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Bullets fired by Argentine UN soldiers kill Haitian boy's dream
Published on December 3, 2013 Email To Friend    Print Version

widerson_gena.jpg
Widerson Gena

By Joseph Guyler Delva

VERRETTES, Haiti (HCNN) -- A 16-year-old Haitian boy, Widerson Gena, has accused Argentine UN soldiers in Haiti of having killed his dream to become an agronomist after he has been shot five times, paralyzed, condemned to a wheelchair and denied any support from the world organization, over two years later.

On May 12, 2011, Gena, who was only 14, was struck by five bullets when Argentine soldiers of the United-Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti allegedly opened fire at school kids and other teenagers who were demonstrating at the Jacques Stephen Alexis high school, in the town of Verrettes, 112 km north of Port-au-Prince.

"The Argentine soldiers are the ones who shot at me because I could recognize the Argentine flag on their uniform," Gena told HCNN in an interview.

"I cry sometimes because as a result of what happened to me I will no longer be able to fulfill my dream to become an agronomist," Gena said with a trembling voice, as he sat in his wheelchair, in a hospital in the Southern Fond-des-Blancs provincial district where he was transferred to receive continued care.

The 16-year-old victim called on the UN to provide due compensation to his parents to allow them to take care of him, given that doctors say he will be paralyzed for the rest of his life.

"I want the UN to compensate for what they did to me so that my parents may have the financial means to support me," Gena said.

Several hundred students from the Verrettes high school, joined by teenagers from other schools, organized the demonstration that day to protest a decision by the Education department to appoint a new teacher in replacement of a physics teacher they held in esteem.

The teacher, Andre Pierre, accused by the local education system leadership of inciting students to riot, was later arrested by Haitian police, which had the effect of adding fuel to the fire.

In a flash report issued the same day of the incident, the UN alert information service, which provides regular security updates, mentioned the unrest and said a joint patrol of Haitian and UN police and UN military were sent to restore order.

"No injuries reported," said the May 12, 2011 UN flash report, which however failed to mention an earlier incident during which at least Gena and another younger school kid were shot.

HCNN spoke with three spokespersons for the UN in Haiti, Marcos Cardoso Dos Santos and his deputy Edward Early and Sophie Boutaud de la Combe, to try to get the UN side of the story, but they all failed to provide any response after they had repeatedly promised they would do so for more than two weeks.

Sources close to the UN military suggested that the shots that seriously wounded Gena could have been fired by Haitian police, because UN soldiers usually use rubber bullets when it comes to crowd control.

However, the Haitian police chief in Verrettes at the time of the incident, Commissioner Seme Calixte, told HCNN the Haitian police were not on the scene during the incident in which Gena was shot.

"We had the joint patrol afterwards because the protest was continuing and becoming more chaotic," Calixte said. "But the incident involving Gena occurred before that when a UN patrol bumped into a barricade erected by students who threw rocks at them," police commissioner Calixte told HCNN.

"There were absolutely no Haitian police with UN troops when Gena was shot, during the first incident," Calixte insisted.

The students were outside the school and throwing rocks at a UN patrol when Argentine blue berets opened fire, according to several witnesses.

"I am the one who took Widerson to the hospital after he had been shot by UN soldiers from Argentina," Ronald Theodile told HCNN. "I saw that with my own eyes, and the Haitian police were not there at that time," he said.

"When Widerson got shot he fell down, and when I rushed to pick him up he said I am dying and then he passed out," said Theodile, explaining that Gena regained consciousness while at the hospital.

Parents demand compensation

The victim's father, Remy Gena, said his son is very smart and was doing exceptionally well at school and confirmed that the schoolboy had always talked about his dream goal of becoming an agronomist in rural Verrettes, in the Artibonite region which is considered as the rice basket of Haiti.

"The UN soldiers shot my son and they have refused so far to give any compensation or to support him in any way" Gena (senior) told HCNN. "I have spent all I have to support Widerson over the past two years and a half, but now I don't have anything left," he explained.

Doctors who examined the former schoolboy at the Bernard Mevs hospital in the capital Port-au-Prince say Widerson's life has been irreversibly changed as a result of his injuries.

"He will be a wheelchair user for the rest of his life and has been forced to live with the complications of paralysis such as wounds to his lower extremities, injuries sustained secondary to loss of sensation in his lower limbs and an inability to have a functioning bladder and bowels," British doctor Joanna Cherry, who examined Gena, told HCNN.

Gena has missed several years of education and social interaction due to his condition and he and his family have physically, emotionally and financially suffered following his injury.

Gena still has one bullet in his spinal cord, two were extracted and two went through him, according to doctors.

"In my opinion the UN mission has a moral and financial obligation towards Widerson and his family that they have failed to uphold," said Dr. Cherry, who is in charge of the Spinal Cord Injuries Unit at Bernard Mevs hospital.

The UN has already conducted an internal investigation into the case, but no report has been made public.

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