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a186: Justice cannot grow from fresh injustices (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Justice cannot grow from fresh injustices
Published December 29, 2001

Events in the Caribbean have a way of reverberating in South Florida. 
Haiti's recent coup attempt -- although some say it was really staged by the 
Haitian government -- is a reminder of this connection.

For sure, political turmoil in Haiti means more boat people heading for 
South Florida. But the link between both regions has personal ramifications. 
In this case, academic Gerard Pierre-Charles embodies the bond.

Pierre-Charles, a 66-year-old social researcher and Haitian opposition 
leader, was visiting Miami when a mob attacked his home and destroyed his 
research center in Port-au-Prince. Suzy Castor, his wife and a well-known 
Haitian historian, called to tell her husband he had no bed to return to. 
What thugs could not cart away, they destroyed.

But what hurt the most was the destruction of their research center. The 
couple painstakingly built the Investigative Center for Economic and Social 
Development after returning to Haiti in 1986. The two respected academics 
had spent the previous 26 years in exile during the Duvalier dictatorship. 
Opening the center was their dream.

In the Western Hemisphere's poorest country, where libraries and archives 
are few, the small center was like an oasis in the desert.

It was a place where Haitian college students and professors studied and 
conducted research. Foreign scholars and journalists also found a home 
there. Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, a human rights activist who won the 1980 Nobel 
Peace Prize, was one of many international visitors who gave lectures there. 
The center also sponsored workshops, teaching community activists how to 
organize everything from farmer cooperatives to human rights conferences.

What took the two former college professors years to build was lost in a 
day. The morning after the reported Dec. 17 coup attempt, gunmen in pickup 
trucks arrived at the center on Rue Jean Baptiste in the Haitian capital. A 
mob carrying sticks and rocks followed them. Thugs beat the center's guard 
and set his barking dog on fire. In moments, the place was ransacked and 
thousands of books and documents were torched.

In another area of the city, a mob also attacked the couple's home. 
Fortunately, Pierre-Charles' family escaped without harm. He got the bad 
news while attending a political leadership conference sponsored by the 
Organization of American States in Miami. His wife called to say that they 
were safe but that a lifetime dream was gone.

This loss is a Haitian tragedy. Poverty and misery are compounded by 
violence and intolerance. But Pierre-Charles and Castor also represent 
Haitian resiliency and hope. They were driven out of their homeland once and 
they are determined not to let that happen again. They are determined to 
stay in Haiti.

"This democratic space that Haiti has conquered is too important to let 
Aristide take away," Pierre-Charles said.

Jean Bertrand-Aristide is Haiti's recently elected populist president. 
American troops returned him to Haiti in 1994, after a military coup drove 
him from power during his first term in office. Charles-Pierre helped 
Aristide become president the first time, then grew disillusioned with him. 
He joined the Democratic Convergence, a 15-party coalition, and became one 
of the country's key opposition leaders. A political standoff between the 
government and the opposition, over alleged electoral fraud, has paralyzed 
Haiti. As a result, millions of dollars in U.S. aid have been frozen. Life 
in Haiti is getting worse by the day.

It's also getting more violent. Opponents allege that Aristide's government 
staged a make-believe coup as an excuse to crack down on them. Throughout 
the country, dozens of homes and offices of opposition leaders were 
attacked. A few people died in the violent spree.

For more than a decade, Aristide has represented a Haitian dream for social 
justice. But true social justice cannot be built on fresh injustices. Until 
Aristide and his supporters learn to defend and respect peaceful opponents 
like Pierre-Charles, their dream will become a nightmare.

Deborah Ramirez can be e-mailed at dramirez@sun-sentinel.com or phoned at 

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