Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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 has brought.”

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: bterrall@igc.org

 

 

Ben Terrall is a writer living in the Bay Area. He can be reached at: bterrall@gmail.com

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
David Swanson
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail