Fear and Bloodshed

Fear and Bloodshed

Asim Rafiqui, 2007 Finalist

Rafiqui's work as a photographer aims to recover this lost sense of religious pluralism and tolerance for a 21st century India. He states that he is "using photography not only as a means of evidence, but also as a vessel for the imagination." His multi-faceted work addresses the rich legacy that is still present in much of India, through her shared sacred sites and integrated communities. Rafiqui's photographs are elegantly layered compositions that convey the vibrancy and urgency of his project.
Mesnal Delarge, a Lavalas activist who was shot and killed by Haitian national police while participating in a peaceful pro-Aristide rally, is laid to rest by members of his family. Haitian police has repeatedly, and frequently just yards away from minustah forces, shot at peaceful demonstrators. Mesnal was one of five people killed on april 27th demonstration.
Cité-Soleil, Port-au-Prince: minustah armored personnel carriers take up positions inside Cité-Soleil. Neighborhoods like Cité-Soleil, Bel Air, La Saline, Solinos, Martisant, all strongly pro-Aristide, are routinely patrolled by minustah forces.
Minustah troops keep a close eye on a pro-Aristide protest march as it makes it way through Port-au-Prince. Troops from Brazil, Jordan, Pakistan, Chile, Sri Lanka and Nepal make up the minustah presence in Haiti.
Cité-Soleil, Port-au-Prince: The sister-in-law of Marie-Maude Fabien, a mother of five allegedly shot and killed by minustah bullets while collecting water from a Cité-Soleil tap, breaks down at the sight of Marie-Maude’s body.
Cité-Soleil, Port-au-Prince: A man lies dead, another victim of minustah forces firing into heavily populated civilian areas. Witnesses said that UN forces were involved in a gun fight with local armed men but that they had responded with indiscriminate and heavy weapons fire in all directions.
Paula Anne Sylvina, her daughter and other family members mourn the critical wounding of her daughter Jordan Josette during a Haition police death squad operation in Bel Air. Possibly six people were killed and over a dozen injured in the raid that targeted Lavalas supporters and activists.
A victim of a Haitian police raid in the Bel Air slum. The injured are hidden in homes because they are too afraid that going to the hospital would mean certain arrest.
Cité-Soleil, Port-au-Prince: Haitian national police assassination team prepare to enter the ‘Boston’ neighborhood of Cité-Soleil. The national police in coordination with minustah has been carrying out raids across Cité-Soleil and other areas in search of ‘wanted’ gang leaders, most all of whom happen to also be strong Lavalas i.e pro- Aristide supporters.
Children play amongst their sheet metal homes in the Port-au-Prince slum of Cité-Soleil.
A wounded man is taken into hiding in a private house in Bel Air. A Haitian police death squad operation left nearly six people dead and over a dozen injured. The injured refuse to go to hospitals for fear of arrest or being killed and are hidden in private homes.
People scramble to escape gun fire directed at a pro-aristide march as it made its way into Cité-Soleil. The source of the gun fire was unclear, but the Haitian national police was suspected as they have frequently fired at unarmed pro- Aristide demonstrators in the past resulting in many deaths and injuries.
Prayers at St. Claire, father Gerard Jean-Juste’s church in Port-au-Prince.
A girl walks past a house riddled with bullet holes made when minustah armored personnel carriers fired into densly populated neighborhoods. The extent of civilian casualties and property damage in Cité-Soleil as a result of minustah operations against ‘armed gunmen’ remains poorly documented and mostly unreported.
Voodou ceremonies before the start of another pro-Aristide demonstration in Bel Air. Such peaceful protests are frequently met with violence and sniper firing at the hands of the Haitian national police.
Photographer's Statement: 

In early 2005 I traveled to Haiti to document what was promised to be a new era in Haiti’s troubled history. The departure of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in the face of a ‘popular’ armed rebellion seemed to offer the possibilities of renewed hope for this wounded land and its people.

The international community had welcomed Aristide’s removal and promised much needed financial and political support. In the aftermath of the chaos that had gripped the nation during the rebellion, there seemed to be a genuine promise of change and restart.

The reality that I found there however was not what I had been led to believe.

I witnessed an ongoing campaign of violence and repression by Haiti’s current leaders, installed by the us and France, to eliminate the still popular Lavalas (pro-Aristide) movement and its supporters. Hundreds of Lavalas activists were locked without charge in jails while hundreds of others were being killed while protesting in the streets or in Haitian National Police (hnp) raids into strongly pro-Aristide neighborhoods. Entire communities suspected of pro-Aristide leanings had been surrounded by minustah, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, and hnp checkpoints and the residents denied services like water and electricity. The international community, particularly the us and France, were standing firmly behind the ‘interim’ government. The US had even restarted economic and military aid to this government.

This was in sharp contrast, I later learned, to its attitude towards the democratically elected President Aristide whom it placed under economic sanctions in 1995 and then worked tirelessly to topple by funding and courting his opponents. The sanctions withheld nearly $500 million from one of the poorest nations of in the Western Hemisphere and caused severe social and economic devastation in the country.

At the same time the US government provided financial and political support to Aristide’s opponents and even arranged conferences in neighboring Dominican Republic for Aristide’s opponents to meet those from Washington who shared similar political views.

As Amy Wilentz, a journalist with extensive experience in Haiti, wrote in The Nation: ‘In a country [...] where the military has been disbanded for nearly a decade, soldiers don’t simply emerge [...] they have to be reorgani- zed, retrained and resupplied [...] and someone has to organize [them].’

The ‘interim’ government, consisting of a group of business-industrialist elite, had set about dismantling the social and political institutions that Aristide had implemented during his rule. Hundreds were suddenly jobless and unable to feed their families. Many of these business-industrialist elite were once part of the brutal Duvalier regime and are now back dressed as the new democrats. Minustah had been given a ‘peacekeeping’ task for which it was clearly undermanned and unpreparead.

Meanwhile it had become a collaborator in the ongoing campaign of repression. And yet, further pressure was being put on Minustah to use greater force, compelling the Commander of the UN forces, General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro, to complain that, ‘We are under extreme pressure from the international community to use violence. I command a peacekeeping force, not an occupation force.’

Sometimes the aftermath of conflict can be even more dangerous than the conflict itself as it takes place away from the eyes of the press and under the noses of the international community. At moments such as this, as in Haiti that summer of 2005, the slogans and promises may be of peace, but the reality remains one of fear and bloodshed.

asim.rafiqui's picture

Asim an independent photographer whose work has appeared in publications such as National Geographic (France), Stern (Germany), The Wall Street Journal Magazine, Newsweek, and Time (USA, Asia) and some others.

He is also the author of the blog, The Spinning Head.