A Murder in Haiti Threatens to Become Lost Amid the Rubble
Gregoire-Ronald Chery on an earlier, happier trip to Haiti.
Courtesy Viola Semxant-Zucker
Our feature story this week tells the harrowing tale of Gregoire-Ronald Chery, who was murdered in Haiti when kidnappers came for a young girl in his family. Chery was a 17-year federal agent who worked in the Miami office of the Customs and Immigrations Service. When he was killed, federal agencies, including the embassy in Port-au-Prince and the FBI office in Santo Domingo, swept in to lead the investigation.
We've now heard from the family, though not confirmed, that federal authorities have called off their investigation. The Haitian police, as far as we know, are still pursuing the case, but the odds of doing police work in a country with minimal infrastructure are making the case grow colder every day.
Ana Santiago, the spokesperson for the office where Chery worked, has not returned requests for more information. We've also put in a request with the state department's press office for any details they can provide.
As a rule, federal business is kept quiet: we never got clearance to speak with Chery's boss about the work he did under the Department of Homeland Security, and he kept work matters separate from his family life, for reasons both legal and personal. Then, there's the fact that no matter what security clearance he had, the fate Gregoire-Ronald Chery met with in August was brutal and thoughtless.
Did Ronald's identifying himself as a federal agent incite the murderer to shoot? Was it his calm, rational demeanor in the face of such anger? Or was he merely collateral damage, a human obstacle on the way to purses, jewelry, and a child? That last possibility might be the hardest of all: the lack of reason, his existence simply deemed inconvenient by men with guns.
A recent PBS Frontline documentary, Battle for Haiti, highlighted the sheer impossibility of effectively policing a metropolitan region where almost everyone is underemployed and the police force is stretched thin, prone at every step to corruption, frustration, and personal anger that can explode in gunshots.
The subject of the movie: the 4,500 prisoners who escaped from the National Penitentiary after the earthquake struck a year ago. The majority of them have not been recaptured -- and even if they have, there's little space to put them, with prisoners packed like sardines into spaces 60cm in diameter in prisons that have been cobbled together enough to keep them there. Those escaped criminals are taking over Haiti's tent cities, and the task of tracking them down falls to vigilante squadrons, often acting on a hunch. From the film's description:
Helping battle the escaped gangsters is Mario Andresol, Haiti's police chief, who had put many of the gangsters in prison earlier in the decade, surviving two assassination attempts in the process. Now, Andresol has to do it all over again. But his force is rumored to be riddled with corruption, and many of his best officers are without homes and living in tent camps. Andresol admits the situation is bad: "It's chaos out there right now. There is a state of fear because the escapees are murdering, kidnapping, robbing..."
Could the man who killed Ronald be one of the escaped convicts? It's possible, though further details are hard to come by. Ronald's family, especially his brother Pierre-Jarmil, did everything they could to engage the Haitian police and keep apace with the investigation. Haiti is not the only place where you need to continually hound the police to make sure they haven't forgotten your case.
Money talks, as always. Jarmil had to pay thousands of dollars to get a proper autopsy and funeral for his brother, and parted with much more cash along the way, with every officer he met. Bribes are commonplace in a country where most have next to nothing. "You have to pay," Jarmil told New Times. "Everybody pays. Everybody."
We'll update when we know more about the investigation.
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