By María Suárez Toro, ESCRIBANA
Today August 5, 2011, Jean Claude Bajeux died at his home in Peguy Ville, Port au Prince. He was a universal Haitian. Some people’s lives exemplify the lives of all people in their country. He was one of those. He wanted for Haiti all that had been denied by global and local powers throughout his life: the right to a dignified life.
This legendary figure died today in keeping with this lifelong struggle until his last breath at 2 pm. Just months ago, in full health but in much pain, he told me that he could not reconcile the fact of having to breathe the same air as the former dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier, who had returned to Haiti last year. Ironically, a fast-growing cancer located in Bajeux’s windpipe is what eventually ended his life.
His wife Silvie and her son, Jack along with many friends buried him this weekend in Port au Prince, the capital city of Haiti. Bajeux left no other family, because the rest were murdered by the Dictator Duvalier, leaving only him alive.
Bajeux was a Liberation Theologian at that time, writing significant sermons that revealed the true character of the dictatorship. He also worked with Ivan Illich and other theologians in Cuernavaca, Mexico at the Intercultural Documentation Center (CIDCO).
Bajeux has left an invaluable legacy that includes contributions in almost all areas of knowledge and activism in Haiti. These contributions include having created the Ecumenical Center for Human Rights (ECHR) in 1979, which he directed until his death.
In 1964, Bajeux founded in the Dominican Republic, the organization “Friendship Between People,” which brought together volunteers from both that country and Haiti to support the struggles of laborers – Haitian sugar cane workers who work in the Dominican Republic.
Later Bajeux moved to Puerto Rico, where he taught literature at the University of Puerto Rico. In 1980, Bajeux began a legal fight for the rights of “boat people” who fled the dictatorship in Haiti to seek refuge in Puerto Rico. He also founded and directed the Inter-regional Council on Haitian Refugees (CIRH) who took a legal case to Geneva on behalf of the boat people.
As leader of the ECHR, he organized Caribbean Rights, a regional organization based in Barbados, which brought together seven agencies in the Caribbean. Bajeux was the executive secretary from 1989 to 1991.
In 1964, Bajeux was forced into exile by the Duvalier dictatorship (1971 – 1986) along with hundreds of other activists fighting the dictatorship, with a brutal regime that caused, among other things, a massive exodus of population, a crippling economic decline, serious violations of all human rights and the systematic looting of public coffers.
Bajeux‘s exile lasted 23 years until his return to Haiti in 1986. He was the first to return from exile. While still in effect, the dictatorship had rules requiring that any citizen in exile who wanted to return, should apply for a type of visa. But when Bajeux arrived at the Haitian border from the Dominican Republic, he had placed a sticker of the flag of the Republic of Haiti in his passport and told authorities that as a Haitian citizen he could not be barred from his homeland. And he was not. No one dared to deny that right to the renowned “Mr. Bajeux.”
The return to the rule of law was Bajeux’s motto with his return to Haiti, particularly through the adoption and the vote on the new Constitution on March 28,1987. Bajeux edited and published the first bilingual (French and Creole) version of the Haitian Constitution.
Bajeux was one of the founding leaders on (date) of the coalition, the National Congress of Democratic Movements (KONAKOM or CONACOM) with Victor Benoit in the mid nineties, forming the coalition of 57 organizations that latter became a political party. Jean Claude was the Secretary General for 10 years, also being a representative member of Socialist International and the Coalition of Political Parties of Latin America (COPPAL). In 1987, a six-day strike paralyzed the country in protest against the interim government led by the military.
He had to leave Haiti again in 1993 when his house was attacked by a paramilitary organization, but then returned in 1994, vowing never again to leave his country.
Bajeux was Minister of Culture in the government of Prime Minister Smarck Michel between 1994 – 1995, when he resigned along with many Democrats who realized very early in the Aristide administration, about the betrayal of expectations and needs of the Haitian people under Aristide.
Bajeux was a specialist in Haitian literature, having written and published the only anthology of all Haitian literature written in Creole through 1999. “Anthologie de la Litterature Haitienne Creole,” is comprised of two volumes that provide an important contribution for present and future generations to learn about their roots, their identity and culture.
From his Bajeux’s book, I learned something of which the world is almost totally ignorant. What is commonly recognized as the first universal declaration of human rights, is assumed to have been first proclaimed in the French Parliament of the Revolution in 1789. But it was actually originally read in Haiti in Creole. It is known as the “Declaration of Sonthonax,” because that is the name of the General who read ifor the first time in Haiti, but then this same exact document was re-read a few days later in France!
I knew Bajeux personally a few weeks after the earthquake in his home country of Haiti, although I had already known about him because he was a legend in Puerto Rico as well among his students at the university in Rio Piedras and the social and political independence movements who greatly respected and loved him.
When the earthquake hit in January, 2010, Bajeux and Silvie opened wide the doors of their house to all staff of the ECHR and also neighbors who lost their homes in the vicinity. A small camp was formed on the ECHR grounds, in which girls and boys, old and young have lived ever since the disaster. We were also received as a Puerto Rican delegation of Mano a Msno con las Mujeres de Haiti, Feminist International Radio, the Feminist Solidarity Camp and most recently, the Women’s News Service SEMLAC (Women’s Special Service in Latin America and the Caribbean).
Bajeux’s wisdom and love guided us through the difficult path of learning how to be supportive in Haiti, with the support by Silvie and the group at the camp.
He graduated in philosophy from the University of Bordeaux (France) and in 1977 earned a Ph.D. in Languages and Literature at Princeton University.
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