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Popular Haitian Priest Dead At 62

CaribWorldNews Author, News Report, Staff Posted: May 28, 2009

MIAMI - Haitian rights advocate, Catholic priest, Father Gerard Jean-Juste, is dead.

Father Jean-Juste died Wednesday at Jackson Memorial Hospital, Miami Herald reports indicate. He was 62.

He suffered a stroke recently, Ira Kurzban, the Miami attorney who represented Jean-Juste's Haitian Refugee Center in several lawsuits against the U.S. government, was quoted as saying. Last night, Haiti Ambassador to the U.S., Ray Joseph, remembered the priest as `a dedicated fighter for Haitians.`

"Im sure he will be sorely missed," Joseph told CWNN when reached with the news. "Although this was expected it really hit me very hard."

Ambassador Joseph also reminisced on the first time he worked together with Father Jean-Juste and won their first case against the U.S. government on behalf of Haitian refugees with Kurzban leading the legal fight.

"He was more radical but we found ways of working together in early 80s," said Ambassador Joseph.

Jean-Juste was a liberation theologian and a supporter of the Fanmi Lavalas political party, the largest in Haiti. In 1978, he founded the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami where he was a popular figure in the Haitian community. He gained popularity throughout Haiti and the Haitian diaspora as a determined opponent of the interim government of Prime Minister Grard Latortue, which came about after the violent overthrow of the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide by anti-government rebels.

He was jailed for seven weeks in 2004 but released in November 2004 following outcries and opposition to his incarceration. On July 21, 2005, he was arrested by police following his return from a trip to Miami in connection with the abduction and subsequent murder of journalist Jacques Roche. On January 26, 2006, a judge dropped charges against Jean-Juste in regards to the death of Roche. However, Jean-Juste was indicted on two lesser counts of weapons possession and conspiracy, according to Jean-Juste's lawyer, Mario Joseph.

On January 29, 2006, Jean-Juste, after having been granted temporary release by the interim Haitian government, arrived in Miami to receive proper medical treatment for his leukemia. On September 11, 2006, the University of San Francisco conferred an Honorary Doctorate Degree on Fr. Jean-Juste, in recognition of his human rights and social justice work on behalf of Haiti's poor.

On November 26, 2007, the Court of Appeals of Port-au-Prince heard Fr. Jean-Juste's challenges to the remaining charges against him - weapons possession and criminal conspiracy. Fr. Jean-Juste declared that "my rosary is my only weapon", and the prosecution could produce no evidence to contradict him. The prosecutor even conceded that there was no evidence in the file against Jean-Juste, and asked that the charges be dismissed.

The appeals court judges declined to dismiss the case, on the grounds that they needed more time to consider it.

In June 2008, in an interview with HaitiAnalysis, Father Jean-Juste confirmed that all charges had been dropped against him.

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