other political prisoners languishing in jails throughout Haiti including Aux Cayes, Petit Goâve, Jacmel, Cap Haïtien, and Port-au-Prince.
Just before the march, authorities announced that Mr. Odigé had been transferred to the new prison in Croix-des-Bouquets while Mr. Rony was sent to the jail in Arcahaie, 20 and 50 kilometers north of the capital respectively.
The two leaders head the Patriotic Front for Respect of the Constitution (FOPARC), one of the principal grassroots groups organizing demonstrations against the Martelly regime over the past three years.
When the Oct. 30 protestors arrived in Martissant, pro-regime goons threw rocks, almost precipitating a confrontation, but police intervened. Another confrontation nearly occurred with a small group of regime partisans near the Omega Prison in Carrefour, where the march ended. However, the demonstration finished without serious incident.
On its 18th anniversary on Nov. 3, the Fanmi Lavalas Political Organization called for the release of all political prisoners.
"The Haitian justice system is sick,” said Mirlande Manigat, leader of the Assembly of Progressive National Democrats (RDNP), who lost to Martelly in the Mar. 20, 2011 presidential race. “The country is sick. The arrest of Biron Odigé and Rony Timothée, two very well-known opposition political activists, further illustrates how Haitian justice is functioning at a minimum. The treatment of these militants is unacceptable.”
The Conference of Haitian Pastors (COPAH), in a press release signed by the Rev. Ernst Pierre Vincent, also denounced the arrests of opposition leaders and demonstrators, and called on President Martelly to “to respect the rules of democracy.”
The peasant organization Tet Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen (Heads Together of Small Haitian Peasants) also condemned the regime’s crackdown on the opposition and the warned against the “establishment of a dictatorship,” especially if Parliament is allowed to expire on Jan. 12, 2015 and President Martelly begins ruling by decree.
During the demonstration, Thomas Shannon, the U.S. State Department’s Haiti point man, and U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Pamela White led a U.S. delegation to meet with Haitian Senators, political party leaders, and Haitian government officials.
“The U.S. government is concerned with the deteriorating political situation in Haiti,” said Sen. John Joel Joseph.
While on a state visit to France, President Martelly was asked about the growing anti-government demonstrations in Haiti in recent weeks and the wave of arrests. "I'm not aware that there are any political prisoners," Martelly responded. “I am aware that there are demonstrations, that there are people protesting and demonstrating."