The Jamaica Gleaner
Mildred Aristide speaks of life and the future
published: Sunday | June 6, 2004
Mildred with daughters seven-year-old Christine, second left five-year-old Michaelle and husband Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Radio Mona's Michael Anthony Cuffe recently spoke with former first lady of Haiti, Mildred Aristide on a number of issues including future plans for the Aristide family. Below are excerpts of the interview, relating to her family:
MC: Madam Aristide, thank you so very much for granting me the privilege of chatting with you. Like I started out by asking your husband how has your stay been so far in Jamaica.
MA: Thank you, and as my husband said, as the president said, together we thank the people of Jamaica, the Government of Jamaica and all CARICOM for the welcome that we
have received and for the opportunity that it presented to be reunited with the family so we will forever be grateful as we are grateful for the welcome that was extended to all the Haitian refugees who found their way to Jamaica.
MC: Have you been able to contact your own family in Haiti, how are they?
MA: They are fine. My immediate family is not in Haiti. Both of our immediate families are outside of Haiti, so we are in contact with them. What we will always be grateful for is no one in our immediate entourage in terms of people that were very close with us at the house were not killed, so we will forever be grateful for that. People are in hiding and so ... while you were talking to the president, you asked how is it for us here. Being here we are thinking of the people who are not with their families, who had to flee with just the clothes on their backs. So many of the elected officials, the spokesperson of the party had to literally run away, as he was leavi
ng the back door they were coming through the front door, torched his house and he left with only the clothes on his back. And so these are the tragedies beyond the tragedy that is in Haiti ... those are the levels of personal suffering that we are grateful that we are alive. We are healthy, we are with our family, with our two children and we are doing well versus the helpless others who are being killed and left under such dire circumstance.
MC: How do you explain to your children what is happening?
MA: Luckily they are very young and so, when I contemplate that, I think of how other parents, Haitian parents are explaining to older children and how it must be difficult to understand what's happening now in our country. And ultimately, as they grow older, they will see what the reality was in Haiti when we were in Haiti. They will read their father's speeches. They will see images of the 53 public parks that were created and constructed under his tenure. The hos
pitals, the university, the schools that were created. The numbers of children who were educated and were given the tools to start to move as he said, from misery and poverty with dignity. And they will understand that that is the legacy, a part of the legacy. And they will read and they will understand, the world will understand why there are groups that are opposed to that participatory democracy, that opening up so that the vast majority can enjoy the fruits, small though they be, of what the country can offer.
MC: What questions are they asking now?
MA: They are asking clearly, 'are we staying in Jamaica, where are we going, are we going back to Haiti', and I have explained to them and they are pretty excited about moving to South Africa. We have looked at pictures and images of South Africa, and they are beginning to hone in on their English and their English is improving. And so we are taking it one step at a time for them and always understanding and alway
s talking about Haiti. And we are continuing to remember what Haiti is and what are the possibilities for the future in terms of going back to Haiti and so they remain open and luckily, children are very malleable at this age and so they'll adjust.
MC: Help us to understand, Madam Aristide, from a status of wife of the president to a point where you, as you said early, you had to leave (with) no clothing, nothing personal, what is that like, how do you reconcile that in your mind? Can you?
MA: When you understand Haiti's history, when you understand the philosophy and what my husband is about and what his vision was for Haiti, and understand the realities of Haiti... It was something I fully assumed when I decided to work for the Government back in 1992/93 and to help to promote that and to encourage that. And certainly when we decided that we would marry and that we would continue that work, that was the centrepiece really of our union... It was about how can we
together strengthen our ability to move that vision forward and so it was always with an understanding and he shared with me and could relate to me what are those dangers and he talked about it in his conversations with you. I had to assume that, and so we've had to move forward with an understanding that there are those dangers. But how can we move forward to create the space where the vision could move forward? So it's never been a personal thing about being in a position. It's about how do we serve. We served in the palace even when he was not president and we established the foundation. We had outings with the children from La Famicia La Vida, they would come to the house to the pool every week and we would have classes with them. That was service there and it took another form. I'm sure that through his books and through the writings that will come in the next few years, that will be another form of service and we'll continue to be malleable to what life presents us, as how do we best service with
that vision in mind. So long as the vision is there, we're adaptable to how we have to serve.
MC: Any of the women in the CARICOM family have sort of reached out to you as one woman to another woman in this moment of trial for you?
MA: Through some writings that we've read, some articles and we've chosen also to keep a little bit of a low profile for the time being, but we know there have been some really dynamic positions taken by a lot of CARICOM women's organisation very supportive of the people of Haiti and of the democratic process.
MC: Madam Aristide, thank you very much.