EXPORTING 'SOCIAL JUSTICE' 75 going to Haiti to combat abuses


Cry for Justice has built-in appeal: travel, adventure, a romantic idealism, a noble cause.

But it has a deadly serious destination: the rural areas of strife-torn Haiti.

Even as Haitians are building boats to escape, about 75 Americans plan to travel there next month in an attempt to halt human rights abuses.

The effort is sponsored by nine religious and human rights organizations -- including Pax Christi USA, a Roman Catholic-based peace group, and the Washington Office on Haiti -- and includes volunteers from 22 states, Canada, England and the Netherlands.

Laura Flynn, a coordinator of the peace mission, said the volunteers will receive two days of training before leaving for places on the island where abuses have been the most severe.

The workers, who are going in five groups through late November, hope their presence will deter abuses, Ms. Flynn said. They will report and protest abuses. Each group is to stay two to 10 weeks.

The military government of Haiti has vowed to stop the United Nations effort to restore democracy and reinstall President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was ousted in a violent coup two years ago.

Nick Carroll of Gambrills, one of a dozen Marylanders joining the trip, said that fighting for social justice has been his life's mission.

The 70-year-old was a Roman Catholic priest for 15 years. He then married a nun and worked for 20 years in civil rights enforcement with the U.S. Department of Education. His wife died last year, and he retired over the summer.

Mr. Carroll is leaving the comforts of home to tramp about impoverished villages, to accompany Haitians to demonstrations and to simply "be around when police or military are present," he said.

"We believe our presence as Americans could inhibit the worst kinds of offensive behavior -- the disappearances, executions and arrests," he said.

Mr. Carroll and the others are paying $1,200 to spend time in a country most people would rather avoid right now.

Coordinators of Cry for Justice acknowledge the danger but play down the risk.

"It's probably more stress and fear than actual danger," said Ms. Flynn, adding that the organization makes sure volunteers "are emotionally and psychologically ready to face the possibility they could get hurt."

Mr. Carroll is not greatly worried.

"The assurance I feel about not being assaulted is that I don't think there's any case in recent history of an American being the target of the police and military [in Haiti] and being seriously injured. There's a great inhibition about doing anything to incur the wrath of the United States," he said.

Volunteer Jacki Coyle, a pastoral associate at Holy Trinity Church in Glen Burnie, said she is out and out scared.

"I have a real fear about it, but I am girded to go," she said. "It's a major risk. It's not something everyone is called to do. But I feel it's a call from God."

The peace mission, which includes volunteers from 22 states, Canada, England and the Netherlands, has no official enforcement power in Haiti and will not intervene in any violent way. No one associated with the group will carry weapons, said Irene Lucas, a spokeswoman for Pax Christi.

The volunteers are certain that their cause is just.

"The economic and social injustices in Haiti have haunted me since I visited the country many years ago," Mr. Carroll said.

"I think the fact that I was ordained as a priest and Aristide is a priest who has the same kind of social justice thoughts I've had -- he's a figure dreaming impossible dreams. I've always wanted to do something to help an impossible dream be implemented."

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