Saturday, August 9, 2008

Lovinsky Pierre Antoine,
Disappeared in Haiti One Year Ago

08.07.07 -- Lovinsky navigates the delegation's rented SUV through the dusty streets of Port-de-Paix, Haiti.

08.07. 07 -- Fanmi Vanyan, a women's group and a young peasant movement leader speak as Eugenia Charles listens. Lovinsky hovers in the shadows behind Eugenia.
August 12, 2008 will be the one year anniversary of the disappearance of Lovinsky Pierre Antoine. It's a sad anniversary and a sad commentary that Lovinsky has not returned to his family. I really do not believe that Lovinsky is dead. I keep building scenarios in my mind where he could possibly still be alive and well somewhere.

I knew him, not well, but well enough to like him. We enjoyed a couple of beers together when we visited Mole St. Nicholas. Lovinsky's favorite beer was a Haitian brand that tastes a lot like Heineken. That's what I said when he offered me one. That day (August 9) we met with the leadership of Mole St. Nicholas. In that city we were told, people who had
Lavalas affiliations kept that a secret. It could be deadly if you revealed your politics. Many former members of the Haitian army hold positions of power there. One man who called himself a "professor", and seemed incensed by Lovinsky's presence, voiced criticism about Aristide. At that point, Lovinsky slowly got up from his seat on the panel, and strode outside to smoke a cigarette.

I asked him once if he knew President Aristide. He didn't say anything, he just held up two fingers and intertwined them together. Lovinsky was a man of few words, but he made you feel comfortable and safe in his presence. Ironic, that no one thought he needed protection. There we were in a gated house with guards, while he was left vulnerable to... who knows what.

We spent most of the day on the road back to Cap Haitian, stopping briefly in Gonaive to see the damage from the mud slides and rains. There were many people traversing the ripped up roads on motorcycles. The roads had been ripped up to allow for drainage, but had remained that way for months. Lovinsky got recognized everywhere we went in Haiti and it was no exception that day. A man on a motorcycle greeted him with enthusiasm and stopped to discuss the condition of the roads and when they would be fixed. Residents had no services at all; electricity, water, garbage collection... etc. The situation was very dire. Standing puddles of water invited insects and disease.

It was the evening of August 11 and me, three members of the delegation were riding into Port-au-Prince, with Lovinsky driving, from our afternoon in the town of Dessalines. As we drove by a section of the outskirts of town, a member exclaimed, "is this where they bring the bodies?" She pointed to the right and ahead of the car. "Yes, that's it," said Lovinsky. He then explained, about the mass grave site, where the bodies of murdered political activist, Lavalas members and others connected to the Aristide government were buried.

We spent the next day (August 12) touring the farm cooperative run by Bolivar Romulus in Miragoine. Bolivar is a former member of the Haitian parliament. His organization FOPAH works with students, peasant organizations and women's organizations in four of Haiti's departments (counties) to build sustainable farm cooperatives. Lovinsky took a picture of me as I sat on a little chair and typed notes on the laptop in the middle of one of Bolivar's neat rows of plants.

The night of August 12, Lovinsky brought in my bag that I usually keep close to me, but I had left it in the SUV. I was very grateful, because I had money and personal items like my notebook in it. The last person in the house to see Lovinsky, was our host, who saw him smoking in the back of the house at around 10 p.m.

A Canadian member of the delegation gave me the news on the afternoon of August 13. This man is courteous and well-mannered, so it surprised me to hear him swear. "Today was fucked-up, he said, Lovinsky never showed up. We don't know where he is."

The kidnapper called the delegation leader from Lovinsky's cell phone. He spoke in Kreyol. He said he was a "professional." When the delegation was told about the call from Lovinsky's phone, the fear and apprehension was palpable. The kidnapper demanded $300,000. He said not to go to the police. As we discussed the situation, I said something lame like, "the first 48 hours are the most important" -- as if that really mattered here in Haiti. It's not as if they have a crack investigative team ready to go to work to find human rights activist who are kidnapping victims. That afternoon the rented SUV was found on Delma. Some information indicate that Lovinsky disappeared between Delma 31 and Delma 40. More info (Marguerite Laurent, head of Haitian Lawyer's Leadership on Haitian radio. English translation not available).

The Canadians offered to go to their embassy the next day to ask for help in finding Lovinsky. The delegation leadership continued to talk to Lovinsky's friends and family and attempted to raise the ransom. Human rights and cultural activist, Marguerite Laurent, sent out an alert the evening of August 13, 2008.

A lawyer and "negotiator" came to the house and interviewed a leader of the delegation. The then Port-au-Prince Police Chief, was contacted, but he did not make an appearance at the house, nor did anyone else from the Haitian police. The police Chief said that they did not have the means to track Lovinsky's cell phone. The cell phone company Digicel has a virtual monopoly on cell phone service in Haiti, but may or may not have been contacted by the police for assistance. I believed that the Chief was genuinely concerned, just not equipped to deal with the situation, mostly for unspoken political reasons that everyone comprehends. Haiti is under occupation by people who are not interested in the health and well-being of Haitians in opposition to the occupation.

I remember riding in the SUV into the town of Dessalines, on August 10 as they held celebrations commemorating Bwa Kayiman. Dessalines is a historic town that had been named after a Frenchmen who took part in Napoleon's invasion of Haiti. It was renamed Dessalines when Aristide took office. The town is in a valley surrounded by mountains and served as a base for one of the Haitian revolution's fiercest and most successful leader, Dessalines. There are still cannons at strategic locations in the hills above the town that stand as a testament to the ingenuity, bravery and historic significance of the world's first successful revolution of an enslaved people. Lovinsky embodied Haiti. Haiti's spirit of independence, struggle, wisdom and knowledge of self.

At Dessalines that day, there was a makeshift check point set up at the town entrance. The men who were stopping cars did not have guns, they had thick batons. One walked up to the car and explained that the "toll" was voluntary. Lovinsky fearlessly said he was not paying since it was voluntary. The man was taken aback but let us pass. On our trip to different cities in Haiti, I learned more about the 2004 coup and how much danger Aristide's supporters faced. Lovinsky's personal narrative is pretty chilling.

Lovinsky loved his country. He went into exile after the 2004 coup, but he soon returned, leaving his wife and family behind in Washington. I asked him if he missed his family? He told me he had to come back. He could not stay away. He wanted to help his country. He knew so much about Haiti's history and as a psychologist, the Haitian psyche and at the core he is a man of peace who sought to find a way to serve his country. He planned to run for elected office, but he may have been made into a martyred hero, by people who had other plans for Haiti.

08.11.08 Update:

At the U.S. Embassy, we met with the "Political Officer." That's what his name tag read. He was very courteous, professional and attentive. He was a Black man who wore a bow tie and a wool jacket. A wool jacket in the luxurious, well appointed, cool conference room that he ushered us into was understandable. He did not have to step outside into the punishing heat. He listened to our concerns about Lovinsky, but offered that he could not help. It just was not in his job description, nor in any one elses job description at the U.S Embassy to help. So, the subject of Lovinsky's kidnapping was quickly exhausted. We moved on to other topics. In particular, one of the Canadians brought up his objections to U.S. foreign policy in Haiti. I chimed in with my strong objections. I remember distinctly that, he looked at me directly and warned; "You know, they kidnap Americans too." Although I don't know what that had to do with U.S. foreign policy. I'm sure he did not mean it as a threat.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Zen Haitian for this most incisive report on the last hours of human rights activist Lovinsky Pierre Antoine. You gave such a visceral account that I too can't help but think that someday soon he will be back again with us. This is a great tribute to human rights activist Lovinsky Pierre Antoine and a most timely essay. Good job and keep up the good work. I often come to your site.

I love the Haitian blogger. It's nice to know you're on the seen. I may not comment, but I do send your wonderful post to others who are also very happy to know your watching things and speaking up.

Kenbe la, pa lage


thezenhaitian said...

Thank you, I appreciate your support.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate this post on Lovinsky. Thank you for writing it and giving us a glimpse of his last hours as you experienced them. Your many wonderful anecdotes brought him to life. Much appreciated.

Your piece on the Haitian army below was also an important piece.

Ezili Danto

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