It has been 6 days since Paul Waggoner from Massachusetts was imprisoned in a Haitian penitentiary pending a magistrate's investigation of charges that he was involved in turning a dead baby into a zombie (!!!) and kidnapping him last February.
This, despite the fact that at last week's hearing the death certificate of the child was produced, and there is the sworn testimony of an American physician who examined the baby and affirmed that he was dead.
The judge presiding over the hearing deemed there was sufficient basis for continuing the investigation of these charges, and for remanding Mr. Waggoner into custody.
What can one learn from this?
If Waggoner had been released after 24 hours with an apology and full exoneration, it would be possible to explain this as an unfortunate blunder by overeager policemen and a superstitious judge who got carried away with themselves. However, 6 days have passed, and he is still very much in jail on charges which stretch the imagination, to put it mildly.
US Senators and Representatives, the Department of State and the US embassy in Haiti are all working to secure his release. The story has been all over the print and electronic media. It is well known both within the US and Haiti.
This afternoon I called the Haitian embassy in Washington and spoke with a staff worker who was extremely rude and refused to identify herself or to transfer my call when I explained why I was calling. Someone else related to me a similar experience she had had the day before.
No, this isn't just an unfortunate blunder. Someone in Haiti wants the foreign aid workers out, and is using Mr. Waggoner to scare them away.
Why is this, given how dependent Haiti is on foreign (medical and general) aid and assistance, the most glaring recent example of which is the cholera that has taken over 2,500 lives in less than 2 months?
I don't know. Perhaps it is being done to divert attention from the corruption of the November elections, which triggered an outpouring of violence after it was exposed, or to keep people from focusing on the January 16th run-off vote, which will likely be very similar in terms of corruption and of violence triggered. Or perhaps it is an attempt by someone on the cusp of leaving power wanting to change the situation on the ground so that people long for "the good old days" when there was more foreign aid.
Whatever the reason, the most important thing to remember is that, protestations about "due process" aside, all it would take would be for prime minister, or the minister of the interior, or police, or justice, or the president, or the chief of police, or anyone else in a position of power in that country to give the order to release him and to drop all charges, and it would happen. That this has not yet happened speaks volumes.
Official Haiti knows very well that Waggoner is in prison and how preposterous the charges are. And yet, there he remains.
Waggoner's imprisonment is already having an effect and more and more aid workers are now revisiting whether or not to go to Haiti. While medical workers accept exposure to infectious disease as going with the territory, and earthquakes can happen anywhere, being persecuted by the judicial system of the very country one is traveling to changes the equation dramatically.
Please add your voice to the demand that Waggoner be released immediately. Sign the petition below. If you have any contacts in the Haitian government, make your voice heard. And let us all work to secure his speedy release.