Jean-Claude Bajeux, activist and scholar who fought Haiti's Duvalier dictatorship, died. Aged 79

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Jean-Claude Bajeux, a former culture minister, scholar and steadfast human rights activist who targeted both Haiti’s long-ruling family dictatorship and the governments that followed, died Friday, a relative said. He was 79.

jean-claude bajeux
Jean-Claude Bajeux in an undated file photo.

Bajeux died of lung cancer at his home in the hills above Port-au-Prince, said Lorraine Mangones, a cousin to his Bajeux’s wife, Sylvie.

Born in Port-au-Prince and educated at Princeton University, Bajeux remained an advocate for human and Haitian rights regardless of the government in power for almost his entire life. Targets included the 29-year regime of father-and-son Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier, a succession of military rulers and former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

“He was an activist in the early hours of the darkest nights in Haiti,” said Mangones, executive director of FOKAL, a foundation created by financier George Soros that promotes democratic values.

Bajeux started his professional career as a Jesuit priest but later left the order. Under the bloody rule of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, he fled Haiti for Puerto Rico in 1964 during a crackdown on clergymen. Several members of his family were killed by Duvalier’s private militia, the Tonton Macoutes.

While in exile, Bajeux taught Caribbean literature at the University of Puerto Rico but stayed active in Haitian politics. He was part of a guerrilla group that planned attacks from the neighboring Dominican Republic against the Duvalier dictatorship.

In 1977, Bajeux earned a Ph.D. from Princeton in Romance languages and literature, and later wrote an anthology of Haitian literature.

Just after Jean-Claude Duvalier was ousted by a popular movement in 1986, Bajeux was among the first group of exiles to land in Haiti. Police held him five hours, let him go, picked him up a second time a half hour later, and released him at night.

In the following years, military rulers took turns toppling one another, and Bajeux was part of the pro-democracy movement associated with Aristide, a fellow former priest who became Haiti’s first democratically elected leader in 1990 and was toppled seven months later.

Military soldiers and paramilitary goons terrorized Haiti but Bajeux opted to stay and monitor rights abuses, later sent into exile until Aristide was restored by the U.S. in 1994.

Bajeux served as culture minister until Aristide completed his first term.

Bajeux later broke with Aristide and joined an opposition movement of disparate figures who called for the departure of Aristide during his second term. Aristide fled Haiti in 2004 as group of ragtag rebels threatened to march into Port-au-Prince.

After that, Bajeux kept a low-profile as a professor and president of the Ecumenical Center for Human Rights.

When Jean-Claude Duvalier returned to Haiti in January after 25 years in exile, Bajeux was “profoundly traumatized,” Mangones said. “He was very sad about the direction of the country.”

Bajeux will be cremated. He is survived by his wife, her son from a previous marriage, Jacques-Christian Wadestrandt, and cousin Michele Montas.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press