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Exclusive | A land conflict opposes the Catholic Church of the Peasants of Nippes

  • June 10, 2024
  • 26 Min
  • 10

The local head of the General Directorate of Taxes, Jean Richard Bienvenue, validates the demands of the farmers in this matter. “All the lands of Saint-Michel cannot be the property of the Catholic Church,” he tells AyiboPost

The Catholic Church claims to own 183 tiles of earth in Nippes.

The legal representative of the institution undertakes to expel citizens from the domain, including peasants whom he considers to be illegally occupying these lands.

Some of the occupants have lived on these lands in the fourth communal section of Miragôane for several decades.

Others claim the status of farmers on portions that they say belong to the state.

The Church’s lawyer in this case, also parish priest of Saint-Michel Archange, Father Robenson Grégoire, told AyiboPost that he had papers proving the state donations, but did not want to communicate them.

However, documents obtained exclusively by AyiboPost, as well as interviews with ecclesiastical authorities, public administration and residents of the region, lift the veil on a more complex matter.

The legal representative of the institution undertakes to expel citizens from the domain, including peasants whom he considers to be illegally occupying these lands.

According to available documentation, even the Haitian state appears to be confused about the Church’s rights to certain portions of the disputed land, 132 of which were allegedly given to the clergy by Haiti’s first president, Alexandre Pétion.

The case of Lionel Fleuranvil, 64 years old, demonstrates this confusion.

The farmer had been a state farmer since January 5, 1988.

But, on September 17, 1997, the regional director of the General Directorate of Taxes at the time, Gérard Casimir, sent him a correspondence with the subject “termination of lease”.

The letter received by Fleuranvil emphasizes that the State leased the land to him “by mistake” and that he now had to refer to the Fabrique de Saint-Michel des Nippes for any negotiations in this matter.

Gérard Casimir sends a letter to Fleuranvil with the subject “lease termination”.

La Fabrique — an ecclesiastical institution — administers the property of the Catholic Church in the area. Father Grégoire has presided over the Fabrique de Saint-Michel since October 9, 2019.

The letter from the DGI sent to Fleuranvil followed a written request from the then parish priest of Miragôane, Jean Vanès Nicolas, to the director general of the institution on June 9, 1997.

Land conflict

The priest wanted the lease terminated, and the reintegration into the church’s heritage of portions of land rented “no doubt under political pressure” by the DGI to individuals after the American occupation.

On September 9, 1997, the then director general of the DGI, Jocelerme Privert, ordered the regional director to terminate the farm leases entered into “by mistake in the name of the State,” according to the official document obtained by AyiboPost.

Since then, Fleuranvil has paid an annual lease to the Catholic Church.

On September 9, 1997, Jocelerme Privert, director general of the DGI at the time, asked the regional director to put an end to the farm leases concluded “by mistake” in the name of the State.

Contacted by AyiboPost, the former director of the DGI and former president Jocelerme Privert did not comment.

Three years ago, the priest Robenson Grégoire took possession of part of the land of Lionel Fleuranvil and several other farmers of Saint-Michel des Nippes for the construction of a public market.

The public market was not built.

And the portion claimed by the church was redistributed to public institutions for the construction of offices and to other farmers.

Lionel Fleuranvil as well as dozens of citizens of Saint-Michel des Nippes are contesting the extent of the land holdings of the Catholic Church, on land sometimes not used for decades.

The priest Grégoire claims to have survey documents for 140 squares of land.

But, he says, people from the community occupy almost all of the land of the Fabrique de Saint-Michel.

According to the Church, 132 tiles came from a state donation and 51 additional tiles from a large owner.

AyiboPost’s requests to Father Grégoire to obtain documents proving these donations were unsuccessful.

“Any donation must be made before a notary and declared to be legal,” maintains Maître Rosental Duvelsaint, notary public in Verrettes.

According to the professional, it is possible that the Catholic Church does not have a title deed.

“To obtain this title, you need a definitive deed drawn up by a notary public, accompanied by a survey deed registered with the DGI,” analyzes Duvelsaint, for whom the church must at least have a deed of donation.

Beyond the area in dispute, the diocese of Anse-à-Veau and Miragôane owns a lot of land in Nippes.

Under the presidency of former President Jovenel Moïse, the Haitian state had granted almost 800 tiles of land to the Catholic Church in the Baco Noir area, in Miragôane, Father Grégoire reveals to AyiboPost.

Some farmers accept the status quo.

Fleuranvil, for example, does not intend to sue the Catholic Church to once again become a state farmer on the plot he has occupied for 30 years.

“The Haitian State and the Catholic Church are one,” believes the man for whom there is no possible trial.

Read also: The Haitian State and the Catholic Church: united against all odds

Other farmers resist.

The inhabitants of Baco Noir had prevented at least one project of the Catholic Church in collaboration with an organization, reports Father Grégoire, also notary of the diocese of Anse-à-Veau and Miragôane.

Sometimes, residents of the area like Professor François Bléus ask the courts to decide.

The man had been paying the DGI for six hundredths of land since 2012.

But in 2020, Father Robenson Grégoire and his team recovered part of his portion, as part of the church’s offensive against the alleged squatters.

The farmer Lebert Simpris claims to have occupied his portion of land since 1973. He refuses to bow to the orders of the church.

“Father Robenson is creating disorder in Saint-Michel,” reproaches the farmer. He seizes the land of poor peasants to resell it to wealthy people.”

On December 8, 2022, Simpris asked the DGI to recognize the land as state possession and to survey it.

Lebert Simpris

To show his disagreement, Simpris and four people occupying the part recovered by the priest pile up materials on the ground for a future construction.

Pirame Lagirois, retired professor after 36 years of service to the State, declares himself a victim of “Grégoire’s operations”.

The departmental coordinator of the National Union of Normaliens of Haiti (UNNOH) occupies more than two squares of land in Sicily, an area bordering Saint-Michel.

Father Grégoire, according to Lagirois, cut off a piece of his land “which belongs to the State” to resell it to an individual for several tens of thousands of dollars.

The priest rejects the notion of sale to AyiboPost, but instead speaks of leasing for the benefit of the entrepreneur Verdieu Saint-Louis, without revealing the amounts involved.

This matter is before the courts.

However, other sales are confirmed.

Miragôane notary Mario Joseph reveals to AyiboPost that the priest presented himself in his office with a special power of attorney from Monsignor Pierre-André Dumas to order the sale of land to five people on December 21, 2023.

Father Robenson Grégoire does not intend to turn back.

The money collected, according to the prelate, allows the financing of church activities.

For example, the parish had begun its reconstruction a year before his arrival at Saint-Michel Archange in 2019. Father Grégoire wants to complete this construction.

The rental of land should help the initiative, according to the priest. “Se stoneware kochon an k ap kuit kochon an,” he told AyiboPost.

With the agreement of Monseigneur Pierre-André Dumas, Robenson Grégoire barters with certain individuals who want a legal title for their plots.

The latter provide materials such as iron and cement for the construction of the church. Then, the church representative appears before a notary with the buyer to legally provide him with a title deed.

The church’s 420 farmers must pay an annual fee. Most of those who refuse to pay are evicted and the land handed over to other takers.

The area’s cemetery is located on land belonging to the Catholic Church Factory. Residents must pay up to 15,000 gourdes for each burial, according to testimonies.

Father Grégoire confirms the payment of an amount, but claims to only receive a fee of 500 gourdes to bury a corpse in the cemetery. This fee finances the cleaning service, according to Father Grégoire.

The land question remains thorny in Haiti.

Immediately after the dismantling of the colonial system in 1804, this question created disputes between the old and the new free people.

Disputes of this type become even more serious due to the absence of a land register throughout the national territory.

The Catholic religion played a decisive role during slavery. It maintained and extended its influence after the revolution.

According to Father Robenson Grégoire, the church holds many privileges in Haiti.

The man of God mentions the concordat of March 28, 1860 signed with the Haitian State which asks it to build churches and presbyteries for the Catholic Church and to remunerate priests in a context where the religious institution plays an important role in education.

Read also: The dangerous communion between the Haitian State and the Church

According to lawyer Samuel Madistin, the 1987 Constitution – when it proclaims the equality of religions in article 30 – calls into question the Concordat.

“The budgetary support granted to Catholic priests by the Ministry of Religious Affairs is now irregular and must be stopped, unless the State grants exactly the same privileges to pastors, voodoo priests, leaders of the Muslim community and Jehovah’s Witnesses », according to Maître Madistin.

The Catholic Church can count on a major ally in its conflict with citizens, including farmers, in the fourth communal section of Miragôane.

Several residents of Saint-Michel des Nippes identify the head of the Miragôane public prosecutor’s office Jean Ernest Muscadin as a close friend of Father Robenson Grégoire.

Muscadin, known for his extrajudicial killings of gang members, admits to having a good relationship with the priest, then s that he lived with the latter for nine months.

Read also: Who is Ernest Muscadin?

On March 11, 2023, the influential commissioner intervened in the land conflict for the benefit of the Catholic Church to to block in person the work of a DGI surveyor sent by the farmers.

The head of the Miragôane Public Prosecutor’s Office says he is aware of the sale of land by the Catholic Church — “a local authority bought a plot there,” he adds to AyiboPost.

“The Catholic Church gave me two tiles of earth. I refused them,” maintains Jean Ernest Muscadin. (Father Robenson Grégoire rejects this allegation)

According to Commissioner Muscadin, the lands belong to the Catholic Church. But since these are state donations, he sees no problem with the population occupying them, he added during an interview with AyiboPost.

The relation between the powerful commissioner and Father Grégoire seems to be cooling down.

The government commissioner declares having cut ties with the cleric because the latter prevented him from eliminating “Bonhomme thus known”, a notorious bandit in Saint-Michel des Nippes.

The Catholic Church gave me two tiles of earth. I refused them.

Jean Ernest Muscadin

According to Muscadin, Father Robenson Grégoire begged forgiveness for the individual.

“I could even be a victim of Bonhomme’s abuses,” says Muscadin.

The commissioner says he continues to track Bonhomme, but says he has not yet found an opportunity to apprehend him.

Father Robenson Grégoire denies having requested pardon for Bonhomme.

“I can confirm that I had expressed the desire to accompany Bonhomme before the court as a lawyer, having the right to accompany any client,” Father Grégoire told AyiboPost.

“He is a citizen I know well,” declared the priest. One of his parents was a member of the Church.”

The head of the Miragôane Public Prosecutor’s Office says he is aware of the sale of land by the Catholic Church — “a local authority bought a plot there”.

Even public institutions must count on the generosity of the church to find land to build their offices in Saint-Michel des Nippes.

According to documents obtained by AyiboPost, structures such as the National Directorate of Drinking Water and Sanitation (DINEPA)/OREPA Sud, the Workplace Accident, Sickness and Maternity Insurance Office (OFATMA) or the Office of the Saint-Michel des Nippes school district, have appealed to the Church in this regard.



Nippes School District

According to a letter addressed to the bishop of the diocese of Anse-à-Veau and Miragôane dated February 24, 2023 and obtained by AyiboPost, Commissioner Muscadin had asked the Catholic Church for a portion of land for the construction of a court of peace at Saint-Michel des Nippes.

Land conflict

The bishop of the diocese of Anse-à-Veau — Miragoâne, Monseigneur Pierre-André Dumas, mandated Father Grégoire to establish contracts and represent the parish of Saint-Michel Archange in court.

Contacted by AyiboPost, the bishop did not comment.

Local organizations side with the farmers.

In November 2022, the Nippoise Solidarity for Human Rights (SONIDH) denounced the actions deemed “reprehensible” of priest Grégoire in a letter sent to Monsignor Pierre-André Dumas and to the departmental director of the DGI.

According to the coordinator of SONIDH, Marc-Arthur Bien-Venu, the Catholic Church does not own the entire expanse of land that it claims in Saint-Michel des Nippes.

Land conflict

Land conflict

Land conflict

Because of the involvement of surveyors and notaries in this land conflict, the central management of the DGI as well as the Ministry of Justice and Public Security are aware of the file, indicates for his part the regional director of the DGI , Jean Richard Welcome.

AyiboPost was unable to collect information on the progress of the file at the level of these two institutions.

But locally, the DGI’s reading seems to be in favor of farmers and citizens.

The priest does not even know the boundaries of his church’s land, according to the regional director of the DGI, Jean Richard Bienvenue.

“Not all land in St. Michael can be owned by the Catholic Church,” says the official.

Par Rolph Louis-Jeune

Cover image published by AyiboPost illustrating the land conflict between peasants and the Catholic church of Nippes. The people in the image are not actually actors in the conflict.

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author avatar
Rolph Louis-Jeune