OUR CARIBBEAN: Passing of a great Haitian ‘rights’ fighter
A week ago today, Dr Jean Claude Bajeaux, one of the better known Haitian human rights advocates with a big heart and passionate commitment to social justice and respect for human dignity, passed away after a tough battle against lung cancer. He was 80.
Also well known as a Haitian intellectual, Bajeaux was recipient of the French government’s Human Rights Prize in 2002. He was much admired for his long years of open and unwavering opposition to dictatorial rule from President Francois Duvalier (Papa Doc) to the presidency of his son Jean Claude (Baby Doc).
Bajeaux, who founded and led the Ecumenical Council for Human Rights that became an affiliate of the now defunct Barbadian-based Caribbean Human Rights Network (“Caribbean Rights”), had spent many years bonding with human rights organizations in the Caribbean/Latin American region, as well as internationally, to expose the political atrocities and human degradation resulting from the politics of “Duvalierism”.
Jean Claude, as he was popularly known – whether struggling in neighbouring Dominican Republic against slave labour on sugar plantations or while working as Professor of Comparative and Caribbean Literature for some 25 years – was to suffer the loss in 1964 of five members of his family – mother, two brothers and two sisters.
They became victims of the political barbarism associated with the Duvaliers much feared political thugs, the Ton Ton Macoutes. Kidnapped and taken to the notorious Fort Dimanche prison, they were to forever “disappear” – the euphemism often used for political murders under dictatorships in Latin America.
It was a horrendous blow for the Bajeaux family. It was the same year that Jean Claude, founded the Centre Of Friendship Between Peoples In Santo Doimingo with a heavy focus on Haitian sugar workers living in exile in the Dominican Republic. Three years later, in 1967, he was appointed Professor of Comparative and Caribbean Literature at the University of Puerto Rico until 1992.
He was the author of the only anthology of Haitian literature written in French and Creole up to 1999 (Mosochwaz Antilia Edition). Eight years earlier he had published the first bilingual edition (French and Creole) of the constitution of the Republic of Haiti.
It was my good fortune to have known him in collaborative efforts with Caribbean Rights of which my daughter, Wendy, was then Regional Coordinator. Jean Claude’s funeral took place this past Wednesday.
I doubt that either Jean Claude Duvalier or Jean Bertrand Aristide attended that sad event. And, of course, current President Michel Martelly is just too preoccupied with getting parliament’s endorsement of his choice of prime minister to pay respect to a fallen hero of Haiti’s continuing struggles for democracy, fundamental rights and human dignity.
Jean Claude was hailed earlier this week by Rev. Charles Harper, former long-serving director of the World Council of Church’s Human Rights Office for Latin America, for his consistency in defence of fundamental rights.