By: Kim Ives - Haiti Liberte
Harry Numa, 52, a long-time leader of the National Popular Assembly (APN) and later the National Popular Party (PPN), died in the early morning hours of Aug. 25 in a tragic car accident in the southwestern Haitian city of Jérémie. His funeral was held and he was buried in Port-au-Prince on Aug. 30.
Born in Port-au-Prince on Aug. 31, 1961, he spent his early years under the dictatorships of François and Jean-Claude Duvalier. “On Rue Sans Fil where he grew up, Harry revealed himself to be a true leader among the youth both through the positions he took and by his serious attitude,” wrote his wife, Lucienne Houanche Irby, in a funeral tribute. “For those who knew him, Harry didn’t joke often. He took everything seriously. Caught up in the socio-political situation of the country, he saw himself as a defender of the weakest and most marginalized.” In 1980, Harry traveled to New York, where he went to Rockland Community College and worked various jobs. But in 1987, after the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship, he returned to Haiti like many young people to take part in the burgeoning democracy movement and the newly formed National Popular Assembly (APN), a nationwide popular organization which played a key role in contributing to the political rise of Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide in the turbulent post-Duvalier period. Harry also played an important role in the leading leftist weekly of the day, Haïti Progrès.
During the coup d’état of 1991 to 1994, Harry largely stayed in Haiti where he set up a clandestine printing press to put out anti-coup flyers and a special version of Haïti Progrès, which for several months in 1994 was unable to enter Haiti from New York, where it was printed, due to an international embargo which stopped airline flights.
Harry also helped organize a short-wave radio network for communications within Haiti and with New York and Miami, as well as keeping track of, hiding, and caring for APN militants, many of whom were on the run from, shot at, and beaten up by soldiers and paramilitaries of the military regime.
Harry helped plan and execute one memorable resistance operation in 1993 with his long-time comrade, Georges Honorat, and other APN militants, which involved the felling of trees with chainsaws along the Bourdon road to Pétionville to impede the Haitian army’s troop carriers.
Along with other APN militants, Harry met with the celebrated North American intellectual Noam Chomsky, who traveled to Haiti in 1993 during the coup, to be filmed and interviewed by Crowing Rooster Arts. Harry engaged in a long animated discussion with Chomsky about how to resist the coup, portions which are captured in the feature documentary Rezistans, directed by Katharine Kean.
“Are the Haitian people ready to carry out those actions [of resistance] given the cost they will suffer,” Chomsky asks Harry in one scene.
“We, the Haitian people, have no choice,” Harry replied. “We have to fight, we have to mobilize, we have to organize ourselves to finish with this situation [of the coup]. So that’s the kind of work we are doing right now.”
In 1999, the APN formed itself as a full-fledged political party, the PPN, of which Harry was one of the principal leaders. The party did not field candidates in the 2000 elections but organized several historic marches of thousands of its militants against the U.S. military assault on Iraq in March 2003 and against the unfolding coup d’état against President Aristide from 2001 to 2004.
In 2004, faced with a number of personal problems, Harry stepped down from leadership of the PPN and Haïti Progrès, although he kept close contact with his former comrades and often offered them his penetrating analysis and ready advice.
He moved back to New York, where he met is wife, Lucienne, moved to North Valley Stream, and made a living driving taxi cabs and later as a building contractor.
But his passion was Haitian politics and every Monday or Tuesday he would call Haïti Liberté’s director Berthony Dupont to offer his analysis of the “conjuncture,” as Haitians call the political situation.
“Harry’s insights were always invaluable in analyzing complex situations,” Dupont said. “He knew the players, he understood political theory and dynamics, and he had a deep faith in the power of the Haitian people when organized.”
Harry was shaken by the fatal shooting on Mar. 23, 2013 of his long-time comrade, Georges Honorat, with whom he had strongly argued not to take a job working for Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe’s office. Only a week before his killing by two still unknown gunmen on a motorcycle, Honorat had told Harry that his advice had been right. “My place is not there,” Georges had said, according to Harry.
Before the Cuban Ambassador to the UN Pedro J. Nunez Mosquera came to address a community meeting at Haïti Liberté on May 29, 2010, Harry single-handedly threw himself into repairing and remodeling the newspaper’s meeting room to accommodate the overflow crowd that turned out. He also helped organize the meeting with the Cuban ambassador and always came with his wife to support Haïti Liberté at its fundraising events.
The fatal accident was a freak tragedy. Harry was visiting Jérémie for its annual Saint Louis Festival. Leaving the nightclub Pipirit at about 4 a.m., Harry backed up his white jeep to make way for a passing vehicle. Unfamiliar with the road in the dark, he backed his car over a bank so it fell into a rain-swollen river. Although he may have hit his head, it appears that he may have managed to break the windshield and escape from the submerged vehicle but drowned in the strong and deep currents. His body was not recovered until about seven hours later.
Many comrades from Haiti and progressive parties in the U.S. who had a chance to work with him will miss Harry Numa. We at Haïti Liberté will particularly feel the void, missing his sharp insight and deeply principled politics.
A memorial evening commemorating the life of Harry Numa will be held at Haïti Liberté on Sep. 20 at 6 p.m.. Former friends and comrades are expected to attend from as far away as Canada and Florida. Haïti Liberté extends its condolences to his wife, Lucienne, his children, Kenneth and Sandra Irby, and his brothers, cousins, and many other family members.
Harry, for your life of personal sacrifice and unflagging dedication to the cause of the Haitian people’s liberation from oppression and exploitation, we salute you!
Harry Numa !presente!