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28454: Hermantin( News)Slain Haitian icon to be honored (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Posted on Tue, Jun. 06, 2006

Slain Haitian icon to be honored
South Florida's Haitians will remember a former first lady weeks after she was gunned down in a robbery attempt in a Port-au-Prince jewelry store.

For decades, Lucienne Heurtelou Estimé lived in relative obscurity, enjoying her golden years in a Port-au-Prince retirement home, far removed from Haiti's paralyzing politics.

Few even realized the widow of one of Haiti's most revered presidents, Dumarsais Estimé, was still alive until a robber's bullet ended her life last month while she was visiting a Port-au-Prince jewelry store. Estimé was 85.


This evening in a Miami church, Haitians and members of Estimé's family will honor the woman who became Haiti's Eleanor Roosevelt, a feminist who opened the door of the National Palace to Haiti's peasants and who, like her husband, strongly advocated the social emancipation of dark-skinned Haitians in a society deeply divided by class and color.

''She's an icon in Haitian history,'' Francois Guillaume Jr. said about his step-grandmother. ``She was a very strong-minded, independent person.''

A light-skinned Haitian, Estimé was born in Port-au-Prince in 1920 and married Haiti's future president -- then the minister of education -- at the age of 19. At the time, she was a physical education teacher ''and he fell in love with her legs,'' said Valérie Estimé, the couple's oldest grandchild, who now lives in South Dade.

``She was an extraordinary woman and a great humanitarian.''

In addition to Valérie, Estimé has four other grandchildren. She and Dumarsais Estimé had four children, including Valérie's father, Jean Robert Estimé, Haiti's former minister of foreign affairs.

Six years ago, Lucienne Estimé published her memoirs about life as Haiti's first lady during the country's golden age.

In 1946, Dumarsais Estimé, who was dark-skinned, was elected Haiti's first black president. As a couple, the Estimés worked to open the doors of education and opportunity for Haiti's poor black masses and helped created the black middle class. But midway into his six-year term in 1950, Estimé was ousted by Haitian army general Paul Magloire.

The couple fled into exile, and Dumarsais Estimé died in New York in 1953.


Lucienne Estimé brought her husband's body back to Haiti for burial. Greeting her at the Port-au-Prince airport were the very same military leaders who had ousted her husband. Although upset, she managed a sense of humor. ''Are there no taxis in this country?'' she asked.

She would later be instrumental in helping Francois ''Papa Doc'' Duvalier win the presidential election by giving credence to Duvalier's claim of Estimé's black nationalist mantra. Later, she would make her own political history by serving as Haiti's first female ambassador. She was its representative to Belgium, where she lived for almost 30 years before moving back to Haiti in 1984, said her granddaughter.


''She served with class and distinction,'' said Gerard Philippeaux, a Miami-Dade County Commission aide and former Haitian diplomat.

Pastor Fritz Bazin said he planned today's service after realizing few Haitians alive today knew of Estimé and her contributions to Haitian society. Equally troubling was the way in which she died, in a country besieged by violence, he said.

''Haiti was part of the world map, thanks to President Estimé and his wife,'' Bazin said. ``They made it possible for lots of Haitians, dark-skinned, to travel abroad for scholarships to study and to have important functions. A tremendous change took place with Dumarsais Estimé as president of Haiti, and his wife at his side contributing.''