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Interview with Claudette Antoine Werleigh

Posted: Thu Jun 19, 2008 1:16 pm
by Guysanto
National Center of The Haitian Apostolate

Web Site: SNAA.ORG

[quote]Claudette Antoine Werleigh
Secretary general of Pax Christi International

Claudette Antoine Werleigh, the new secretary general of Pax Christi International, has a long history in the Catholic peace movement. She served as vice president and a member of the executive committee of Pax Christi International from 1992 to 2001. In addition, she has headed Pax Christi International delegations to the United Nations World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993, to Brazil in 1994, and to Central America in 1997. In addition to her work in Pax Christi, she has also served in other nongovernmental organizations. From 1976 to 1987, she was secretary general of Caritas Haiti, Caribbean regional coordinator with Caritas, and member of the executive committee of Caritas Internationalis. She has also risen to the very pinnacle of government in Haiti, first as Minister for Social Affairs and Foreign Affairs, from 1990 to 1995, and then as Prime Minister of the Republic of Haiti in 1995 and 1996. The National Center is honored to have the opportunity to interview her.

Good morning, Secretary General Werleigh.
Good morning Brother Tob.

Can you start by telling us something of your childhood and education in Haiti?
I was born and raised in Cap-Haitien, a city that was the pride of us all who resided in it, not only for ranking second in terms of size and population, but also because at that time it was the nicest and cleanest city of Haiti. I come from a well-to-do middle-class family. My father, Marc Antoine, was from Dondon and my mother, Clara Lespinasse, from Port-au-Prince. Both of them worked hard. I had a very happy childhood and did not have to worry much about the future. My parents had instilled in us some straightforward expectations: that we study hard and do well in school.

I completed my elementary grades with the Sisters of St. Joseph de Cluny. For the secondary cycle, I attended school at College Regina Assumpta, with the Sisters of the Holy Cross. These sisters played a key role in opening our minds to the world at large, and most especially the developing world.

By instructing us to conduct surveys in person, on the social and economic conditions in our surroundings, the sisters helped us achieve a much higher level of awareness of the country's situation. Then came the important question: “What can we do about it?” That is how, in our graduating year, we got to raise money and started a small school for young children at Lori, a poor neighborhood of Cap-Haitien.

Can you tell us a bit about your university education and your postgraduate studies?
I started medical studies in Madrid, but due to some circumstances I finished instead as a Medical Technologist in Philadelphia. Later, I studied Law and Economics at the State University of Haiti. Though I registered officially as a lawyer, my area of deepest expertise and actual experience was built in Non Formal Adult Education which I studied in Mexico and in Chili. I have participated in a great number of seminars and conferences in that field in different countries of Latin America. Of special mention however is a summer class in Feminist Liberation Theology that I attended at the Maryknoll School in New York.

Your time in Pax Christi overlaps with your service in the Haitian government. Can you give us some insight into the way you balanced those two roles? How did one role affect the other?
I have been associated with Pax Christi International for some 20 years. It is both an International Movement and a Global Network. At the core, one needs to make a personal commitment to the organization to become an effective member. While I served my country in assuming various government positions, I remained connected to PCI because I still adhered to the Mission and the Vision of the organization. I did not feel that I had to “balance the two roles” as you say, though certainly each role impacted the other.

I will tell you about one case where I perceived a conflict. At PCI, we work a lot for disarmament. Thus, it seemed illogical that I would rely on armed bodyguards for my personal security. As a result, I tried to do without them. But then, I had to cope with conflicting views. I remember coming from a meeting at the Prime Minister's office, my colleague Louis Déjoie from the Ministry of Trade, stopped his car to assign one of his bodyguards to my vehicle. I also remember how close friends and family members became worried when they realized how easily they could enter my house.

In those two cases, I muted my PCI concerns and chose not to have people worry so much about me. But my experience with Pax Christi International helped me on some foreign issues. Let's take the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty as an example. When it was time for me to take a position on the issue, I had already participated in several meetings with PCI on the matter. I knew how serious and committed the members were. I knew about the reliability of the data presented. Thus, I was able to rely on the information received from the international organization.

Tell us a little bit about your work as Minister for Social Affairs and Foreign Affairs.
It was my involvement in social issues, and particularly my work at Caritas and ITECA (Institut de Technologie et d'Animation), that brought me to government, but when I became the Minister of Social Affairs, I began to understand the complexity and overall inadequacy of our government bureaucracy. I quickly realized how the Haitian government can be cut off from most of its citizens. For instance, secretaries who were fluent in foreign languages could not read letters received in Kreyol. I also noted that a minister's decisions could easily be undermined by just one or several employees. To make matters more daunting, the Minister's office was financially dependent on another agency that theoretically was placed under its control. Against that background, I learned to adjust and reduce my expectations. In the end, I tried to set in place a system to assist a) poor people with disabilities, b) former government employees with a long record of service but who were not officially registered, and c) comparatively large low-income families who needed some form of assistance in order to send their children to school.

As it is, however, my tenure at the Ministry lasted only a few months. Is there a legacy? I do not truly know whether my efforts were continued. What I do know is that in our system, a new minister is not required to assess and advance the projects of an immediate predecessor, regardless of value. In my view, this is an aberration because we constantly have to restart our social initiatives instead of building on what was previously done for the good of the people.

I stayed for a longer period (over two years) at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Cults. I was appointed to that office after the Governors' Island Agreement. As this was a government in exile and the chaotic situation in Haiti had resulted in the assassination of a prominent supporter, Antoine Izmery, and also our Minister of Justice, Guy Malary, I worked for most of the first year from the Haitian Embassy in Washington, DC. From Washington, it was easier for me to keep in touch with our embassies and consulates around the world, and a lot of NGOs that I was connected to. It was a time of great mobilization for the return of Haiti's democratically elected president. I returned to Haiti with President Aristide. A year later, I received the nomination and was confirmed as Prime Minister.

What can you tell us about your priorities as prime minister?
My first political responsibility was to ensure free elections and a smooth transition from “one democratically elected president” to “another democratically elected president”. It was hoped at that time that this set a pattern for all future transfers of presidential power in Haiti.

A Prime Minister also has some administrative responsibilities. S/he, like a maestro, has to make sure that every member of the cabinet play his/her partition well and in harmony with others. As Prime Minister I made a deliberate effort to allow the other members of the government their full input. I favored the collective approach. I remember one of the ministers telling me that what he appreciated most from my leadership style was the fact that as Prime Minister, I did not move solo and that we acted as one government. That, to me, was a great compliment. Also, a Member of the Parliament told me that there had been a higher number of concerted efforts than usual, between the parliament and the Executive, during my tenure.

Those examples illustrate what I believe our country needs: people working together towards joint achievable goals.

How did you use your position as prime minister to advance the cause of women in Haiti?
The cause of women has been for me a matter of highest priority in every position I have assumed. As Prime Minister, I offered my full support to the “Ministre à la Condition Féminine et aux Droits de la Femme” who knew that she could call me or come knocking at the door at any time.

Can you give us your estimate of how much Pax Christi International is influencing the entire Catholic Church on peace and justice issues?
Our global network is made of over 100 organizations active in 55 countries located in all the continents. We estimate the people linked to our movement to be in the hundreds of thousands. As a grassroots' movement, most of our members are lay people who influence their families, schools and places of work. At the moment, one of our two co-Presidents is a bishop; the other, a woman, is a member of the Maryknoll family. Both are very influential. The leaders of the Church (cardinals, bishops, priests and nuns) who participate in our movement are in a strong position to influence their dioceses, parishes and congregations.

We work in partnership with many catholic organizations, like the Justice and Peace Commissions, and collaborate with many others working for social and economic development.

We participate in a lot of conferences, meetings, seminars and workshops (some of them convened by the Vatican) where we can share our views. Our publications, newsletters and multilingual website are also means to reach out to more people.

What are the challenges facing the Catholic peace movement in this time of endless war?
One of our challenges is to connect and work with people of other faiths. Fortunately, more people and organizations are now open to interfaith-dialogue. This has become more important at a time when a lot of conflicts are labeled as religious and the world appears divided in two camps: Christians and Muslims.

But that is not enough: we also have to extend our work to non-believers. First, for a pragmatic reason: we cannot build peace by ourselves and no single organization can by itself achieve such an important goal. The second and more important reason is because Christ has brought his message of peace to (and for) all people of good will.

Another huge challenge is to make our messages for peace heard, understood and accepted in a world where the values propagated by the mass media continue to be individual accumulation of wealth, with the power to crush the feeble.

What signs of hope do you see, despite all the conflict?
Every place that I visited where there was a violent conflict, I have also found people working for peace, justice and reconciliation by facilitating dialogue, preaching tolerance, respect of human rights, and integration of minorities.

Thank you so much, Secretary General Werleigh, for taking the time to answer these questions.

Frêre Buteau ( Brother Tob)
For The National Center[/quote]

Claudette Werleigh, Peacemaker and Role Model

Posted: Fri Dec 05, 2008 7:39 pm
by Guysanto
Web Site: SNAA.ORG
Bulletin du Centre National
9Novembre-16 Novembre

Claudette Werleigh, Peacemaker and Role Model

The month of November is an important occasion for the Haitian community: the first anniversary of Claudette Werleigh as secretary general of Pax Christi International, the Catholic peace movement.

Secretary General Werleigh is a woman of unusual background. Growing up in a middle-class family in Cap-Haitien, she undertook medical studies, but ultimately became an attorney. She has worked in Pax Christi for 20 years, and remained involved in its work even as she rose to the position of prime minister of Haiti. In an interview for the column “Religion and Society” in the newspaper Haiti Observateur and for the friends of The National Center, she told of the conflict between her views on disarmament and the requirement that she accept the protection of bodyguards.

Given her background in Haiti, she brought with her to the Pax Christi position a deep knowledge of the troubles that have beset our homeland for so many decades. Now, in anything she does as secretary general to advance the peace of the world, she can always have in her mind's eye a clear image of Haiti's suffering. That image can only help motivate her in her work as a peacemaker.

Pax Christi began after World War II as an effort to bring about reconciliation between the Germans and the French. Since then, it has grown into a powerful movement and a prophetic voice reminding the church that peacemaking is an essential element of our calling as Christians. In a world torn by almost constant warfare, that faithful witness by Pax Christi is a great gift to our church and to the world at large.

So we Haitians should be extraordinarily proud that a woman with deep roots in Haitian society has risen to such a crucial position in such a vital movement within our church. Secretary General Werleigh is obviously an important leader and an outstanding role model for our youth. Please join all of us at The National Center of the Haitian Apostolate in congratulating her on this first anniversary of her service as secretary general and in praying that she will have the health and strength to continue in this vital work of peace for many years to come, so that more and more Haitian youth will learn of her work and be inspired to follow in her footsteps. The world can never have enough peacemakers, and Claudette Werleigh is a powerful model of what a peacemaker should look like.

Posted: Sat Dec 06, 2008 1:53 pm
by Marilyn
Guy, I hadn't realized that Claudette had risen in the ranks to become Secretary General of Pax Christi International.

What a distinguished career she has had and is still having!

My one sadness with regard to Claudette who has risen to such stature within an international organization and Patrick Gaspard, the young man who has risen to such stature within the US political system to actually get to serve in the Obama White House, is that Haiti has such a dysfunctional and confused political life / social system that the homeland cannot benefit from the exceptional skills of these incredibly gifted public servants.

But what this does do and say is this: It's a bogus rap when Haitians are portrayed as dysfunctional human beings who for some genetic reason are incapable of good governance. Too many Haitians throughout the Diaspora have proven otherwise.


Posted: Mon Dec 08, 2008 8:10 pm
by Gelin_
What's common between her and Georges Werleigh the economist?


Posted: Mon Dec 08, 2008 10:01 pm
by Guysanto
Well, they are married. Do you know Georges?

Posted: Mon Dec 08, 2008 10:04 pm
by Gelin_
Yep, when I was at FAMV he taught us some economy class, macro-economy if I remember well.