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9075: JEAN-ROBERT SABALAT (fwd)
From: Carl Fombrun <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To list members from email@example.com
Get Well Soon, Senator
Ex-Senator Jean-Robert Sabalat in Haiti is presently facing difficulties
with his health due to a serious liver problem. We wish him a quick
In 1990 he was a member and then-President of the Electoral Council in Haiti
which for the first time in history organized free elections which were
In 1995 he was elected Senator for the city of Port-au-Prince and served a
When his senate term expired he created the "Foundation Ernest Sabalat" to
defend human rights, in honor of his father who was a lawyer, assassinated
by the Duvalier dictatorship.
The following is a short, personal and intimate biography of my friend, the
eloquent and eminent citizen of the world, Jean-Robert Sabalat, in
collaboration with his sister Jocelyne Sabalat Ferrer.
Jean-Robert you can not be forgotten. It is said that a people without a
memory is a people without a future. In our good old Haitian tradition,
gratitude is not a weakness.
I wish to salute you in the name of your beloved Haiti where you played an
important role in the political arena from 1986 to the present. Also due to
our excellent relationship for more than five decades, please let this
memento be my "abrazo" to you, from a distance.
Born in Port-au-Prince on Feb. 18, 1939, Jean-Robert is the first born of
lawyer Ernest Sabalat and his wife Meta Lola Richardson. He was followed by
a sister Jocelyne and a brother Serge.
Jean-Robert grew up with the love and affection from everyone around him. He
was spoiled by his maternal grandmother, Amelie, who I am proud to say was a
cousin of my father Charles Fombrun.
At age 4 an excursion in the family car became a tragedy when Jean-Robert
almost lost his left eye in an accident. At age 7 his tonsils were removed.
Most of his childhood up to age 12 he suffered from asthma and he had a
serious crisis in which he could barely breath.
Still, Jean-Robert was a sportsman who enjoyed soccer, horseback riding and
His primary and secondary schooling were at Saint-Louis de Gonzague a
prominent college in Port-au-Prince. The school's chapel was built by the
architect Julien Sabalat, grandfather of Jean-Robert.
At age 14 Jean-Robert received a gift from his father, a Jeep. I remember
him with his blondish curls and his pleasant smile so proud of his new car.
There was a difference of 7 years between the two of us. I was the oldest.
But with time and the surprising maturity of Jean-Robert, this difference
was non-existent. He became a sincere friend and full of affection. This
famous Jeep was the pride and joy of many of his young friends and they had
adventures that would be too long to relate.
After successfully getting his diploma from the college in Haiti, his father
compensated him with a vacation in nearby Jamaica. One year later he went to
Europe to continue his studies.
He resided one year in Spain and the next 20, mostly in Italy. After 4 years
at the University of Bologne where he studied to become a medical doctor, he
tragically quit his studies to take care of his younger brother and godson
Two days before the wedding of Jocelyne to Robert Ferrer, in my home in
Queens, New York, April 25, 1963, the father of Jean-Robert, Jocelyne, and
Serge, lawyer Ernest Sabalat, disappeared in Port-au-Prince.
Mr. Sabalat was a district attorney under the previous Magloire
administration in Haiti. He was an intimate friend and ally of my
politically connected father, Charles Fombrun.
The criminally insane president Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, not able to
tolerate the popularity and the great influence of lawyer Ernest Sabalat
with the Haitian people, decided to assassinate him.
Lola Sabalat, wife of Ernest, was brutally beaten by the same cowardly
Duvalier regime when protesting in front of the Cathedral in Port-au-Prince.
Serge was finally sent to the U.S. but his sister Jocelyne could not keep
him due to the prevalent racism in this country in the 60s, which he was
enduring at an early age.
Serge was sent to Jean-Robert in Italy and the latter became instantly the
father that Serge never had. Jean-Robert sacrificed his life and his studies
for his brother and godson.
He was duly rewarded, as Serge today is a successful Orthopedic Surgeon.
Jean-Robert's life was full of turmoil and adventures. He went through some
tough times in Europe, Africa and eventually in the United States where he
would reside for awhile.
Speaking five languages fluently he found translation jobs but nothing
steady in Europe. He even sold Encyclopedia Britannica for a living. He went
to Africa for a few years and it was in Monrovia, Liberia that he met the
beautiful Egyptian Leila who became his wife.
In Africa he managed a small furniture business, import-export in connection
with Italy. The marriage did not last. Back in Italy with Leila he was able
to claim the daughter Abir, that Leila had in Egypt, and that her parents
swore that she would never see again.
The child adored Jean-Robert, called him "papa," and he was ready to adopt
her. Leila was very grateful to Jean-Robert but it seems that the child
became her only interest. They finally separated.
In 1984 Jean-Robert came to reside in the United States. He stayed two years
in Chicago trying to obtain a permit to work as a political refugee. Things
went from bad to worse and losing his patience with the immigration judge,
he made some derogatory comments about the United States.
This resulted in his expulsion from the United States with no hope of ever
being able to return.
Another incident. Robert Ferrer, the husband of his sister Jocelyne and
Jean-Robert left for St. Thomas, the U.S. Virgin Islands to open a boat
business. Traveling from the mainland to the Virgin Islands the vessel he
was on began to sink.
Thanks to an SOS that he sent, the U.S. Coast Guard came to his rescue and
that of his brother-in-law.
Jean-Robert's desire to return to his native country, Haiti, became stronger
as time went by. He was closely following Haitian politics and as soon as
Jean Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier was overthrown he returned home.
In 1986 when Jean-Robert moved back to Haiti he did not waste his time.
Determined to help his country, he organized with great success the first
free elections in the history of the country.
When Aristide became president, Jean-Robert was named Secretary of State.
When Aristide was overthrown by the army and went into exile in Washington,
D.C., Jean-Robert took refuge in the Mexican Embassy in Port-au-Prince.
After five long months he succeeded with the help of many loyal friends to
leave, incognito, for the Dominican Republic. He left on a donkey, disguised
as a monk, with a five-month beard on the long and risky trip.
He depended on contacts that he did not know. He went from mountain to
mountain some of them barely accessible, which resulted in an irritated
Finally in the Dominican Republic a Jeep was waiting for him and then
without any difficulties he was able to re-join Aristide in the United
When President Aristide was reinstated in Haiti, Jean-Robert returned from
exile with his mother, Meta Lola, who did not enjoy good health. He proved
himself to be a devoted son that any mother would like to have.
Thanks to him and his brother Serge, the last three years of her life were
blessed with affection and pampering from the two sons. She passed away on
Nov. 9, 1997 at the age of 83.
In 1995, Jean-Robert lost confidence in President Aristide, resigned from
his Cabinet and became a candidate as an independent senator for the Western
district of Port-au-Prince.
He won handily and became in the senate, president of the Commission on
Foreign Affairs. As a member of the cabinet and a Senator, Jean-Robert
traveled often. Among the countries in which he represented Haiti I can name
China, Italy, Germany, Venezuela and many others which I can't recall.
Jean-Robert had great ideas for his country. He dreamed of building small
medical clinics, public toilets and water fountains here and there in the
countryside. He received no help from his colleagues and retired
definitively from politics in December 1999.
He enlisted himself in the National Law School of Haiti and in the year
2000, at 61-years-old, he received his diploma as a lawyer. He was planning
to open his law office but haunted by ideas that he had when he was a
senator, he created the "Foundation Ernest Sabalat," to help the Haitian
Unfortunately he fell sick, gravely ill, and all his projects are on
stand-by. The foundation is legalized and still exists but there is no one
to manage it.
Back recently in New York to live with his sister Jocelyne, he fell sick
again and had to be hospitalized for a week. He went back to Haiti on the
advice of his brother, Dr. Serge Sabalat. He is presently in Haiti attended
by competent doctors, hoping to continue his humanitarian mission.
He is in need of a liver transplant. A trip to Cuba where Serge offered part
of his own liver for his brother was cancelled.
Hang in there, Jean-Ro. We too in the Diaspora we are constantly thinking
Carl Fombrun can be reached at Carl@fombrun.com
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