Haitian priest rebuffs govt frame-up

A Haitian judge has rejected government charges that imprisoned Father Gerard Jean-Juste, a Roman Catholic priest and pro-democracy activist, was responsible for importing weapons and inciting recent violence in Haiti.

Police arrested and manhandled Jean-Juste, a well-known advocate for the poor and former cabinet minister in the government of deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in his St. Claire parish in Port-au-Prince on Oct. 13.

Last week, Jean-Juste went before a judge who heard arguments from both the government’s prosecutor and priest’s lawyers. The result was a clear vindication of Jean-Juste’s innocence.

William Quigley, an American law professor in Haiti advising Jean-Juste’s legal team, told the World that “the judge concluded that there was no evidence in the file to support the charges” and gave the chief prosecutor five days to respond. As the World went to press, the government had not yet responded to the judge’s ruling.

Asked about Jean Juste’s well-being, Quigley said that his client has been moved to a new a jail where conditions are less harsh than the previous prison he was in. “He remains in good spirits. I visited him three times in the past few days.”

Showing no sign of having been intimidated by the U.S.-backed regime, Jean-Juste released a letter calling on the government to end the repression in Haiti. “The repression on all levels is so heavy,” Jean-Juste wrote. “I call for an immediate return to constitutional order; the release of all political prisoners; the respect of the vote and the will of the people; the rejection of kidnappings, coups d’états, from whoever the authors.”

Other developments in Haiti include the following:

• The chairperson of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), Roselor Julien, resigned on Nov. 8, saying she refused to endorse sham elections that were being organized. “I resign because I am not ready to condone an electoral farce.” She said that the elections that the U.S.-backed government wants to hold in 2005 could not be certified as fair and free.

Julien said that her troubles on the council began when she opposed a proposal by members of the anti-Aristide “Group of 184” to introduce electronic voting that would have made electoral fraud easy to commit. She accused this organization, led by powerful businessman André Apaid Jr., of manipulating the electoral process through its representatives and allies on the council.

“They wanted me to leave them a clear field so they may implement their plan unchallenged. They [leaders of the Group of 184] are using the media to mislead the population and suppress opposition to their plan to hijack the electoral process.” The Group of 184 connived in the overthrow of Aristide on Feb. 29.

Julien represented the Catholic Church on the CEP. The electoral body is dominated by anti-Aristide elements, and members of Aristide’s Lavalas Party have been excluded.

• Nineteen police officers were implicated in a plot to assassinate jailed Lavalas Party members and leaders. So far, neither the government or police have ordered the arrest of these officers, nor have they been fired or reprimanded.

• The 15-member Caribbean community (Caricom), at a two-day meeting ending Nov. 12, reaffirmed its opposition to recognizing the U.S.-installed regime of Gerard Latortue in Haiti.

• Police attacked a demonstration on Nov. 10 in Port-au-Prince, killing and injuring several people. Several hundred demonstrators, wearing T-shirts with images of Aristide, called for a return to constitutional government, an end to political persecution and better living conditions. Bystanders said that police opened fire on marchers.

• The Haitian government announced plans to issue a warrant for the arrest of deposed President Aristide on alleged corruption charges.

• An Amnesty International delegation that spent 19 days in Haiti reported evidence of widespread human rights violations on the part of the police and a breakdown of the justice system. It stated that uniformed police and hooded assailants have carried out summary executions, beatings and illegal arrests.

• Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, during a Nov. 14 visit to Port-au-Prince, called for allowing the Lavalas Party to participate in the 2005 elections. At the present time, the Lavalas Party is prohibited from holding meetings and demonstrations, and continues to face government repression.

The author can be reached at tpelzer@shaw.ca.