Jean-Claude Bajeux, a former culture minister, scholar and steadfast human rights activist who targeted Haiti’s long-ruling family dictatorship and the governments that followed, died Aug. 5 of lung cancer at his home near Port-au-Prince. He was 79.
Mr. Bajeux, who was born in Port-au-Prince and educated at Princeton University, was an advocate for human and Haitian rights for most of his life and lived in exile as an opponent of the 29-year regime of father-and-son Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier.
Mr. Bajeux started his professional career as a Jesuit priest but later left the order. Under the bloody rule of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, he fled Haiti for Puerto Rico in 1964 during a crackdown on clergymen. Several members of his family were killed by Duvalier’s private militia, the Ton-tons Macoutes.
While in exile, Mr. Bajeux taught Caribbean literature at the University of Puerto Rico but stayed active in Haitian politics. He was part of a guerrilla group that planned attacks from the neighboring Dominican Republic against the Duvalier dictatorship.
In 1977, Mr. Bajeux earned a PhD from Princeton in Romance languages and literature, and he later wrote an anthology of Haitian literature.
Soon after Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier was ousted by a popular movement in 1986, Mr. Bajeux was among the first group of exiles to land in Haiti. He was quickly seized and released by police.
In the following years, military rulers took turns toppling one another, and Mr. Bajeux was part of the pro-democracy movement associated with Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a fellow former priest who became Haiti’s first democratically elected leader in 1991 and was toppled seven months later.
Haitian soldiers and paramilitary goons terrorized the country, but Mr. Bajeux opted to stay and monitor rights abuses. He served as culture minister under Aristide.
He later broke with Aristide and joined an opposition movement of disparate figures who called for the departure of Aristide during his second term. Aristide fled Haiti in 2004 as rebels threatened to march into Port-au-Prince.
After that, Mr. Bajeux kept a low profile as a professor and president of the Ecumenical Center for Human Rights.
When Jean-Claude Duvalier returned to Haiti in January after 25 years in exile, Mr. Bajeux was “profoundly traumatized,” said a cousin, Lorraine Mangones. “He was very sad about the direction of the country.”
Survivors include his wife, Sylvie; and a stepson.