With U.S. warships offshore enforcing the international embargo, a tiny team of Christian peacemakers labors against political repression in Haiti through prayer, fasting, and nonviolent protest.

This summer, the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), sponsored by the Mennonite Church, General Conference Mennonite Church, and the Church of the Brethren, held a week-long protest fast and prayer vigil in the plaza of Jeremie, 180 miles from Port-au-Prince.

Four CPT members walked to the plaza across from the cathedral as early morning mass ended, carrying a large cross and a sign written in Creole reading, "We are fasting for peace, for the defense of life and against violence."

In a statement distributed to government authorities, religious communities, and passersby, CPT members said, "Like you, we have watched with dismay the growing hunger in Haiti. We long for an end to the suffering. We look to our Christian tradition of fasting and prayer to help us identify with suffering of our Haitian friends. We remember especially Jesus' love for children."

An hour-and-a-half later, members of the Haitian military ordered the group to leave the plaza and appear at military headquarters. CPT members used the walk through town to military headquarters as an opportunity to let others see their protest as they silently displayed the cross and sign.

The chief of police and other military and paramilitary commanders interrogated them at military headquarters. The questioners were concerned that the words peace and violence on the sign were political and that, under the Haitian constitution, foreigners are not allowed to participate in Haitian politics.

As team members engaged the authorities in a discussion about violence, they were told emphatically that there had been no violence in Jeremie. CPT members described seeing people beaten in Saint Helens, the poor neighborhood where they live. The military insisted that such affairs did not concern them and threatened to deport CPT members if they held another public prayer vigil.

After complying with orders to dispose of their sign, the team was released. The four (Kathleen Kelly of Chicago; Janet Shoemaker of Goshen, Ind.; Lena Siegers of Hamilton, Ont., Canada; and Kathy Kern of Webster, N.Y.), however, went back to the square and continued their silent vigil throughout the week.

Cole Arendt, a CPT member who lived in Haiti last year and is now based in Washington, D.C., explains it is more difficult to call nationals to participate in protests because they are at greater risk of reprisal than foreigners. Haitians live both in fear of the military and with anxiety of the invasion. Because people cannot even afford batteries for radios, they gather nightly in clusters of 20 to hear deposed president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's speeches as helicopters buzz overhead.

The recovery process will be a long one, predicts Kelly, who has suffered with malaria along with many of her neighbors. "Exhausted by violence, hunger, sickness, and despair, a generation of young Haitians faces a stark demand for continued struggle and fortitude," she says. "The proud, sad Haitians deserve to enjoy long-overdue basic human rights."

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