Security Harasses Haiti Activists
Tom Burke Fight Back News Service
The U.S. government is
stepping up its surveillance and harassment of U.S. activists in an attempt
to intimidate them and dampen their spirits for the change we believe in.
International solidarity activist James Jordan was returning from a two
week trip to Haiti, on Jan. 7, five days prior to the terrible earthquake
disaster. When his flight touched down in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, flight
attendants called out for "James Patrick Jordan" and asked him to
come to the front of the airplane. Homeland Security came on board the
airplane to escort him off.
Jordan said, "The agents put me up against a wall, kicked
my legs apart and frisked me. They took me to a detention area, then a back
room where two agents began going through all my papers, my cell phone and
camera, all my bags, looking for Lord knows what?" Homeland Security
was most interested in his notebooks concerning Haiti and Colombia.
The Haitian groups James met with organize against the
grinding poverty, support workers' rights and work to improve health care
for the masses. Now hundreds of thousands of Haitians are dead in the
earthquake and more will die due to poverty and lack of doctors and
medicines. The U.S. government is responsible for the dire conditions in
Haiti, holding the people down and suppressing any progressive change. In
2004, the U.S. military kidnapped President Aristide and overthrew his
government. Aristide had disbanded the Haitian army a few years earlier to
prevent a U.S.-backed military coup. President Aristide, a former Catholic
priest, was making mild reforms to help the people of Haiti, but U.S.
companies wanted privatization of the electric system and other services.
The Latin American Solidarity Coalition (LASC) in the U.S.
sponsored Jordan's delegation, and his Colombia work was the focus of the
interrogation. Jordan said, "I told them that two of us were in Haiti
representing the Alliance for Global Justice [AFGJ] and that, specifically,
I worked with the Campaign for Labor Rights, a part of AFGJ. And I
explained that AFGJ was part of LASC. They asked about Chuck Kaufman and
what kind of work he did. They wanted to know his flight information and I
told them I didn't know what it was. They asked me about the other
delegates and I told them that I didn't know their flight information and
that I didn't feel comfortable giving them names and other information
about those delegates and they ceased questioning about them."
Chuck Kaufman, also on his way home from Haiti, was detained
and questioned in New York City. Chuck said, "I told them I was in
Haiti. They asked what other countries I've visited and what I did there. I
described a trip to Hiroshima, Japan and swimming with nurse sharks in
Belize. They dropped the subject." Chuck was held for a couple of
hours and missed his connecting flight, forcing him to spend the night in
James Jordan continues, "They were very interested in the
folder I had about the terrible situation with the Colombian prisons,
political prisoners and human rights violations. I am working on a project
to advocate for better conditions at La Tramacua prison in Valledupar,
Colombia - a prison that is very overcrowded, rife with violence and
intimidation aimed at the political prisoners and imprisoned guerrillas,
where inmates do not have access to sanitary toilet facilities and have
access to drinkable water only ten minutes a day. There was also
information about the relationship of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons in
funding, advising and restructuring this and other maximum-security prisons
in Colombia. We are calling for an investigation of the U.S. Bureau of
Prisons' relationship with these prisons and what responsibility it bears
for the conditions that exist there. Everyone hears about the White House
closing Guantanamo, but the U.S. government is overseeing terrible things
in Colombian prisons."
Jordan emphasized, "There was a flier for my speaking at
the School of the Americas protest this [past] year that featured a picture
of Lily Obando. Lily Obando is a political prisoner we support and campaign
for. The agents asked about Lily Obando, if she was part of the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia [FARC] or accused of being part of
the FARC. I told them Lily is so accused, but the evidence against her is
not credible. They seemed especially interested in notes I had taken from a
Counter Punch article concerning the Valledupar prison in Colombia and the
targeting of FARC members held as prisoners of war. I tell you the U.S.
government is up to no good there."
Lily Obando is internationally known for her recent report
exposing the death squad murders of 1500 farm organizers and union members
with FENSUAGRO. Obando is one of 7000 political prisoners and prisoners of
war. Many are trade unionists, peasant organizers and community leaders;
some are FARC and ELN guerrilla fighters, held by the Colombian government,
many without trial.
There is a massive movement against the wealthy elite,
including narco-traffickers, that rule Colombia. The U.S. government funds
the notoriously corrupt Colombian military, giving it nearly $7 billion in
the last ten years. The White House announced it is occupying seven
military bases inside Colombia. This will expand the U.S. war in Colombia
and threaten neighboring countries like Venezuela and Ecuador. Pentagon
generals and the U.S. Southern Command direct the war that brings poverty,
misery and death squads to the lives of Colombian peasants and workers. The
U.S. Congress funds and covers for the most reactionary, corrupt and
unsavory elements of the Colombian elite.
James Jordan, though a seasoned activist, said,
"Certainly the process was intrusive, uncalled for and intimidating. I
was unsure of what my rights were when they took me off the plane. I did
not know if I should answer their questions or ask for a lawyer?"
Bruce Nestor, of Minneapolis, Minnesota and past President of
the National Lawyers Guild, advises, "Homeland Security asserts an
unprecedented right to search people's papers and even the entire contents
of their computers, when they cross the border back into the United States.
In addition to treading upon constitutional rights to privacy and against
unreasonable searches, much of this activity appears to be intelligence
gathering directed at political activists traveling to countries which are
actively challenging United States foreign policy. People need to know and
assert their rights, to refuse to answer unwarranted questions and refuse
consent to search of personal papers and electronics."
We have heard from a number of activists and their families
that they have been detained when returning from holiday trips abroad. The
line of questioning is similar to the case of James Jordon where they are
asked of political history regardless of the purpose of the trips the
activists were taking. U.S. agents made insinuations and demanded answers
that had nothing to do with the trips that these people were taking. It is
clear the U.S. government is stepping up its harassment and repression of
people organizing for fundamental social change.