Gérard Pierre-Charles


Gérard Pierre-Charles By Colin Harding, The Independent, 23 October, 2004

Gérard Pierre-Charles was a leading figure in Haitian politics for almost half a century. A Communist in his youth, he later became a supporter of the radical priest-turned-politician Jean-Bertrand Aristide, only to fall out with him and become one of his most resolute opponents.

Pierre-Charles was one of the founders of an underground Marxist party in 1959, during the dictatorship of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, and was forced to go into exile in the following year. He spent the next 26 years in Mexico, where he studied Economics and later taught at the national university, and became a well-known figure in academic and political circles. He helped to organise the Haitian Unified Communist Party (PUCH), and finally returned to Haiti in 1986, following the overthrow of Jean- Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.

It did not take long for Pierre-Charles to part company with the Communists, and throw his support behind Father Aristide, a priest whose work in the slums of Port-au-Prince had turned him into a popular political figure, at the head of the Lavalas (“flash flood”) movement. Aristide was elected president in 1991, but overthrown by the military a few months later, and went into exile.

While he was absent, Pierre-Charles was responsible for turning the Lavalas movement into an organised and disciplined political party, Organisation Politique Lavalas (OPL). That was as close to holding public office as Pierre-Charles ever came. Aristide returned to Haiti in 1994, after the military regime was removed by a United Nations force headed by the United States, and served out the remainder of his term of office.

But Pierre-Charles soon fell out with him, and the OPL split: Pierre- Charles kept the initials but renamed his party Organisation du Peuple en Lutte (Struggling People’s Organisation), while Aristide formed a movement fiercely loyal to him, known (in Creole) as Fanmi Lavalas, or the Lavalas Family.

As Aristide became increasingly reliant on armed thugs to underpin his regime, and his re-election in 2000 was surrounded by allegations of fraud, Pierre-Charles became one of his most implacable critics. He accused the former priest of betraying his democratic ideals and becoming both a dictator. Aristide’s supporters responded by burning down Pierre-Charles’ house, research centre and party offices.

OPL joined an anti-Aristide coalition known as the Democratic Convergence, which organised protests against the government and called for fresh elections. When an armed insurrection against Aristide began in early 2004, led mainly by former soldiers and policemen, Pierre-Charles and the Democratic Convergence supported their demand for Aristide to resign, but did not formally align themselves with the gunmen. After Aristide’s hasty departure at the end of February, several members of the Convergence joined an interim government, set up with United Nations backing to organise fresh elections.

Gérard Pierre-Charles was born in a small town on the south coast in 1935, and worked at a cement plant in Port-au-Prince as a young man. He gained his first political experience there by founding a union. He later trained as an economist in Mexico, and wrote a number of books, including Radiografa de una dictadura (“X-Ray of a Dictatorship”, 1969).

He was noted for his clear, analytical mind – a rare enough quality in a country where politics is a highly emotional business. His supporters conducted a campaign to nominate him for the Nobel peace prize last year. He died of heart failure in Cuba, where he had been taken for medical treatment.

Gérard Pierre-Charles, politician and economist: born Jacmel, Haiti 18 December 1935; married Suzy Castor (three sons, one daughter); died Havana 10 October 2004.

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