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7520: Interview with Michelle Montas-"On the Media" RESEND (fwd)
From: Tequila Minsky <email@example.com>
Transcript-On the Media, WNYC.
"A crime is punished.
You have to pay for
it. That notion does not
exist in Haitian Society."
Journalism in Haiti
March 17, 2001
BOB GARFIELD: Since the
mid-90s, Haitian journalists have
been cultivating a free press. That
freedom grew more fragile last
year when reporters were
subjected to a round of death
threats, culminating in the
shooting death of Jean
Dominique, a hero of Haitian
radio, right in front of his station.
His passionate and candid
reports had earned him equally
fervent enemies, any one of
whom could have arranged for
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Some of
the accused have tried to cast
suspicion on his widow and
co-host who was not with him as
she usually was on the morning
he died, but Michele Montas is
doing all she can to make sure
the investigation goes forward,
despite the challenges posed by
Haiti's fledgling democracy. On
the Media's Marianne McCune
traveled to Haiti and brought back
MARIANNE McCUNE: Michele
Montas says she believes in love
at first sight. It happened to her
one evening in 1972 - the first
time she saw Jean Dominique.
WOMEN: I go to first movie -- I see
him. I go to second movie -- I see
him. I go to third movie, which I
love to do -- go to see three
movies in a row -- I go to a third
movie and here he is again! I said
that man is crazy!
MARIANNE McCUNE: Twenty-nine years later, as
the first streams of
sunlight creep in among the purple
her garden, Montas climbs out of bed, says
goodbye to the
photograph on her nightstand and takes her
alone, facing the front door. She awaits the
arrival of a car full of
gunslinging government bodyguards to back up
with her at all times. [CAR HORN]
Only then will she drive through the gates of
Radio Haiti Inter [sp?]
into the parking lot where one morning almost
a year ago she
rushed to her husband's aid, too late to hear
his last words.
[MUSIC, GREETINGS] In the on air studio
across from her
engineer, Montas leans bony elbows on the
table under a
bigger than life black and white photograph
of Jean Dominique.
[RADIO "SIGNAL" SOUND UNDER] His voice still
morning news show.
JEAN DOMINIQUE: Il est sept heures. A tous--
je dit bonjour.
TRANSLATOR: It's 7 o'clock. To all I say good
MICHELE MONTAS: Bonjour Jean.
Bonjour a tous. Nous sommes aujourdhui le ....
MARIANNE McCUNE: She raises her eyes between
phrases as if
speaking to someone in the room. It's been
326 days, she
says, since a journalist who at times risked
his life so others
could gain the right to speak was
assassinated in the courtyard of
this radio station. It's been 326 days since
a free man fell.
MAN: [...?...] actualite. [MUSIC]
WOMEN: La priorite du gouvernement....
MAN: A chaque fois....
TRANSLATOR: Each time you enter this radio
station, the first
thing that hits you is that Jean was murdered
MARIANNE McCUNE: Gregorie Casimir is one of
the dozen or so
journalists who work with Montas.
TRANSLATOR: And now you, you could be another
MARIANNE McCUNE: Jean Dominique and Michele
reported the news through far more
nerve-wracking times in
Haiti. During the 1970s and '80s under the
dictatorial regimes of
the Duvaliers, Radio Haiti was one of the
single sources of news
to push beyond official public statements;
to avoid being closed
down, reporters approached their stories
indirectly, for example
using Nicaragua as a metaphor for Haiti.
MICHELE MONTAS: We couldn't talk about the
eventual fall of Jean
Claude Duvalier, but we talk about the fall
of Somoza. The
Sandinista song was played on our airwave! We
had a reporter in
MARIANNE McCUNE: Montas had studied journalism at
Columbia University in New York, but
found reporting in Haiti was not the
objective craft her professors would have had
her believe. It
was a battle. After the fall of Jean
Claude Duvalier in 1986, that
battle was for free Democratic
elections, but by the night before
Haitians were to cast their ballots
the following year, fires set by the
military burned across
VICTORIA CORDERI ON AIR: The
culprits are believed to be a loose
alliance of Duvalier loyalists....
MARIANNE McCUNE: Victoria
Corderi of CBS News.
VICTORIA CORDERI ON AIR:
...military who are being blamed
for the months of violence.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Montas and
her team watched in frustration
from the station's roof until they
found they themselves were
being shot at.
MICHELE MONTAS: There was
that feeling that whether you were
a journalist or not, it's called rage.
There were some rocks on top of
that roof. We picked them up and
started throwing the rocks, and it
was, I have to say, extremely
enjoyable to see armed men
running. One of them dropped his
VICTORIA CORDERI ON AIR: Most
of the radio stations have been
sabotaged. The radio is a unifying
MARIANNE McCUNE: It was 1990
before Haitians finally did get to
vote. That was a victory for Radio
Haiti. Dominique supported the
election of Jean Bertrand Aristide.
He told listeners he was for
Aristide's party called Lavalas, but
Dominique never stopped
battling, and neither has his
MAN: [...?...] seras juger par....
MARIANNE McCUNE: They've
covered the poisoning of 70
children from faulty cough syrup
and the push to prosecute the
owner of the company at fault.
They've reported on corruption
among Haitian officials and
businessmen and on the U.S.'s
refusal to extradite the Haitian
leader of a paramilitary group.
Among those Dominique
slammed in his commentaries
were Haiti's most powerful. Now
some are suspects in his
JEAN DOMINIQUE: La verite
toujours [...?...] la face du diable.
TRANSLATOR: The truth always
makes the face of the devil blush.
JEAN DOMINIQUE: Merci.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Jean
Dominique's voice is still
ubiquitous on Radio Haiti in a
daily promotional spot he tells
TRANSLATOR: They've tried
everything to sink us - to
electrocute us - to drown us - to
JEAN DOMINIQUE: [LAUGHS]!!!! Il
y- a [...?...]. Y a t'il raison [...?...]?
Une! Il faut que les choses
changes en Haiti.
TRANSLATOR: This has lasted
more than 50 years. Is there a
reason it should stop? Yes. One!
Things must change in Haiti.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Whether
Haiti can put Jean Dominique's
killer on trial is a test of just how
much the country has changed.
The Judge charged with
investigating his murder travels
through Port-au-Prince followed
not only by a police van but by a
government swat team. Of the
half dozen who've been arrested
so far, one died mysteriously on
an operating table. Of the 70
called for questioning, some are
finding ways to resist. A Lavalas
senator against whom evidence
is piling up says he's willing but
his senate colleagues are
debating whether he has
BRIAN CONCANNON: When
democracy was restored in the
fall of 1994 the justice system
was absolutely in shambles.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Brian
Concannon's group of
international attorneys is working
for the Haitian government.
MAN: Throughout its history the
people running the system had
always taken the sides of
whoever had the guns and the
MARIANNE McCUNE: Concannon
says in this case top officials
have assured him there are no
untouchables, but Haitians don't
believe the government can or will
MAN: So someone might have
information that if they were sure
that their information would put
the person in, in jail, they would
give it but they're not sure that's
going to happen, and they're
afraid of antagonizing somebody.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Local
journalists are certainly skeptical
that a killer will be found and
punished, especially those
who've themselves been
threatened with death or damage
to their stations in the past year
and believe the ruling party is
responsible. When a station
called Radio [KEES gay AH]
referred repeatedly to last year's
Parliamentary elections as rigged
they found a warning next to the
MARVEL DANDIN: C'est la quand
TRANSLATOR: That's where
someone left a gallon of gas....
MARIANNE McCUNE: Marvel
Dandin is co-founder of the
TRANSLATOR: They were saying
we can burn you down.
MARVEL DANDIN: [LAUGHS]
MARIANNE McCUNE: The facade
of another radio station, Vision
2000, is punctured with small
holes after protesters shouting
slogans of the ruling party pelted
it with rocks.
LEOPOLD BERLANGER: Il y a
trois. Il y ca-- il y ca....
TRANSLATOR: There are three
holes -- there's that, there's that,
and there's a third.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Station
owner Leopold Berlanger is a
wealthy supporter of the
LEOPOLD BERLANGER: A ce
moment la police peut....
TRANSLATOR: These days police
can cross their arms and do
nothing! Who's responsible? Are
they following an order from
someone powerful? We don't
know! And our leaders say
nothing. They close their mouths.
MARIANNE McCUNE: In January,
just before President Aristide was
newly inaugurated, a list of
people suspected of favoring the
opposition was read over
government air. Two journalists
were named, one a radio [KEES
gay AH] host.
MAN: Et ils ont dits que les
TRANSLATOR: They said that the
people on this list need to explain
themselves or they will be killed.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Though a
government flack denounced the
reader, no one seemed to claim
responsibility for the list. Two
reporters at Vision 2000 fled to
Canada last year. Radio stations
have closed for days or weeks at
a time. Some reporters sleep in a
different bed every night.
GUY DELVA: If you knew that okay,
this was - it was the government,
it was the police chief, it was a
minister, maybe when you are
reporting the news you know how
to present it -- but now you don't
know who! And you don't know
which news will bother who!
MARIANNE McCUNE: Newspaper
reporter Guy Delva recently
revived The Association of Haitian
Journalists --disbanded during
the military coup of 1991.
MAN: When press freedom
exists, now it can be threatened.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Delva's aim
is to get journalists to stand
together against threats, but the
journalists themselves are
divided. Berlanger's Vision 2000
is funded by wealthy investors
who support opposition leaders.
It's even rumored to receive
American money. People say Guy
Delva of the Association of the
Haitian Journalists is an
even-handed reporter, but they
also say he's on the government
MICHELE MONTAS: A few years
ago you know it was-- when you
had money, you know you'd buy
yourself a bank. Now you buy
yourself a media! A radio station!
MARIANNE McCUNE: Radio
stations and newspapers are
themselves political players,
reminds Michele Montas, whose
station has received death threats
from all sides. The media are
enmeshed in the same violent
culture that plagues Haitian
politics. They grew up under
Duvalier's strongarm tactics and
MICHELE MONTAS: I don't think it
is amazing in any way that you
have a little bit of the Macoutes left
in the mentality of a lot of Haitians
-- whatever the political parties!
You don't overturn mentalities
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The
threats will go away says Montas
only when the justice system has
squeaked into action.
MICHELE MONTAS: A crime is
punished. You have to pay for it.
That notion does not exist in
Haitian Society. [RADIO "SIGNAL"
JEAN DOMINIQUE: Il est sept
heures. A tous-- je dit bonjour.
MICHELE MONTAS: Bonjour Jean.
Bonjour a tous....
MARIANNE McCUNE: There is a
myth that Jean Dominique loved,
says Montas -- the myth of
Sisyphus, condemned by the
gods to roll a boulder up a
MICHELE MONTAS: It didn't matter
to Sisyphus that the rock was
going to roll down again after he
had brought it up the mountain.
What mattered was-- the shape of
the rock, was the way the rock felt
under your hands, was the effort
of pushing it.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Michele
Montas may not know whom
she's fighting, but she knows
what she's fighting for. Backing
down now, she says, would make
her an assassin in the second
murder of her husband. For On
the Media, I'm Marianne McCune.
copyright 2001 WNYC Radio