Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Seething in Hait: A 3 part special to the Haiti Information Project (HIP)

Seething in Haiti By Kevin PinaA 3 part special to the Haiti Information Project (HIP)Part 1: The Screaming Suit

A few people have said and written that I was released from a Haitian
jail on Sept. 12 because of the privilege of my skin color and my
holding a valid US passport. I won’t deny these privileges, which I
continue to use as leverage to tell the story of Haiti’s killing
fields, but it should be known that the judge who ordered me arrested
on Sept. 9 did so precisely because I was white and a US citizen. In
his mind my presence was a challenge to his authority and threatened to
expose an arbitrary and politically motivated search of Father Gerard
Jean-Juste’s residence at the parish of St. Claire’s church. I was
using my privilege against him when I thrust my press pass in his
direction and claimed the right to report on his activities. He made
his intentions clear after calling me a “terrorist” and a “white
bandit” finally concluding, “I am going to show you that this is my
country, this is Haiti. I am going to make an example out of you to
teach you I am the law here. Handcuff him!”

After the screaming suit in Jean-Juste’s residence refused to make his
identity known, it wasn’t until I was sharing a dirty and smelly cell
with 12 other people that I learned he is one of the most powerful
judges in Haiti. Judge Jean Pérs Paul is the president of the National
Judge’s Association of Haiti spawned by the International Federation of
Electoral Systems (IFES) and heavily funded by United States Agency for
International Development (USAID). IFES formed several such
“professional” organizations as part of the campaign to destabilize the
constitutional government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide and usher in his
forced ouster on February 29, 2004.

I have since tried to understand the judge’s reaction and the role of
the cadre of other anonymous judges that are responsible for
incarcerating and keeping a good number of folks affliated with the
Lavalas party in jails throughout Haiti today. You see no one really
knew who Judge Pérs Paul was and his role in Jean-Juste’s case until he
locked me up on Sept. 9. Since then, you can see the likes of JACQUELINE
CHARLES of the Miami Herald spinning furiously to cast the judge in a
positive light and as a magistrate merely caught in the maze of an
antiquated and outdated system. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know the
half of it.

A strong case can be made that Judge Pérs Paul’s threats to “teach me a
lesson” reflect one of the fundamental psychological dysfunctions of
those behind the coup and who are now responsible for the relentless
campaign to persecute Aristide’s Lavalas party. While the good judge
knows the reality is that foreigners are running his country, he uses
his judicial authority to persecute Lavalas, specifically Father
Jean-Juste, as a way of proving to himself that he still has some power
and control. It is in this same way he compensates for this sense of
powerlessness and degraded national pride by pursuing a witch-hunt
against Lavalas. He knows that at the end of the day the US embassy can
yank his chain and so he directs his vicious and petty brand of justice
against those his masters have deemed to be the enemy and fair game.
This is much in the same way he treated me as a threat to his authority
by my mere presence and by making it clear that in his mind his
authority is absolute and trumps any rights of the press in Haiti. But
I get ahead of myself, let’s return to the events of that fateful week
in September that me led to this insight and a three day lockup,
courtesy of Judge Pérs Paul, in one of Haiti’s most infamous jails.

On September 9, I was shopping at the Olympic Market in Petion-Ville
when I glanced up to see the beaming face of none other than Jodel
Chamblain who had recently been released from prison. Chamblain was the
second in command of the CIA-trained paramilitary death squad known as
the Front for Advancement and Progress in Haiti (FRAPH). While the
Haitian judicial system incarcerates priests and former officials of
the Lavalas government on flimsy and manufactured charges, Chamblain
was allowed to walk. His release was for many the ultimate proof that
Haiti’s current judicial system is one of the most highly politicized
in Haitian history. Now here was this convicted killer, recognizing me
from my many visits to the Petion-Ville jail to see Lavalas political
prisoner Annette Auguste, smiling in my direction in search of
recognition.  I ignored him but quietly seethed at his presence knowing
that while he perused the produce section, people I consider to be much
better human beings were languishing and rotting away in jail cells
throughout Haiti.

After paying for my groceries and loading them into the car I headed
towards home, the ice was already beginning to melt in the afternoon
heat. It was about 3 pm when I received a frantic call. I was told that
the police were searching Father Gerard Jean-Juste’s residence and that
they feared they were going to try to plant weapons to justify keeping
him in prison. I explained my ice was melting and I was nearly home but
the pleading voice on the other end finally convinced me to turn the car
around and head to Ti Place Cazeau where Jean-Juste’s parish is located.
I was already in a foul mood following my earlier encounter with
Chamblain when I arrived to see a police vehicle parked outside of the
church. Two SWAT cops dressed in black with guns drawn eyed me
suspiciously as I began filming them and the license plate of their
vehicle. They said nothing but their harsh stares spoke volumes as I
headed into the church.

Now you’ve got to understand that the Haitian judiciary and their
lackeys in the police like to work in secret and don’t really
appreciate the concept of a free and independent press. All you have to
do is ask the family of Abdias Jean, a Miami radio journalist summarily
executed by the Haitian police on Jan. 14, 2005 in the neighborhood of
Cite de Dieu. Jean made the fatal error of stumbling upon and
witnessing the murder of three young boys the police were questioning
concerning the whereabouts of vagabonds and Lavalas bandits. The police
then chased Jean down, beat him to a pulp and ended his journalistic
career with a single shot to the head. To this day no one in the police
has been held accountable despite several eyewitnesses who risked their
lives by coming forward. You see the Haitian judiciary NEVER
investigates allegations of crimes committed by the Haitian police
instead reserving their energy for Catholic priests and anyone
associated with Lavalas. For all I knew anyone of these cops outside
the church could be cut from the same cloth as Abdias Jean’s
executioners, the probability was high and I became nervous as the
sounds of loud rustling and things breaking inside of the presbytery
and residence of Father Jean-Juste grew louder. It was at that moment
that the seething memory of a smiling and liberated Chamblain collided
with my memories of the spirited and jailed priest suffocating in a
jail cell tormented by the fact that he knows he’s innocent. I braced
myself and decided, that for better or for worse, I was going to get
into the presbytery with my camera and cover the event.

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