Monday, December 31, 2007

Wise Men in Soleil

A couple of weeks ago, before Christmas, my father-in-law and I spent some time working in Cite Soleil.

One day we were at a medical clinic/school and witnessed the following scene:

About 50 uniformed kindergarten aged children were at the end of a courtyard and huddled around three other children. One of the three children was a little boy lying motionless on a dirty piece of cardboard. His face appeared quite serious as he stared ahead. He obviously had wet his pants but it sure didn’t seem to bother him.

Kneeling next to him was one boy and one girl.

The teachers were coaxing three little boys as they ambled towards the child on the cardboard.

These Soleil kids were obviously practicing for a Christmas play regarding the Nativity and the wise mens' visit to the newborn Messiah.

Was Jesus birth manger 2000 years ago as horrible as this fetid corner of Soleil?

Most likely none of these children received any toys for Christmas. However, Christmas for these children in Soleil occurs every day when they come to school because they get a big hot metal plate of rice, covered by red bean sauce, meat, and vegetables. This is their only nutritious meal of the day.

Most Soleil children have no Christmas all year long for many reasons. And most children are not in school. Conditions in Soleil should be an aberration and not the rule. All children everywhere deserve to eat every day.

Soleil needs many more wise men (and women) to work out the problems. The best gift for Soleil is justice.

Will OSF Let Katina Die?

Two Haitian Hearts Patients

The last two Haitian Hearts patients for 2007 arrived in the United States for heart surgery two weeks ago.

Pictured above is Jhiny holding her little sister. Pictured below is Christelle in the arms of her father.

OSF, the Media, and the Carroll Family

The media in Peoria make sure that OSF looks good.

The Peoria Journal Star supports OSF and their 500 million dollar Milestone project. This project has been covered extensively in the newspaper. However, much of OSF’s immoral behavior never reaches the pages of the Journal.

OSF does a good job in many areas. But they should. That is the function of a not-for-profit Catholic medical center. However, the Carroll family knows they could and should do much better and we intimately know how OSF works behind the scenes. Most people do not have our perspective, and the people that do know what has happened are shocked.

However, OSF may not want to admit this, but many people speak in hushed voices in disdain of OSF's actions. People are very fearful of the power of OSF...and they should be. They don’t know where to turn. Many know their jobs (and health insurance) are most likely linked in some fashion to pleasing OSF and so they are quiet.

The Ethics Committees at OSF have no real teeth and neither does Bishop Jenky regarding key Catholic OSF policies. This is a problem. The Diocesan Ethics Committee regarding health care will not address OSF's medical negligence of Haitian children.

Respect for life should include Haitian lives. Early in 2007, Haitian Hearts’ Maxime Petion died. He was not accepted back at OSF for medical care even though he had been operated at OSF-SFMC in the 90’s.

OSF continues to deny former Haitian Hearts’ patients medical care. Other medical centers around the United States do not want OSF’s “problems” and are concerned about OSF’s negligence. As OSF ignores their own mission philosophy and the Catholic Ethical and Religious Directives regarding health care, more young Haitians will likely die.

The Carroll family was treated poorly by OSF in multiple ways. Medical care was obstructed and unethical things were said and done to us by the largest downstate medical center in Illinois. Why would OSF have this intense reaction against a small family who only wants honesty, accountability and transparency by the Catholic medical center that states they embody these qualities?

Keith Steffen is responsible for what happens at OSF-SFMC. I am sure he has been scolded by OSF Corporate and other people when he and his robotic staff have gone over the edge, but OSF will allow him to continue his ways until they are done with him. He is carrying out the dirty work for OSF. He knows it as do the Sisters and Catholic Diocese of Peoria.

Even though it is not politically correct in Peoria to scrutinize the Sisters, it is up to them to make sure that their philosophy is practiced and not scandalized. They have surrounded themselves with people that do not have the OSF mission philosophy at heart. As a result, all people that OSF should serve in central Illinois and in Haiti are not being treated in a consistent Catholic fashion.

OSF will change for the better. It probably won’t be soon, but it will happen.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Maxime's Anniversary

One year ago Maxime was fighting for his life.

Maxime now rests over the Illinois River from his vantage point that watches OSF's new 500 million dollar expansion.

The world's best medical technology did not help Maxime. The human heart in Peoria that controls the lives of Maxime and many others simply does not care.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

People in the Pictures

A photoessay of Port-au-Prince is in the works on this web log. But will it do any good or is it just some evidence of "what I did on my summer vacation"? Will it help the people that live here? Or is it more of our technology that is "cool" but doesn't enhance the lives of the people trapped in the pictures?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Leaving Soleil

The International Herald reports that Doctors Without Borders (MSF) are leaving Cite Soleil at the end of December.

Because "violence" is down and the need for trauma surgery has decreased, MSF is leaving the one and only functional hospital in Soleil. The hospital is tiny, pathetic Saint Catherine Laboure.

However, structural violence is still at an all time high in Soleil. The children are literally starving to death and their immune systems are rendered impotent. Diseases such as pneumonia and meningitis fill the overcrowed pediatric hospital wards.

Newborn premature babies lie in over-sized metal cribs up stairs. A few of these babies have tiny IV's placed by the excellent Haitian nurses. Antibiotics slowly drip in. No ventilators are present to help the newborns' immature lungs search for oxygen. The babies grandmothers gently coax the babies to take a few drops of powdered milk, and when their tiny grandchildren decide to sleep, the grandmothers lie on the floor under their cribs and sleep too.

Numerous children are abandoned in the hospital. They are too much of a financial burden for their famlies. A doctor visit at Saint Catherine's costs 75 cents and admission to the hospital costs a grand total of a couple of dollars US.

The beautiful baby girl pictured above is one of the abandoned. The nurses plead for help for her. All the mothers in the ward care about this little one, but they have their own problems. All eyes are on the blan...but they shouldn't be.

Saint Catherine's patients need Doctors Without Borders. Saint Catherine's needs very active participation from the State of Haiti and the world needs to know that the population of Soleil should not be treated in this despicable fashion.

The "violence" in Haiti is alive and well at the end of 2007. The war in Soleil continues.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Displaced in Soleil

The young mom's mother-in-law beats her up and throws her in the street of Soleil.

The baby's father has another girlfriend.

This baby girl is swollen from head to toe lacking protein in her diet. She is the picture of kwashiorkor...a displaced child.

The young mother sobs, but the Brazilian Sister stops the tears quickly and gives her hope.

The baby sips fortified milk and quietly joins the malnutrition club in the back of the slum...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Father Jean-Juste

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South Florida

Baseless Arrests Continue
December 9, 2007
By Brian Concannon, Jr.

Rev. Gérard Jean-Juste's struggles with Haiti's criminal justice system have been a good gauge of the system's health for the last three years. The latest episode, last month, showed that rule of law is alive in Haiti — if not exactly kicking.

"Fr. Gerry," a Catholic priest well-known as an advocate for South Florida's immigrants and Haiti's poor, has fought charges of murder, treason, weapons possession, disturbing the peace and criminal conspiracy since Haiti's interim government first arrested him in October 2004. No one has produced any evidence of criminal activity, but that has not stopped Haitian authorities from arresting Jean-Juste three times and jailing him for seven months.

Gérard Latortue, who headed the interim government (March 2004-May 2006) that arrested Jean-Juste, has returned home to Boca Raton, replaced by an elected government led by President René Préval. Jean-Juste has been out of prison since January 2006, when he was released provisionally to seek treatment for leukemia at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

But he still faces charges of illegal gun possession — even though there is no proof he ever possessed any weapons — and criminal conspiracy — even though there is no allegation that he conspired with anyone or planned any crime. There are no witnesses against Fr. Gerry.

When Jean-Juste languished in Haiti's prisons, his plight was widely condemned by human rights groups and members of Congress as political persecution by an undemocratic regime. When he was released a week before the long-delayed elections that brought President Préval to power, many saw the promise of the return of the rule of law to Haiti.

That promise has been only partially fulfilled. Last month's hearing of Jean-Juste's challenge to the charges, before the Appeals Court of Port-au-Prince, had many auspicious signs. Jean-Juste and his lawyers made their case freely. Hundreds of supporters turned out without incident. The hearing was orderly. And the prosecutor formally recognized the absence of evidence against Jean-Juste and recommended dismissing all charges.

But the judges declined to dismiss the case, claiming they needed more time to review the file. The Appeals Court has already had 22 months since Jean-Juste filed his appeal, and seven months since a previous appeals hearing in April. That is plenty of time to review almost any file, and more than enough for a file that the prosecutor concedes contains no evidence of wrongdoing.

Jean-Juste has now faced charges under the Préval administration for as long as he did under the Latortue regime. Although Fr. Gerry is not in jail, thousands of other men and women arrested by the interim government are stuck in the democratic government's prisons, including perhaps a hundred or more political dissidents.

Over 90 percent of Haiti's prisoners have never been tried; most were arrested without a warrant and have no evidence against them in their files. Most are poor, and unlike Fr. Gerry, don't have access to lawyers or supporters to come to court for them.

The cases of Fr. Gerry and others arrested by the Latortue regime are not President Préval's fault, but they are now his problem. Although comprehensive reform of Haiti's justice system is complex, dismissing baseless cases is not.

Haiti's government can advance the cause of justice, bring hundreds of people home to their families, and save money in the prison budget by simply reviewing case files and seeking dismissals unless the files show a good, legal reason to continue. Ending Fr. Gerry's battle would be an opportune place to start.

Brian Concannon Jr., Esq. directs the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti,
Copyright © 2007, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Brian Concannon Jr.
Director, Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti
PO Box 745
Joseph, Oregon, 97846
Skype: Brian.Concannon

Disturbing the Peace

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by Brian Concannon Jr.
December 11, 2007

Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste, a Catholic priest from Haiti, just does not know when to shut up. In the 1970’s he saw his people starved and persecuted while Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier lived in opulence, so he organized for change. The Duvalier regime responded as dictatorships do, and kicked him out of the country. When he reached Miami, Fr. Gerry saw that the safety he found there did not extend to immigrants locked up in detention centers or sent back to face torture or worse in Haiti and countries like it. So he organized there for change. He founded Florida’s Haitian Refugee Center to bring the struggle for justice to the U.S. courts, and coordinated demonstrations to bring the struggle to the streets.

The United States responded as democracies should: it let Fr. Gerry do his work, as long as he did not break the law. He did not win all the battles here that he should have- our laws and our courts are not perfect. But he was at least able to criticize and mobilize without fear of persecution, and sometimes even win.

Bill Quigley, a Catholic law professor from New Orleans, cannot stop helping people organizing for change. He has been a leading advocate for the victims of Katrina since he weathered the storm in a New Orleans hospital where his wife Debbie, a nurse, works, trying to help. The hospital patients did not need a lawyer then, but the families still without homes and the kids still without good schools need one now, so Bill is busy. In 30 years of public interest lawyering, Bill has stood up for a whole spectrum of people fighting for social justice, including peace protestors, death-row inmates and advocates for fair education, healthcare and housing.

Fr. Gerry brought the lessons he learned in the U.S. about non-violent organizing for social change back to Haiti. In early 2004, when the brutal, unconstitutional and U.S.-supported interim regime took over from Haiti’s elected government, Fr. Jean-Juste became the most prominent and respected political dissident. He denounced the killing of political opponents, the political arrests, the looting of public coffers and the tax breaks lavished on the wealthy while the poor starved. People listened, so the regime responded as dictatorships do, and arrested Fr. Gerry on trumped up charges, jailing him for over seven months. The authorities accused him of many things over the next two years- three murders, treason, gun possession, plotting against the state and criminal conspiracy, all without a shred of evidence or a single witness.

There was one charge — made by the police at one of Fr. Gerry’s arrests, but never in court — that might have stuck: disturbing public order. Where public order meant poor kids dying of hunger and young men massacred for living in a politically-active neighborhood, Fr. Gerry disturbed the order. He fed hundreds of children at his church to show that it could be done. He used his pulpit, the radio waves and the streets to denounce the repression, and remind people that there was a better way.

When Professor Quigley found out about Fr. Gerry’s first arrest, he could not help but go down to Haiti to help. Bill appeared in court alongside Fr. Gerry’s Haitian lawyer, Mario Joseph, and stood at Fr. Gerry’s side during particularly dangerous times. Bill was roughed up once trying to shield Fr. Gerry from a crowd before his second arrest, which he recounted in a July 2005 Common Dreams article. But the police and the courts always treated him with respect, always allowed him to do his job.

The American professor’s presence in court and at the police station was a potent reminder of how a government should respond to its critics. The police, prosecutors, judges, lawyers and even the defendant saw Bill as representing a justice system that rejected punishing people for their political opinions, tolerated dissent as long as it was expressed legally, and respected the right of lawyers to assist their clients.

Bill’s presence had a tangible impact. It helped give one judge the courage to release Fr. Gerry provisionally (the judge was forced off the bench the next month; Fr. Gerry was re-arrested eight months later). It helped bolster Attorney Joseph, who managed to obtain another provisional release, which is still in effect, in January 2006.

But despite Bill’s efforts, Fr. Gerry’s legal struggle continued, even after the restoration of democracy to Haiti in 2006. The latest chapter was an appeals court hearing on November 26, to decide Fr. Gerry’s challenge to his indictment. Bill had planned to go to Port-au-Prince for the hearing, but a few days before, he cancelled. He was needed even more in New Orleans, to represent public housing tenants in their struggle against the Bush Administration’s plan to destroy 4,500 units of desperately-needed housing (see HUD Sends New Orleans Bulldozers and $400,000 Apartments for the Holidays, December 3).

In Haiti, Fr. Gerry’s hearing went fairly well. The judges allowed him and his lawyers ample time to make their case, and appeared to be under no inappropriate pressure. Hundreds of Fr. Gerry’s supporters packed the courtroom for the hearing or protested outside, but there were no incidents, and no one was arrested (see My Rosary Is My Only Weapon, Fr. Jean-Juste Goes To Court, Again, San Francisco Bayview, December 5, 2007). The court has not yet issued its decision, but the fact that a politically-charged hearing was held fairly and peacefully was a welcome sign of Haiti’s increasing democratization.

In New Orleans, Bill’s work went less well. He was brutally arrested by a New Orleans deputy sheriff. The arrest was caught on video, which shows Bill quietly standing by as his clients explain why they should be allowed to enter a public New Orleans City Council meeting. Suddenly a deputy grabs Bill from behind, slams him against the wall and roughly handcuffs him. The charge: disturbing the peace. The fact that the lawyer whose protests had been tolerated by Haiti’s dictatorship was brutally arrested for standing outside a hearing room in Louisiana is an unwelcome sign of America’s decreasing democratization.

After the arrest, Bill tried to deflect attention from his experience to the persecution of his clients. He noted that “we live in a system where if you cheer or chant in a city council, you get arrested. But you can demolish 4,500 people’s apartments, and everybody is supposed to go along with that. That’s not going to happen.” He added that “there’s going to be a lot more disturbing the peace before this is all over, I am afraid.”

Although the video footage of Bill’s arrest is disturbing, the meager press coverage of it is even more so. If a nationally-known professor having his head slammed against a wall on film for peacefully helping the victims of the most notorious natural disaster of our times ask their City Council for help defending their homes against a discredited Bush Administration does not generate outrage, what will?

The attack on Bill was clearly designed to intimidate New Orleans’ political dissidents. The attack itself, and the lack of an outcry about it, will encourage more attacks. Even more people will hesitate before standing up to the Bush Administration and its local allies.

But the attack will not stop the New Orleans tenants, or their lawyer. Today, International Human Rights Day, they went before the city’s Historic Conservation District Review Committee, bringing over 100 protestors to the meeting. They won one: the Committee agreed to stop the demolition of one of the three developments. The tenants will keep fighting the other demolitions, and they will keep exercising their Constitutional rights to speak, to cheer and to chant, to disturb a peace that tolerates the destruction of public housing during a housing crisis. Let’s hope that New Orleans can treat its dissidents and their defenders at least as well as Haiti now would.

Human rights lawyer Brian Concannon Jr. directs the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti,

Monday, December 03, 2007

Haitian Hearts 2007

Revolution of the Heart

"The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?"

Dorothy Day