Haiti: where a human life is worth 5p

PHIL DAVISON

Saint Marc, Haiti

"People die for nothing here all the time. But this is the first time I've seen someone shot over a gourde."

Frank Norbury, a staff sergeant in the United States Army Special Forces, had just helped to quell a near-riot in a village 60 miles north of the capital, Port-au-Prince. He was talking about the incident that sparked the riot: the shooting of a bus conductor by an off-duty policeman over a single gourde, the Haitian unit of currency, worth about 5p.

Celestin Nene, the 26-year-old conductor on the gaily-painted tap-tap bus had asked the officer of the new US-trained Haitian National Police for the standard 13-gourde fare. The policeman, 20-year-old Revelus Kender, refused to give him more than 12. An argument ensued. Kender hauled the conductor on to the village's main street and fired at him on the ground.

When we arrived minutes later, hundreds of villagers were demanding justice, burning tyres, barricading the main street and yelling abuse at nervous Honduran troops of the UN peace-keeping force. "You're protecting a murderer. Go home," they screamed.

Sgt Norbury and US Special Forces Captain Garth Estadt, dripping with survival and combat gear, had arrived to help keep an angry mob from storming the local police station, where Kender had fled.

It might have been just another shooting in Haiti but it was the sort of spark the Haitian authorities and their US and UN protectors fear could ignite serious disturbances in the run-up to Sunday's presidential elections.

The fledgling police force has already been criticised for a series of trigger-happy incidents (and the fact that it still includes members of the hated, military-led former security forces).

A group of 88 from 2 Battalion, 3 US Special Forces, is playing a key role in remote areas of central and northern Haiti, patrolling rugged terrain in 4-wheel drives, on mountain motorbikes and even on horseback. Despite the angry red graffiti of "Yankees, Dirty Dogs, Pigs" on Saint Marc village walls, the US troops are generally well-received.

The graffiti may have been painted by those who accuse the Special Forces of siding with Haiti's former military or militia chiefs against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's leftist government.

An underground American publication called The Resister and claiming to be "the official publication of the Special Forces underground," recently reported that Special Forces in Haiti were working with ousted Haitian officers and members of the disbanded militia known as the FRAPH or Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti.

Sgt Norbury, 38, and an 18-year Special Forces veteran, denied it. "Not in this area. Maybe somewhere else." But his theory as to the role of American and UN troops here reflected the feelings of many of his colleagues.

"We're just like a temporary wind blowing through here. While we're here, they can sleep at night. We're basically their security blanket. But democracy's not for everybody. Haitians are going to solve their problems the Haitian way. Always did, and always will. Their way has always been vigilante justice.

"The bottom line is that if Haitians hadn't been reaching our shores on leaky boats, we wouldn't be here. Soon we'll be gone.

"You can only keep a life-support system going so long then you have to pull the plug. When we leave here, our only legacy will be the empty MRE (food rations) packets we leave behind," the sergeant said.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine