Dennis Bernstein interviews Kevin Pina and Haitian Priest Father Jean-Juste

Flashoints Radio´s Dennis Bernstein interviews Kevin Pina and Haitian Priest Father Jean-Juste: arrested by masked police as he was feeding poor children in Church

Wednesday, October 13, 2004.

Bernstein: In a chilling interview just before airtime, Flashpoints reached long-time Haitian pro-democracy theologian, Father Gerard Jean-Juste as he was arrested. Jean-Juste, a pastor [priest] at Saint Claire´s church for the poor was surrounded by masked men as he served poor children lifesaving meals. The masked men then came inside the church and arrested Jean-Juste and took him to jail, dragged him away in front of the kids. In one moment we´ll hear a bit of that chilling interview with Father Jean-Juste, just as he was arrested and right after. We were told, in fact, that he was bleeding at the time that we spoke with him  But first we go live to Port au Prince where we are joined by our special correspondent Kevin Pina. Kevin, I know that you spoke with Father Jean-Juste just before he was arrested; would you remind people who he is and the significance of this kind of arrest?

Pina: Well, Jean-Juste has been a long-time pro-democracy advocate; he´s a liberation theology priest; I first met him in 1991 following the first military coup against Jean Bertrand Aristide. He was in at the parish of Saint Gerard. He was in hiding. He was known to have helped many people following that murderous coup by the military on September 30, 1991. I´ve taken many delegations, Global Exchange and others, we´ve gone there on Sundays, every Sunday Jean-Juste has a day for the poor children in his neighbourhood, where he gives free meals to a lot of the poor children. For many of them it´s the only hot meal they get every week.

He´s a man who is much loved in the community; he´s a man is who is very well known for his strength and his courage and as you said tonight, Jean-Juste has been arrested by the de facto government of Gerard Latortue.

Bernstein: Now, we spoke to him after he was arrested. You spoke to him right before. What did he tell you?

Pina: He said that what he thought they were accusing him of was importation of guns; he had heard some of that. He said that they were accusing him of harbouring gunmen in his church. He made it really clear that anyone who knows him knows that he is a man of non-violence, that he is a man of strong convictions, but he does not condone violence. He said he though that this was a ‘desperate move´ on behalf of the government to shut up, to close the mouths of anyone [inaudible] feels does not believe as they do. He said he thought this was a ‘sad day for democracy in Haiti,´ and that it was the end of freedom of expression, and that he would ‘pray for them from his jail cell.´

Bernstein: We spoke to him right after you; we managed to get him while he was being held in police custody. Again, we are talking about Father Gerard Jean-Juste, a leader in the pro-democracy movement, a very strong advocate for the poor, and his church, Saint Claire, a church for the poor where, Kevin mentioned, many of us have visited him and learned a great deal from him. Anyway, here is our reaching him in police custody…

Jean-Juste: I am under arrest, they just took off the handcuffs from me…

Bernstein: They just put the handcuffs on you now?

Jean-Juste: They just took them off of me and my hands are bleeding, and so they are taking me from one commissariat, from one headquarter, from my parish, now to Petionville, they´re heading with me.

Bernstein: So they came to your church and arrested you while you were feeding the children?

Jean-Juste: Yeah.

Bernstein: And you are in a car now, or, in a police car, where are you?

Jean-Juste: I am right now by my church in a commissariat area, the police headquarters, and they are going to take me to a jail in Petionville.

Bernstein: They´re taking you to a jail in Petionville…

Jean-Juste: I can´t speak longer…

Bernstein: Why are they arresting you?

Jean-Juste I don´t know yet, I don´t know yet. They thought I was accessing…

Bernstein: Are the children o.k.?

Jean-Juste: Yes, the children are o.k. I sent all of them home. I was supposed to say mass at 4:30 for my people, that´s all…

Bernstein: And why did they say they´re arresting you?

Jean-Juste: Nothing, The police say they are doing their job.

Bernstein: Did they just surround the church wearing masks? Is that what happened?

Jean-Juste: Yeah. They still have masks on. I have five of them with masks on…right now…wearing masks…

Bernstein: And they came inside the church?…

Jean-Juste Ok…[background noise…]

Bernstein: Are you o.k. now, where can we reach you, in Petionville?

Jean-Juste: If you can call the Nuncio for me, or the Pope to say that …[inaudible]…that they are taking one of their Priests to jail. I tried to find my Bishop, no answer.

Bernstein: So you want us to call the Pope or the Nuncio, or to alert the church…

Jean-Juste Yeah…[inaudible]…

Bernstein:…That one of their Priests who works with the poor is being arrested

Jean-Juste O.k. I have to go; the police told me I have to go. O.k.

Bernstein: Are you physically o.k.?

Jean-Juste: I have to go sir…No…wounded [barely audible…], it´s o.k.

Bernstein You´re wounded? O.k…My name is Dennis Bernstein. We just spoke with Father Jean-Juste, a long time, well-known supporter and radio broadcaster with the Lavalas movement, who works with the poor, was just arrested in his church while they were feeding the children. I´m not sure which meal they were in the middle of when a group of men came in with masks on, arrested him, handcuffed him. Apparently  he is bleeding; it was hard to get the information…

Back to live coverage with Bernstein and Kevin Pina.

Bernstein And that was an interview we did just before airtime as Father Jean-Juste was taken into custody. Kevin Pina is on the line with us from Port au Prince. We are extremely concerned. He was asking us to contact the Nuncio, to contact the Pope; he said that he could not get in touch with his Bishop. Talk a little bit about the concern here, and the context Kevin Pina.

Pina: You´ve got to remember that on Monday a spokesperson from the Haitian National Police had announced publicly on the radio that they had information, or that they claimed that they had information that there were certain priests in the capital who are harbouring people who are responsible for the latest round of violence that began after September 30th, after the police fired on unarmed demonstrators, who were demanding President Aristide´s return. Literally hundreds of people have been arrested this week in massive sweeps, in joint operations between Brazilian [U.N.] forces and the Haitian National Police. They have targeted mainly the pro-Aristide, the poorest neighbourhoods in the capital: La Saline, Bel Air, Martissant, Cite´ Soleil, [inaudible], Delmas 2, Delmas 4, Delmas 30, Delmas 31, and Delmas 33. So, in a lot of respects there was a ‘tip off´ that this sort of thing was going to happen. The police were making noises earlier this week. Father Jean-Juste had heard, he had told me that he had heard some of them say that that was why they were arresting him. He said he wasn´t sure, but that he had heard that. He denied any involvement in it. He said, again, ‘anyone who knows me knows that I am a man of non-violence,´ and there is no basis to these charges.

Bernstein: We´re speaking with Kevin Pina; he´s talking to us live from Port au Prince, where the attacks, the arrests, the beatings, the false charges, the undermining of democracy and the poor in Haiti continues, unabated. This is another example of the nature of Bush policy. Do we know where Father Jean-Juste is now? Is there any hope that the Catholic church could intercede, could protect one of their priests here?

Pina: Well you´ve got to remember that the Catholic church is itself highly reactionary in Haiti and highly polarized itself. The only one who you could consider progressive among the hierarchy of the church is Monseigneur Romulus. We have not heard from him, he is in Jeremie. I´m not even certain that he knows this arrest has gone down. A lot of people are in shock. The entire neighbourhood actually rose up as they took him out. Rocks and bottles were thrown at the police cars as they left with him. Based on what he said with your interview, which happened after I talked to him, he was most likely taken to the Delmas 33 commissariat, which is close to his neighbourhood, Petite Place Cazeau. From there, as he said, he is more than likely now been transferred to the same facility where So Anne, the famous Haitian folk singer, who was arrested by [U.S.] Marines on May 10th, is being held in Petionville. There is a small penitentiary there where they put they most high profile political detainees, political prisoners if you will, up in Petionville. I would assume, based on what he has said, that that is where they are holding him now.

Bernstein: Alright Kevin, we would like you to stay on this story, we know that you will, and if you find out any information about his situation now, or anything about how he´s being treated, we want to know that. And finally we also [should] know, I believe you´d mentioned briefly in what you were saying, that the paramilitaries – the former death squadrons – have now been allowed into the capital?

Pina: That´s correct. The former military entered into the capital in force. Many in Lavalas are claiming that the United Nations is basically complicit in a de facto political coup d´etat by allowing the former military to come into the capital today in force.

Bernstein: And these are people who are former death squad activists who were convicted of mass murders in some cases?

Pina: Many of them are. These are people who helped to overthrow Aristide in 1991, in that brutal military coup, when Father Jean-Juste was forced into hiding back then. They came into the capital in strength today, they were unchallenged by the United Nations; their spokesman claimed that they already have several armed units in the capital, and that they would begin operations against what they called ‘Lavalas bandits,´ beginning tomorrow. Remember that tomorrow is also the 10th anniversary of Aristide´s return and the restoration of democracy in 1994. Many people, many observers on the ground view this week´s massive arrests and the arrest of Jean Juste in that context. That they were afraid that tomorrow there will be large demonstrations mounted again on that anniversary to demand the return of Jean Bertrand Aristide once again to his rightful place as the democratically-elected President of Haiti.

Bernstein: Kevin, please keep in touch, keep us posted on this.

Pina: I will, thank-you Dennis.

Bernstein: The voice of Kevin Pina. And who in the world is reporting about this? It´s as if it´s not happening. You´re listening to Flashpoints. We are.

Forwarded by the Haitian Lawyers Leadership

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