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a186: Justice cannot grow from fresh injustices (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <email@example.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 firstname.lastname@example.org or phoned at
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