From the 17th to the 20th of August 2007, the well-known human rights activist and liberation theologian Gerard Jean-Juste visited his home in Haiti. During his recent visit Jean-Juste took part in a festival at his Port-au-Prince Parish Claire. The parish, which he had directed for more than 9 years, continues to support hundreds of local children and citizens deprived of food and education.
Following the 2004 overthrow of Haiti’s constitutional government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Jean-Juste quickly became a leading opponent of a dictatorship put into power with the backing of the United States and foreign donor agencies.
Father Jean-Juste was put in prison twice under the defacto government of Boniface Alexandre and Gerard Latortue. The priests well known advocacy for democracy and respect for the Haitian constitution was a clear threat to the powers dictating Haiti’s government policies.
On July 21, 2005, Jean-Juste continuing to speak out against violence, attended the funeral of Jacques Roche, a well-known poet and journalist. Upon his exiting the funeral an anti-Aristide mob had gathered with the intent of killing the priest. On flimsy charges interim authorities, just ahead of presidential elections that were scheduled to take place, then arrested Jean-Juste. The well-known doctor and Harvard Professor Paul Farmer visited Jean-Juste in prison, taking a sample of the priest’s blood. From a laboratory in Miami, Farmer confirmed that the priest had leukemia.
Under the backdrop of a mounting international human rights campaign and the advocacy of US congresswoman Maxine Waters, Jean-Juste was released from jail in January 2006 to undergo medical treatment in south Florida.’
On Friday July 17 2007 at 1 a.m., accompanied by a delegation made up of members of Veye-Yo, his organization in Florida defending Haitian refugees, and its American attorney William Quigley, Jean-Juste came through the gates at the airport in port-au-prince. A special contingent of blue helmeted Chinese UN troops stood guard near the airport.
In response to questions about his first impression of the country, he answered: “Today I am very glad to see my country after nearly two years. I go now with the people of my country, I thank everyone who helped me in the bad moments and the good moments and I forgive all those, which cut me down. I say to them that I love you, because you are my brothers and sisters and sons. We must live together for the advancement of our country”.
A recently founded newspaper, Haiti Liberte, questioned him on the ongoing problems within the Catholic Church of Haiti, and asked that he speak about it. Juste responded, “I wish to see that our church has a cardinal very soon, because it is very important that we have a cardinal, because almost all of the haitian people are catholic and it is the official religion of the country. Why should Saint Domingue have one and not us? If we have a cardinal, many things can change for us here, because everyone will know that a Haitian can one day become pope. The entire catholic world would like to speak with the Pope and to hear the answers of the Pope.” He explained that the church in Haiti must work to improve its representation and communication.
At the main gate of the international airport he addressed over a thousand supporters that had gathered. Rara bands played religious songs, both catholic and protestant. Faithful followers of his holy parish Claire Ti Plas Kazo were also in the audience.
In closing he said, “I thank the executive power, the Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot, the capacity of the judiciary, the legislative power, those deputies that gave me their support”. He also thanked the Haitian press and the assembled audience.
Reminding the crowd of his support for Haiti’s ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, he spoke of the desire of “Aristide and his exiled family in South Africa to return to the country.” He added, “Titid [a term of endearment for the former president] loves you, we will mobilize for his return, because our constitution does not guarantee exile”.
In the excited audience, one could hear many cries of support. One woman in the audience explained ”He struggled with us for two years against the defacto government, we must make him feel that his work was not for nothing.” After having finished addressing the assembled audience he took the road to his old parish, where Bishop Joseph Serge Miot received him under the invitation of the reverend Roger Baptiste.
Jean-Juste is still struggling with the church authorities to be re-ordained, after he lost his rights to run the church during the interim period. He explained to an assembled crowd at the church, “I cannot celebrate [in the official church proceedings], because I am not to authorized to do so. I want to remain in fidelity with my boss and the institution. My concern is the church. It is my passion.”
He met with many of the young people at the church who he has supported in their education and as parishioners. Many supporters have long feared for his safety, knowing that someone of his stature would be a prime target for assassination by supporters of the 2004 coup. At the church he spoke more of his advocacy for the physical return of the former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the release of all political prisoners and a better life for all Haitian people, particularly the poor people.” He ended his talk with a familiar tone, “peace and love for Haiti.”