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2005-08-26

20 Massacred in Port-au-Prince Soccer Stadium, Jailed Jean-Juste Mulls Presidential Run

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As reports emerge of a massacre of at least 20 civilians at a soccer stadium in Port-au-Prince, we go to Haiti for the latest as well as get an update on the condition of jailed Haitian priest, Father Gerard Jean-Juste, who is considering a run for the presidency. [includes rush transcript]

The U.N. mission in Haiti recently launched an inquiry into the massacre of at least 20 people last weekend in the Port-au-Prince slum of Martissant.

During a soccer game on Saturday funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the US-backed interim Haitian government, hooded police and men with machetes attacked people they called "bandits." This according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, Haitian priest Father Gerard Jean-Juste remains in prison and is still suffering from injuries inflicted during his arrest in July. Father Jean-Juste is now considered the prime candidate to run for president on the Lavalas ticket. He told the Associated Press earlier this week that he may run if his candidacy is approved by ousted Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide who was overthrown in what he calls a modern day kidnapping in the service of a coup d’etat backed by the United States.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now down to Port-au-Prince to speak with Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit and Johanna Berrigan, a nurse practitioner from the House of Grace Catholic Worker in Philadelphia. Joining us on the line from the capital, Port-au-Prince. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Johanna Berrigan.

JOHANNA BERRIGAN: Thank you .

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk first, I know you’ve just visited Father Jean-Juste, but talk about this news of the massacre.

JOHANNA BERRIGAN: Well, we actually had the opportunity, with the Institute of Justice and Democracy, to visit the school and the soccer field where the massacre took place, and spoke with eyewitnesses who were at the event. And the story is that there was a soccer game for young adults where there were three to four thousand people in attendance. And at the halftime, police came into the soccer field, ordered the DJ to announce that everyone should get down, and police began firing into the crowd, the Haitian National Police. With them were individuals who were armed bandits but were able to identify for the police, for reasons we’re not sure of, who should be killed. So as the police shot into the crowd, people were trying, it became mayhem, people were trying to climb over the walls and as people were escaping some of them were actually cut down with machetes. When the police came, they surrounded the stadium with fifteen cars and four ambulances and the purpose for the ambulances was to place the bodies of the dead in the ambulances and take them away.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the Haitian government saying right now?

JOHANNA BERRIGAN: We haven’t heard much response. My impression is that just now, this event that happened on Saturday night and Sunday morning, another massacre, it is just now starting to have some attention.

AMY GOODMAN: And what has happened to those who were injured? And what has happened to the bodies of those killed?

JOHANNA BERRIGAN: What happened to the bodies remains a mystery. All people know that they were taken away in ambulances. And I specifically questioned what happened in terms of the wounded, and they said that they were killed, that there weren’t many wounded and suffering, that the people who were attacked were killed. The situation in terms of healthcare here, even if there were people who were wounded, they are too frightened to go to the hospital. They would not present themselves because if they did they risk even further possibility that they then would be killed in the hospital.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the United Nations? They have a force there in Haiti.

JOHANNA BERRIGAN: Yes, they do. And, actually, as we were walking on our way to the soccer stadium we passed the UN presence in the street about a quarter of a mile away. And there was no intervention on behalf of the UN at the time of this massacre. And it would be impossible to not know what was happening.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Johanna Berrigan, who is a nurse. She is with the Philadelphia Catholic Worker and she and Bishop Gumbleton have been to visit Father Jean-Juste several times, a very popular priest in Port-au-Prince who was jailed in July. Can you talk about the condition now of Father Jean-Juste and then I would like to ask you about his reaction to information about the massacre.

JOHANNA BERRIGAN: We had the opportunity to visit him twice this week, once on Tuesday and then again yesterday. He is still very spiritually strong and very committed and determined to continue the struggle for justice and democracy. But he, based on my previous visits with him, is very physically weak and sick. He’s in a lot of pain and clearly fatigued. I noticed a definite change in him since I first met him. Today marks his 36th day in prison as a political prisoner and only yesterday did he finally receive, after tremendous international pressure, did he finally receive a thorough evaluation, a physical exam by a doctor. And that doesn’t mean that he had any tests or that anything has been done for him to date, but he at least now, after pressure, has finally seen a doctor.

AMY GOODMAN: Amnesty International has declared him a "prisoner of conscience". Just very briefly, though, we have been following the case closely, explain why he is in jail in the National Penitentiary and is he right near the former — the ousted Prime Minister, Yvon Neptune?

JOHANNA BERRIGAN: Up until yesterday in the late afternoon he was in the Haitian National Penitentiary in isolation. He was in the Penitentiary because he attended the funeral of a well-known journalist, Jacques Roche, and at that funeral the crowd began to attack and beat Father Jean-Juste, claiming that he was the person who murdered or responsible for the murder of the reporter- of the journalist. And there was such public clamor that the police claimed they were taking him for his own safety. Actually, when he got into the— with the police they changed these charges and said that he was being held so they could investigate the charges against him. And then finally have accused him of the murder of the journalist and also that he is a threat to the security of the state and that he gives incendiary sermons. And he himself has stated — and we know this to be true — at the time of the murder he was in Florida. All of these charges are false as a means to just keep him in jail.

AMY GOODMAN: Johanna Berrigan, right now is he able to get medicine in the prison? And this information that we are getting from news reports that he is going to run for President of Haiti, is this true? Is this what he is saying?

JOHANNA BERRIGAN: No. To the first question, my big concern is that the doctor issued a report who saw him yesterday and recommended that, due to his condition, he should be transferred out of the prison, which he was. Yesterday they moved him to an annex of the prison in Pacot, where he is supposedly being held where Yvon Neptune is. But the doctor, as we know, has not ordered any further evaluation and he has not given any treatment yet. In terms of our conversation with him regarding that claim of his running for presidency, we spoke with him on two occasions and he basically has said that, no, he is a priest. The only way that he would even consider being a candidate is if the Lavalas party really requested this of him and if he had the backing of President Aristide, and only then he would consider it. He is not yet a candidate. And, interestingly, he heard the news on the radio in the prison that this had come out. That did not originate from him.

AMY GOODMAN: And his response to the news of the massacre that took place at the soccer game, which was called "Tournament for Peace"?

JOHANNA BERRIGAN: You know, we did not have a conversation with him about the massacre.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Johanna Berrigan, I want to thank you for being with us, a nurse practitioner from the House of Grace Catholic Worker House in Philadelphia, joining us on the line from Port-au-Prince. We will speak to Bishop Gumbleton at another point also was in Haiti visiting.

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