Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Father Gerard Jean-Juste: Prisoner of Conscience

Jailed Catholic priest, Father Gerard Jean-Juste
Founder of Miami's Haitian Refugee Center, and a fierce critic of the US backed interim government, languishes in a Port-Au-Prince prison under trumped-up charges while the Bush administration does nothing.

IT WOULD BE CONVENIENT FOR THE HAITIAN INTERIM GOVERNMENT, with elections set for February 7, for Father Gerard Jean-Juste, Founder of Miami's Haitian Refugee Center, and a fierce critic of the US backed transitional government, to die in a Haitian prison of Leukemia. The interim government, which has come under fire for human rights abuses ever since assuming power last March, had the Catholic priest jailed in July on charges of alleged involvement in the kidnapping and murder of Haitian journalist Jacques Roche - a charge his supporters vehemently deny.

Jean-Juste, known as "Father Gerry" when he lived in Miami and led the nation's most powerful Haitian rights group, has been deemed a "Prisoner of Conscience" by Amnesty International and is, most likely, feared by the interim government because the urban poor see him as Aristide's natural successor and Lavalas, the political organization Aristide founded, has attempted to register him as a presidential candidate. The electoral council has rejected attempts to register him as a candidate because he is jailed. Again, convenient little loop of circumstances.

Not surprisingly, there has been no response from the Bush administration despite the fact that Rep. Maxine Waters , Ted Kennedy, Tom Harkin, Christopher Dodd, Human Rights First, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights and demonstrations in Port-au-Prince, Miami, Boston, New York and San Francisco have called for his immediate release and urged President Bush to take action. In late December alone, hundreds of letters asking for his immediate release flooded the offices of Haitian officials and the U.S. Embassy.

In recent developments, Dr. Paul Farmer, the prominent American doctor working in Haiti, examined his friend Jean-Juste secretly during a visit on Dec. 23, took blood samples and had them tested in Miami. Farmer has since said that Jean Juste has chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), a form of the blood and marrow disease that progresses slowly but can develop into a more virulent strain of cancer and requires treatment in the United States. The Haitian government at first denied that he had the disease and refused to allow him to be tested or to seek treatment. However, according to a story in The Mercury News today, "Jean-Juste was [taken to a] Port-Au-Prince laboratory for 30 minutes before he was escorted out and driven away in a convoy that included U.N. peacekeepers and police. He was then taken to another lab for more tests before he was returned to his cell in an annex of the national penitentiary." (Story)

It is heartening to see that the interim government has released Jean-Juste for testing. However, if he is not freed to be a candidate in the upcoming elections and to seek treatment in the U.S., in my humble opinion, the elections will be a fraud from the start, and the new government will take power without legitimacy. Jean Juste must be freed. President Bush should show his compassionate side and take action now to help secure the release of this beloved priest.

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