Saturday, August 21, 2010

Miss Haiti Universe's past reflects Haiti's troubles

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Miss Haiti Universe, Sarodj Bertin will be going for the title in Las Vegas on Monday along with 82 other contestants from around the world.

Sarodj is Haiti's first representative in the contest since 1989 and like her country, has a tragic and troubled past.

Her mother Mireille Durocher Bertin, a lawyer and opposition party leader was murdered in 1995 when Sarodj was nine years old, prompting the family to move to the Dominican Republic.

But of course, as is often the case with Haiti, it's by no means straightforward and there are deeper layers of tragedy and intrigue and figuring out the bad guys and good guys in this depends on which side you're looking from.

Even now, the assassination of her mother remains unsolved and with her daughter in the spotlight now, controversial as ever and debate is raging in the Haitian diaspora about both mother and daughter.

Mireille Durocher Bertin was shot to death in broad daylight while being driven through the streets of Port-au-Prince in March 1995 - months before the scheduled June general elections.

She was the passenger in a car being driven by reputed drug dealer Eugene "Junior" Baillergeau when it was blocked off.

According to the New York Times report on it:

" Gunmen came out of a red Mitsubishi jeep shot up the front tire on the driver's side, got out and raked the windshield with automatic weapons, firing from both sides of the car. Then they disappeared."

The assassination was seen at the time as a huge embarassment for then president of Haiti Jean Bertrand Aristide and his sponsor, the US government because Durocher Bertin was an outspoken critic of Aristide and Lavalas.

But and here's a big but... Durocher Bertin was no sweetbread. In fact, according to the LA Times she was:

"Closely linked to former Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, the Haitian army commander who led the September, 1991, coup that overthrew Aristide. She also served as chief of staff for Emile Jonassaint, the puppet civilian president installed by Cedras in 1994."

The New York Times noted she " became familiar to American television audiences last fall [1994] defending the former military Government.

Blogger Chantel Laurent over at OpEd News has basically argued that Durocher Bertin reaped the whirlwind because of her affiliation with the hugely violent regime that crushed Haiti's democratic movement in the early 1990s.

Of course, none of this is Sarodj's fault. Though she has lived outside of Haiti for most of her life and some Haitians decry her as being 'too Dominican', her pride and joy at representing her country is evident. She told AP:

The Miss Universe pageant has always been a dream for me, since I was a kid. I used to watch the contest and think, "Why is my country not participating? I want to see Haiti participating." ... When I finished college, I gave up on the idea. I thought it would never happen. I thought someday ... I could celebrate the contest and send a girl myself. So when they told me that they were going to do it this year ... I trembled, I cried, I screamed.

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