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Sunday, September 24, 2023

On the cover: Jean-Jacques Dessalines Ambroise

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Jean-Jacques Dessalines Ambroise was born in the Haitian city of Jacmel in 1923. He was the great-grandson of Magloire Ambroise (1745-1807), a General of the Haitian revolution who cosigned the Declaration of Independence of Haiti on January 1st 1804. Jean-Jacques Dessalines Ambroise was a lawyer, a brilliant intellectual and history professor. He also was a champion in the fight for social justice. In 1946, he collaborated with the left-leaning newspaper La Ruche (The Hive). He took an active part in the students’ movement of that year which overthrew Haitian dictator Elie Lescot. Marxist and revolutionary to the bones, he joined the PCH (Haitian Communist Party) and worked actively alongside Jacques Stephen Alexis, Francis Vulcain, Anthony Lespes, Gérald Bloncourt and many more of his generation—young intellectuals who refused to sit idle as they watched their country disintegrated.

When the PCH leaders capitulated to an anti-communist law promulgated by the government of President Dumarsais Estimé, Jean-Jacques Dessalines Ambroise, who was already a prestigious History professor at Lycée Pétion—an important public high school in Port-au-Prince—resigned in protest and simultaneously denounced his estranged comrades for being opportunists and traitors. J.J.D. Ambroise along with other friends from the party base joined the PSP (Popular Socialist Party).

J.J.D. Ambroise was well aware of the limitations of the PSP. According to A PUCH (The Unified Haitian Communist Party) publication released in 1970 titled: HAITI SOUS DUVALIER—Terrorisme D’ État et Visages de la Résistance Nationale (Haiti under Duvalier: State Terrorism and the Faces of the National Resistance), J.J.D. Ambroise made a conscious decision to join the PSP because it was the only Marxist oriented political party and the only one with an agenda designed to work on behalf of the working class. J.J.D. Ambroise then returned to his hometown of Jacmel, where he spent his time organizing a youth movement around this issue of class antagonism in Haiti. He returned to Port-au-Prince few years later.  

In 1954, he and other militant Marxists like Anthony Lespes, Étienne Charlier, and Max Hudicourt founded PPLN (Parti Populaire de Libération Nationale). This new party solidified a complete break with traditional communist parties and the welcoming of the new Leninist ideology of national liberation struggles. They saw this idea had already bore fruits in Cuba. In the DR (Dominican Republic) Marxist colonel Fransisco Caamaño Deño was leading the fight for total national liberation against foreign interests.    

BY 1965, the urge to switch to armed struggle had reached an unbelievable pitch. In late July of 1965, there was a meeting at a private home in Pétionville, a suburban town near Port-au-Prince. Armed struggles and training against the Papa Doc fascist regime were being discussed. One of the comrades was holding a gun and mistakenly pulled the trigger. One attendee was wounded. The gunfire immediately provoked an intense search by the regime secret police led by Creole fascist Luc Désir. Marxist historians called this tragedy The Incident of Pétionville

In two weeks, the PPLN leadership was nearly decimated. Those, who were not killed, either went underground or sought refuge at foreign embassies in the Haitian capital. JJB Ambroise, however, refused to go underground. On august 4th 1965, a group of Duvalier henchmen headed by notorious Tonton Macoute Grégroire Figaro stormed his house in suburban Port-au-Prince in early afternoon. He was not there, but his wife Lucette Lafontant Ambroise then in early pregnancy was home. Also in the home were JJB Ambroise’s cousin Alix Ambroise and his son Rudy then a 14-year old. The two had just been back from Congo, where they lived as did many of Haitian intellectuals of that period.

Jean and familyaAccording to eyewitnesses, like savage hawks, they dragged Lucette Lafontant out of her room and began a relentless assault on her when she refused to tell them where her husband was. She didn’t know. Even if she knew, she was not about to deliver her husband to the lion’s den. When they couldn’t find any word from Mrs. Lucette Lafontant, they arrested everyone, including the 14-year old. They tied them up and were ready to exit the front door when they saw Jean-Jacques Dessalines Ambroise walking in, completely bewildered. He was quickly apprehended and also taken prisoner. They were led to the notorious Casernes Dessalines army barrack near Downtown Port-au-Prince, where both Jean-Jacques and his wife were tortured to death. His cousin Alix and the 14-year old Rudy survived. They were released during the night.

Jean-Jacques Dessalines and his wife Lucette had two children: Dimitrov aka Jimy and Jacky who later founded the musical group Strings. The children survived the carnage because they were not in the home at that time. They were in Jacmel with their grandparents. Jean-Jacques Dessalines Ambroise and his oeuvres will forever live. In January of 1969, the remnant of PPLN and PEP (Parti d’Entente Populaire) or Popular Consensus Party) merged in a union which gave birth to PUCH (Parti Unifié des Communistes Haitiens)

Note: The fascist regime of the Duvaliers killed thousands during their 29-year in power, as documented by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations. There are several books you can read if you want to know more about the Duvaliers’ regime of terror. Among them, you can read Papa Doc et Les Totons Macoutes by Bernard Diederich which was translated in many languages and also The Price of Blood by the same author.        

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  1. Jean-Jacques Desalines Ambroise will indeed forever live. Today’s Haiti doesn’t seem to produce authentic human being such as this great man. It is unfortunate. I believe Haitians everywhere have a responsibility to toward their motherland. Haiti has a great history, a glorious one. It is the civic duty of all individuals to work towards the restoration of their country’s glory. We need to seize to look for salvation elsewhere. Haiti’s dire problem and unbelievable misery–direct results of government neglect and foreign interference–can only be fixed by Haitians and Haitians alone. A simpler, kinder way to begin is to start honoring those who gave up their lives so that Haitians everywhere can still have a country they can call their own. JJD Ambroise and others like Jacques Stephen Alexis are and forever will be our martyrs. Great article!

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