Activist priest jailed in a nervous Haiti.

The Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, who personified the struggles of South Florida's Haitian refugees before leading the fight to get former Roman Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide elected as Haiti's president, was arrested Wednesday in Port-au-Prince.

Jean-Juste, reached at the jail in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Petionville, said he understood the charge against him to be inciting ``public trouble.''

''I am in jail now,'' the charismatic activist told The Herald in a telephone interview. ``I was feeding the children in my church, in a public cafeteria like I do twice a week. They came in to arrest me. Then handcuffed me.''

Jean-Juste's arrest comes as Aristide supporters plan a major demonstration in the capital on Friday to mark the 10th anniversary of his return from his first exile in the United States.

At the same time, The Associated Press reported that former soldiers who ousted Aristide in February were expecting to launch their own campaign to end the violence that has killed at least 48 people in the last several weeks.

The soldiers, led by Remissainthe Ravix, a former army major, blame Lavalas for much of the recent violence.

Gerard Latortue, Haiti's interim prime minister, said a warrant was issued for Jean-Juste's arrest after Haitian authorities received intelligence that the priest's name had been associated with suspected leaders of Lavalas -- Aristide's family party -- who have been organizing against the interim government since Sept. 30.

''Rightly or wrongly, the name of Jean-Juste was associated with those who [were] planning, organizing and implementing those things,'' Latortue said. ``Many priests are involved in that. Most of the terrorists are meeting in churches.''

Jean-Juste is the latest in a string of Lavalas leaders to be arrested as violence has intensified in Haiti.

Within hours of the arrest, an estimated 200 Jean-Juste supporters protested in Miami's Little Haiti, where the priest served as director of Haitian Refugee Center before he resigned in 1991 to return to Haiti to work for Aristide.

Haitian-American activist Marleine Bastien called the arrest outrageous.

''The people should not settle for this,'' she said from Little Haiti, where she was protesting outside Veye Yo, the pro-Aristide grass-roots organization that Jean-Juste founded. ``For this government to go and arrest him like that, they have no respect.''

Jean-Claude Bajeux, a human-rights activist in Haiti and opponent of Aristide, said Jean-Juste ``is accused of protecting the people with weapons.''

Latortue said Jean-Juste was part of a mounting campaign by Aristide and Lavalas to have Aristide return to power just as he did on Oct. 15, 1994, the day the Clinton administration returned him to the presidency following the U.S. invasion of Haiti.

''They want to cut off my head and kill two or three ministers on the 15th,'' Latortue said. ``That is what they are saying. They see Jean-Juste as their leader. A battle is being fought on behalf of Aristide against the government.''

That battle, Latortue said, is being orchestrated by Aristide, in exile in South Africa.

''There is violence everyday,'' said Latortue, who said his government believes it is being financed from the United States. ``This afternoon we arrested a Canadian at the airport and found more than $1 million in his suitcase.''

Latortue said Lavalas supporters believe that if they can create violence and chaos in Haiti, they will succeed at embarrassing the Bush administration -- Aristide claims that he was ''kidnapped'' by the United States, a charge the U.S. government vehemently denies -- and help John Kerry become president.

They believe if Kerry wins, ''he will do just like Clinton and have [Aristide] return,'' Latortue said.

South Florida attorney Ira Kurzban, who worked alongside Jean-Juste championing the legal rights of Haitians seeking refuge in the United States and who represents Aristide, disputed Latortue's claims.

''People who know Jean-Juste for 25 years as a community activist, as someone who has supported peaceful resistance to Duvalier and other nondemocratic governments in Haiti, know these charges are patently false and are designed simply to stifle dissent,'' Kurzban said.

Kernst Jean-Juste, the priest's brother and a Miami resident, said he received a call from his brother about a half hour before the arrest. His brother said he was being followed by a caravan of armed men.

At one point, Jean-Juste said he had been blocked by one of the vehicles but then detoured.

He was arrested while feeding about 600 children and 150 adults.

Jonas Petit, the national spokesman for Lavalas, said armed gangs -- and not Aristide supporters -- are responsible for the violence in Haiti.

''They are the ones who have the power and have official power to do this,'' said Petit, who is in Broward County. 'Latortue baptized them as `freedom fighters' and is now putting them on the backs of the Haitian people.''

Herald staff writers Susannah Nesmith and Jim DeFede contributed to this report.

[Source: By Jacqueline Charles, The Miami Herald, Miami, Us, 14Oct04]

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