Prominent Haitian intellectual and politician Gerard Pierre-Charles has died of heart failure in Cuba, where he was receiving emergency treatment for a lung infection, friends and colleagues said Monday. He was 68.
Pierre-Charles died Sunday at a hospital in Havana, said retired physician Guy Noel, a close friend. He said Pierre-Charles was flown to Cuba on Friday after coming down with the flu last week.
Noel called him “one of Haiti’s greatest minds.”
Involved in politics for half a century, Pierre-Charles was an economist who wrote at least 16 books and a longtime communist whose ideology shifted toward the center after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
He was a leading opponent of his former ally President Jean-Bertrand Aristide up until his ouster in February, accusing him of betraying the poor and drifting toward dictatorship.
“In the current crisis, the voice of Gerard was always the voice of objectivity–in a country where people are so emotional–and I personally will miss him,” interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue told the Associated Press in a phone interview Monday.
Though he never held elected office, Pierre-Charles became a top leader of the Democratic Convergence, an alliance that held a series of protests until Aristide left amid a rebellion this year.
Pierre-Charles was born Dec. 18, 1935, in the southern city of Jacmel and was orphaned at 10 when his mother died.
As a teenager, he founded a union at a cement factory in Port-au-Prince where he worked.
At 16 he was treated for tuberculosis. A decade later, he was stricken with polio and used crutches for the rest of his life.
In 1959, he helped found the Party of Popular Understanding, which later was absorbed into the Haitian Communist Party.
Communists faced persecution under dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, and in 1960 Pierre-Charles began 26 years in exile, studying economics at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.
As an economics professor, he became known for works on Haiti and Latin American economics. His book “X-ray of a Dictatorship,” first published in Spanish in 1969, analyzed repression under Duvalier.
Pierre-Charles returned to Haiti in 1986 after an uprising toppled Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.
For years he was allied with Aristide, who became Haiti’s first freely elected president in 1990. Pierre-Charles stood by him through his 1991 ouster and his 1994 restoration to power by U.S. troops.
The two had a falling out in 1997, when Pierre-Charles accused the former priest of trying to monopolize power.
“Aristide had a large following, and we believed he would use it to bring about the changes that were necessary for the country’s development,” Pierre-Charles said last year. “We were mistaken.”
Pierre-Charles stepped up criticism after Aristide was elected to a second term in 2000. In 2001, Aristide backers burned down Pierre-Charles’ home, his research center and party office.
Pierre-Charles’ supporters gathered signatures to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize last year.
He headed the Struggling People’s Organization and agreed this year to join with three other parties into a new social democratic party. Serge Gilles, an allied politician, called him “a tireless and courageous fighter for democracy.”
Pierre-Charles is survived by his wife, historian Suzy Castor, three sons and a daughter.
His body is to be flown back to Haiti on Tuesday. Funeral arrangements are pending.