When journalist Daniel Pearl was murdered in Pakistan, George W. Bush vowed to “rid the world of these agents of terror.” When Nicholas Berg was beheaded in Iraq, Bush offered his condolences to the Berg family. When Cassey Auguste, a 22-year-old American citizen, was brutally gunned down in Haiti on March third, Bush said nothing. The U.S. embassy in Haiti turned a deaf ear to his sister's desperate pleas for help, saying there is nothing they could do about it. They advised her to file a report with the Haitian National Police (PNH) instead. Since when is it the sole responsibility of the PNH (who were probably complicit in the murder) to investigate the murder of a U.S. citizen? The U.S. didn't tell Daniel Pearl's wife to send her complaints to the authorities in Pakistan.
Responding to the U.S. government's inaction, human rights attorney Brian Concannon said, “The US Embassy could do much more. The whole regime is a US puppet; they could push it with the police, the Minister of Justice and the Prime Minister. The police chief finished several months of U.S. training just before the coup, and I am sure there are Americans on the ground working with the police and the Justice Ministry. Consular officers should, at the very least, do a preliminary investigation. I know they routinely investigate complaints of criminal activities against Americans.”
So why is the U.S. government stonewalling this family's search for justice?
Cassey was born and raised in Brooklyn, where he attended Catholic schools. He loved basketball and dreamed of playing in the NBA one day. He also loved his mother, Paulette Michaud, who toiled in low-paying jobs in the U.S. for over twenty years before moving to Pont Sonde in her home country of Haiti. It was there that she opened a business; a store/bar she named “KeKe”, which was Cassey's nickname. Though their family was not politically active, their establishment was frequented by members of the Lavalas political movement. A few years ago Cassey traveled to Haiti to help his mother. He would never return.
The details of the murder have been pieced together from witness accounts given to lawyer Marguerite Laurent and photojournalist Hinda Schuman. The people who told this story did so at great personal risk to themselves. Some witnesses were too afraid to speak.
The day before the murder, armed men showed up in Pont Sonde saying that they would come back the next day to kill people. When they returned, they entered the store and dragged Cassey and his friend, Extanus Lopez, out on to the street. Cassey put up his hands and said, "I'm an American. I have nothing to do with politics." His mother cried for mercy while his father desperately searched for Cassey's passport to show as proof. By that time it was too late. Both Cassey and his friend were shot dead. Their bodies were taken away and dumped over a ravine. They were eventually retrieved and placed in an unmarked grave.
The identity of the killers may shed light on why the U.S. government is not interested in this case. The man who shot Cassey was named Luc Fabien. Fabien had recently joined a group calling itself the Gonaives Resistance Front (GFR). The group is headed by Guy Philippe, a drug dealer and neo-Duvalierist thug whose henchmen have been terrorizing northern Haiti for months. Members of the CIA-backed paramilitary death squad known as FRAPH are also prominent members. Among them are convicted killers such as Jodel Chamblain and Jean Tatoune. Wynter Etienne, the spokesperson for the rebels, has been seen waving an American flag at demonstrations. Etienne has said he and his thugs are “ready to work in liaison with the foreign soldiers.”
In other words, unlike Pearl and Berg, Cassey Auguste was murdered by the wrong terrorists. The U.S. can exploit the murders of Berg and Pearl for political purposes, but the terrorists in this case were coddled, trained, and supported by our government. The backdrop of this incident is a systematic campaign of repression against Lavalas and other popular organizations being executed by the rebels, the new militarized police force, and the international troops.
In addition to the fact that the family business was frequented by Lavalas, some of the townspeople believe Cassey and his friends were targeted for wearing their hair in dreadlocks; something that is often seen as a sign of political affiliation with Lavalas. Others say the killing may have been a rite of initiation or an attempt to prove loyalty to the GFR.
The murders also may have been revenge killings against the townspeople for defending themselves against a rebel raid in early February. The rebels attempted to steal cars and tractors from the local agricultural center, but the people fought back and killed two of them. Luc Fabien was the security guard of the agricultural center at the time and is believed to be behind the attempt to steal the equipment.
The media is as uninterested in Cassey's murder as the government. Maybe it's because there is no gruesome footage of the killing for cable news to pimp to its audiences. Maybe it's because the mainstream media takes its cue from the very government officials who are collaborating with these “rebels”. Maybe it's because Cassey wasn't an “all-American” white boy like Berg or Pearl.
In any event, Cassey was just as much an American citizen as they were. His family is going through extreme emotional trauma, particularly Cassey's mother, who had to watch the murder of her son. They fear for the safety of their friends and relatives in Haiti. They fear they will never be safe in Haiti again if they choose to return. And sadly, they now fear their own government, which seemingly has no interest in seeking justice for the loved one who was stolen from them.
Justin Felux is a writer and activist based in San Antonio, Texas. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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