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Outcry to find missing Haitian activist hits Hub

Talia Whyte

Boston-area activists have joined the growing international contingent voicing concern about the welfare of missing Haitian human rights activist Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine.

“The fact that the Haitian government and the U.S. government are not doing anything about this is just not right,” said Josué Renaud, director of the New England Human Rights Organization for Haiti. “After two months, no one is taking this seriously.”

An outspoken advocate for Haiti’s poor majority, Pierre-Antoine was last seen leaving his Port-au-Prince home just before midnight Aug. 12. Before vanishing, he had been leading a joint U.S.-Canadian human rights delegation in Haiti, according to the People’s Weekly World newspaper. Some leading the effort to locate Pierre-Antoine believe that because of his outspoken nature, there are certain opponents who want to keep him quiet.

“He could have been taken by people who are opposed to him politically, possibly someone he knows,” said Pierre-Antoine’s wife, Michele, during a telephone interview. “He is very popular with the poorest people in Haiti, and there are a lot of people who don’t like that, even the elite there.”

Michele Pierre-Antoine said she has gotten no help from the Haitian government, and that she continues to call the Haitian police weekly about searching for her husband, but they don’t seem eager to help. She said the U.S. Embassy in Haiti told her that they didn’t have time to look for him.

Over the last two months, activists and politicians in Boston have worked to raise local awareness of Pierre-Antoine’s disappearance, calling for the world’s governments to take action.

Several local human rights groups hosted an Oct. 19 press conference in front of the John F. Kennedy Federal Building in Government Center, demanding that the U.S. Embassy in Haiti initiate a full-scale search for Pierre-Antoine. They also plan to hold a vigil there every other Friday until Pierre-Antoine is found. According to the press conference’s organizers, U.S. Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry have placed multiple telephone calls and e-mails to the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Haiti over the past two months to no avail.

There is also a letter being signed by a growing list of local officials, including City Councilors Chuck Turner, Sam Yoon and Felix Arroyo, that will be sent soon to the U.S., Canadian and Brazilian governments demanding a full search for Pierre-Antoine.

“We all need to recognize the human rights situation,” said Turner, who has been involved in political activism locally on behalf of Haitians for years. “It is important that Americans stand up to injustices, no matter where they are happening.”

To many, Pierre-Antoine is seen as a voice for the voiceless. He founded the September 30 Foundation, or Fondayson Trant Septanm, an organization that advocates on behalf of family members of victims of the military coup d’état against former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide that took place Sept. 30, 1991. The foundation’s work is similar to the internationally renowned Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, an association of mothers whose children “disappeared“ under the military dictatorship in Argentina between 1976 and 1983. Like the Mothers, the September 30 Foundation have for over a decade held weekly vigils demanding justice for victims of human rights violations and the release of political prisoners.

A trained psychologist, Pierre-Antoine also runs several programs in Port-au-Prince that provide medical and psychological aid for teen mothers and homeless youth.

Lynn Currier — director of the Haitkaah Social Justice Center in Randolph, an organization that works with at-risk youth in both Boston and Haiti — is a close friend of Pierre-Antoine and his family, and has gone on a hunger strike until the U.S. Embassy starts a search for Pierre-Antoine. Before his disappearance, the two were working to build a supportive community in Haiti for orphans.

“Most people don’t care about these kids in Haiti, but he does,” Currier said. “He doesn’t just work in an office; he was out there in the streets working with the youth.”

Pierre-Antoine and his family went into exile in Maryland in 2004 and became permanent U.S. residents. He has been invited to many events in Boston to raise awareness about human rights violations in Haiti, including a press conference and meeting hosted by the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network and Haitkaah Social Justice Center with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., at Roxbury Community College during the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Following last year’s election of new Haitian President René Préval, Pierre-Antoine began traveling back and forth to Haiti to continue his advocacy.

Political kidnappings are commonplace in Haiti. But Pierre-Antoine’s disappearance is especially suspicious because he has been missing for more than two months, and kidnapping victims are usually kept captive for a very short time.

Currier is optimistic that he is still alive .

“We are part of a much bigger movement,” she said. “People around the world want to seek justice for Lovinsky.”