#315 – Dick Bernard: Haiti. Duvalier. The Punishment and Justice Narrative…and the Reconciliation Possibility

I woke early in the morning of Martin Luther King Day, January 17, 2011. The purpose was to publish #314, which is here.
In front of me was a note from my spouse from a couple hours earlier. It deserves to be presented as I saw it:

On screen were a couple of e-mails about Duvalier’s return.
I added a few comments to the end of #314, and clicked publish. They remain “my first draft of history”, as I see it.
Off to morning coffee a little later, I noted that the January 17 Minneapolis Star Tribune, hardly a Haiti focused newspaper, gave the story front page status, and 27 column inches. In the news biz, that’s a major story.
Now the debate is raging, particularly within the community that has an interest in Haiti policy: Whose fault is this? What does it mean? What should be done? And on and on and on.
I keep thinking of Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste. Three are living, half are dead. Two of them were assassinated, most all of them were imprisoned or exiled. All were labeled by opposing persons and groups as, in one sense or another, enemies of the state, corrupt, even evil. It’s called political positioning….
And each had followers: people who believed in them; thought they were doing some good.
So did the Duvalier’s.
What would they all be saying? What will those still living have to say in coming hours and days?
I’m hardly an acknowledged ‘expert’ on Haiti, but I think I know a lot more than most, and I’ve made an effort to stay well informed over the years. The very short ‘course’: the Duvalier’s were cast as crooks and evil; Aristide has been cast as basically the same; Haiti has scarcely benefitted from hundreds of years of meddling from outside, in the most recent several hundred years primarily by France and the United States of America, neither of which had much time for a state of freed slaves.
Of the people I met in my first trip to Haiti, December, 2003, two have been murdered – one within two days of my meeting him; a couple were tossed in prison not long after on what were quite certainly trumped up charges; within three months most of the rest were in hiding or out of the country after the 2/29/2004 coup.
Quite inadvertently I got a University level introduction to what most never read in books or even hear in conversations.
Adding to the mix is the not always helpful role of what has been described as 10-16,000 independent NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) trying to do something in Haiti, from the micro to the macro – all this in a country one-eighth the size of my own state of Minnesota. Indeed I heard a U.S. embassy official recently describe Haiti as a Republic of NGO’s. This is not helpful to anyone, including the NGO’s, and most especially not helpful to the long-term for the Haitians themselves. We’ve all heard the term, “too many cooks in the kitchen”. Haiti has tens of thousands….

The purpose of this piece is to plea for some perspective, and for some consideration of positive possibilities in the wake of this news development.
Shortly, apparently today, in a few hours, Baby Doc will say something in Port-au-Prince and we’ll get his ‘spin’ on his return to his native land.
Personally, I keep thinking that this is a unique moment: a unique opportunity to begin a reconciliation process in a time of huge and continuing crisis. I remember Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste, supporter of President Aristide, in his beloved St. Clare’s parish in Port-au-Prince, preaching on Dec. 7, 2003 – less than 24 hours after I’d landed in his country. There were six white Americans in his pews that day, and I was one of them. Most of his sermon was in Kreyol, but part of it was in English, very powerfully directed specifically to us, and part of that message emphasized the paths which could be chosen: to be “killers” or “healers”….
Given the cacophony already, I’m not terribly hopeful about “healing” being in the Haiti conversation today….
But Martin Luther King, and Mandela and Gandhi and Jean-Juste could dream.
Why not?

#314 – Dick Bernard: Meeting Martin Luther King Jr in Minneapolis, yesterday

I met Martin Luther King yesterday, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
I sat near him in the Choir Stall at Basilica of St. Mary yesterday afternoon.
He appeared there in the body of two women sitting next to each other. Mary Johnson and Janice Andersen.
Janice is the tireless and remarkable Christian Life Director at the Basilica of St. Mary. Where there is a call for justice and peace, there you will find Janice Andersen. Without Janice, I would not have met Mary Johnson.
Mary Johnson was at Basilica because of Janice Andersen. Mary is a Mom from the north side of Minneapolis whose son was killed 18 years ago by a man, now named Oshea Israel, who went to prison for his crime. On his release from prison, Mrs. Johnson not only reconciled with him, but adopted him, and formed From Death to Life, “an organization dedicated to ending violence through the facilitation of healing and reconciliation between the families of victims and perpetrators.
Mary spoke briefly, very quietly and very powerfully, at Basilica’s Vespers for Peace yesterday.
Read Mary’s story here (simply click on “from death to life” under the photo of the man and the smiling woman, Mary Johnson, who is hugging him, and read more of the whole story.)
Then donate a few dollars or more to her work (see the website), and even more important, let others know who might help, or might draw inspiration from her witness to forgiveness and reconciliation.
Earlier in the day, at the same church – my church – I met Martin in the form of Fr. Greg Miller, one of our regular visiting Priests from the St. John’s University community at Collegeville MN. Fr. Miller is in charge of the Guest House at St. John’s, and yesterday in his homily gave quiet and very powerful witness to Martin Luther King, what he said, and what his work might mean to our lives.
I met Martin in the form of my friend, John Martin, who was also there at Basilica yesterday afternoon. John shows up in life to make a difference. It was John who sent around the reminder notice that gave me the final nudge to take an afternoon trip back into Minneapolis when it would have been easier to just stay home and relax. Martin could as well be Brian Mogren, the man moved and inspired to build the website that helps bring Mary Johnson’s story and her work to the world.
I could continue this list, and make it much longer. Indeed, Martin Luther King is around me all day, every day, everywhere I am willing to look. Martin is all of us, if we stretch a little to be a bit like him.
He’s there in the person of anyone who dares to stretch a tiny bit amongst him or herself and quietly make a difference in his or her own environment. The key is that “stretch a little bit” beyond one’s own self-imposed limits to take even a little risk to make even a little difference.
Today is Martin Luther King Day.
Become Martin, a little bit more, every day. Our world will be a better place because of you.
Yesterday I noticed Mary tear up at the singing of “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen“. Here’s Louis Armstrong’s version from YouTube for today.
Earlier, at Mass, the phenomenal Yolanda Bruce, backed by the Basilica Choir, sang a powerful version of another spiritual, Wade in the Water. Here, also, is a YouTube version of that song, sung by young people.
Added comment on the overnight BREAKING NEWS that Baby Doc Duvalier has apparently returned to Haiti:
I envisioned and wrote in my head the above reflections before I saw the headlines about the news in Haiti.
I wrote and published the post before I read any of the first reports.
What would Martin Luther King say about this news about Baby Doc coming back to Haiti? How about his teacher, Gandhi? What would he say?
For that matter, how about Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu? Or former Haiti President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, exiled in their country of South Africa? Or Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste, President Aristide’s supporter, whose passion I heard in person in 2003 in Port-au-Prince and again in 2006 in Miami’s Little Haiti? Gerard Jean-Juste, who spent much time in Prison in Port-au-Prince, and who died three years ago after a long struggle with leukemia.
Really, what would they say? What will those of them still living have to say in coming days?
I would guess that there is much, much more behind the ‘cover’ of this ‘book’, whose cover we are just now seeing. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the action was intended to happen on this day we remember Martin Luther King.
Hold, on rushing to judgment.
I have published posts generally related to this theme in the last several days: see Jan. 12, 13, 14