By Dady Chery
Haiti’s Palais Sans Souci and Citadelle Laferriere is a spectacular mountaintop fortress that stands about 5 miles uphill from the town of Milot and 20 miles south of the northern city of Cap Haitien. The Citadelle is the largest fortress in the Americas. It is the vision of Haiti’s King Henry Christophe brought into reality after 15 years of labor by tens of thousands: a testament to what Haitians did 300 years ago without a cent of foreign aid.
In 2007, the Citadelle was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Monument. Although the site gets a great deal of traffic as Haiti’s top tourist destination, the country benefits little from the visitors who arrive on boat cruises that insulate them and their dollars from everything local. The site has long been coveted by foreign concerns that justify their entitlement by their wealth of resources and criticize Haiti for not taking sufficiently good care of its historical assets. Most recently, there have been proposals for agreements between Haiti and the Dominican Republic to merge their tourism promotion and offer combined tours of the island.
In addition, people from the Institute for the Protection of National Heritage (ISPAN) complained to the press that the historical sites and monuments are in dire shape and that ISPAN lacks the means to do anything about this, thus forcing a visit from the President.
Michel Martelly was in typical form for an inspection visit to the fortress on Thursday July 19, 2012. He was joined by Haiti’s Minister of Tourism, the Minister of Culture, and the Director of the Institute for the Protection of National Heritage (ISPAN). Martelly’s task was to verify the state of the national landmark and decide how best to restore it. He refused a walk through the Citadelle, probably because he knew of structural problems, though it soon became evident that had not read any dossier on the topic. When his turn came to speak, what was there to do but give ISPAN and his own Minister of Culture a public dressing down?
“Look at all this grass growing on the floor and the walls of the Citadelle. This is inadmissible!….”
“Those in charge do not have any plan for the Citadelle!”
“I may not have the means to do everything I can because we just don’t have the money to do everything… but places that I go that don’t have power, I put power; places that don’t have roads, I put roads; places that I go that didn’t have children in school, I put the children in school; places that I go and I see people living under tents, I take them from under the tents….
“The people who work here for ISPAN, don’t they mind trees pushing their way into the Citadelle?
“The president came to look, and he sees no one working. All of them are getting the country’s money and nothing’s being done….
“They want ladders to remove the branches that are coming in from the top, but what about those that I see pushing their way up from the bottom. I showed them how many trees are pushing up from the ground.”
Martelly then directly chastised Minister of Culture Mario Dupuy for not assuming responsibility for the Citadelle. To emphasize his disgust by the decrepit state of affairs, Martelly marched off to his motorcycle and sped off in a huff, straight downhill.
According to some Milot residents, the reason Martelly left in such a rush was not because of any great personal outrage but because King Henri Christophe himself appeared around noon and thunderously scolded the President about entering into negotiations about his Citadelle with the Dominican Republic or any other foreign country.
Although the King’s apparition is debatable, all agree that Martelly ran off as if he had been pursued by the irate ghost of Henry Christophe. The security detail, journalists and photographers in the motorcade all had to scramble down a steep and narrow mountain road after the President’s motorcycle.
Witnesses say that the brakes might have failed in several of the convoy’s Polaris four-wheel all-terrain vehicles. In any case, one of them ploughed into young Patricelande Mexil inside of her small house in a neighborhood called Arsenal. In all, seven people were injured:
- Patricelande Mexil, a six-year old girl and resident of Milot – received massive head injuries from multiple frontal wounds, including a major impact above the right eye. The girl was first taken to a local hospital then airlifted by helicopter to Port-au-Prince.
- Antonio Bruno, Presidential Photographer – received grave injuries to the head; he lost consciousness, went into shock and bled profusely from the mouth right after the accident.
- Yvon Althéon, Delegate for the Northern Department – also received head injuries and was airlifted to Port-au-Prince.
- Lionel Prévilon, Driver – was gravely injured in the arms and legs and taken to the intensive care unit of a Cap Haitien hospital.
- Raphaël Lubin, Presidential Cameraman
- Cédric Ismorin, Security Agent
- Claude Durosier, Security Agent
For the other three people hospitalized, the injuries were not specified, but according to the physicians they included:
“head trauma, a broken nose, a humerus fracture, a broken right arm, and a fractured knee.”
The office of the executive released a communique reassuring the public that
“members of the president’s team… and a child of six have been victims of a road accident… but the victims and their families are being cared for.”
Simultaneously Martelly’s spokesman Lucien Jura announced that:
“The head of state is in perfect health although he is deeply upset by the accident… The head of state will continue his activities and visit the city of Port de Paix (northwest) as scheduled.”
Martelly, for his part said:
“What happened to these people, especially the six-year old girl, touched me deeply. I am sorry that this accident occurred. I firmly believe that the victims will recover quickly.”
Three of the injured have been released. Journalist Antonio Bruno and young Patriceland Mexil remain in critical condition. The population of Milot fears for the girl’s life and is beginning to demand justice.
UPDATE on Aug 12, 2012 (Haiti Libre). Six-year old Patricelande Mexil survived the accident. It is unclear how well she can function and how much medical care she will continue to need.
Source: Haiti Chery
© Copyright © 2012, 2013 by Dady Chery. All Rights Reserved. Dady Chery is a journalist, playwright, essayist and poet, who writes in English, French and her native Creole. She is the Editor of Haiti Chery.
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