HAITIAN priests were accused of being communists, priests and nuns called for the resignation of Haiti's president, and a bishop denounced government inaction as violence continued in the country.
Religious, civic, labour and political organisations have participated in a nationwide strike since late June, but events escalated after a July 24-26 massacre near the town of JeanRabel. Peasants pushing for land reform clashed with landowners in machete battles near the northwestern Haiti town, and death toll estimates, which could not be confirmed, ranged from 100 to 700.
Bishop Emmanuel Constant of Les Gonaives, Haiti, who has denounced the government for failing to prevent the clashes, stated that during the incident at Jean-Rabel, similiar incidents were occurring in Les Gonaives and Gros-Morne. Bishop Constant heads the Haitian bishops' justice and peace commission.
On July 28, the military entered the cathedral in Cap Haitien, Haiti, and fired on demonstrators who had taken refuge there. On July 27, about 135 priests and nuns gathered outside the cathedral in Port-auPrince, Haiti, and at the end of their demonstration called for the resignation of the country's president, Lt Gen Henri Namphy.
Namphy places the blame for the Jean-Rabel incident on Tet Ansanm, a peasant group founded in the late 1970s by Catholic missionaires. Since Namphy made his charge, the Catholic priests of the area have been accused of, among other things, inciting violence and of being communists.
Tet Ansanm (Head Together) now includes Catholics, Protestants and even some voodoo priests. It has grown from a steady membership of 200-300 to more than 1,000 members and has pushed for land reform.
Reuters reported from JeanRabel that accounts of the conflict varied, but many witnesses said they thought the landowners were aided by members of the Tonton Macoutes, a feared militia disbanded after the ousting of former President Jean-Claude Duvalier. Some witnesses said the peasants, believed to number about 2,000, were incited by Catholic missionaries to attack their land-owning neighbours and seize their property.