[News] No Holiday Compassion for Haiti's Political Prisoners
News at freedomarchives.org
Mon Dec 26 12:07:13 EST 2005
December 26, 2005
Bush Frolics, Father Jean-Juste Rots in Jail
No Holiday Compassion for Haiti's Political Prisoners
By BEN TERRALL
On December 16, Congresswoman Maxine Waters and 41 other members of
the U.S. House of Reprentatives wrote President Bush calling for the
release of Haitian political prisoner Fr.Gerard Jean-Juste. The
nonviolent activist priest, who has been held on trumped-up charges
by the current coup regime for five months, is in urgent need of
medical care unavailable to Haitian prisoners.
Five days later, Jean-Juste's two sisters sent an open letter to Bush
and "interim" Haitian Prime Minister of Haiti Gerard Latortue calling
for his release on medical grounds. Jean-Juste's sisters wrote, "We
believe that as good and righteous Christians during this holiday
season you will open your hearts and minds to ask for and demand his
release so that he will not die in prison."
The Congressional letter to Bush noted, "Amnesty International
considers [Fr. Jean-Juste] a prisoner of conscience and has called
for his unconditional release. The injustice of his imprisonment is
all the more blatant because of his failing health. On December 1,
Fr. Jean-Juste received a medical exam by Dr. John Carroll, who
reported that he has swollen lymph nodes in his neck and armpits and
an elevated white blood count. This could indicate any of several
serious medical conditions, including a blood cancer or an infectious
disease. Many blood cancers have a good prognosis if they are treated
early by specialists. It is therefore imperative that Fr. Jean-Juste
be able to receive prompt medical attention."
In early September, I visited Father Jean-Juste in a facility in
Port-au-Prince. Jean-Juste was tired but in characteristically upbeat spirits.
I arrived as a group of Jean-Juste's parishoners from St.Claire
church were leaving, happy to have assured the Father that his
feeding programs for hundreds of local children were still up and running.
The priest had recently been moved to his new lockup in the Pacot
neighborhood, from the downtown penitentiary which a friend
accurately described as "medieval." When I asked Jean-Juste if he
felt confident of his security in the new quarters, he answered "no."
Jean-Juste was arrested in a fashion consistent with the hysterical
demonization of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Lavalas
Party waged by right-wing elites who control most of Haiti's media.
Never formally charged, the priest was taken into custody after being
accused of responsibility for a killing which took place when
Jean-Juste was in Miami. Jean-Juste was assaulted at a funeral, but
instead of arresting his assailants, Haitian police detained the
priest. Human rights lawyer Brian Concannon noted, "To their
discredit, United Nations Civilian Police participated in the illegal
arrest, by handing Fr. Jean-Juste to the Haitian police without
ensuring that he would be treated legally."
Mario Joseph, Jean-Juste's Port-au-Prince based lawyer, told me,
"Jean-Juste serves the poor, always goes to the poorest neighborhoods
when there are demonstrations, and helps with funerals after police
and UN soldiers kill protestors. Politicians say they'll serve the
poor, but usually don't."
Joseph added, "He has the trust and love of the people for all he has
done for them, which is why the government wants to stop him and he
is in jail. The U.S. embassy and UN don't want to use him as a
peacemaker, because that would make him politically stronger and a
threat to elite interests."
>From behind bars Fr. Jean-Juste continued to explain that elections
the U.S., Canada and France have arranged for Haiti (which, after
repeated postponements, will in theory take place in January) cannot
be free and fair without an end to killings and other repression of
Lavalas supporters, freeing of the more than one thousand political
prisoners, and a return of Aristide and other political exiles to
help restore constitutional democracy.
Jean-Juste told me, "I spoke out to condemn the July 6 massacre of
civilians by Brazilian troops in Cite Soleil, and in a visit to Miami
called for a demonstration at the Brazilian embassy. I'm paying for a
lot of things."
Jean-Juste compared Bush's betrayal of New Orleans to the
Administration's refusal to listen to Congressional Black Caucus
pleas to halt repression of Lavalas. "We should take a lesson from
the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. We should take care of people in
need, and disengage from war. The young men and women at war in Iraq
should not be there. It's a war for lies, the same as the right wing
lies about Aristide."
He added, "if Aristide was still in Haiti, there would be uniforms
and books for children who are now unable to start school.
Malnutrition is so high, food is so expensive. This is what the coup
He expressed appreciation for international solidarity, and asked
that it be continued as much as possible, not only for him, but also
for other Haitian political prisoners and the millions of desperately
impoverished Haitians barely able to survive outside prison.
Republican Congressman Dan Burton, Chair of the Subcommittee on the
Western Hemisphere of the House Committee on International Relations,
was among those calling the State Department to express concern about
Jean-Juste's health and continued incarceration. Assistant Secretary
of State Thomas Shannon assured Burton that "State [Department]
staffers in Haiti have access to political prisoners, and medical
personnel saw Fr. Jean-Juste as recently as December 12th."
Concannon calls Shannon's response "disingenuous," pointing to a
current State Department Consular Information Sheet for Haiti which
states, "Medical facilities in Haiti are scarce and for the most part
sub-standard; outside the capital standards are even lower. Medical
care in Port-au-Prince is limited, and the level of community
sanitation is extremely low. Life-threatening emergencies may require
evacuation by air ambulance at the patient's expense."
Further, the State Department's February 28, 2005 Country report for
Haiti states, "Prisoners and detainees continued to suffer from a
lack of basic hygiene, malnutrition, poor quality health care, and,
in some facilities, 24-hour confinement. Most prisons periodically
suffered from lack of water, especially in the provinces. The
incidence of preventable diseases such as beriberi, AIDS, and
tuberculosis increased." A Third Circuit US Court of Appeals decision
earlier this year also cited a source who "likened the conditions in
Haiti's prisons to a "scene reminiscent of a slave ship."
Concannon notes, "the State Department's finding Fr. Jean-Juste's
medical care acceptable in these admittedly atrocious conditions is
an accurate measure of its concern for his life."
Ben Terrall is a writer and activist in Oakland. He can be reached
at: <http://www.counterpunch.org/mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>bterrall at igc.org
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