Everyone Knew About Assassination Plot; That Didn’t Save Victim
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ U.S. officials knew she was on a hit list. The Haitian government knew, too, and says it warned her.
Five suspects in the plot, which reached high into the government, were quickly rounded up.
But the precautions didn’t stop gunmen from killing Mireille Durocher Bertin, a lawyer and the leading spokeswoman for Haiti’s former military regime, in broad daylight on a busy downtown street on Tuesday.
Bertin had led opposition to the U.S. intervention that restored President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power in October after his three-year exile.
While other Aristide opponents went mute after his return, Bertin continued though a newsletter and in interviews to condemn the president, whom she called a criminal.
Aristide condemned the killing and said his government would do everything in its power to apprehend the killers, but acknowledged the limitations of Haiti’s nonfunctioning justice system. An FBI team arrived Wednesday to investigate.
No arrests have been made in the killing, U.S. Embassy spokesman Stan Schrager told reporters Thursday.
He said the U.S. government had obtained information about a plot to assassinate a number of people, including Bertin, last week.
The embassy informed Aristide and Justice Minister Jean-Joseph Exume of the allegations on March 22, providing them with the hit list and names of alleged plotters, Schrager told reporters.
``They told us that the minister of justice informed Mrs. Bertin of the threat and presented her with the evidence that we had supplied them. According to other stories, she rejected any suggestion of bodyguards or other security,″ he said.
Jean Bertin, the victim’s husband, told The Associated Press Thursday that the Justice Ministry never warned his wife of the plot or of any offer of protection. This was strange, he said, because she had told him about friends’ warnings of such a plot two weeks ago.
Exume was in the countryside and unreachable by telephone, a secretary in his office said. She said no one else in the ministry was authorized to comment.
Jean Bertin said his wife had rejected his own suggestions for a bodyguard.
``And when I suggested we leave the country, she said, `If nature wanted me to live in another country, I would not have been born Haitian.‴
Instead, Bertin told his wife she should not go anywhere without him. On Tuesday, though, he was stuck in traffic while picking up their daughter from school and she was late for a meeting.
``We were in radio contact, she persuaded me to let her go accompanied by a client we are friendly with. She was to radio me as she reached certain intersections. She made the first radio rendezvous, then nothing,″ Bertin said.
Mireille Bertin and her client, Eugene Baillerjeau Jr., died in a hail of bullets after two gunmen in a taxi approached from the opposite direction, shot out their tires to force them to stop, then walked over to the car to deliver the fatal shots to their heads.
Schrager refused to identify anyone else on the hit list or give the names of the alleged plotters. He confirmed, however, that a government official was among them.
Haitian security sources have linked the plot to the arrests March 19 of five members of the far-left Front of Assembled Militants: Edy and Patrick Moise; Antoine St. Clair; Michelet Nicola; and Claude Douge.
The Moise brothers were among a score of people who occupied the Canadian Embassy for several weeks in November 1991 after Aristide was overthrown. They asked for political asylum, but were turned down and handed over to the military regime, which subsequently released them.
Schrager said Bertin’s assassination and ``perceptions of increased crime″ in Port-au-Prince have taken the spotlight off President Clinton’s visit to the capital Friday to hand over command of the U.S.-led intervention force to the United Nations.
Three men were arrested Thursday in connection with the shooting of an American missionary couple in southern Haiti during a robbery late Tuesday, Schrager said. The victims, Mark and Teresa Jacobsen, both 33, are being treated at the U.S. military’s medical facility in the capital.