4 February 2021
The Socialist International pays tribute to Serge Gilles, founder of SI member party the Union of Haitian Social Democrats, Fusion, and a genuine friend and comrade who sadly passed away on 1 February.
Born in Maïssade, in Haiti’s central plateau, Serge Gilles originally studied sports and started out in teaching. In 1962 he was exiled from the country under the dictatorship of François Duvalier, and later his son, Jean-Claude, and he sought refuge in France. The regime that had forced him out of Haiti deeply affected Gilles and shaped his strong desire for justice and freedom for his home country and for the Haitian people. He spent his time in exile studying politics and social democracy and reaching out to other likeminded individuals, of which some went on to become influential political leaders. Gilles studied psychology at the Sorbonne and gained a diploma in International Relations from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques, Sciences Po Paris, where he was a student together with Lionel Jospin. He was also appointed director of the Comité inter-mouvements auprès des évacués, CIMADE, an organisation set up to support people displaced by war.
In 1986, after the fall of the Duvalier regime, Serge Gilles returned to Haiti and founded the Social Democratic Party, Haitian Revolutionary Progressive Nationalist Party (PANPRA). However, the military rule that continued after Duvalier’s departure arrested and tortured him for his efforts.
Gilles continued undeterred and was elected a Senator in 1990 after the alliance of his party with the Movement for the Establishment of Democracy (MIDH). In 2005, he united a group of left-wing parties in Haiti with PANPRA to form the Union of Haitian Social Democrats, Fusion, and in the 2006 presidential elections he ran as a candidate. Although René Préval won this election, Serge Gilles continued to be a prominent part of Haitian politics, supporting what he termed a pluralist government for the people of Haiti to bring about much needed stability for the country.
Serge Gilles’ dedication to social democracy was remarkable and he was an active member of the Socialist International, attending meetings of the SI Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean as well as our Councils and Congresses where he made important contributions.
At the age of 85, he published his autobiography Itinéraire d’un homme de gauche (Itinerary of a leftist man), in which he characteristically describes ‘My social conscience will become political conscience’; a legacy he lived and one that will remain deeply significant for the people of Haiti.
The Socialist International extends its deepest sympathy to Serge Gilles’ family and friends, to the members of the Fusion party, and to all Haitians who are mourning him at this time.