U.S. Leaders pressed to help free jailed Haitian Priest
Date: Tuesday, October 26, 2004
By: SHERREL WHEELER STEWART
Supporters of jailed Haitian priest Gerard Jean-Juste, a man who opposed dictatorships on the island nation and supported the regime of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, are calling on U.S. leaders to intervene to free him.
Brian Concannon Jr. of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti said Jean-Juste was arrested on Oct. 13 as he fed poor children at St. Claire Catholic Church in Port-au-Prince. Concannon's legal office is representing Jean-Juste.
“We had a justice of the peace to review the arrest records," Concannon told BlackAmericaWeb.com. "The only charges listed were disturbing the peace and being associated with those who may cause violence.”
Haiti has been mired in violence since the beginning of this year, after clashes between heavily armed rebels and Aristide supporters ignited widespread killing and plunged the country into anarchy. In February, the U.S. government forced Aristide out and installed Gerard Latortue as Haiti's Prime Minister.
According to various news reports, Latortue has accused Jean-Juste of being part of a campaign to return Aristide to power. But Congressional Black Caucus leaders, including U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., whose district includes South Florida, and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., have asked U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.S. Ambassador James Foley to work for Jean-Juste’s release and his safety.
"Father Jean-Juste was arrested under highly unusual circumstances by police officers and masked men at his Port-au-Prince church last Wednesday,” Meek wrote in a letter to Foley.
“According to reports, although Father Jean-Juste demanded to see an arrest warrant, the armed officers and men refused. Pursuant to these same accounts, Haitian police smashed some of the rectory windows during the arrest. They then reportedly dragged Father Jean-Juste through the window over the broken glass, rather than walking him out the door,” the letter stated.
Shirlee Lafleur, deputy director of Meek's Miami office, said Jean-Juste called in to WLQY-TV in Miami just minutes before his arrest to describe the scene that Meek wrote of in his letter.
"He was feeding the poor children as he does twice a week," said Lafleur, recalling Jean-Juste's account. "When he looked outside he saw men wearing masks and carrying machine guns outside the church."
"The children were taken to the rear of the church so that they would not see anything," she said.
Jean-Juste should have had a hearing within 48 hours of his imprisonment, Concannon said. But it hasn't happened.
“We are not sure when Father Gerry will get his day in court,” he said.
Jean-Juste is one of the most outspoken and beloved leaders in South Florida's Haitian community. Forced into exile in the 1970s after opposing the dictatorship of Jean-Claude "Baby Doc," Duvalier, he set up the Haitian refugee center in South Florida in 1979 to help those fleeing the Duvalier regime.
“He worked to help protect the rights of immigrants and to push the government to extend legal status to them,” said Gepsie Mettelus, executive director of the Haitian Neighborhood Center in Miami.
The news of Jean-Juste's arrest has angered many Haitian-Americans, said Mettelus. According to Lafleur, about 70 percent of the Haitians in South Florida are opposed to his arrest.
“Because of his legacy in South Florida, some were outraged immediately. They took to the streets when they heard word of the arrest,” said Mettelus. “Others are now taking a wait-and-see attitude.”
“He is controversial,” said Mettelus. “Most are concerned that government protect his political and human rights.”
Concannon said Jean-Juste is the most prominent political prisoner in Haiti at this time. He also said that if the U.S. administration – which forced Aristide out in what it termed as a move to restore stability and democracy to that country – may be sending mixed messages if it tolerates Jean-Juste's jailing.
“Father Gerry encouraged non-violence, but he is in prison now,” Concannon said.
"The U.S. will say they support democracy in Haiti, but they don't want to accept the kind of democracy Haitians truly want," he said, adding that the U.S. supports only those governments who will work for conservative political and economic policies.
(watch em', I ain't trust these mutants they tricksy anyone comes within 100 feet let em have it...& THAT'S A ORDER)