Most of you know the good news, that Fr. Gerry was released for medical treatment. He is now hospitalized in Miami, undergoing tests to fully diagnose his leukemia (see video clip of his arrival). This victory was the result of thousands of people working persistently over six months to insist on justice. I would like to use this week’s action alert to thank everyone who pitched in on the effort- we do not have this chance often enough. Pat yourself on the back, and heel proud of your contributions, but also take some time this week to thank someone else.But first, updates on other cases: On Thursday, the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), Yale Law School and TransAfrica Forum will file a Petition Against the U.S., Haiti and the Dominican Republic on behalf of Haitian citizens who lost their democracy on February 29, 2004. As Fr. Gerry insists, we cannot forget about the many political prisoners remaining in Haiti, including prominent people like Yvon Neptune and Annette Auguste (So Anne), but also grassroots organizers like Bob Molière. We will highlight some of those cases in future alerts, and if we maintain our momentum we will get more of them out.Thanks to: the risk in thanking such a broad mobilization is that I will inevitably leave some important people out, so I apologize in advance. The first person to thank is Fr. Gerry himself. His dedication to non-violent struggle for the human rights of this hemisphere’s most vulnerable people over two decades is an inspiration to us all.
After Fr. Gerry, the people who risked the most were Mario Joseph and his legal team at the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, who fought for justice in a manifestly unjust system, and the parishioners at Sainte Claire’s Church, who never lost faith and kept Fr. Gerry’s service programs running. Professor Bill Quigley, the doctors at Partners In Health, and Dr. John Carroll all kept at least one foot in Haiti, providing critical legal and medical services in prison, while providing the world with critical information about Fr. Gerry’s status.
Outside of Haiti, the lion’s share of the work was done by the thousands of people from all over the world who signed petitions, circulated information, wrote letters, made phone calls, and urged others to take a stand for Fr. Gerry. I can’t possibly begin to name all the church, solidarity, peace and human rights groups who joined the campaign, but two examples stand out: in Miami, Fr. Gerry’s second home, Veye Yo and the Haiti Solidarity Committee started mobilizing when Fr. Gerry was arrested, and did not stop until he arrived in their city. They organized marches, rallies and vigils, they made sure that local media and their Congressional representatives knew that Fr. Gerry was a priority in the community. The Miami Herald, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen , Rep. Kendrick Meek, and Sen. Bill Nelson all responded.
In Indiana a coalition of church, student and solidarity groups persistently engaged their Congressional Representatives for three months, providing credible information and demonstrating constituent support for Fr. Gerry. Their efforts bore important fruit when Sen. Richard Lugar wrote to Haitian Prime Minister Latortue , asking for Fr. Gerry’s release, and Rep. Dan Burton pursued the issue with the U.S. State Department.
Rep. Maxine Waters led the fight for justice in the U.S. Congress- she wrote to the U.S. Embassy within hours of Fr. Gerry’s arrest, and along with Representatives Barbara Lee, John Conyers and Jan Schakowsky, rallied 41 colleagues to urge President Bush to Seek Fr. Jean-Juste’s Release in December.
Our action alerts twice asked Thomas Shannon, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, to intervene to seek Fr. Gerry’s release, and he did. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Patrick Duddy traveled to Haiti, conveyed the messages from American legislators and citizens in support of Fr. Jean-Juste’s release and helped arrange the independent medical examination that confirmed the leukemia diagnosis.
Over 400 religious leaders from many faiths and many countries signed a petition for Fr. Jean-Juste’s release. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton visited Fr. Gerry several times, drawing the spotlight to the case, and Rev. Jesse Jackson tipped the balance in favor of justice through timely interventions earlier this month.
Several human rights groups made important contributions: Human Rights First! issued its first urgent action in July, its last in January, and several in between. Amnesty International designated Fr. Gerry a Prisoner of Conscience, and generated thousands of letters to Haitian officials, and hundreds of Christmas cards to Fr. Gerry. The National Lawyers Guild, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Global Exchange, the American Friends Service Committee and many other groups rallied and educated their supporters.
The City Councils of North Miami and Berkeley, CA, and the UN Human Rights Commission’s Louis Joinet, called for his release.
Progressive radio, independent print media and websites, all too numerous to mention, kept the story of Fr. Gerry’s persecution on the world’s radar screen, month after month.
I need to stop here- there are so many people to thank that this is already our longest action alert ever. Please try to thank some of the people mentioned above, and anyone else we missed. You can contact members of the U.S. Congress through their websites (go to www.house.gov, www.senate.gov to find them), or by calling the Capitol Hill Switchboard, (202) 224-3121.
For more information about the Half-Hour for Haiti Program, the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, or human rights in Haiti, see www.ijdh.org.