Bernstein: The situation in Haiti is getting worse, as the U.S. installed coup government continues to intimidate, round up, arrest, beat and kill members of Lavalas, Aristideâ€™s major democracy party, thatâ€™s the majority democracy party. We have been reporting now for several days on the kidnapping of several pro-democracy priests who work with the poor in Haiti. Among those rounded up and dragged out in front of the kids they were feeding is Father Gerard Jean-Juste, a legendary figure within the Haitian pro-democracy movement, and a close friend of the duly elected President of Haiti, Jean Bertrand Aristide, who, you remember, was kidnapped by the U.S. government. As we go to air Jean-Juste is still in custody and the pro-democracy movement is poised to carry out massive protests despite threats from the U.S. installed government. Joining us for the latest on the situation is Flashpoints special correspondent on the ground Kevin Pina; heâ€™s in Port au Prince, welcome back Kevin.
Pina: Thanks Dennis.
Bernstein: Good to have you. First of all, what do we know about the kidnapped priests?
Pina: Well, two of them, apparently, were released yesterday, the only one who is still being held in custody is Father Gerard Jean-Juste. The U.S. backed Latortue regime is accusing Father Jean-Juste of harbouring criminals and importation of guns, charges which he believes are to be ridiculous. Again, Iâ€™ll quote him; he said â€˜everyone who knows me knows Iâ€™m a man of non-violence.â€™ Certainly itâ€™s taken the community here and internationally by surprise. People are shocked and angry throughout the United States. If this Bush-backed government wanted to do anything to galvanize the Haitian community to try to vote him out of office, they certainly did that with the incarceration of Father Gerard Jean-Juste.
The government today changed its story again. Yesterday they were saying that the reason they had arrested Jean-Juste [was] they had just gone there to question him. They surrounded, as we reported, his rectory with large guns, men with masks, black masks and large guns who did not identify themselves, who intimidated him as he was serving children in his presbytery. They then claimed that only after partisans in his neighbourhood attacked the police did they then decide to arrest him. They changed their story again today and said they actually had an arrest warrant in their hands before they went to the premises. Itâ€™s really interesting to watch these guys crawl and slither as this goes on. Obviously theyâ€™re catching a lot of heat.
Bernstein: How did they explain the masks, why did they go there with black masks over their faces?
Pina: Well, thatâ€™s what theyâ€™re doing throughout the capital these days. Whenever the police launch a movement they donâ€™t go and identify themselves; they come in, you wouldnâ€™t be able to tell them from terrorists, and a lot of people here are calling them terrorists now, [with] the way that they enter with just black masks, unidentified, civilian clothes and large guns. Itâ€™s a very terrifying thing to watch these guys in action. Today also were protests despite the fact that the capital was virtually shut down by the business community. The business community has called Lavalas terrorists, and they had asked all businesses and schools to shutter their doors today in protest of Lavalas and in order to stop Lavalas from demanding the return of Aristide yet one more time today. Remember today is the 10th anniversary of Aristideâ€™s return in 1994 at the head of 20,000 U.S. troops, committed by President Bill Clinton in what was called then â€˜operation Restore Democracy.â€™
The day began very, very wickedly because immediately there were reports of the former military who the United Nations and the U.S. backed government have allowed to enter the capital over the past two days. There were reports early in the morning that they had entered La Saline, which is a pro-Aristide poor slum down at the base of Delmas 2, and that they had opened fire indiscriminately at the population, that they had begun setting up roadblocks on Route Frere, in another section of the capital. Immediately after hearing this news the people of Bel Air rose up, thousands and thousands of people began to protest in the streets demanding Aristideâ€™s return. The Haitian National Police then attempted to enter the neighbourhood. They fired shots to try to disperse the crowd. Reportedly, several gunmen from rooftops and surrounding buildings returned fire and the Haitian National Police were forced to make a hasty retreat.
Bernstein: Pina [is] talking to us on the ground in Port au Prince, Haiti where the pro-democracy movement is in fact poised to have a protest to call for the restoration of democracy with the duly-elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide. The U.S. installed government there is threatening repression, threatening locking down the city; they opened, they gave the key to the cities to the death squads, to the former paramilitaries; some of these guys were convicted of terrible crimes. Kevin, I want to come back to Father Jean-Juste for a moment. I want to talk a little bit more about him and the way in which they are labelling him and then attacking him. And I want you to come at this two ways: first of all, I want you to say a little bit more about Father Jean-Juste and what he was doing in terms of whatâ€™s called â€˜the Tenth Departmentâ€™ in Haiti, his exile, and then remind people how they did the same thing and continue to do the same thing to President Aristide, in terms of unbelievable charges; they just throw them out and throw them outâ€¦and either what the mainstream press does and NPR does is they repeat the charges without explanation or they just donâ€™t cover the slaughter at all.
Pina: Well after the brutal military coup of 1991, Father Gerard Jean-Juste was courageous in terms of confronting the military, of encouraging people to use non-violent resistance to confront the military. While a lot of people were fleeing into exile, Father Jean-Juste urged people to stay and confront the military and thatâ€™s where his reputation as a courageous soul was built. He himself suffered terribly during that time, many of his dear friends killed, constantly having to be on the move while the military was actively trying to track him down, hunt him down. He was betrayed several times by people but managed to be saved and encouraged and helped by others who harboured, protected him.
After Aristideâ€™s return in 1994, he became the Minister of the Tenth Department. The Tenth Department is the Diaspora basically, Haitians who are living abroad. In that role he had helped to build networks of Haitians within the United States who would work actively to rebuild Haiti, who would work actively to encourage literacy programs. He was certainly one of the loudest voices advocating literacy, universal literacy for the peasantry in Haiti. Just a man who has done tremendous work in proving himself time and time again as far as his commitment to the poor and his commitment to development and progress in this country. Of course the attacks continue against him, the character assassination continues against him, even today.
The man who is the publisher of a right-wing Haitian rag, that was the voice of the Haitian militaryâ€¦in 1991 called the Haiti Observateur, his name is Raymond Joseph, he then became a journalist with the New York Sun, and then being rewarded for the scurrilous lies that he committed to help to destabilize this government before Aristideâ€™s ouster, he then became the charge dâ€™affairs in the Haitian Embassy in Washington and is still in that position today. He just released another article in the New York Sun today, I know the information came from him, accusing Jean-Juste of having written an article where he claimed that President Bill Clinton had been encouraged by Aristide to use a voodoo priest in order to win the election, his re-election, and that Clinton had not changed his underwear for a week at the advice of his voodoo priest that Aristide had lent him in order to win his electoral campaign in 1992., the re-election of Bill Clinton.
Itâ€™s these sorts of lies that Raymond Joseph and the Haiti Observateur and other elements of the right-wing reactionary community in Haiti continue today against Father Jean-Juste and certainly they are part of what is bolstering this government right now to have taken this heinous action in terms of incarcerating him and putting him in prison today. These are scurrilous charges; Jean-Juste would have nothing to do with touching guns; Iâ€™ve known the man personally since 1991 myself and I can tell you that based on his commitment to the poor and based on his commitment to non-violence, that it seems utterly ridiculous to try to pin that charge on him. Iâ€™ve just got to say one other thing about what I said earlier. Today, the shutdown of the capital that was called by the business community, the Haitian Chamber of Commerce, I have to also say that that shutdown was backed by the U.S. Embassy, which also closed and shuttered its doors today. Several U.S. citizens were quite angry at the U.S. Embassy closing, in an act of â€˜solidarityâ€™ with the Haitian business community today, because they said what if we have to evacuate because of mounting violence in Haiti and our government shut down to show its approval of the business community.
The situation here is just really out of hand and I think the only words to use right now are that this is a country poised for civil war. This is not going to go away, this is going to escalate over the days, weeks and months to come. The U.S. backed government is claiming that this is merely being done to try to embarrass Bush in order to defeat Bush and give Kerry an advantage. Well, even if President Bush wins, based on my knowledge of whatâ€™s going on in the streets today here in Haiti, this is not going to be over even if President Bush should win those elections again.
Bernstein: [â€¦] Kevin, you have spent so much time in Haiti and you were there in Haiti to do a documentary in 1990 about the new burgeoning democracy after the election of Jean Bertrand Aristide and you ended up filming him being taken out in handcuffs. I want people to understand how much time and how youâ€™ve watched this cycle finally, before we move on to Iraq and Palestine, two other U.S. related, or U.S. occupations if you will. Tell us the situation in terms of the food, medical, just very briefly, what is the, sort of, emergency situation on the ground? What are the grave concerns of people in the medical profession, in the schools, whatâ€™s happening at that street level?
Pina: Iâ€™ll tell you, today the biggest crisis was that as people were being shot in the streets, as I said earlier, by former military on Delmas 2 and La Saline, and as there were casualties that began to mount, as the police had the gun battle in Bel Air there were bodies that were being taken to the morgue. The morgue was full, there was no more room in the morgue. The General Hospital had to call the Ministry of Health today in order to demand emergency vehicles to remove the more than 600 corpses that have been stockpiled there, that have been coming in from the killing over the last two weeks alone. Thatâ€™s how much killing that has been going on here in the streets of Haiti that has not been/being reported and has not talked about. Well, AP has been quoting the police as saying only 140 people have been arrested. Today, the government admitted that hundreds had been arrested and are currently filling the prisons and that the prisons are too full to put more prisoners in. Thatâ€™s whatâ€™s happening to the infrastructure of Haiti today.
The level of repression, the number of killings, the number of incarcerations has strained the system to the breaking point. At the same time there is no life thatâ€™s normal here. This situation thatâ€˜s been created by the ouster of the democratic President Aristide was ill conceived by the Bush administration. What they basically did was replace what they considered to be a â€˜failed stateâ€™ with an even more failed state. Certainly, we cannot say that their backing of the so-called opposition, and Iâ€™ve got to say this too, let me get this in really quickly: what is happening to Lavalas today, I never, in the last four years that I was here, including the most voracious, the most violent demonstrations of the opposition, I never saw the State under Jean Bertrand Aristide do anything to that so-called opposition, anything like what is being done to Lavalas today. The opposition to Aristide back then called Aristide a dictator. Well today it seems as if that is there own self-fulfilling prophecy. Today I have never seen a Haiti so bereft of freedom of expression; I have never seen a Haiti so bereft of civil liberties, as I see today. I never saw during those years that they claimed Aristide was a dictatorship a campaign of repression anything like what I am seeing being mounted today against Lavalas. And I think people who have followed this can hear it in my voiceâ€¦itâ€™s indescribable to talk about this reality in terms of sanity. Itâ€™s reality turned on its head, and itâ€™s a direct result of failed policies of the Bush administration in Haiti.
Bernstein: All right, weâ€™re going to leave it right there. Kevin Pina weâ€™re going to urge you to be careful, because we know that you are on the radar screen there, of the U.S. installed government, and we know that you have a very young child there, so we urge you to be careful. Weâ€™re looking forward to you coming to visit here; weâ€™ll be speaking together, I believe, at a local church on theâ€¦but Kevin you please be careful
Pina: I will, and God bless all my friends
Bernstein: Thank-you. Kevin Pina speaking to us from Port au Prince, Haiti where the situation is,well, another example of Bush policy.