PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – A jailed politically influential Roman Catholic priest diagnosed with cancer was flown out of Haiti yesterday to receive medical treatment in the United States, his supporters and the Haitian government said.
The Rev Gerard Jean-Juste left late yesterday morning, two days after an appeals court ruled he should be examined by Haitian doctors to determine if he could be treated for his leukaemia in Haiti, said Brian Concannon, an American lawyer who has advocated for Jean-Juste’s release.
|Rev Gerard Jean-Juste, centre, in police custody and being helped by Haitian Red Cross workers, arrives at Canape Vert hospital to be examined by doctors in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Saturday. Jean-Juste was however returned to prison hours later after doctors failed to examine him. No reason was given for the doctors’ absence. He was eventually flown to the US yesterday morning for treatment. (Photo:AP)|
“A cancer centre in Florida has agreed to treat his leukemia, so he will get immediate attention for the cancer, as well as for the pneumonia he contracted this week,” Concannon said in a statement.
Jean-Juste arrived in Miami later in the day, according to Ira Kurzban, a Miami lawyer who has been close to Jean-Juste for many years. Kurzban did not know at which hospital Jean-Juste would be treated.
Haiti’s government has granted Jean-Juste a provisional release from jail for “humanitarian reasons,” said Michel Brunache, chief of staff of interim President Boniface Alexandre.
“His leukaemia cannot be treated in Haiti,” Brunache told the Associated Press. “After his treatment, he has to return to face justice.”
US Sen Richard Lugar, Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a champion of Jean-Juste, said he was delighted when he received a call from Haiti’s interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue telling him of the release.
Lugar had sent a letter to Latortue asking for Jean-Juste’s release.
Jean-Juste, 59, had been in prison since July 2005 on suspicion of involvement in the killing of prominent Haitian journalist and poet Jacques Roche. A judge has cleared him of homicide but indicted him on weapons possession and criminal conspiracy – charges that he denies.
The priest’s release followed a bizarre scene Saturday in which he was transported under heavy security to a private hospital in the capital, only to be returned to prison hours later after doctors failed to examine him. No reason was given for the doctors’ absence.
Asked how he felt before entering the hospital, Jean-Juste said: “I find it difficult to breathe but I’ll be all right.”
He then sat in a wheelchair, clutching two small paintings – one of Jesus Christ and the other of the Virgin Mary – and was taken into the emergency room.
Doctors have diagnosed Jean-Juste with leukemia and pneumonia, and the priest’s supports had urged Haitian authorities to release him so he can travel to the United States for treatment.
Amnesty International has labelled Jean-Juste, who supports ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, “a prisoner of conscience”.
He has drawn comparisons to Aristide for his impassioned sermons and advocacy for the poor and has emerged as a prominent figure in the ousted leader’s Lavalas Family party.