Now! interviews Father Gerard Jean Juste and human rights and
immigration lawyer, Thomas Griffin, who recently traveled to Haiti to
document human rights abuses.
Freed Haitian Priest
Gerard Jean-Juste: Aristide supporters "Are Not Only Targeted,
We Are Being Chased"
Haitian priest Father Gerard Jean-Juste joins us in our firehouse studio
to talk about his imprisonment, the continuing chaos in Haiti, the role
of the U.S. and the international community and much more. Jean-Juste
was released Nov. 29 after being imprisoned for seven weeks by the interim
Haitian government. We also speak with human rights and immigration
lawyer Tom Griffin, who recently traveled to Haiti to document human
rights abuses. [includes rush transcript]
We take a look at the situation in Haiti where political violence and
insecurity continues to rock the Caribbean nation. The interim government
has come under fire for human rights abuses ever since assuming power
last March. 700 political prisoners languish in Haitian jails and pro-democracy
demonstrations are held in cities throughout the country.
This weekend, the London
Observer reported that scores of prisoners were massacred during
a prison riot earlier this month. According to official reports, prisoners
in a three-story cell block called "Titanic" had rioted, breaking
free from their cells, setting fire to mattresses and brandishing water
pipes as weapons. Prison guards called in a special police unit to help
put down the uprising. Officials later said that seven prisoners had
been killed and more than 40 detainees and guards wounded.
But according to the London
Observer, this is a gross understatement. Witnesses told the paper,
the interim Haitian government is concealing a savage bloodbath in which
up to 110 prisoners were killed by police and guards. At the time, Secretary
of State Colin Powell was visiting interim Haitian President Boniface
Alexandre at the national palace.
One prisoner told the Observer police opened fire on the detainees,
and then went from cell to cell, forcing prisoners into a passageway
and methodically executing them.
Prisoners and police say the riot was motivated by the decision to transfer
some detainees to another penitentiary, combined with growing frustration
at the slow progress of their legal cases. Only 17 of around 1,100 prisoners
at the national penitentiary have been convicted of a crime, and many
detainees have not seen a judge.
The day before the prison massacre, Father Gerard Jean-Juste - perhaps
Haiti's most famous political prisoner - was released after serving
seven weeks in jail. No warrant for his arrest was ever produced, nor
was any evidence linking him to any crime. Father Jean-Juste traveled
to the U.S. this last week and gave a press conference in New York.
He joins us in our firehouse studio. He are also joined by Tom Griffin,
a human rights and immigration lawyer who recently traveled to Hatiti
to document human rights abuses. Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, Roman Catholic
priest in Haiti who was recently released from prison.
Thomas Griffin, human rights and immigration lawyer who recently
traveled to Haiti to document human rights abuses.
GOODMAN: Father Jean-Juste traveled to the US this last week and held
a news conference in New York. He joins us in our firehouse studio today,
along with Tom Griffin, a human rights and immigration lawyer from Philadelphia,
who went to Haiti to document human rights abuses. We welcome you both
to Democracy Now!
REV. GERARD JEAN-JUSTE: Thank you very much.
THOMAS GRIFFIN: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Well it's good to see you out of jail, Father Jean-Juste?
REV. GERARD JEAN-JUSTE: I am happy and I am very thankful to everyone
who has been involved directly or indirectly for this exercise of my
human right to be free.
AMY GOODMAN: Why were you arrested?
REV. GERARD JEAN-JUSTE: There was no motivation that I know that could
stand, and I was [inaudible] why I was feeding hundreds of children
and young adults. They told me that I am under arrest, while I was inside
the rectory at the moment. I told them, no, according to the concord
that -- the agreement between Haiti and the church, you cannot arrest
me that way. I told them that. They refused to listen. They really grabbed
me forcefully, and threw me into their vehicle, and ran away with me,
arriving at the police station in Petionville, where I was in jail for
over a week. And they told me that -- I saw them writing on the book,
arrested for disturbing the public peace. That's what was written at
the police station. But what was hurting me the most that day, why some
of us in Haiti are trying to help the most desperate people, and they
came, the police, the repressive forces from the government, from the
de facto government, came and shot at our people. Three children have
been shot, one girl and two boys. That's hurt so much. So, I hope that
all of us who are trying to appease the communities, to appease the
people, I think instead of brutalizing us, instead of arresting us arbitrarily,
they could congratulate us for helping them, because I think that by
feeding the people, by taking care of the children, by educating them,
we are helping the government. We are helping. We are helping the country,
and instead, the government is going after those providing basic human
needs to the people. This is crazy.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is the motivation of the government to
have you silenced? You were in jail for seven weeks. What ultimately
got you out?
REV. GERARD JEAN-JUSTE: I went through the court system after a month
staying in jail without seeing a judge, and the judge looked at the
file, and thought it was frivolous. There was nothing. They said, hey,
you have been accused of plotting against the government. I said what?
Plotting against the government? Of the state, even worse. I said, what
did I do? Where is the proof? There was no proof. I couldn't see any
proof. At that time the judge said, hey, I have to order your release.
The judge did order my release, and then the commissioner, the one who
is responsible for signing -- approving the judge's decision and the
commissioner stayed about two weeks before he -- it is supposed to take
five days -- he stayed two weeks before accepting the reality that I
should be free. So, finally, by November 29, I was freed, while I was
arrested on October 13.
AMY GOODMAN: When you heard about what happened in the penitentiary
right after you were released, what is your response?
REV. GERARD JEAN-JUSTE: My response is this: the jails are too overcrowded.
While I was at the main penitentiary in Port-au-Prince, there were --
that's a jail that's supposed to take 600 prisoners, and we were over
1,200, not to say 1,400. And it's too much, and detention is high within
the jail, and that's the reason why right now I’m appealing to
the de facto government to make a humanitarian gesture. Too many people,
too many youngsters have been arbitrarily arrested, and forget -- they
are being forgotten in jail. Do something. Release them during this
holiday season. That's my appeal to them.
AMY GOODMAN: We have to break. When we come back, we'll continue speaking
with Reverend Gerard Jean-Juste, and Thomas Griffin, who is a human
rights and immigration lawyer from Philadelphia, who has recently returned
from Haiti with some horrific photographs and documentation of what
he saw there.
AMY GOODMAN: We're talking about the situation in Haiti right now with
Father Gerard Jean-Juste, usually in Haiti. Just came up to the United
States for a week, was held in prison at the national penitentiary for
seven weeks. There is now a report in the papers of a massacre that
took place there on December 1, on the day that Colin Powell, the U.S.
Secretary of State, was in Haiti visiting with the president. It was
when President Bush was in Canada, meeting with the prime minister in
Canada. One of the first issues they talked about, as well, was Haiti.
We're also joined by Thomas Griffin, who is a human rights and immigration
lawyer who has recently returned from Haiti. Thomas Griffin, can you
talk about what you saw in Haiti, and what you documented?
THOMAS GRIFFIN: I tried to document as much as I could, just in Port-au-Prince,
and my focus was mostly on the poor neighborhoods and that would be
what normally are call the slum neighborhoods. That's where everyone
lives in Port-au-Prince, which would be City Soleil, La Saline, Bel
Air, and Ft. National. Those are the neighborhoods that have been under
siege by the Haitian national police almost on a daily basis. And we
had known that no reporters were going in. Either they were reluctant
to do it or they were actually being blocked from getting in. My main
goal was to get in there and document it and photograph what was happening,
the violence by the Haitian national police backed by the U.N. civil
police forces and the U.N. peacekeeping forces, which are two U.N. units
that actually tear into the neighborhoods with their firearms and their
tanks. I also tried to get into as many jails as I could, photograph
prisoners and the conditions that they're in, and get a sense of whether
they had seen a judge yet, or whether they had been beaten during the
arrest or while they were in prison.
AMY GOODMAN: Let's talk about the context here. I mean, you have President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide ousted on February 29 in this bicentennial year
of Haiti. He now is in exile with his wife and children in South Africa.
And you have the U.S.-backed leader in place, Gerard Latortue. What
is he doing about the situation? I also want to ask Father Jean-Juste
THOMAS GRIFFIN: I had no sense that he was doing anything but maybe
taking directions from outside. Both people in the government, when
I was talking to government ministers, they were receiving calls from
Canada during my interview of them, and they were complaining that Latortue
wasn't strong enough, wasn't taking enough action. I have talked to
big business leaders who you would think would be happy with Latortue
who are very angry at him because he's not killing fast enough and he’s
not getting rid of this problem of the poor people demanding Aristide's
return in a fast enough way. A third component is the army, which is
coming back. General Ravix --
AMY GOODMAN: The Haitian army, which President Aristide had disbanded.
THOMAS GRIFFIN: In 1995. They're back. They're fully armed.
They're marching. They're drilling every day right in Port-au-Prince,
in the Petionville neighborhood where they're supported by rich residents
and businessmen there, who provide them food, clothing, and a place
to sleep. They’re in a very big apartment building there during
their drills. But General Ravix himself said he's upset at Latortue
and during a conference with me in an interview, he said that he gave
veiled threats that there might be another coup unless Latortue gets
a little bit more heavy-handed with the insecurity problem.
AMY GOODMAN: What evidence did you have of U.S. involvement? I mean,
President Aristide was very clear. We documented his trip back from
the Central African Republic where he had been flown in a U.S. jet when
he was put out of the country February 29. He said he was the victim
of a modern-day kidnapping, in the service of a coup d’etat backed
by the United States. What about the U.S. presence in Haiti?
THOMAS GRIFFIN: I didn't go down there exactly to find that out, I was
more documenting the human rights abuses. But in the course of my interviews,
I was able to uncover that a U.S. foundation paid by U.S.A.I.D., known
as IFES, which stands for the International
Foundation for Electoral Systems, had basically been in Haiti
for almost -- since Aristide was re-elected in 2000, working to undermine
the government by coalescing various sectors of society against him
by what they called a sensitization program. They started with
judges and lawyers, and their program, which was set up with seminars
both in the United States and here, was to teach these groups that Aristide
had co-opted the judicial system, that he was the reason for the corruption
in the judicial system and the reason why people weren't being prosecuted
that were committing human rights abuses. So they had sort
of many tentacles that went out to different groups. They brought in
the media, so that there was a campaign against Aristide in the media.
They brought in human rights groups and actually set up a hotline at
one of the human rights groups to take only complaints about pro-Aristide
violence and that was then publicized in the media, that they had co-opted,
and also at the U.S. embassy in and other agencies. So, and that group
ultimately, after a couple of years of work, formed what is known as
the group of 184, and that became the main opposition force politically
in -- for Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
AMY GOODMAN: Who heads up IFES?
THOMAS GRIFFIN: In the United States, I believe the chairman of the
board of directors is a man named Richard Hybl; in
Haiti it's a man named Amami Sola* that controls all
the programs down there.
AMY GOODMAN: And Richard Hybl, what are his connections?
THOMAS GRIFFIN: I don't know much. I just did a quick search of his
name when I came back from my investigation, and I cannot remember everything.
I know he sits on another board of International
Republican Institute known as IRI, who has been
notorious for trying to undo the Aristide government both, I believe,
in the -- during the first coup in 1991 as well as this one.
AMY GOODMAN: Father Jean-Juste, what about these connections?
REV. GERARD JEAN-JUSTE: I am really sad to see that so many right wing
element within the President Bush administration had participated in
the coup d’etat against President Aristide on February 29. Also
for me having lived in the U.S. for many years where many of us in this
country are calling for respect, for democracy, put into practice the
principal of democracy, I think it's really very sad to see that in
Haiti, while we're trying to make a democracy to take place, we're calling
for education of the people. Here we are, and some right wing elements
who dislike our President Aristide, and they plot against him, they
support of some groups of people, and to go against the will of the
people in Haiti and the start our democracy that was an infant at that
time. So, I'm calling upon them. It's not too late now to change. It's
not too late now to correct the wrong they have done to this black nation.
So, I hope that in this second term, President Aristide could come back
to Haiti and finish his mandate. His mandate will end by February 7,
2006. So, if we keep acting that way, every time we have an elected
official, an elected president, and some other country may not like
the president and decide to plot against the president, and get rid
of him, so we are killing the democracy everywhere. Killing it in Haiti,
it's been that are you killing the democracy in the United States of
America, because right now what is happening. Whatever you see take
place in any corner of the world can be repeated in any other corner
of the world.
AMY GOODMAN: In the first coup against President Aristide, when he was
first ousted in 1991, to 1994, it turned out the U.S. was very much
involved with this. Alan Nairn writing in The Nation magazine exposed
the C.I.A./D.I.A. funding for the head of FRAPH, the paramilitary death
squad responsible for so many deaths, Emmanuel Constant, on the payroll
of the D.I.A. This was a time when the C.I.A. was headed by James Woolsey.
It's one of the things that brought him down as director of central
intelligence at the time. Now he had been a fierce proponent actually
for the invasion of Iraq, James Woolsey. And this is rarely raised about
him. But what about why the U.S. continues to be involved in this way?
REV. GERARD JEAN-JUSTE: Understand the first coup was taken also under
a Republican administration, then the Democratic administration was
followed, and they corrected it. And that's now I don't see how they're
going to correct it, because we have a Republican administration being
followed by same elements, unless there is some change. But I hope that
these officials now who now could look. Look what they have done to
Haiti, it is broken into pieces. Now we have to collect the pieces,
and allow the people to come together, and I don't see any way now unless
President Aristide is restored to power and democracy has been corrected.
The same way we do it in 1994.
AMY GOODMAN: The Prime minister, Yvon Neptune, remains in jail?
REV. GERARD JEAN-JUSTE: Yes indeed. The legal prime minister is in jail
while the illegal one, the de-facto one, the imposed one, is the one
running around and dividing the Haitian society, and being very rude
in his speeches.
AMY GOODMAN: What is the U.N. doing about this, with the U.N. forces
also in Haiti, led by the Brazilians?
REV. GERARD JEAN-JUSTE: That's another point. Where the U.N. is supposed
to be a respectable institution, international institution, and in that
case, we find the U.N. on the side of the repressive government, and
the people cannot understand it at all.
AMY GOODMAN: What did you find in Haiti with the U.N. forces, what are
known as the blue helmets?
THOMAS GRIFFIN: Right. There's two groups of U.N. forces there. One
is the civilian police, and they're basically police officers from all
over the world, who wear their local uniforms, but put on a blue basketball
hat not a helmet, usually, unless there's an operation going on. And
they shadow the police. Their job is to go down there and provide support
and observe them and correct them if they're doing something wrong.
That's not happening with them. The other force is the peacekeeping
force that goes around in big tanks, which they call armored personnel
vehicles. They have mounted automatic firearms on the top of the tank,
and you will see the heads, the blue helmets, sticking out and everyone
has got firearms. What they do is sort of piggyback and protect the
police but they legitimize them. What you have is one of the worst police
forces in the world probably untrained and very scared, and whatever
they do, the U.N. is just backing them up. So the U.N. is shooting a
lot of people because the Haitian police are shooting a lot of people.
It has really become a big mess. I talked to one of the civilian police
chiefs in Bel Air and he said I came down here to coach, to train, and
to observe. He said, all I'm doing is participating in guerrilla warfare
every day. I'm scared and where are the reporters? So, it's a mess,
and it's sort of covered up because the U.N.'s down there, but I don't
see them doing a very good job.
AMY GOODMAN: You spent time at the morgue.
THOMAS GRIFFIN: Yeah. I snuck into the morgue. They're not letting people
into the morgue anymore. Because the bodies have been piling up so much.
And so many human rights observers have been seeing the bodies. They
don't let people into the morgue. The second part of it is, I talked
to some morgue workers, and they said that the police are now even skipping
the morgue phase. So when there is what they call an operation in one
of the poor neighborhoods and there's a lot of bodies, the police just
take the bodies and instead of dumping them at the morgue, bring them
to the morgue only to get dump truck, which they load up with the bodies
and they head off to a secret burial ground which hasn't been discovered
AMY GOODMAN: Father Jean-Juste, what do the people say about this in
Haiti, and what is their feeling about the United States, about the
REV. GERARD JEAN-JUSTE: Not toward, the feeling is not directed toward
the United States, because people in Haiti, they have many Haitian-Americans
who live here, and they are friendly to many U.S. citizens, and there
is a great relationship growing between the people, the U.S. people,
and Haiti people. What is wrong, what we understand is wrong is to see
that some elements of the Republican administration conducting illegal
activities by destroying democracy in a black nation. The things they're
doing in Haiti, they won't do in the United States. There would be outrage
in the United States by doing what they're doing in the Haiti.
AMY GOODMAN: What was U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell doing in
REV. GERARD JEAN-JUSTE: He visited Haiti, and we have left with the
impression that he's strongly backing up the repressive system, the
de-facto, the unconstitutional, the illegal government that is now running
AMY GOODMAN: When President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was flying back,
had been brought back by this U.S. delegation led by Congress member
Maxine Waters from the Central African Republic, going at that time
to Jamaica where the Prime minister had invited him to stay until he
decided his next move, ultimately he went to South Africa. As we were
flying over the Atlantic, we were documenting this trip, President Aristide
was talking about the situation, and as we flew into Barbados and ultimately
to Jamaica, we heard that Colin Powell, that Condoleezza Rice, that
they were threatening, and Rumsfeld as well, that Aristide was not to
return to the western hemisphere, that the U.S. ambassador to Haiti,
Foley, was saying that Aristide was not to come within 150 miles of
REV. GERARD JEAN-JUSTE: This is what I cannot understand. One official,
some official, will decide for a nation, and we are talking about democracy
in the United States. Can we accept that in the United States? That
two or three individuals take a decision and impose the one thing to
the people, and make us suffer, and -- for people in the United States
not it react? I think that this is abuse of power from some officials
of the United States. They are abusing the power and repressing this
black nation, and why are we trying to educate people about education,
they should come for our help. They should support us in that direction,
as we are trying to be free to enjoy democracy, to make the democracy
better for all people, and then there we go no, we should stop that.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel Aristide supporter like yourself are being
REV. GERARD JEAN-JUSTE: Yes. We are not only targeted, we are being
chased. We are being chased. And in the jail over half of the population
are arbitrarily arrested, and kept in jail, and most of them are Aristide
supporters. One day I witnessed why a bloodbath took place. There are
about -- I counted at least 12 broken heads. 12 broken heads by my cell.
By my cell. You should see the [inaudible] was covered for about many
meters, and then among them there was a very young man, a great artist
from Bel Air, and he composed two beautiful songs while was in jail.
I said, what happened to you? How come they beat you so badly. He said,
because I composed this song, these songs are in favor of President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide. I still recognize him as the president and they
beat him that badly and broke his head. And fractured some of his limbs.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think now needs to be done?
REV. GERARD JEAN-JUSTE: What is to be done now is for the U.S. government
and for the so-called friends -- the French government and Canadian
government to correct the wrongdoing they have done to the Haitian people.
Look at it now. Haiti is not -- there is no life. There is no life.
People are starving, and we cannot help them. Those of us who can find
help to provide, it's very difficult. I was Aristide and I am lucky
to get freed. There are many others like me who have been helping the
Haitians, particularly the poorest ones, the children and some elderly.
These people are still in jail. I have a very good friend I met in jail.
He was in Bel Air, known Nono. Nono is a mechanic man, helping people
in trade. Helping the young people in other areas. They come in our
city because he is helping. That's the way it is. We met many of the
persons, great men in Haiti, great citizens who have been helping, and
they are now perishing. They are now languishing in jails.
AMY GOODMAN: Father Gerard Jean-Juste, I want to thank you very much
for being with us, as well Thomas Griffin, human rights and immigration
lawyer. We will post the pictures on the website, some we have shown
on the TV broadcast of the show. Others we will just place there for
people to see. I want to thank you both for --
THOMAS GRIFFIN: Thank you very much.
REV. GERARD JEAN-JUSTE: Thank you for your support. Thank you. Thank
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