- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 21, 2005

Haitian bureaucracy

Remember Haiti? The country has almost disappeared from the news since former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide resigned under pressure and went into exile on Feb. 29 last year.

Freelance correspondent Reed Lindsay has been working to address that in recent weeks, filing to us a series of generally depressing articles about the state of affairs in the tragic Caribbean land.

Despite the presence of an international peacekeeping force and close international scrutiny of the interim government led by Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, the grinding poverty and long-standing habit of extrajudicial killings continue unabated.

One of the great mysteries there is the condition of former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, who for more than four weeks has been on a hunger strike to protest his 10 months of detention without charges.

A brief wire agency report at the beginning of the month said he was in dire condition and being removed to the neighboring Dominican Republic for medical care. An even shorter item the next day said he had refused to go.

Whether any of this was accurate we don’t know. His family now says he is in grave medical shape while the government says he is fine. So when Mr. Lindsay told us he had received permission to interview Mr. Neptune in his jail cell this week, we thought we would finally get to the bottom of the matter. We’re still waiting.

“The prison director … gave me the thumbs up,” Mr. Lindsay explained in e-mail. “But suddenly he changed his mind on Tuesday morning as I was driving to the prison.

“He said I needed authorization from the minister of justice, Bernard Gousse, and the local prosecutor in St. Marc,” the site of a massacre in which Mr. Neptune is a suspect.

The runaround

Mr. Lindsay is not certain what caused the change of mind, but suspects the prison director may have been spooked by aggressive demands to see Mr. Neptune by a reporter from another American newspaper.

In any case, Mr. Lindsay says, he called the St. Marc prosecutor, who said he had no authority to approve a visit because Mr. Neptune was imprisoned in Port-au-Prince, not St. Marc.

Next, Mr. Lindsay went to the Ministry of Justice, where a press officer told him the ministry was part of the executive branch, not the judicial, and thus had no authority to approve an interview. Only the chief prosecutor could do that, the press officer said.

“I went to [the chief prosecutor’s] office and waited for three hours,” Mr. Lindsay reports. “This is the only way to find him as he never answers his cell phone, and nobody in his office ever knows where he is or when he’ll be there.

“After two hours, I went upstairs and found an assistant prosecutor who told me at first she couldn’t give me the authorization because … Neptune was a ‘political prisoner.’ Then she changed her mind, and told her secretary to type it up.”

The assistant prosecutor was about to sign the form when she realized the secretary had typed the wrong name and asked her to type it again.

“Then somebody whispered something in her ear, and she changed her mind again, told the secretary to stop, and said I would have to ask the chief prosecutor for permission,” Mr. Lindsay says.

The chief prosecutor did show up a while later, but walked into his office, ignoring our reporter, and shut the door.

“I finally pushed my way into his office and he told me he had no authority to grant me permission to see Neptune because he was in a special prison, only Minister Gousse or the police director could give me permission.”

A return visit to the press office at the Justice Ministry produced “nothing but laughs and sarcastic comments,” Mr. Lindsay says. He left his phone number, as he has done dozens of times over the past few months.

He’s still waiting for a call.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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