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Renowned politician, journalist killed over weekend in Port-au-Prince

CAP-HAITIEN — Prominent politician Eric Jean-Baptiste and news reporter Romelo Vilsaint were both shot dead in Port-au-Prince over the weekend as violence continues to occur in the capital during the lockdown.

Jean-Baptiste was shot four times while on his way home in an armored vehicle on Oct. 28 in Laboule 12, a neighborhood of Pétion-Ville, according to Ricardin Nordin, associate director of the Rally of Progressive National Democrats (RDNP) political party that Jean-Baptiste headed. 

Jean-Baptiste was transported to a hospital, where he died. His security guard, Peterson Vernius, was also shot and died at the scene.

The Ti Makak gang, the group that controls the Laboule area, has been accused of the deadly Friday night shooting. Laboule has become a hotbed of violence of late as criminal organizations grow in power and arms across the Port-au-Prince region. 

Jean-Baptiste was the general secretary of the RDNP and a former presidential candidate. He also owned “Pè Etènèl Loto” — a company that sells bòlèt. In 2018, Jean-Baptiste was the victim of an attempted killing in the Carrefour Feuille area, which he survived with a bullet lodged in his arm.

Numerous politicians, including Prime Minister Ariel Henry and former President Michel Martelly, took to social media to condemn Jean-Baptiste’s murder.

“The horrific assassination of the political leader, Eric Jean Baptiste and his bodyguard, has once again plunged the Haitian nation into turmoil,” Henry tweeted. “We strongly condemn this heinous crime against this patriot, this moderate politician committed to change.”

Two days later, Vilsaint was among protesters gathered at the police station in Delmas 33 to demand the release of a fellow journalist when he was killed, according to local media.

Vilsaint, a videographer with Media Production and Radio Tele Unique, was advocating for the release of Robest Dimanche, a Radio Zenith reporter arrested for “disturbance of public order and rebellion,” according to attorney Arnel Remy.

Other reporters who took part in the demonstration accused the police of dispersing them with gunshots and tear gas.  It is unclear whether he was shot, as numerous reports have said, or struck by a tear can canister. 

Police have not commented on the killing.

Over the past several months, the Port-au-Prince region has seen daily killings take place as gangs continue to rule various neighborhoods and the country remains in a politically-fueled lockdown. The International Organization for Migration reported last week that gang violence left 96,000 people displaced.

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