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The Forgotten Coup: Violence Erupts in Haiti, Activists and Political Leaders Arrested

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Political violence leaves scores of people dead in Haiti as activists and top Lavalas leaders are arrested. We speak with Rep. Maxine Waters and we go to Haiti to hear from Bill Quigley, lawyer for Father Gerard Jean-Juste who was arrested last week and Miami to hear from Haitian community activist Lucie Tondreau. [includes rush transcript]

South Africa has rejected accusations that it let ousted Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide incite violence in Haiti from his place in exile.

Haiti’s unelected Prime Minister Gertard Latortue accused South African president Thabo Mbeki Sunday of allowing Aristide to direct a violent campaign in Haiti. Aristide was ousted in February in what he calls a modern-day kidnapping in the service of a coup d’etat, backed by the United States.

South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad responded by saying “South Africa cannot be used as a scapegoat for failure by the interim Haitian authorities to bring about peace and stability.”

Haiti has been rocked by violence since September 30th after demonstrators took to the streets demanding the return of Aristide and condemning political persecution of his Lavalas party. The protest came on the 10th anniversary of Aristide’s first return from exile in 1994. Police reportedly opened fire on the unarmed demonstrators. At least 55 people have been killed in widepsread violence since then. The bloodshed comes just weeks after storms and flooding left more than 3,000 Haitians dead las month.

Top Lavalas leaders and activists have been arrested in recent weeks. Three Haitian politicians allied with Aristide surrendered to police after barricading themselves in a radio station for six hours.

Last week, Catholic priest Father Gerard Jean-Juste was arrested as he was feeding 600 children from his church in Port-au-Prince. The government accused him of inciting violence. Haitians took to the streets in Port-au-Prince and Miami to protest the arrest.

  • Rep. Maxine Waters, Democratic Congresswoman from California. She is the former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.
  • Bill Quigley, law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans. He is one of the attorneys on Father Gerard Jean-Juste’s legal team. He joins us on the phone from Port-au-Prince where he had visited Father Gerard Jean-Juste in prison.
  • Lucie Tondreau, Haitian community activist in South Florida. For years she co-hosted a radio show with Father Gerard Jean-Juste that provided a forum for discussion between Haitians living abroad and in Haiti. She joins us on the phone from Miami.

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

AMY GOODMAN: First we turn to U.S. Congress Member Maxine Waters. We reached her in Miami yesterday just before she was going to a meeting with Haitians there. We asked her to talk about her first reaction in hearing of Father Jean-Juste’s arrest.

MAXINE WATERS: I have called down to Ambassador Foley and tried to get him to get some U.N. troops or somebody over there to protect Father so that they would not kill him. And then I wrote a letter to Colin Powell explaining the call that I had received describing the fact that these hooded men, who were armed, had surrounded the church, and that they were going in to get him, and said to him that I have asked for assistance from the ambassador, and I wanted them to investigate it right away, and to do everything possible to protect the lives not only of Father Jean-Juste, but other priests who, I understand, may have been attacked also.

AMY GOODMAN: We understand there are also three senators who were in a radio station who were arrested. What do you know about that?

MAXINE WATERS: That’s true. I got a call about that. They had been asked to come to the radio station, and they were there, and the same kind of attack with hooded individuals, armed, came and took them out and arrested them. I think they let one person go, and there may be one or two others that they have kept jailed. So, now you have in jail, you know, many of the persons who are members of Lavalas, who are well respected. You have Neptune; the prime minister; you have So Anne, a beloved woman and artist; and you have now Father Jean-Juste; and you have the, I think, two senators. This is awful. Aside from that, the killing and the mayhem that’s going on down there. I am really asking Colin Powell to get involved. I also had a talk with one of the State Department spokespersons who had accused Lavalas of the problems in Haiti. I called him and I said to him, “This is absolutely unconscionable what you are doing. Not only did you have Guy Philippe and his armed terrorists running around threatening to kill President Aristide prior to the coup d’etat and taking over Gonaives and going into Cite Soleil and Belair and killing Lavalas members. I don’t hear the outrage. I didn’t hear the outrage. You have done nothing to disarm them. Now they are running around talking about they have reestablished the military and they are in charge and asking the government for ten years back pay. They have got guns, they have got uniforms. And then you come out and accuse Lavalas of the problems when you have, you know, done nothing.” I said, so I’m saying to the State Department, “You have a responsibility to disarm those terrorists and to lock them up. That trial that you had for Louis Jodel Chamblain was a sham. To allow that murderer to roam free, having been responsible for the Raboteau Massacre, is just outrageous.” So the State Department has been, you know, really partly responsible for what is going on there. And I’m trying to get them to understand, there will be no stabilization in Haiti until President Aristide is returned to fill out his term.

AMY GOODMAN: And then if you could repeat on this issue, the issue of the attack on South African President Thabo Mbeki for allowing the Aristides to live in South Africa, saying that he’s now promoting violence in Haiti.

MAXINE WATERS: Well, I think that Latortue’s attack on Mbeki, President Mbeki, is typical of the outrageous kind of statements that he’s been making since he has been placed there by the American government. This man is irresponsible. Don’t forget that Latortue is the same one who called the terrorists, Guy Philippe and these gunned thugs, freedom fighters. So, you know, whatever he says cannot be accepted in any shape, form or fashion. President Mbeki should not be attacked. He should be thanked for helping to provide a safe haven for President Aristide, and to say that somehow he is responsible or that President Aristide is responsible for the violence that’s going on in Haiti now is just, I mean, it is just illogical and untrue and outrageous. As a matter of fact, the destabilization of Haiti has been caused by the coup d’etat and the removal of Aristide. Again, it’s just like Iraq. They didn’t have any post-war planning. They removed him, and they, you know, stayed there for a while with a few marines. Then they turned it over to Brazilians, who were trying to curry some favor with the United States up at the U.N., and they left. And left these poor people in the hands of thugs and terrorists and an incompetent person they brought in from Boca Raton. It is just outrageous what’s going on.

AMY GOODMAN: U.S. Congress Member Maxine Waterss speaking to us from Florida. When we come back, we’ll speak with the attorney for Father Jean-Juste, a prominent priest in Port-au-Prince who has been arrested by the unelected Latortue regime. [break]

AMY GOODMAN: As we continue on the issue in Haiti right now with Bill Quigley, law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, one of the attorneys on Father Gerard Father Jean-Juste’s legal team, joins us on the phone from Port-au-Prince where he has recently visited Father Jean-Juste in prison. Welcome to Democracy Now!.

BILL QUIGLEY: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you us with. Can you describe the conditions there, why Father Jean-Juste was arrested?

BILL QUIGLEY: Well, the exact reason why he was arrested, we don’t know. There haven’t been formal charges brought against him. He was arrested last Wednesday night — Wednesday afternoon in the middle of feeding 600 children in his very, very poor parish in Port-au-Prince. The police came and infiltrated the crowd, and when people realized what was going on, they pushed the priest into the rectory and locked him in. The police blasted out an iron grated covering of a window and then smashed in the windows and went and got him. They accused him of helping the insurrection, aiding the uprising, by funneling money and arms to terrorists. That’s what they’ve said informally. As I said there is no formal [inaudible]. They searched the rectory. They searched all the place around there. They had, again, heavily armed men that the people described were dressed as ninjas, that they had black things over their faces with only slits for their eyes — uh, heavy weapons shooting into the neighborhood and the like. There’s a report that three children were shot at the same time. Father Jean-Juste was dragged handcuffed [inaudible] broken glass window and into a car and put in jail where he’s been ever since. I visited him twice in jail. He’s in a cell with 18 other people. They have a bucket the corner to use for the bathroom. They have no beds. They have mice. It’s very, very hot in Haiti right now, at least compared to New Orleans, and much, much hotter on the inside. But he’s still in great spirits and really trying to help the people in his parish, help the people in the country stand up for themselves and stand up for freedom.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re speaking with Bill Quigley, who is the attorney for Father Gerard Jean-Juste. Right now, who do you appeal to?

BILL QUIGLEY: Well, we’re working with a very courageous Haitian lawyer, Mario Joseph, who is working with the Institute of Justice and Democracy in Haiti, and really just took the very first step yesterday which was finally getting a judge to come to the prison to certify that Father Jean-Juste is in prison (So, you know, he’s been in prison since Wednesday evening, and we’re just at that point.), and then it is to try to find a judge who will be willing to evaluate the evidence that’s against Jean-Juste of whatever crime he’s supposed to be accused of. But the Haitian legal system does not work very well in the best of times and these are the worst of times. The lawyers have been told by judges that the orders have come down from the top, that this case is like the case of the Prime Minister who is in jail, the Minister of the Interior, who is in jail, members of parliament who are in jail — that this is a case that’s too political to go through the regular process; and so, no hearing is planned, no trial is planned, no formal charges have been made. And I think that the idea is clearly just to keep him in prison, and as long as they can. But people here think the hope of the country is that somehow there’s going to be another president in the United States and that another president in the United States will help them try to restore democracy in this country. I was — a person drove me yesterday said: “You know, ten years ago or when the first coup happened, who was the president?” He said, “This year when the [inaudible] coup happened, who was the president? Bush, the younger.” And so, the people very much still hopeful; even Father Jean-Juste, he says repeatedly, (he’s a man of great faith) and he said: “Like the Saints Peter and Paul my body is in jail, but my spirit is free.” And so, he — it’s going to be very hard to keep this man in jail, because it is a constant train of people coming to ask for his blessing. He’s helping other prisoners who are in jail. He’s in terrible conditions, but his spirit is very strong.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Bill Quigley about the arrest and jailing under the Latortue regime of Father Jean-Juste, a very popular priest in Port-au-Prince. During the coup ten years ago, Father Jean-Juste was also in hiding. I got to spend time in his church, a church where hundreds, thousands of people go in the nation’s capital of Haiti. Lucie Tandreau is also on the line with us, Haitian community activist in South Florida. For years she co-hosted a radio show with Father Jean-Juste that provided a forum for discussion between Haitians living abroad and those living in Haiti. There have been major protests on the arrest of Father Jean-Juste, can you talk about them, Lucie?

LUCIE TANDREAU: Yes. Good morning. The Haitian-American community here was very shocked to hear that Father Gerard Jean-Juste has been arrested. When the rumors started last Tuesday, we had the opportunity to have Father Jean-Juste live on the radio to explain to the community what was going on at that time. He told us that there were several trucks of masked men with heavy weapons surrounding the church, and we asked him what he was doing at that time. He said, “As I usually do on Tuesdays and Sundays, I was distributing food. I am distributing food to the children.” He said that since they were still outside (we’re talking about the gunmen) he was not going to open his gates, and he was going to continue to feed the children that were at the presbytery at the time. Fifteen minutes later, we heard that they have invaded the presbytery, that Father Jean-Juste has been severely beaten and dragged to a car and forced to one of those police headquarters first in Delmas and then in Pétionville. The Haitian-American community from that day demonstrating on a daily basis with pictures of Father Jean-Juste. They have had several press conferences to let people know what is taking place, and they will continue to demonstrate until Father Jean-Juste and all the political prisoners are freed.

AMY GOODMAN:Lucie Tandreau, as a Haitian-American living here in the United States being very connected to your own country, we hear obviously a lot more about what is going on in Iraq right now, although there was this coup that took place in Haiti. Can you talk about the government that is there now, the U.S. involvement in what transpired February-March of this year?

LUCIE TANDREAU: First of all, we have to say that the U.S., along with the French government and the Canadian government, have done what we call a character assassination of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide that led to the coup d’etat and the kidnapping of a duly elected president. In Haiti — After hours in Haiti during the coup d’etat on February the 29th, we have seen stacks of bodies at the general hospital at the general morgue at Port-au-Prince. The repression is like outrageous. Gerard Latortue, they’re just using him as a puppet to do the work I believe that Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice have designed for Haiti. It is not by coincidence today, as Haiti is celebrating its 200th anniversary of independence, all these things are happening. And Gerard Latortue —- according to the Haitian constitution, we said the people that are in Haiti right now, we can not even call them government because they have violated all of the clause and the articles of the Haitian constitution. Gerard Latortue, in order for him to be named prime minister, he would have to live in Haiti for five years. And we know that Mr. Latortue has been living in Boca Raton, Florida, for the past 16 years and never set foot in Haiti. The constitution states that Mr. Boniface was supposed to, in case presidential vacancy—-He was supposed to be in power for a transitional period of ninety days. It’s been eight months since Mr. Boniface is in Haiti acting as the president of the country. Which means today these people that are governing the country have no constitutional right. They have no mandate from the Haitian population; and the people in Haiti just as us abroad are fighting and asking for the physical return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide as the duly elected president of Haiti. The repression is very grave in Haiti at this time. They are arresting people left and right. They are killing the people in the slums from Bel Air and Cité Soleil in order to keep the people quiet and stop asking for the return of President Aristide.

AMY GOODMAN: Lucie Tandreau I want to thank you for being with us from South Florida. Also Bill Quigley, law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, speaking to us from Port-au-Prince, one of the lawyers for now-jailed priest, Father Gerard Jean-Juste. This is Democracy Now!

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