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Thursday, February 2, 2023

On the cover this week: Raymond Jean-Francois

raymodCSMS Magazine staff writers

This article is dedicated to all those who’ve suffered at the hands of the Tonton Macoutes under the fascist regime of the Duvaliers.

Dans les instants les plus pénibles de ma vie de révolutionaire, le souvenir de Jacques m’a été d’un grand réconfort. Jacques était un vrai camarade, un frère, un homme veritable. Et voilà que je parle de lui au passé comme s’il n’est plus. Mon être se révolte contre cette éventualité, cette incertitude qui me ronge.—Raymond Jean-François parlant de Jacques Stéphen Alexis During some of the most painful moments of my revolutionary life, the memory of Jacques has always been a great comfort. Jacques was a true comrade, a brother, a man of pristine character. It’s inexplicable I’m speaking of him in the past tense as if he no longer exists.  My mind is rebelling against such eventuality, such uncertainty that’s eating me inside.—Raymond Jean-François speaking of Jacques Séphen Alexis.

As if Raymond Jean-François sensed what awaited him almost a decade later. He was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 1942. He was the son of an ambulant merchant. His father had an accident at work that left him temporarily paralyzed and, therefore, unable to work. The family then survived on a meager salary Raymond’s mother made as a nurse. This precarious situation remained right up until his father recovered from his injuries and then found another job at a bakery.

He went to primary school at a religious institution. Then, he spent his secondary school years at Lycée Alexandre Pétion, a prestigious public high school in Port-au-Prince. Early in life, his political activism began during the struggle against the military government of Paul Eugene Magloire. During that period, he emerged as one of the students’ leaders and helped organized the strike of May 17th 1956 that ultimately brought an end to the Magloire autocratic regime. 

At the start of the Duvalier regime, he joined a campaign launched by Jacques Stéphen Alexis for a democratic, anti-feudal and anti-imperialist revolution. He was soon engaged in the Jeunesse Populaire d’ Haiti (Haiti’s Popular Youth), a revolutionary youth movement. He played an active role in organizing the general strike launched by Union Nationale des Étudiants Haitiens (National Haitian Students’ Union) to force the Papa Doc regime to release of Joseph Roney, student’s leader, and 12 of his comrades arbitrarily detained by police.

In January of 1960, he was elected at the top leadership of PEP (Parti d’ Entente Populaire) or (Popular Consensus Party) headed by JSA. Marxist historians agree that his election to the highest echelon of the party was due to his devotion to the popular agenda, his organizational skills, his visions for the future, his wittedness, his great sense of comradery and his deep commitment to the popular cause. He was only 18.

In 1961, Duvalier’s secret police stormed the university he attended (Ecole Normale Supérieure) or (Institute for Higher studies). He was in class when the savage hawks burst into the room and dragged him out. They also arrested his parents. For three months, they tortured him and then released him. Under brutal interrogations, they broke one of his arms. Still, he revealed no names to the enemy. In captivity, he received no medical attention, and he was released thanks to a citywide mobilization by students who threatened to shut down the schools if they did not release him. He had to leave the country the same year. 

In exile, he devoted his life to learning about the theoretical dilemma of the revolution. Also from exile, he wrote a series of articles designed to help his fellow comrades understand the methodology of organization. In 1964, he secretly returned to the country and was elected member of the party’s Central Committee. He lived under his code name Levantin. Revolutionary to the bones, he also was a consensus builder. In January of 1969, when the 2 major Marxist parties (PUDA) and (PEP of which Raymond belonged) merged to create PUCH (Unified Party of Haitian Communists), the Duvalier’s fascist regime intensified its repression against Marxist militants in the country. In June of that year, in an attempt to give the party a much broader appeal, Raymond agreed to leave Port-au-Prince for Cap Haitien, the country’s second largest city. There, he lived on Rue 23 with his younger brother Aymard Jean-François (also a devoted cadre member along) and his companion Adrienne Gilbert.

On July 2nd, plain-clothes police officers moved in, encircled the house and ordered them to get out. When they refused, the undercover copsn began to shoot indiscriminately. Raymond, Marxist bon teint who never wanted to be captured alive, responded in kind with a heroic fury from inside the house. The resistance was fierce for several hours. In the struggle, he ran out of ammunitions. He was wounded and succumbed to his wounds. He was only 27 years old. His younger brother Aymard along with Adrienne Gilbert were taken prisoners.

According to some chilling testimony retrieved from Adrienne Gilbert, whose life was miraculously spared, the next day, on July 3rd, the head Raymond’s lifeless body was gruesomely severed at the city’s State Hospital (l’Hôpital Justinien). His head was stuffed inside a canister placed in the backseat of an automobile between the legs of the two prisoners: Aymard, younger brother and Adrienne Gilbert, Raymond’s companion.

The surviving prisoners must have suffered the harshest psychological pain—being forced to carry the head of someone you love unconditionally. In the same automobile transporting the prisoners were army officer Gérard Louis, his wife and three soldiers. Arriving in Port-au-Prince, the prisoners were taken to Casernes Dessalines, the notorious army barrack, just few feet away from the National Palace, where they were interrogated by General Breton Claude and Duvalier’s chief henchmen Luckner Cambronne. 

Adrienne was released from prison in 1973. Her gruesome account was part a Michèle Montas’ article. “One of her fellow plaintiffs [Adrienne Gilbert] who was forced to travel from northern Haiti with her husband’s severed head in a bucket,” Michèle Montas wrote citing Adrienne Gilbert. Michèle Montas is the widow of the late famous Haitian journalist Jean Dominique.

Raymond Jean-François was indeed a true patriot. Besides his political activism, he was a well-known intellectual. In collaboration with Gérald Brisson, he coauthored “Les Fondements de l’Entente Populaire en Haiti.” (The Foundation for a National Consensus in Haiti.) He was well-known and well-respected among the best and brightest of the world. Among them were Oreste Djoldi of Argentina, Rodney Arismendi of Uruguay, Tsarevitch of Poland, Vladimir Pozner, well-known French writer André Stil, Eduardo Gallegos Mancera of Venezuela, USSR literary critiques Eugenie Galperina and Vladen Tchenoscop, Costa Rican writer Luis Fallas and many more… They all mourned his death as a great lost for humanity. 

Note: The grizzly onslaught on the PUCH leadership—so swift and so decisive in just a few weeks after the historic merger PUDA-PEP—could not have been possible if it weren’t for the work of traitors from within. Chief among them was the infamous Frank Eyssalem, AKA, Charly. In a document titled “Les Erreurs à ne Plus Jamais Commettre.” (The Mistakes that Must Never be Repeated) released in 1971, the survivors of the PUCH leadership directly accused CIA operative, Frank Eyssalem, as the paid agent who infiltrated the party, causing the most damaging blow to the socialist movement in Haiti. Membre du Comité central de notre parti, ce miserable [Frank Eyssalem] menait durant toute cette période d’ infiltration une vie légale, alors que Presque tous les dirigeants étaient clandestins. (A central committee member of our party, this miserable fellow [Frank Eyssalem] lived freely without any fear of reprisal while almost all of our leaders were in hiding.)

Also see: Forty years after the 1969 PUCH initiative: what is now left for La Gauche haitienne?

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