Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Abandoned American Aid Worker Hits Five-Month Mark in Haitian Prison

Two weeks ago, we reported on Danny Pye, a Christian aid worker who has been wrongly imprisoned in Jacmel, Haiti since October, 2010. Numerous Haitian officials, including at the Ministry of Justice, have acknowledged that Pye should be released. The U.S. Embassy, aware of Pye's situation since the beginning, has done no more than write a strongly worded memo. Finally, last weekend, the Associated Press did a story on Pye.

The story (quite similar to our nearly 14-day old report) shed very little new light on the situation. The only new information shared was to note that the judge in the case "has been seriously ill and is unavailable." As a matter of the fact, the judge, hardly "unavailable," has perhaps gone mad, claiming to have been struck down "par une main invisible."

It was already not surprising that article 44 of Haiti's Constitution ("Persons detained temporarily awaiting trial must be held separately from those who are serving sentence") is not observed in Jacmel. And now, with the embassy giving an all-we-can-do shrug, Pye reports that human rights abuses are occurring in the prison.

Last Thursday, two days before the AP story was filed, Pye said that rumors about some prisoners planning a break-out circulated in the prison. The guards caught wind of the plan and, to make an example, lined the entire prison up in the yard and forced them to watch as the conspirators were beaten viciously. Pye said that at least one died.

Subsequently, all prisoners, including Pye, were denied food or water for 24 hours to send a message. Pye has also been Tased.

Meanwhile, one lawyer having other business with the judge in the case, Maxon Samedi, said that Samedi has gone mad, become ill and has fled to be healed by a "hougan," a priest.

An American aid worker in Jacmel said that she doesn't buy that Samedi is sick. She said that she and Haitians in Jacmel believe "he is hiding from the accusations against his poor performance."

Judge Samedi has been reportedly given a month to recover from his injures sustained from the "par une main invisible." Currently, he is the only one who can sign the papers and, despite all the supposed great concern from ostensibly powerful authorities, including a U.S. government consul that practically runs the rest of the nation, Samedi will not be compelled to do so. Instead, he will be resting for a month.

This means the least—the least—of Danny Pye's worries is that he will miss the birth of his son.

Senator Marco Rubio's office acknowledged that it is aware of the situation. Several calls to the office of Vern Buchanan, Pye's Representative in Florida, were not returned. Senator Bill Nelson responded to my press inquiry with a form letter that everyone else asking about Danny Pye received: "I have been informed that the U.S. government is committed to providing Danny with all the appropriate assistance and is engaged with the Haitian government at the highest level to ensure that his case is resolved in a responsible way. "

The U.S. Embassy has told Danny's wife Leann that the ambassador wrote a letter. An American in Haiti who saw the ambassador's letter to the minister of justice told us that, in essence, it said that the Embassy was aware of Pye's case and that it requested it be expedited. "I felt the letter was strong, though I would like to have seen it be stronger yet," he said.

The embassy told Leann that the letter is all it can do and from here on out it will monitor the situation to ensure Pye's human rights aren't violated.

But if having food and water withheld for days at a time and being Tased are not human rights violations, what are?

Above: Video of Pye last week in prison, shot by a visitor.Additional videos here.

The continued disinterest from America's major media sources is amazing. A nine-month pregnant Christian woman with a wrongly accused pastor husband who will probably miss his son's birth while enduring abuse in a Haitian prison offers no interest to Nancy Grace? After American college student Austin Bice went missing in Spain, his story littered the news. His parents were all over "Today" after he was missing for just a week. On Sunday, Pye will have been in prison for five months.

In a truly shocking turn, not even HuffPo has mentioned the case. Do you have any idea what an accomplishment it is that something like this has not found its way onto some page on HuffPo in two weeks? You couldn't do that with a story if you wanted to.

It's noteworthy that HuffPo has mentioned Pye, prior to his imprisonment. Back in February of 2010, a writer there mentioned how Pye sacrificed his own organization's supplies to equip doctors helping with the post-earthquake aid effort.

Abe Sauer can be reached at abe sauer at gmail dot com.

12 Comments / Post A Comment

Aatom (#74)

Great work, Abe. This is insanity.

cdjthompson (#9,492)

Thanks for continuing to update news on Danny's situation. It seems like the basic response has been to try and get all of us off their back as opposed to really putting any pressure on the situation.

jackannapolis (#8,813)

Abe, seriously. What exactly do you expect the State Department to do? Bust him out of jail?

Abe Sauer (#148)

I expect them to do more.

jackannapolis (#8,813)

Yeah, Abe, but what? More? What exactly does that entail? Does that entail threatening the police, the judicial system? The prosecutors? Should this be raised to a national level? What happens when you do that? Does the extra pressure make the Haitians cave in, or does it make them want to take a one month vacation to ward off invisible demons?

Shouldn't the United States respect the rule of law and due process? If due process is violated, should the United States use extra-judicial means to solve its problems? This guy knew the risks when he got there. There were ample warnings from the USG and other international bodies that warned him of the dangers of Haiti.

So, waving your hands around and saying that the United States needs to do 'more' may make you feel better, but it doesn't solve the problem. The truth is, there may not be a real elegant solution to this problem, but you don't want to see that. And I say this with 100% of respect for what you do and the issues that you raise. But sometimes raising issues doesn't mean that once raised, there is a magic wand that makes those complicated issues go away.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Considering the US Embassy said it was doing all it could a month ago, and only after publicity of the case and increased pressure came from the outside, with more and more people asking questions, did they "do more." I would call into question their claim (that you seem to be fully willing to accept) that they've done all they can do now. If they already said that, and it turned out to not be true, why would it be true now?

You got me, I'm clearly asking for a magic wand.

What rubs you (and others I've run into in this debate) the wrong way about somebody writing about the plight of a single person who's been shit on? Because I genuinely want to know how more attention to this situation, and classifying all powers involved as pathetic, is offensive?

"Shouldn't the United States respect the rule of law and due process?" Ha ha ha. I would love to see you ask that question to a group of Haitians. The answer would be "Why would they start now?"

jackannapolis (#8,813)

I'm sorry, and I don't have a magical view to the bowels of the US Embassy, but I'd have to say that they don't care to tell you all that they might or might not be doing to resolve this situation.

I don't particularly find it offensive that you are writing about the plight of any single person or issue. My contention is that you are asking someone to "fix it" as if they had a tool that sprung people out of jail just by pressing a button.

"Why would they start now?"

If your contention is that they are doing wrong by not respecting the rule of law, then why criticize them for trying to respect it now? Is it because in this particular case you think they should, and in others they should not? And who gets to, or got to (in your speculative past) decide which?

A stack of benjamins would do more to get this guy out of jail than all the pressure in the world. But you don't want to propose that. You want some other kind of pressure, something that keeps everything clean. The truth is you should quietly raise enough money to bribe the judge and the prosecutor and the warden and let the gentleman walk out of jail in a matter of days. But that can't be public and there can't be attention drawn to it, because even the most corrupt official doesn't want to be perceived as such by the public.

Abe Sauer (#148)

I'm not criticizing them for following the rule of law, that's your characterization. The fundamental difference here is that you believe them when they say they've done all they can and I don't since they've said it before and it was untrue.

"The truth is you should quietly raise enough money to bribe the judge and the prosecutor and the warden and let the gentleman walk out of jail in a matter of days."

Do you have any idea how Haiti really works?

The U.S. government has given Haiti more than $4 billion in aid since the 1990s, and has pledged over a $1 billion more since the earthquake. Do you honestly think our government doesn't have enough clout in Haiti that it couldn't have forced some action on this case by now, if it really wanted to? Are you that naive?

jackannapolis (#8,813)

Are that naive to think that 4 billion dollars given over two decades that benefited a small percentage of Haitians would actually sway some provincial judge who probably hasn't seen a dime of it? This was a question of property rights that turned into a question of theft. Regardless of how we feel about the situation, it is possible that the judge believes that Pye broke the law. Yes, it's a bad situation, yes, it's a terrible consequence, but both parties in the case went to a Haitian judge to settle a property dispute.

Abe Sauer (#148)

No, that is incorrect.

This was a question of property rights that turned into a question of incorrect residence papers (which were only seen as incorrect because the judge in question did not actually himself know the law, a fact that has been admitted by all involved including the Haitian ministry of justice.) The judge released Pye on Christmas Eve over the property rights case.

No, I'm not talking influencing the local judge who jailed this guy in the first place. I'm talking about influence at higher levels … like the Haitian Ministry of Justice, which the State department claims it's been "holding productive meetings" with about this case all along, but amazingly (after all this time) has zero results to show for it so far.

All Abe is trying to do here keep attention focused on this story – because public attention is what usually prompts action in cases like this. What's wrong with that? Why are you taking the position that it's wrong for Abe to be encouraging some public pressure on folks in our government to try to do more to help?

And I'm sure they could always do more …it's always a question of pressure and priorities, with all the shit the State Dept has to deal with in foreign affairs. More attention = more pressure = this becomes a higher priority = something gets done faster. That's typically how it works in cases like this.

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