By Kim Ives, Haiti Liberté, Jan. 31, 2024
Marie Maude Leblanc, the longest serving member of the socialist weekly Haïti Progrès, died of lung and brain cancer on Jan. 25, 2024 at the age of 69.
Born Aug. 31, 1954 in Port-au-Prince, she spent most of her life living outside of Haiti but always devoting herself to radical social change in her home country.
The eldest child of Leonvil Leblanc, one of Haiti’s foremost union leaders in the 1960s, she developed as a child a sharp understanding of political dynamics, having to flee Haiti at the age of 10 with her mother and two younger siblings to the Dominican Republic, to which her father had fled a year earlier.
There she lived through the April to September 1965 U.S. Marine invasion of the country, domiciled in the very Santo Domingo neighborhood where the heaviest and deadliest fighting took place. She used to describe to her Haïti Progrès co-workers how a cease-fire would be called midday during the war. She with her family and neighbors would venture out into the bullet-ridden streets, circumnavigating dead bodies and buildings’ rubble, to gather food and water. An hour later, a whistle would blow, and fighting would resume.
MAUDE DESCRIBED HER JOURNEY AS “YEARS OF INTELLECTUAL LEARNING, BUT THERE’S THE ACTUAL EXPERIENCE OF LIVING IT AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE, BECAUSE IT ALL COMES DOWN TO: FROM EACH ACCORDING TO THEIR ABILITY, TO EACH ACCORDING TO THEIR NEED.”
Such experiences and her father’s activism surely forged the steely side of her character, while her always religious and ebulliently cheerful mother, Lamericie Leblanc, likely brought forth her upbeat, encouraging, nurturing side, which made the rigors of working at a cash-strapped, radical Haitian weekly that much easier for her comrades to endure. Her quick, melodious laugh, thoughtful advice and insights, and Sylvio Rodriguez playlists made her the “poto mitan” (center pillar) of Haïti Progrès’ New York office for most of 40 years.
After spending three years without her parents at a Catholic boarding school in the DR, Maude with her siblings traveled to New York in the early 1970s to be reunited their parents.
She attended Hunter College, where she became active in the CUNY-wide Association of Haitian Students and teaching ESL classes to Haitian immigrants at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn.
The late 1970s and early 1980s was a heady period for progressive Haitians. The Duvalier dictatorship was beginning to crumble, and most students became caught up in the political fervor of the time.
Maude was recruited into the Haitian Liberation Movement (MHL), led by Ben Dupuy, a dynamic communist revolutionary who died in April 2023. She was part of a progressive student movement called Idées, helped found the Association of Haitian Workers (ATH), and then in 1983 the weekly Haïti Progrès, where she spent hundreds of hours typing up articles on a giant, noisy typesetting machine, working in close collaboration with Dupuy and French school-teacher Jeanie Loubet, whose trenchant, elegant writing defined the muck-raking “Journal qui offre une alternative.” She also did many of the voice-overs in the award-winning 1983 film Bitter Cane, produced by some of her Haïti Progrès comrades.
For the next four decades, Maude worked mostly in Brooklyn, NY, with occasional stints in Haiti, producing the weekly.
During that time, she suffered numerous trials and losses. In 1995, Jeanie Loubet and former political prisoner Jacques Magloire left Haïti Progrès. In 2006 and 2007, several Haïti Progrès writers left the paper to start another weekly, Haïti Liberté. In 2012, Maude and her life companion and soul mate, Georges Honorat, politically broke with Dupuy, expelling him from Haïti Progrès and the National Popular Party (PPN). A year later, in 2013, a gunman on a motorcycle fatally shot Honorat in front of his home in Port-au-Prince in what was likely a political, but still unsolved, assassination. A year later, in 2014, Harry Numa, another former PPN leader and dear friend, drowned after his car fell in a river in Jérémie at night.
Despite such body blows, Maude soldiered on, producing the paper with writers in the U.S. and Haiti.
However, in late 2023, years of relentless chain-smoking caught up with her, although she quit cigarettes almost a decade ago. She was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, which then spread to her brain.
Fluent in four languages, a lover of mystery novels, and a gifted event organizer, Maude’s bubbly yet thoughtful personality combined with her competence and persistence to make her an extraordinary leader, despite her modest and retiring ways. Above all, her undying commitment to and sacrifice for radical social change allowed her to become one of the giants of her generation’s political actors.
In a Jan. 30 press release, Haïti Progrès wrote that: “A dedicated and loving woman, she was the heart, support, and balance of the entire team. Showing great optimism, she never gave up and brought strength and dynamism to all those around her.”
The obituary her family produced states that Maude’s sister-in-law interviewed her in 2009. Maude described her journey as “years of intellectual learning, but there’s the actual experience of living it as much as possible, because it all comes down to: from each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”
She is survived by her brother Myrthon (Milton) and sister Marie France (Francia), sister-in-law Nadine, as well as numerous nieces, nephews, and grand-nieces and grand-nephews.
A viewing and service will be held on Fri., Feb. 2, 2024 beginning at 10 a.m. at the Frank R. Bell Funeral Home, 536 Sterling Place in Brooklyn, NY 11238. Tel. 718-399-2500.
In Haiti, a memorial will be held the same day at the Galata Inn hotel, 57 Rue Capois in Port-au-Prince at 10 a.m..
Posted Feb. 11, 2024