Wednesday, May 27, 2020

UN denials in Haiti...even in death they would try to dishonor the memory of Father Gerard Jean-Juste (Originally published June 30, 2009)

After the first shot is fired we see a horizontal plume of gun smoke that clearly shows the firearm was discharged at crowd level.
After the first shot is fired we see a horizontal plume of gun smoke
that clearly shows the firearm was discharged at crowd level.

by Kevin Pina

Haitian priest Father Gerard Jean-Juste, a symbol of strength, courage and leadership to a great many, was to be laid to rest by his family, friends and supporters on June 18. Few expected the solemn occasion would be transformed into confusion and terror as U.N. forces opened fire towards Haiti's national cathedral following the arrest of one of the mourners. A victim of a single gunshot wound to the head would be discovered moments later. Witnesses say his body writhed and convulsed struggling with the inevitable as blood slowly formed a crimson background around his head.
Jean-Juste would probably not be surprised by the shooting given that he was a leader of Lavalas and this was after all a Lavalas funeral. He would most likely recall many other instances of human rights abuses committed against Lavalas where the U.N. was complicit or directly involved.  He would often criticize the U.N. mission in Haiti for killing unarmed civilians in Cite Soleil and for training the Haitian police as they regularly shot up peaceful demonstrations, performed summary executions and falsely arrested Lavalas supporters following the ouster of Aristide in Feb. 2004. Jean-Juste more than most, would understand that this incident is but one more in a long list of violent offenses committed against the movement of the majority of the poor in Haiti as part of the U.N.'s current experiment in political landscaping.

The first shot is immediately followed by a second muzzle flash and audio of 
a shot fired towards the camera and and in the direction of the cathedral.

Public revulsion over this recent unprovoked shooting by U.N. soldiers in Haiti is only surpassed by disgust at the U.N.'s attempt to cover it up. The commander of MINUSTAH, Brazilian General Floriano Peixoto orchestrated immediately, "The truth is I do not believe... that the soldiers fired on the people with live ammunition...I'm convinced that this did not happen." The U.N. then released a statement through its songbird Michelle Montas in New York that said they "categorically denied" any of its soldiers were involved in the death. Agence France Presse played the tune, "The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) insisted also that the death, initially attributed to a gun shot wound, was due to a "head injury inflicted by a stone or a blunt object."" The Associated Press (AP) chimed in, "[MINUSTAH] cited unspecified preliminary information that the victim was killed by a blunt object, such as a thrown rock, rather than a bullet." The fact that the U.N.'s version of the killing was based on ‘unspecified preliminary information' didn't seem to matter much to the chorus at the time.

The U.N.'s attempt at a cover-up came into focus after a Haitian TV station, Radio Tele-Ginen, streamed coverage of the funeral of Father Gerard Jean-Juste live over the Internet. Thousands watched as U.N. soldiers fired into the air and it was only after they had left the scene that the camera showed the body of the victim. This led AP reporter Jonathan Katz to comment on June 19, "The video did not appear to show what happened to the man, showing only some U.N. soldiers arresting another man and firing shots into the air." Katz concluded, "The soldiers load the protester into the truck and fire two more shots as they drive away, followed by a Haitian police vehicle." 

Radio Tele-Ginen then dropped a bombshell and released footage from another camera angle that actually showed Brazilian soldiers firing at crowd level from the back of a small white pickup truck as they left the scene. There is no police vehicle following them as Katz claims and you can clearly see that no one was throwing rocks at them or any where near the soldiers as they casually fire off two shots from the back of the truck. Thirty seconds later a man is discovered in front of Haiti's national cathedral felled by what is clearly a single gunshot wound to the head.
From the footage alone any one who has ever seen a victim of a headshot could easily tell his wound was not inflicted by a rock or blunt instrument as the U.N. claimed. The ‘rock of blunt instrument' spin was a cynical attempt by the U.N. to imply that a fellow mourner was responsible for the death during a funeral organized by Lavalas for one of their own. They were correct in thinking that a gullible international press would repeat the ridiculous assertion given the latter has long participated in creating a spoon feed image of Lavalas as a violent political movement.
Eleven days after the shooting the other shoe would finally drop. On June 29, the final results of an autopsy would reveal that the victim was indeed killed by a wound resulting from a single shot to the head. In a fantastically surreal statement of further denial U.N. peacekeeping spokeswoman Sophie Boutaud de la Combe would respond, "We are confident that the autopsy reconfirmed that our troops were not responsible for this death." It seems that someone forgot to tell Sophie that if you're going to spin for denial it has to at least have some possibility of being taken seriously.
Writing for AP, Katz would soften the realization that the U.N. had lied about the victim's fatal wound in a ‘matter of fact' tone, "[Boutaud de la Combe] noted that preliminary information that the protester had been killed by a rock or other blunt instrument were incorrect." Katz would continue to provide the U.N. with plausible deniability when he wrote, "In television footage of the clash at least eight shots can be heard. It is not clear if all were fired by the soldiers." He would at least have the decency to add the qualifier, "No one else is seen holding a firearm."
The fact that the Radio Tele-Ginen footage from June 18 shows Brazilian soldiers opening fire without any provocation speaks volumes. The casual nature with which they discharge their weapons as they leave the scene makes it appear as if they were sending a message to the mourners and Lavalas. It was message of violence and terror that has been repeated over and over again for the Lavalas movement since Feb. 2004. That this particular volley would come four days before the second round of Senate elections in Haiti is clearly not a coincidence.
After the Fanmi Lavalas party was barred from participating in Senate elections, they waged a highly successful boycott campaign of the first round held on April 19. Another successful boycott of the second round on June 21 would be a crushing repudiation of the U.N.'s attempt to legitimize their mission through ‘helping the Haitian people to realize democracy.' If the U.N. cannot oversee a process of fair and inclusive elections in Haiti then there really is not much point in them continuing to press to extend their mission is there? The only thing standing between them passing off exclusive elections or "selections" as credible was the Lavalas movement. The message delivered by U.N. soldiers firing indiscriminately at the crowd during Jean-Juste's funeral was to back off from the boycott and Lavalas's political campaign or the killings and arrests would start again. Desecrating the funeral of one of Lavalas's revered leaders and associating his cortège with violence would pave the way. 
In the end, despite tremendous financial and political efforts by the U.N., Lavalas successfully boycotted the second round of Senate elections. Turnout was lower than the first round and other than inflated figures provided by the election council most observers admit that very few people showed up to vote in either election. Just like denials of firing at crowd level on June 18 and the head wound of the victim, the U.N. and the international press that feeds off them also continue to deny the successful boycott campaign. One can almost hear the collective mantra of Brazilian General Floriano Peixoto, Sophie Boutaud de la Combe, Michelle Montas, Jonathan Katz and others that the boycott had little to do with the low voter turnout.  Voter fatigue, off-season elections, fatigue with ineffective government, a loss of faith in politicians and everything else under the sun except the boycott.
Leaders of the Lavalas Mobilization Commission, organizers of the boycott, have made it clear that the Haitian people see their new Senators as ‘creatures of the U.N. and the international community.' They do not recognize the elections as credible and say they will continue to demonstrate peacefully to have them annulled. If June 18 is any indication of what's to come, the U.N. is gearing up for a new round of the blame the victim style of repression that has come to define their current mission's relationship to the Lavalas movement. As events unfold, we can only hope that a few brave journalists will keep the cameras rolling so that we might have some small chance of seeing the truth behind the denials.

The Haiti Information Project (HIP) is a non-profit alternative news service providing coverage and analysis of breaking developments in Haiti.

Winner of the CENSORED 2008 REAL NEWS AWARD for Outstanding Investigative Journalism

Mon Père, Remembrances of Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste in Haiti (May 29, 2009)

Originally Published May 29, 2009

Mon Père, Remembrances of Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste in Haiti

by Kevin Pina

I called Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste 'my father' as did so many others who worked with him and loved him for his courage, commitment and generosity. I first met this incredible man after the first coup against Aristide in 1991. Another Catholic liberation theology priest, Fr. Jean-Marie Vincent, introduced him to me. I had returned to Haiti to continue filming for my documentary Haiti: Harvest of Hope.

When I returned to Haiti Fr. Vincent told me that there was another priest assigned to the parish of St. Gerard in the capital of Port au Prince who was protecting and hiding those targeted by the military repression. At great personal risk and never asking anything in return, Fr. Jean-Juste developed an underground network of non-violent resistance to the military and police repression. His network would later expand to include opposition to the paramilitary forces created by the CIA such as the Front for Advancement and Progress in Haiti or FRAPH.

Fr. Jean-Juste was always clear in his intention. To console me after the assassination of Fr. Vincent in Aug. 1994 he said, "There is no such thing as a safe harbor against such brutality except in your own conscience. No matter how hard they try to kill the thirst of the majority of the poor for a better life in Haiti, their brutality and tactics only provide more water for our struggle. We must never let them set the terms for the liberation of the majority of the poor in Haiti with their acts of violence. We must always stay focused on the goal."

After Aristide's return to Haiti in 1994, Fr. Jean-Juste remained an anchor for the Lavalas movement that he believed represented the interests of the poor majority until his death this last Wednesday in a Miami hospital. For this conviction he would suffer dearly especially after accepting an assignment to St. Clare's church in the neighborhood of Ti Place Cazeau in Haiti's capital. Once there, he would continue to not only preach on behalf of the rights of Haiti's poor majority but would also put his faith into practice by creating community empowerment projects. These included literacy and economic programs providing the poor with opportunities to lift themselves out of poverty and a daily canteen that made hot meals available to the most vulnerable in the community. It was not uncommon to find him singing while serving meals to poor children, who he adored and honored as the future of Haiti, on any given afternoon at St. Clare's.

Following the second coup against Aristide in 2004, he lost his weekly radio program at Radio Ginen after anonymous threats against the station. He would never blame the owner of the station telling me, "I understand the forces of repression and the lies they tell have taken control of Haiti for the moment. They are trying to convince the world that our beautiful movement of the poor is ugly and desolate. Aristide was kidnapped after the elite cut a deal with the Bush administration and this much is clear, the repression against Lavalas has started again."

Fr. Jean-Juste would continue to preach that Lavalas was a beautiful movement of the poor while most of the world fell prey to a systematic campaign to label and isolate it as a violent aberration. He would use every opportunity to condemn the second ouster of Aristide as a "coup-napping" that relied upon the brutal force of the former military and death squads who had invaded Haiti from the Dominican Republic in early February 2004. Fr. Jean-Juste described the situation as, "The Bush administration hiding behind the pretext of death squads and the military to justify kidnapping our democratically elected president." This insistence earned him the love and respect of Haiti's poor majority along with regular condemnation and death threats from supporters of the coup.

Fr. Jean-Juste along with many others considered September 30, 2004 a true test and turning point for the Lavalas movement in Haiti. The Haitian police opened fired on unarmed protestors during a demonstration on the thirteenth anniversary of the first military coup against Aristide. The slaughter would be justified by Jean-Claude Bajeux, a so-called human rights advocate and leader of a ‘civil society organization' called the Group 184 that worked for Aristide's ouster. Bajeux claimed that Lavalas partisans had emulated terrorists in Iraq and beheaded police officers earlier in the day. The Latortue regime ran with it and borrowed Bajeaux's unfounded assertion that it was part of a terror campaign by Lavalas called "Operation Baghdad." The international community, already compromised and cajoled by the Bush administration, stood poised and ready to accept any explanation that provided a counter argument to the massive demonstrations in the streets calling for Aristide's return. The demonstrations were proving an embarrassing reminder that the so-called opposition to Aristide was really a minority and that he never lost the support of the masses of the Haitian people as they had claimed.

Associating Lavalas with terrorists in Iraq was a marketable product in the international press that would not only distract from the growing demonstrations but also serve to justify the increasing repression. In actuality, it was a continuation of the strategy the Bush administration had employed against the popular Haitian folksinger Annette Auguste in May 2004 justifying her arrest by claiming she was organizing with Muslims in a local mosque to attack U.S. Marines in Haiti.

Attempts by the Latortue regime and the international community to label Lavalas as a terrorist organization with Operation Baghdad were always ludicrous. Fr. Jean-Juste with his usual clarity would state, "Bush and the Organization of American States are trying to equate the resistance against the coup by the poor with Al-Qaida and Iraqi terrorists. The OAS is bought off and a disgrace to the memory of Haiti having helped Bolivar for the emancipation of Latin America. They along with the U.S., France and Canada are siding with the elite in Haiti who would rather use this foreign label to brand the Lavalas movement as terrorists than accept their own responsibility for having driven this country into the ground with their own greed."

The Latortue regime and its allies believed that Operation Baghdad had finally provided them with the excuse they needed to destroy Lavalas and repress its most vocal supporters. High on the list was Fr. Jean-Juste. After Sept. 30, I heard several radio interviews with Haitian police spokesperson Jesse Coicou accusing unnamed priests of harboring and assisting gunmen involved in Operation Baghdad. I knew whom they meant and called Fr. Jean-Juste to make sure he was safe. He seemed unconcerned and reminded me that part of their goal was to frighten any one who opposed the coup into silence. He finished with "It is in God's hands and we have to keep talking about what's really going on here. We have to keep doing our work."

On October 13, 2004 the UN allowed the former brutal military to ‘officially' enter the capital of Port-au-Prince unchallenged. As they paraded through the streets waving automatic weapons and promising to kill ‘Lavalas bandits,' Fr. Jean-Juste was serving meals to the children at St. Claire's parish. As the children ate, heavily armed police wearing black ski masks surrounded the church before entering the premises with their guns drawn. As the children watched in terror they brutalized Fr. Jean-Juste before dragging him out and throwing him into the back of a waiting police car.
Fr. Jean-Juste's arrest came in the midst of a campaign of unprecedented slaughter and mass arrests throughout Oct. and Nov. 2004. It was clearly meant to silence his criticism of what he considered crimes against humanity being committed by the Haitian police against poor communities in the capital. The repression and his arrest were justified by Operation Baghdad, as the Latin American countries in charge of the UN military mission, namely Brazil, Chile and Argentina, remained silent and continued to provide support to the Haitian National Police.

Despite the reality that no warrant was ever produced nor any evidence linking Fr. Jean-Juste to a crime ever presented, he was held in prison for more than six weeks. He was finally released under the cover of darkness at 2 o'clock in the morning on Nov. 29 to avoid the spectacle of thousands of Lavalas supporters gathering to celebrate the news. I called him later in the day to express my joy and arrange another interview. All he would say was "Kev, get over here. We can't start the party without you."

Fr. Jean-Juste began giving interviews right after his release in which he condemned the U.S., France and Canada for their role in the coup and the UN for backing the repression against the Lavalas movement. He declared that Latortue was leading a ‘regime of terror' and chastised the UN for their "despicable role in providing support to the Haitian police as they unjustly murder and jail thousands for their political convictions." It was statements like these and his popularity among the poor that made him an even larger target for the Latortue regime. All they needed was the right circumstances and a new pretext for hauling him back to prison. Fr. Jean-Juste knew this but refused to remain silent.

©2009 Kevin Pina