Haitian Priest Released from Prison: Whisked to Miami for Medical Treatment

By Schaeffer-Duffy, Claire | National Catholic Reporter, February 10, 2006 | Go to article overview

Haitian Priest Released from Prison: Whisked to Miami for Medical Treatment


Schaeffer-Duffy, Claire, National Catholic Reporter


Haiti's interim government granted its most well-known political prisoner, Catholic priest Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste, a provisional release for medical care in the United States Jan. 29.

A gravely ill Jean-Juste, 60, was whisked from his prison cell in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti's capital, and flown to the Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. The dramatic evacuation, which included an armed escort to the airport, provided by the U.S. Embassy, came four days after an American physician diagnosed the Haitian priest with pneumonia.

Jean-Juste was already diagnosed with leukemia, a potentially fatal blood cancer that compromises the immune system.

Without medical treatment, "he will die in prison," wrote Dr. Jennifer Furin in a Jan. 26 report circulated to Haitian and U.S. officials. A professor at Harvard Medical School, Furin examined the priest twice in January. She said by the end of the month, both the Haitian and U.S. governments realized the seriousness of his health crisis.

"Rather than be faced with his imminent demise in Haiti, they recognized that he needed to be released," Furin said.

Jean-Juste, a popular pastor of a poor parish in Port-Au-Prince, was arrested July 21, accused of participating in the murder of Haitian journalist Jacques Roche. The priest was in Miami at the time of Roche's death. It was the second arrest for the cleric who was imprisoned for seven weeks in the fall of 2004.

An ally of ousted Haitian president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the priest was an outspoken critic of Haiti's interim government and an impassioned advocate for the poor. Last fall, despite his imprisonment, a faction of Aristide's political party fielded Jean-Juste name as a presidential candidate.

After his arrest in July, human rights groups rallied to his side. …

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