Like hundreds – some say thousands – of other supporters of President Jean Bertrand Aristide, Paul Raymond fled for his life soon after the democratically elected president was forced out of Haiti. Raymond had been living with his family in the Dominican Republic since March 2004, but was picked up July 21 by Dominican and FBI officers, handed over to Haitian police and U.N. officers and hauled off to a Port-au-Prince jail.
That’s where he was interviewed by human rights worker Doug Spalding, a Northern California high school science teacher, who just returned from his third trip to Haiti since Aristide’s ouster in February 2004. Spalding goes to the island-nation to bear witness to the plight of the Haitian people living under the unelected rule. His special concern is the more-than-1, 000 political prisoners crowded into unsanitary, sweltering jails, most never having been charged with a crime.
Among the better-known political prisoners are ousted Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, Interior Minister Jocelerme Privert, singer and pro-democracy activist SÃ² Anne, all incarcerated for more than a year.
Paul Raymond was living quietly in Santa Domingo; his visa was up to date. “The long arm of the U.S. reaches out and plucks Paul Raymond,” Spalding said. Why? “He is a recognized leader in Haiti,”
Raymond is a founding member of Lavalas, Aristide’s political party, and a founder of the Ti’ Egliz, little church, movement, which preaches liberation theology.
As Raymond tells it, he was at home in Santo Domingo on the afternoon of July 21 when seven officials with heavy weapons – one with FBI identification – came to the house, put him in plastic handcuffs and searched the house. The only items of interest found by the agents were his passport and cell phone.
“Raymond kept asking, ‘Why are you here, what’s going on?’” Spalding said. Refusing to respond, they told him they were looking for someone with a mole on his face, then reassured him, ” ‘But you don’t have a mole on your face, so come with us and you’ll be back in no time,’” Spalding said.
That turned out to be a lie. Raymond was not allowed to go home. He told Spalding that his arrest is “instructive.” Having already arrested, forced out or killed many of the Lavalas leaders, “now they’re looking for anyone and everyone who could potentially be a leader and trying to tie them up as well.”
Raymond was taken to the offices of the Dominican Secretary of Defense, then placed in a vehicle with Mario Exilhomme, another Haitian the Dominican Republic was deporting who had been picked up separately. They were driven near the border. Neither were told why they were being deported. Exilhomme identifies as a Lavalas member, but, unlike Raymond, he does not play a leadership role, Spalding said, noting that Exilhomme told him that one of the people who picked him up bore a tag on his clothing indicating he was with security for the U.S. embassy in the Dominican Republic.
Press spokesman Dale Largent of the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic was unable to respond to questions about the U.S. role in the extradition before deadline.
Near the border, Raymond and Exilhomme spent the night in a private house, then drove to where they’d cross into Haiti. At first no one was there to meet them; after a flurry of cell-phone calls, U.N. officials arrived and then some 50 Haitian police came in various vehicles to escort the two prisoners to the Central Management of the Judicial Police in Port-au-Prince.
There, Raymond was told that he would be charged with “inciting violence,” but no formal charges were filed and he did not go before a judge as Haitian law requires. Raymond says no such charge exists in Haitian law.
In fact, Brian Concannon of Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, said the entire extradition process was illegitimate. There’s no extradition treaty between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, “but under international law, in general, countries are allowed to kick out non-citizens for a host of reasons,” Concannon said. “The exception is the prohibition against sending people back to where they will be persecuted for their political beliefs, which is one of the strongest and clearest tenets of international law. In this case, it is clear that Raymond will be subject to political persecution.”
Kept in the holding cell over the weekend, and visited only by a police officer who taunted him, Raymond was transferred to the National Penitentiary on July 25. He asserts that he’s a prisoner uniquely because of his pro-Aristide stance: “The people in power took me as their enemy due to ideology and partisanship. They’re worried that I can stop the elections, which isn’t true,” he told Spalding.
Elections are slated for October and November; however only 1 million people of about 4.5 million potential voters had registered as of July 31. According to Lavalas leader Fr. GÃ©rard Jean-Juste, interviewed by this reporter several days before his July 21 arrest, “The main reason (for the low registration) is Family Lavalas party is not participating. Most people are members of Lavalas Party. We’ve called on them not to register until President Aristide returns.” (Jean-Juste is a high-profile leader who uses the media internationally to call for the release of political prisoners and the return of Aristide. His recent arrest was his second since the ouster of Aristide.)
“This is going to be a selection, not an election,” Raymond told Spalding, calling the people who claim they are representing Lavalas in the elections “opportunists.”
(Note that former paramilitary and leader in the armed anti-Aristide movement, Jodel Chamblin, walked free from jail Aug. 2. Chamblin was acquitted of a 1993 murder in a one-day trial, which was condemned as a sham by human rights organizations and U.S. officials.)
Spalding said he is not optimistic about a timely release for Raymond: “By all appearances he will be buried in the National Penitentiary without a trial for ever and ever – the Neptune treatment, the Privert treatment.”
Judith Scherr is a freelance journalist based in Northern California. Her stories on Haiti have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Z Magazine, the Berkeley Daily Planet, the San Francisco Bayview and can be read online at www.oaklandrising.com.