A photojournalist with The Associated Press was among two people wounded Monday in Haiti when a senator opened fire in the yard of the Haitian Senate amid a chaotic scene involving another foiled vote to confirm the new prime minister.
Journalist Dieu-Nalio Chery was covering Monday’s 8 a.m. Senate ratification vote, along with other journalists, for nominated Prime Minister Fritz William Michel and his cabinet when several shots were fired and a bullet hit Chery’s face and another hit a security agent. Chery was taken to Bernard Mevs Hospital, where a surgeon told him to return on Wednesday to remove the bullet from his jaw.
Sen. Patrice Dumont told Port-au-Prince radio station Vision2000 that the shots were fired by fellow senator Jean Marie Ralph Féthière, who represents Cap-Haitien. Dumont said it was not intentional. Other witnesses on the scene said another senator, Willot Joseph, had also pulled his gun to fire.
Féthière later told reporters that he was defending himself because he was under attack by a crowd of unknown individuals.
The Miami Herald confirmed that the photojournalist is Chery, whose work has frequently appeared in the paper’s pages. The security agent who was wounded was identified as Leon Leblanc.
A video circulated on Haitian social media shows a crowd of young men following another senator to his car, yelling “thief, thief,” when suddenly several shots are heard. A second video shows Féthière walking to a white pickup as a group of men trail behind screaming, “thief, thief.” He gets into the vehicle and closes the door. He then steps out and starts shooting before speeding off. The camera than pans to Chery, the photographer, showing that he got shot.
Other senators quickly abandoned the chaotic scene while protesters took to the streets of Port-au-Prince. As large crowds made their way up through Delmas en route to Petionville, streets were blocked, rocks thrown, tires burned, and the crowd called for the resignation of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. Protesters also looted and set fire to at least one business in the upscale Juvenat neighborhood of the capital.
Protests were also reported in the cities of Mirebalais and Gonaives, where some demonstrators erected more flaming barricades and ransacked an office belonging to Senate President Carl Murat Cantave. Attempting to reach Cantave’s home, protesters were forced to turn around by police who fired tear gas.
The shooting incident took place as the Haitian Senate tried to meet for a second time to confirm Michel. A previous attempt at confirmation earlier this month was abandoned after protesters invaded the Senate chamber and someone poured fuel on the Senate floor in an attempt to set it on fire.
Moïse, who had been scheduled to speak at the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, has been without a functional government since the Lower Chamber of Deputies fired Prime Minister Jean Henry Céant in March. Moïse canceled his U.N. appearance late Monday.
Moïse and his supporters had wanted him to have a constitutional government before his scheduled trip to New York on Tuesday, and had vowed to force through Michel’s appointment. The opposition, meanwhile, has been intent on preventing the approval, accusing Michel of being unfit to lead Haiti as its No. 2 due to several corruption scandals trailing him.
Among the allegations, Michel is accused of paying $500,000 in payments to five senators to confirm his ratification. He’s also accused of profiting more than $16 million between 2017 and 2018 from government contracts through five companies he either controlled or was connected to while employed as a government employee. One of those contracts involved the sale of 200 goats to the government for more than $500 each.
An anti-corruption group, Ensemble Contre la Corruption, ECC, said it analyzed several of the companies’ transactions and found that the five firms carried out similar transactions, were paid by the same ministry for the same services and often on the same dates.
The group accused Michel of overbilling the government, abusing his office, insider trading and other corrupt practices.
“Fritz William Michel has for years been at the head of a machine of corruption which, to the detriment of the State, allowed him to enrich himself in an illicit way,” ECC concluded.
In an interview with Magik9 radio station last week, Michel denied paying bribes and defended the 2017 goat contract, saying the goats were of an improved quality and were imported from Texas. Although he was the chief of staff for the finance minister at the time of the sale, Michel said he did not have a conflict of interest because at the time he was a contractual employee.
After the Monday morning shooting incident, senators engaged in a game of cat-and-mouse across the capital. Opposition senators, hearing that pro-government colleagues planned to hold the confirmation vote at the police academy in Tabarre, took off in that direction. When they arrived, they were met with a crowd of protesters.
“They cannot do it; it’s illegal,” Sen. Youri Latortue said after arriving at the location. Latortue, who was with fellow opposition senators Joseph Lambert and Antonio Cheramy, said they had been informed by Senate employees that the hearing would take place there.
Several pro-government senators calling into local radio stations claimed they were home and alone. But a reporter later reported that pro-government senators were secretly deliberating somewhere in the capital.
Before the shooting incident, Cantave complained that the scene over in the Senate had turned chaotic after unknown individuals whom he described as “thugs” had gained access to the premises and confronted him and other senators. He also accused them of throwing feces at lawmakers and being aggressive toward them.
Sounding exasperated on Magik9 radio station, he accused Haiti National Police of neglecting their job. He said the crowd had been invited by opposition senators intent on preventing the ratification vote.