PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Wednesday May 30, 2012 – Two Americans being held for allegedly assisting a band of rogue soldiers during a demonstration in Haiti’s capital face up to three years in jail if convicted on conspiracy charges.
Haitian prosecutor Jean-Renel Senatus said that one of the Americans, Jason William Petrie, was of concern because he had confessed in jail to having ties to criminal gangs.
Petrie, of Barberton, Ohio, and Steven Parker Shaw, of Dighton, Massachusetts, were charged with conspiracy after their arrest for driving would-be soldiers at a protest demanding the restoration of the country’s army that drew hundreds of participants.
Petrie, 39, has been visiting Haiti periodically for 20 years and worked as an interpreter. He has also been involved in Haitian politics and was a supporter of losing presidential candidate Charles Henri-Baker in the 2010 election.
Petrie claimed that he was friends with leaders of the pro-army group and was only helping them. Shaw, 57, said he was lending Petrie a hand.
Marchers, led by sergeants from the disbanded army, tried to pressure President Michel Martelly to honour his campaign promise to reinstate the army, which was abolished in 1995 because of its history of abuses.
The protest began peacefully, but demonstrators later hurled rocks at United Nations peacekeepers near the Presidential Palace. Police exchanged gunfire with others outside one of the former military bases that the rogue soldiers had taken over.
Police jailed 53 people on various charges, which authorities said included possession of illegal weapons and not having the required paperwork for driving motorcycles.
Those found with weapons face charges of plotting against the internal security of the state.
The arrests were made as police flushed out several former military bases and other public facilities that the lightly armed pro-army men had occupied since February. The former soldiers opened training camps and recruited young men and women hoping they could obtain military jobs in the impoverished country.
One of the group’s leaders, a former sergeant, was arrested on an assault charge, but several other leaders went into hiding.