ELECTIONS IN HAITI
Priest wants Aristide’s blessing to run
A jailed priest in Haiti said he would run for president if he gets the support of ousted leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Jailed former Miami activist Rev. Gérard Jean-Juste says he may consider a run for the Haitian presidency if former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide gives him his blessing.
”If Aristide approves my candidacy, I may accept the party’s nomination,” Jean-Juste, a Roman Catholic priest, told The Associated Press during a three-minute interview Tuesday.
Since Aristide’s ouster in February 2004, Jean-Juste has emerged as the most vocal spokesman for Aristide’s return to power from exile in South Africa and for Aristide’s Lavalas Family Party. Jean-Juste has been jailed in Haiti since July 21 without formal charges. He is being held in the investigation of the kidnapping and killing of well-known Haitian journalist Jacques Roche.
Although the interview was brief, according to the news agency, Jean-Juste’s statement sheds some light on recent speculation as to whether he will be a candidate in Haiti’s Nov. 6 presidential election.
Johanna Berrigan, a Philadelphia-area physician’s assistant who visited Jean-Juste on Tuesday along with Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, said she was surprised by the statement.
During their hourlong visit, she said, Jean-Juste spoke of the possibility that he may run for president only as “rumors.”
‘He brought it up and said, `I am very concerned. I heard on the radio I am a candidate for president.’ This is not something that came from him,’ she said. “Our intention is to go back and talk about that.”
She said the priest — who was a household name among Miami’s Haitians from the late 1970s to early 1990s while fighting for the rights of Haitian refugees — said he and several other prisoners were planning to go on a hunger strike today to bring attention to ”human rights abuses” in Haiti’s prison system.
He said he wanted to expose not just his incarceration, but those of the mentally ill, deportees sent back by the United States and political prisoners. Hundreds of individuals are being held in Haitian jails without formal charges.
”His heart is broken by what he sees is the human rights abuses, by what he sees in the prison,” she said.
Berrigan said she had hoped to examine Jean-Juste, but was not allowed by prison authorities to bring in her medical equipment. Instead, Berrigan said she did a hand and visual examination of the priest, who collapsed for about 20 minutes more than a week ago. Jean-Juste told the AP that it was because of the heat in his cell.
”His health has definitely deteriorated,” she said. ”He is complaining of a lot of pain in his neck, which he at first attributed to the beating he sustained” after being chased by mourners at the funeral for Roche, shortly before being arrested.
“He repeatedly said it is only . . . the work, the support, the love and the prayer that is giving him the strength to continue.”