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16415: Reporting deadly in today's Haiti. Fear, violence is killing free expression. (fwd)
From: Robert Benodin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Reporting deadly in today's Haiti. Fear, violence is killing free
August 17 2003
Clarence Page (Chicago Tribune)
In the nine years since U.S. troops restored Aristide to power, killings,
attacks and intimidation of journalists, most unrelated and carried out by
mobs--most of them supporters of Aristide--and various hit men--most still
at large--have increased.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- As President Jean-Bertrand Aristide made it clear
we would not get all that we wanted, and our meeting in Haiti's palatial
presidential palace turned depressingly glum, he offered a "a little joke."
A man woke up in a hospital morgue to see that he was about to be cut open,
Aristide said. " `Please, the man said, I am not dead yet,' " Aristide said.
"And another man said, `Silence ! If the doctor says you are dead, you are
dead !' "
The message of the former priest's little parable was that he, too, was not
dead yet and neither was democracy in Haiti, despite our group's concerns
and the complaints of his critics.
We were a small delegation from the New York-based Committee to Protect
Journalists, of which I am a board member. Our concern was that Haiti ranks
just behind Colombia and Cuba among this hemisphere's most dangerous places
for journalists to work.
In the nine years since U.S. troops restored Aristide, Haiti's first
democratically elected president, to power, killings, attacks and
intimidation of journalists, most unrelated and carried out by mobs--most of
them supporters of Aristide--and various hit men--most still at large--have
In the bad old days of Haiti's dictators, you usually blamed most acts of
political violence and intimidation on government thugs. Today it is hard to
know what faction to blame, whether they come from the political realm or
Haiti's criminal underground or both.
Aristide's government has made only sluggish headway in two high-profile
murder cases of journalists : Jean Dominique, Haiti's most popular and
politically outspoken broadcaster, who was gunned down in his radio
station's parking lot in April 2000, and Brignolle Lindor, a radio
broadcaster who was hacked to death by a machete-wielding mob in December
The following month Aristide told journalists, "I will do everything in my
power so that journalists can do their jobs without interference and . . .
make sure all the laws are respected."
Since then, more than a dozen other Haitian journalists have fled the
country, claiming that they were running for their lives. Dominique's widow,
Michele Montas, shut the station down and moved to the U.S. after one of her
bodyguards was killed outside her home last Christmas Day.
Lindor's death and other violence, including a riot in the vast Cite Soleil
slum of Port-au-Prince in July, have been blamed on "popular organizations"
often on the government payroll, and mostly made up of Aristide supporters.
So what, I asked, about Aristide's promise to "do everything" in his power
"so that journalists can do their jobs ? What has he done ?
"We have done a lot," he said. "I meant what I said and we will continue to
do our best" to improve the atmosphere for journalists and improve the
quality of life. He promised, for example, that if the widow Montas returns,
he will provide whatever police protection she wants, although similar
protection failed to prevent the Christmas tragedy. Her return would be
"good for Haiti," he said.
But, he also pleaded poverty, which is not hard to do in the hemisphere's
poorest country. Its police force of only 4,000 must patrol a population of
8 million, the size of New York City, with only a fraction of New York's
police force numbers. With that, it is amazing not that Haiti has so much
crime and violence but that it has so little.
He also pointed out that Haiti is a dangerous place to be a president, too.
It has had 32 changes of government by coup since it was founded in 1804,
after the hemisphere's first major slave revolt. And there were two bungled
attempts at a coup in the years since Aristide returned to power.
Just before our meeting, Aristide's government announced plans to hold
legislative elections in November.
The Bush administration has withheld aid from Aristide's government,
channeling it through non-governmental organizations instead, after his
opposition complained bitterly about the country's last election round in
Yet, even some of Aristide's critics admitted, he most likely would sweep a
totally honest election, too. As one human rights worker observed,
Aristide's party "stole (what was already) their own victory."
"Haitian culture is not given to compromise," Guyler Delva, head of the
Haitian Journalists Association, observed wearily.
Indeed, Haitian politics often tend to be an all-or-nothing game between
those who have the numbers and those who have the money. Softness on one
side has brought brutality from the other.
To end the cycle of violence, Aristide will have to do more than stand up to
his enemies. He must also educate his friends on how democracy is supposed