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Haitian Feminist Leader Myriam Merlet (1953-2010)

StoryJanuary 19, 2010
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We end today’s show with the sad news of the passing of Haitian political activist Myriam Merlet. She died under the rubble of her home after it collapsed on her last week. Myriam Merlet was the Chief of Staff of the Haitian Ministry of Women and an outspoken feminist who helped draw international attention to the use of rape as a political weapon. We speak with playwright and activist Eve Ensler, who knew Myriam very well, and air video of Myriam speaking in 2008 at V-Day. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I have to say, one of our — one of the very sad moments was when we first came in. I had gotten a call from Eve Ensler, our guest who’s in the studio with you, and I — and it’s painful for me to even say this in her hearing because of this tremendous loss. She called me — I think we talked at 2:00 in the morning — before we came in on Sunday, and said, “Please, try to find my friend. Try to find Myriam Merlet,” who was more than a friend to Eve Ensler, but to so many women in this devastated community. And she gave us an area, not even an address, because she didn’t know it. But we went to that area in Paco. It is not a poor area like Cité Soleil, but it is down. It is on a hill. And it is an entire community under rubble. And we made it to her house as the sun was setting.

And there was a group of people who were sitting across the street crying. And we said, “Myriam Merlet, do you know which is her house?” And they pointed, and they said, “We’ve just pulled her body up, and we have brought it down the street.” I looked around and asked if there was family. They said, yes, her sister Ertha, Ertha Merlet, and she was sitting in the middle of the group weeping. And we asked her if she could bring us to the makeshift grave site. It was just down through the rubble. They had dug a deep, deep hole and covered the casket a bit. And Ertha talked about her beloved sister.

But we have someone who knew her like a sister, as well, and it’s Eve Ensler. And I want to say, Eve, yesterday when we passed the Ministry of Women, where she worked, it is completely devastated. It’s hard to see there was even a, you know, high-story building there.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Eve Ensler, Myriam Merlet was a Chief of Staff of the Haitian Ministry. She was a good friend of yours. Could you tell us about her and your experiences with her when you’ve been in Haiti?

EVE ENSLER: Yes. First, I just want to thank you, Amy, so much for going and finding Myriam. It means so much to many of us.

Myriam was a — she was a light. She was a force of Haiti. She was one of the great feminists. She was a radical feminist. We joked often about the fact that it was wild that she and Marie-Laurence, who’s the Minister of Women, were actually in power, that we had radical feminists in power. She was a woman who left Haiti in the ’70s and then went back to fight and to stand up and to bring about social change and progression and fight for racial freedoms and equality and for gender freedom and equality.

And I had the fortune of meeting Myriam and becoming in touch with her in 2001, when she brought The Vagina Monologues to Haiti and really began to work with V-Day as a sister in the movement, and then was there a year ago when we —- they did The Vagina Monologues in a huge performance there in Port-au-Prince and in Cap-Haïtien and where we met with many women who Myriam supported, the Ministry of Women supported. And we were able, after that visit, to do a joint project with the Women’s Ministry to open the first Haiti Sorority Safe House, V-Day Safe House, with Myriam and Marie-Laurence in Haiti.

And I will say that I think one of the things I feel most sorry about, and it’s really being echoed by what Amy is saying, is just I don’t understand why relief hasn’t gotten there faster and why we haven’t gotten workers there faster who can dig people out. It just seems strange and -—

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, we’d like to go to this tape that Amy did down there, this clip just — well, this clip of her.

    MYRIAM MERLET: [translated] It’s with a lot of emotion that we are here today in New Orleans, when we know what New Orleans means to black people here and especially after Katrina. We bring all our sorority and affection to our sisters here in New Orleans. We are here to talk about the work that we do in Haiti at the ministry, and especially with the support of the V-Day Foundation. This work started a long time ago with non-governmental women’s organizations, with lack — because they were lacking resources, were never able to open a shelter for abused women in Haiti. And now we are really proud to be able to say that we are going to have our first safe house in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

JUAN GONZALEZ: That was Myriam Merlet, the former Chief of Staff of the Haitian Ministry of Women, who was killed in the earthquake last week. Eve Ensler, could you — that particular speech that she gave there, could you tell us about it?

EVE ENSLER: Well, that was in V-Day at our tenth anniversary at the Superdome in New Orleans, when women reclaimed the Superdome and transformed the suffering. And I can’t but think of the connections and the parallels between what happened in Katrina and what is happening in Haiti right now, you know, the slow recovery, the people not getting there in time, people not getting people food, people not getting water, so that people end up feeling panicked and getting violent and then being accused of being looters. All the same language seems to be being used right now.

But I must say about Myriam, there are so many extraordinary women in Haiti, forces of nature and resilience who know full well what to do with the country’s future. And I think what Danny was saying earlier, how this recovery happens will create the path for what comes after. And we must — must — put women in the center of everything that happens. Their voices must be heard and must be the people who determine the future of Haiti. The outside world can no longer determine — the dependence, the control, everything that’s been there in the — this is an opportunity for us to support the Haitians to take back their country, to have a vision of the future of their country, and to put women in the center of that envisioning.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And I’d like to get, for the last minute, Amy, your last words.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, on the issue of Myriam Merlet, and I know the head of the — you are looking for, Eve, still the —-

EVE ENSLER: We found her just now. Right before I got on, I found out that the Women’s -— the minister is alive. I just got a call, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, well, that is beautiful to hear.

EVE ENSLER: Yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And that is so lucky. And right now, though, we are — it is absolutely critical that people understand that the life of Haiti is at stake, that the aid that flows in, the kind of work that has to be done with community organizations, with the UN not working — and this is one of the biggest complaints, the international aid agencies being afraid of the people, as opposed to working with the community leaders who can distribute the aid, who can empower the people in their communities. That’s what’s going to make the future of Haiti stronger.

Danny said he had questions about the Bush-Clinton choice in aiding Haiti. President Obama talked about rebuilding and reconstructing. For the United States, we’ll add a third R: redemption. The US has had a very sordid history with Haiti, keeping it down, this first slave-rebellion-born black country, the first black republic. And we can turn this around by respecting the people of Haiti.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Amy, thanks for that, and stay safe. And we’ll get more reports from you. That does it for today’s program. Eve Ensler, thank you for joining us.

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