[News] Haiti's Prisoner of Conscience Returns

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Aug 28 12:17:37 EDT 2007

Haiti's Prisoner of Conscience Returns - Beloved "Mon Pere" 
Jean-Juste Comes Home


by Bill Quigley

Bill is a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola University 
New Orleans. Bill assists Mario Joseph of the Bureau des Avocats 
Internationaux in Port au Prince and Brian Concannon of the Institute 
of Justice and Democracy in Haiti in representation of Pere 
Jean-Juste. He can be reached at Quigley at loyno.edu. Those wishing to 
contact Pere Jean-Juste directly should email him c/o lavarice at bellsouth.net.

Pere Gerard Jean-Juste, an outspoken Haitian voice for human rights, 
economic justice and democracy, returned to Haiti last weekend for 
the first time since being hustled out of a prison cell by heavily 
armed guards and put on a waiting plane to Miami in January of 2006. 
Pere Jean-Juste, a Catholic priest, had spent nearly six months in a 
series of Haitian prisons for refusing to stop his public criticisms 
of human rights abuses by the coup government which overthrew elected 
President Jean Bertrand Aristide. Once in Miami, Father Jean-Juste 
was immediately hospitalized for treatment of leukemia by Dr. Paul 
Farmer, a long-time friend, who had secretly performed a biopsy on 
Jean-Juste in his prison cell.

Now, a year and a half later, Pere Jean-Juste was coming home, not 
knowing how he would be received. As the plane landed in Port au 
Prince, Father Jean-Juste quietly blessed himself as he saw his home 
parish, St. Claire, from the window.

As he walked towards the entrance to the Toussaint L'Ouverture 
airport, dozens of people waved and clapped from the balconies 
overlooking the landing space. Inside, airport officials, police 
officers, media and church members crushed in on him. Patting his 
back, shaking his hands, giving him hugs, the crowds pressed in and 
called out "Mon Pere!"

A new Haiti greeted him. The unelected coup government had finally 
left the country. The people elected President Rene Preval. Democracy 
had returned.

Inside, TV cameras, microphones, and tape recorders were thrust in 
his face. Many wanted to know if he was going to be a candidate for 
Presidency of Haiti in the next election. Father Jean-Juste laughed 
and said, "The only election in the Catholic Church is for Pope - and 
since the Pope is in good health, I do not see an election anytime soon."

Father spoke of the disappearance of the human rights activist 
Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, called for the return of President Aristide, 
and urged people interested in human rights in Haiti to keep the 
pressure on - nonviolently. He was returning to Haiti on a 
pilgrimage. Was he afraid of death he was asked? "I am a Christian," 
he replied. "I know where I am going. If I die, I know the struggle 
will continue. The struggle must continue for human rights and 
democratic principles."

As he tried to leave the airport, a mob of hundreds of celebrating 
people surrounded him, cheering and chanting his name, trying to 
touch him. Dozens of UN blue helmeted troops with plastic riot 
shields pushed the huge crowds back to allow his car to exit as the 
crowd ran alongside.

A makeshift wooden platform was set up at a nearby park to allow 
Father Jean-Juste to speak to the crowd which had grown to well over 
a thousand people. On the front of the platform was a big handmade 
sign - FIDEL KATOLIK YO DI'W BON RETOU PE JANJIS - celebrating his 
return. The blazing mid-day sun did not stop the celebration. Ra-ra 
bands made up of drums and horns of all types wandered through the 
crowd as Father Jean-Juste spoke. When it was time to leave for his 
church, the crowds surged in again and it took many helpers to clear 
a path for his car to leave.

People of all ages lined the highway along the way to the church, 
waving and cheering. Black and white photocopied pictures of Pere 
Jean-Juste were plastered to cement walls next to full color pictures 
of the Haitian flag.

For the first time in over two years, Pere Jean-Juste was going home 
to St. Claire's Church in Port au Prince.

The last time he was in his home church was July 21, 2005. That day 
Fr. Jean-Juste went to the funeral of slain journalist Jacques Roche 
at St. Pierre's church. During the funeral services in the church, 
Fr. Jean-Juste was attacked by a mob, chased through the church 
building, spit on, beaten, and nearly killed. The unelected Haitian 
authorities arrested Father Jean-Juste for the second time in less 
than a year and kept him in a succession of prisons in an attempt to 
silence him. Amnesty International designated him a Prisoner of 
Conscience and a world-wide campaign was launched to protect his life 
in prison and to help win his release. When he was released for 
medical treatment in Miami the authorities would not allow him to 
visit his church on the way out.

Hundreds waited at the church for the return of their long-time 
pastor. When he finally arrived, people sang and cheered. Soaking 
wet, Father Jean-Juste tried to greet as many people as possible and 
thank them for their support and good works while he was away. After 
greeting as many as he could, he went up to his small room in the 
upper part of the church. There, he fell to his knees and prayed 
silently for several minutes.

The celebratory mood was hushed by the arrival of several trucks of 
armed police. Ten men in the uniform of the Haitian National Police 
marched up the stairs to see Pere Jean-Juste. To the joy of all, each 
of the police officers went up to Father, shook his hand, and 
promised to protect him while in Haiti. A 2005 visit by police to the 
church resulted in Father's arrest and another six months in prison. 
This was quite a change. Democracy worked a wonderful change in the police.

Human rights lawyer Mario Joseph told Father Jean-Juste that the 
prosecutors had dropped all the bogus criminal charges levied against 
him to keep him in jail and silent during the coup government. But 
some judges insisted that he return to Haiti for a court hearing on 
November 5, 2007 to have all the charges formally dropped.

All evening, people came to the upper room of the church to greet and 
pray with Pere Jean-Juste. At one point nine women holding hands were 
circling Father in prayer. Other times there were cameras and tape 
recorders. Outside the church, women walked up the dusty paths with 
plastic buckets of water on their heads. The air was smoky and 
darkness settled in quickly.

At 9:30, Father Jean-Juste unlocked the door to his bedroom. For the 
first time in twenty-five months, he was home.

The next day started sunny and hot. There were reports that 
Dean was in the vicinity of Haiti but there was no evidence of it 
yet. As Father Jean-Juste arrived at early morning mass, the gathered 
women burst into song thanking God for his return. Another priest who 
is a good friend said the Mass while Father Jean-Juste prayed along 
from the choir seats. Invited to concelebrate the mass, Fr. 
Jean-Juste declined, and the priest praised him for his dedication to 
the church and to the people. At the priest's invitation, Father 
Jean-Juste distributed communion.

Around noon, Father arrived at the Aristide Foundation building to 
speak to hundreds of hot but cheering supporters. The crowd was full 
of energy. They passionately sang the Haitian national anthem, prayed 
and danced and clapped to a series of songs, had a long moment of 
silence for the thousands who lost their lives opposing the coup of 
2004. One person in the front row held up a double frame of pictures 
- one of former President Aristide and another of Father Jean-Juste. 
Dozens wore red, white and blue t-shirts saying "Welcome back Father 

Pere Jean-Juste, dressed all in black, spoke to the crowd for nearly 
an hour. They cheered, laughed, fell somber and then became excited 
as he told of his experiences and the challenges facing all in Haiti. 
As he finished and left people surged in again.

Back at the church, group after group came to visit. Beautiful music 
soared above the conversations as the choirs practiced in the church 
below. People from Cite Soleil and other parts of Port au Prince and 
Haiti came and asked Father Jean-Juste to come visit their neighbors. 
TV crews, youth groups, church members, politicians, other priests, 
and the members of the choir all came. As darkness fell, Father led 
those still at the church in a spirited forty minute rosary.

During the night, the winds of Hurricane Dean arrived with force. 
Trees were bobbing and weaving - rain was coming into the church 
rooms sideways.

Despite the high winds and rain, 6:00 am mass was a full house of 
people cheering and signing in thanksgiving for Father's return. 
After mass, visiting resumed and the hurricane did not slow down the 
flow of visitors either.

Pere Jean-Juste greeted every one, child or grandmother, politician 
or journalist, with a smile. He was confident and comfortable. After 
two six month jail terms and enduring over a year of cancer 
treatment, he was clearly enjoying every second of his return and 
every person he could meet.

As darkness fell on his last night in Haiti, Pere Jean-Juste attended 
the closing celebration of the church's summer camp. During the year, 
hundreds of children are fed daily by the church members with funding 
from the US-based What If Foundation. In the summer camp, the number 
of children and meals swells to over a thousand a day. Fifty 
community members serve as counselors and the children learn 
painting, sewing, crocheting, and other arts and crafts.

Yellow paper streamers hung under the tin roof that sheltered the 
kids and counselors and family from the rain during the end of the 
summer camp celebration. Children cheered as "Mon Pere" arrived and 
sang him spirited songs. The children performed skits and counselors, 
by candlelight, showed Father their arts and craft creations. 
Particularly gratifying was the installation, while Father was away, 
of several outdoor toilets for the community including one with full 
underground plumbing.

Throughout his last night, people continuously knocked on the door of 
the church to come and see him. A robust midnight rosary was sung by 
the community. Father said he got three hours of sleep but that 
seemed doubtful.

In the early morning, the first plane since Hurricane Dean's winds 
slowed down, arrived in Port au Prince. While waiting for the plane 
and while on the plane, people continued to come up to Father to 
greet him and touch him and welcome him. As the plane took off and 
his country receded from view, Pere Jean-Juste closed his eyes and 
prayed for Haiti.

Freedom Archives
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San Francisco, CA 94110

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