Amidst the ups and downs of life at Duke, one of my most treasured experiences was working as a student assistant for the Rubenstein Library’s Radio Haiti Archives. The collection has over 5,000 recordings covering decades of Haitian history, and listening to just a portion of them was like traveling back in time. While most of the recordings covered the various human and political rights issues of the Haitian people in the last century, they also made me think critically of how quickly the present becomes the past. It’s so easy to look back and judge the actors of the past for their mistakes. What’s harder is to draw parallels between our present and what that will look like to people listening to or reading about our exploits decades from now.
Progress is not granted by some unspoken law of nature, whether we look at U.S. history or the twentieth-century Haitian history covered in the Radio Haiti Archives. The themes in the archives that I found most sobering were the ones that are still being debated today. The first that comes to mind is the treatment of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic by the Dominican state. In 1979, Radio Haiti reporter Sonny Bastien interviewed a sugar cane worker (click on the hypertext to listen to the interviews in Duke’s Digital Repository) who described to Radio Haiti listeners the working and living conditions of a bracero (Haitian cane worker) living on the batèy (squalid camps for braceros) in the Dominican Republic. This worker, in addition to describing being shortchanged for his labor by the sugar cane speculators, describes Dominicans calling him and other Haitian migrants “pigs,” because if his country were in good shape, he wouldn’t be working in sugar cane fields in the Dominican Republic.
The events covered by Radio Haiti also foreshadowed Haitian political issues of today, since the issue of human rights of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent remains a salient issue for the island. Relations between the two nations have been strained from the time of Haiti’s occupation of the Dominican Republic, to the Dominican Republic’s independence from Haiti, to the 1937 genocidal massacre of Haitian and Haitian-Dominican families by the Dominican army under dictator Rafael Trujillo, to the antihaitianismo (anti-Haitian sentiment) pervasive in Dominican nationalism. Most notably, in 2013 a Dominican court ruling known as the sentencia stripped citizenship from the descendants of undocumented immigrants to the country up to 80 years prior. The result was the statelessness of many who knew no other country than the Dominican Republic, and a massive influx of Dominicans of Haitian descent to a Haiti still reeling from the 2010 earthquake. Many of those who fled had never been to Haiti nor learned to speak Creole. This forced “repatriation” was not a new phenomenon. The Radio Haiti archive contains testimonials of deported Haitian-Dominicans adrift in Port-au-Prince as early as 1976, and extensive coverage of Dominican repatriation policy in the 1990s and early 2000s.
The minimal change between the present and the past is saddening, but it also serves as a mirror reminding me to judge my actions against the human rights abuses of today. Protesting against human rights violations is not a necessity of the past, but an essential component for any nation or group of people to create the change they want to see. Just as most Americans look back at the Civil Rights Movement as a tumultuous yet crucial part of the nation’s entrance to a more progressive age, future generations will look at our involvement or lack thereof with the Black Lives Matter movement. The difference between the past and the present is that there is still time to get on the right side of history. I am heartened by the efforts of activists like Sonia Pierre, a Dominican activist born to Haitian parents on a batèy who fought for the rights of migrant workers and Dominican peasants for most of her life. At age 14, Pierre led a group of cane cutters to march for better wages and living conditions. Pierre was arrested, but the demands of the marchers were met. During her life, she received recognition from her human rights work from Amnesty International and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.
In a way, listening to the archives also transported me to the future. The world is no stranger to Haiti’s troubles, be they environmental or political, yet few know how they came about, or how adamantly Haitians refused to be defined by these terms. Radio Haiti gave a platform to Haitians often overlooked by their own government and media, so they could express themselves on issues most important to them. By listening to the voices of the past, I know that the fight for a better future is not a fight I have to enter alone, and I retain the hope that I can add my voice to those that will encourage the next generation to fight on.
Please join us this week for three very exciting events:
The SNCC Digital Gateway Project presents “Music & the Movement,” Tuesday, September 19, 7:30-9:30 pm
Please join us for an exciting discussion with five veteran activists on Tuesday, September 19th at 7:30 p.m. at NCCU’s Alfonso Elder Student Union. Music & The Movement – During the Civil Rights Movement, mass meetings overflowed with people singing and clapping to freedom songs, demanding justice in the face of oppression and showing courage in the face of danger. Join us for a roundtable discussion with five veteran activists as they speak about the power of the music of the Movement. As song leaders, Bettie Mae Fikes, Charles Neblett, and Hollis Watkins carried the music in their own communities in the South or across the nation as part of the SNCC Freedom Singers. Meanwhile, Candie Carawan and Worth Long worked to document the music of the Movement, recording and preserving the songs that moved people to action. They experienced firsthand how music was a tool for liberation, not only bringing people together but holding them together. The conversation will be moderated by SNCC veteran Charles Cobb. Many thanks to our co-sponsors: SNCC Legacy Project, Duke University Libraries, The Center for Documentary Studies, North Carolina Central University, and SNCC Digital Gateway Project.
Event Speakers: Bettie Mae Fikes, Charles Neblett, Hollis Watkins, Candie Carawan, and Worth Long
Event Location: NCCU’s Alfonso Elder Student Union
Event Contact: CDS Front Desk
Event Contact Phone: 660-3663
Exhibit Tour and Reception: ‘I Sing the Body Electric’: Walt Whitman and the Body, Thursday, September 21, 11:45-1:30pm
Post contributed by Patrick Stawski, curator, Human Rights Archive
The Human Rights Archive recently acquired a copy of Petra Barth’s photobook “Los Mochileros” which is on exhibit in the Mary Duke Biddle exhibit suite through October 2017.
Through a series of piercing black and white portraits, Barth tells an intimate, visual story of people moving across the US-Mexico border. As with much of Barth’s portrait work, her collaborators capture the gaze of the camera, rather than be caught by it. Their pride, their strength, and their history challenge the camera and seem to confront us who stand behind it.
“Los Mochileros” (The Backpackers) has received critical praise in Lenscutlure.com and the Huffingtonpost.com. The photobook is part of larger project undertaken by Barth which includes a traveling exhibit of the prints featured in the book. “Los Mochileros” joins a large body of Barth’s prints currently part of the Human Rights Archive collections which documents her long relationship with Latin America and more generally her interest in the human condition. Eventually, the prints from “Los Mochileros” will be added to Petra’s collection at the Rubenstein.
I reached out to Petra to delve a little deeper into the origin of “Los Mochileros”.
Q: What was the history and motivation for “Los Mochileros”?
A: The ‘Mochileros” has been a ‘bi-product’ of The Americas. Traveling from South to North, it was natural to cross and stop at the border, being a point of discussion in politics on both sides of the border. Originally, I enrolled in a workshop in AZ, which did not happen after all. Nevertheless, I did go and decided to explore the region on my own. I did not know at the time that I would return and the impact the story would have on my work.
Q: Your work at the US/Mexican border has involved both portrait and landscape. How do you feel each of these contributes to the visual representation of the border? How do these add to the dialogue around immigration?
A: I feel that my work is quite different than most of the work done in that area, which was my original intention. Despite the fact that it had a more journalistic starting point, I see my work at the border as pure documentary, quiet and not involved in people’s daily life. I wanted to document the border strip as how I experienced it myself, pure in its identity, as a boundary dividing two countries with barriers, walls and sometimes only barbwire. The display in Venice ties both portraits and landscapes together, as all these people crossed the border somewhere.
Q: Who were some of the important partners that contributed to “Los Mochileros”, directly or indirectly?
A: The project was made possible with the help and support of the Juan Bosco Shelter in Nogales, FESAC Fundacion del Empresariado Sonorense, A.C., BCA Border Community Alliance and all the migrants, of course, who passed through the shelter.
Q: Is there one particular story or moment in the project that stands out in your mind?
A: There were two moments, which had an impact on the story. The first was during my second visit in the shelter when I realized that I wanted to change the focus of the story. Initially, I had planned to focus on the broader border issue. After meeting and talking to many of the migrants, I decided to make a portrait story and focus on their faces and memories. The second moment was when I edited the pictures for the book, realizing that the people were not only a part of the story. They were a story themselves.
Q: What are your hopes for “Los Mochileros”?
A: I hope that the exhibit which is currently shown in Venice can travel to the US and become a travel exhibit – especially under the current political circumstances and can evoke interest and discussion for the subject. Hopefully through a broader distribution of the book, attention can be brought upon this issue. I hope we can display/exhibit the project in Nogales, so the population living on both sides of the border as well as passing migrants can see it.
Post contributed by Jonathan Johnson, Associate Professor in the Department of Art at Otterbein University, a recipient of a 2017 Marshall T. Meyer Research Travel Grant.
It was my pleasure to spend a week in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library this summer engaging with photographs, documents and videos from Duke’s Human Rights Archive. I am in the pre-production phase of an experimental documentary film project that centers around the informal storytelling sessions between recent Southeast Asian immigrants that took place in my mother’s beauty shop in the 80’s and 90’s in St. Paul, Minnesota.
I was particularly interested in photographic prints from the International Monitor Institute Records (IMI) that documented human rights abuses in Southeast Asia, particularly in Burma (Myanmar). Many of these photographs were taken near the Thai border in refugee camps and temporary outposts of various branches of the Karen National Union that oppose the Burmese government. I intend to use these materials as aids to oral history interviews that I am conducting with my mother and others in this community that formed around her beauty shop.
As an artist that uses archives and primary source material (and also creates them), I start with a concept but remain open to the labyrinth experience that often occurs in the archive. For instance, when the random sequencing of photographic prints in an archival folder creates an unintended narrative through formal relationships (color, line, texture) and metaphor. In one case, the grid-like charred remains from a recently torched resistance army camp follows a wide landscape photo shot from a helicopter. The sense of scale and context meld into one another, the vast beautiful jungle landscape absorbing the physical and psychological terror of this conflict. As I storyboard my documentary, I am now thinking about how competing senses of scale and vantage point might stand in as visual representations of the fragmented reflections and narratives that are contained in the oral history interviews that I’m making.
This is just one of many examples of when creative research, chance and intuition intersected during my time in the Rubenstein Library. For an artist, this is the most rewarding experience of working in the archive.
Post contributed by Heather McGowan, Marshall T. Meyer Human Rights Archive intern
Hello! I’m Heather McGowan, a second-year student at UNC SILS in the Masters of Library Science Program, and since January I have worked as the Marshall T. Meyer Human Rights Archive Intern at the Rubenstein. I was interested in this internship with the Human Rights Archive because I have always been interested in the ways archival work interacts with social justice and human rights. Working on a collection that revealed the voices of those people who have often been silenced in the record, was my initial interest in this internship, but it has become much more. The work that ICTJ has done to preserve the voices of even the lowest in society, the abused and impoverished, fueled my treatment and work on this collection. Keeping the people at the center has created a collection that reveals the life changing work of ICTJ and its partners, as well as the stories of those who lived, and those who died fighting to see truth and reconciliation.
The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) founded in 2001, is a global non-profit that works with partners in post-conflict, conflict, and democratic countries to pursue accountability, truth, and reconciliation for massive human right abuses. Through a series of measures including criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, reparations programs, and institutional reforms, ICTJ and its partners strive to bring justice and strength to victims, activists, state leaders, and international policy makers.
When I began working on the collection at the beginning of this year, the ICTJ records consisted of a small fully processed collection of about 40 archival boxes and three large unprocessed accessions of about 160 shipping boxes. Throughout the last six months the collection has begun to take shape and become a powerful testament to ICTJ’s global work.
The largest part of the ICTJ records is the Geographic Series. The Geographic Series is comprised of files representing about 100 countries and forms the backbone of ICTJ’s collection. The country files include ICTJ reports, journal articles, publications about governance, rule of law, political stability, reparations, and human rights violations, as well as materials from various country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. These materials are unique to each country and provide insight into the impact ICTJ’s work has on every citizen, from victims to perpetrators, children and women to ex-combatants. These files highlight ICTJ’s mission to support peace, truth, and transparency in each country they work with.
Closely related to the Geographic Series is the Administrative Series, which contains a Staff Files sub-series. These are the files of 16 prominent staff members of ICTJ; former presidents and co-founders, program directors and prosecution unit leaders. The staff files narrate the story of ICTJ from its initial creation to it developing into a strong, influential, global leader in transitional justice. I found one of the highlights of this series to be the files of Priscilla Hayner, one of the co-founders of ICTJ. The initial grants for ICTJ, the architecture plans for their space, the original program units, and the founding mission are all captured in her files. Her work in Ghana, Peru and Sierra Leone is richly detailed with trip reports, mission updates, and research about the best ways to develop transitional justice mechanisms in these countries. Her personal notes, correspondence, writings, and even meeting minutes offer a glimpse into the minds at work in ICTJ.
The other half of the hands-on work of ICTJ is documented in the Program Series. ICTJ is organized into program units that each focus on a different thematic subject, such as gender, as well as into units by region. One of the most robust units is the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) Program. In the past decade, MENA has worked in Iraq as the country transitions from the tyrannical rule of Saddam Hussein into a democratic nation. In 2004, MENA and ICTJ conducted interviews with Iraqi citizens. The transcripts of these interviews are now housed in the ICTJ archive and are filled with details about human rights in the Iraqi context; about what is was like for Iraqis to live in fear of their livelihood and about the hope for reconciliation.
In addition to the hands-on work they do, ICTJ has a robust research unit captured in the Reference and Reports Series. These materials were collected by ICTJ and formerly housed in their Documentation Center and Library at their New York headquarters. The publications include annual reports from human rights NGOs as well as thematic publications about children and women in conflict, displacement, refugees, disappearances, human trafficking, judicial reform, economic issues, security and conflict analysis, genocide and torture, accountability and human rights.
In processing this collection, I was struck by the details of ICTJ’s work. Before working with this collection, I had a vague idea of the work that ICTJ did throughout the world, but in processing, arranging, and describing the ICTJ records, I have come to understand the complexities of trying to bring peace to victims of human rights abuses. The most interesting part of the collection, for me, are the truth and reconciliation commission files. The whole process involved in creating, executing, and continuing the legacy of TRCs is much more complex than I ever conceived. For example, the Rwandan genocide occurred in the 1990s, but the work of the TRC continued well into the mid to late 2000s. By taking statements from victims, disarming and demobilizing former soldiers, creating spaces to have hearings, and putting in place new policies the TRC sought to heal the pain caused by the Rwandan genocide. Another, lesser known genocide, took place in Guatemala over the land to build the Chixoy Dam. From 1980 to 1983 in the village of Rio Negro, about 5,000 indigenous Mayan people were slaughtered and dumped in mass graves by the government. The loss of life and the relative unknown nature of this case made it even more shocking when I uncovered it. ICTJ worked with Mayan communities and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to initiate a human rights case against the Guatemalan military in 2005. This case and the work toward reparations for the people of Rio Negro has faced challenges from the corrupt government of Guatemala, but it has seen success as military dictators have been sentenced to prison. ICTJ engages in complex work often with uncertain outcomes, but it is work that I believe takes the right steps towards healing.
The ICTJ records will be fully processed by the end of the summer, including the audiovisual and electronic records components.
Post contributed by Erik A. Moore Ph.D. student in the History Department at the University of Oklahoma, is recipient of a 2017 Marshall T. Meyer Research Travel Grant.
This summer I had the privilege of visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to conduct research in the collection of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) records. WOLA’s records are held in the Duke Human Rights Archive. My research was made possible through generous funding from the library through the Marshall T. Meyer Research Travel Grant. Durham is a wonderful city to visit, and the facilities and the staff at the library were great. And the research was fascinating.
I am working on my doctoral dissertation that examines how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as WOLA used arguments based on human rights to contest U.S. support of counterrevolutionaries (the Contras) in Nicaragua in the 1980s. The Reagan administration claimed the Sandinista government in Nicaragua was an ally of the Soviet Union and wanted to spread communist revolution throughout the hemisphere. Reagan used the Contras to pressure the Sandinistas to adopt democratic reforms, but, in doing so, Reagan funded and armed a guerrilla force that was accused of committing atrocities against the Nicaraguan people. I am investigating how successful NGOs were at using human rights advocacy to influence U.S. foreign policy. WOLA is as one of NGOs on which I focus in the dissertation.
My work at the library revealed a surprising level of coordination among not only NGOs, but also government officials and Congressional staff members who opposed U.S. support of the Contras. Members of Congress such as Representative David Bonior (D-MI) worked closely with WOLA and other human rights NGOs on issues facing Nicaragua and lobbying other members of Congress to support legislation. I also found a memo from a Congressional staff member, Holly Burkhalter, to the Human Rights Working Group in which she provided analysis of the then-current functioning of the State Department’s Bureau of Human Rights. The Human Rights Working Group was a coalition of national organizations, including WOLA, that periodically met to coordinate efforts toward common goals. WOLA seems to have operated within a large community of progressive human rights-conscious NGOs that often pooled their resources and expertise to influence debates in Congress over U.S. foreign policy. Often, representatives from various organizations met to discuss pending issues and how they could all work together.
This coordination is particularly fascinating for my research because I have found that many of these organizations operated with different agendas, though not necessarily conflicting agendas. One such instance that I found in which the community of human rights NGOs split was over a Contra aid proposal in 1988. Democrats offered a package based on humanitarian non-military aid that served as an alternative to what Reagan and Republicans wanted to offer. The Republican proposal would have centered on military aid. WOLA supported the Democratic aid package in order to bring humanitarian aid to Nicaragua and the rest of Central America and to prevent the Republican plan from coming to a vote and likely passing. Other NGOs, such as the Nicaragua Network, Witness for Peace, and Quest for Peace, all of which worked closely with WOLA throughout the 1980s, opposed any form of aid to the Contras and rejected the Democratic alternative.
My research will continue to investigate strategies and coordination of NGOs opposing the Contra War and how the different interpretations given to human rights influenced the decisions and advocacy of these NGO in lobbying Congress
 David E. Bonior to Alex Wilde, Letter, (March 14, 1988), Box 27, Folder: Democratic Contra Alternative, Washington Office on Latin America Records, David M. Rubenstein Rare Books & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
 Holly Burkhalter to Human Rights Working Group/Coalition, “The Bureau of Human Rights: Law and Implementation,” Memorandum, (June 24, 1981), Box 433, Folder: Human Rights Working Group 1981, Washington Office on Latin America Records, David M. Rubenstein Rare Books & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
 Holly Burkhalter to Human Rights Working Group/Coalition, “The Bureau of Human Rights: Law and Implementation,” Memorandum, (June 24, 1981), Box 433, Folder: Human Rights Working Group 1981, Washington Office on Latin America Records, David M. Rubenstein Rare Books & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
 “Special Alert: Contra Aid Packages” (Washington, D.C.: Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus, March 1, 1988), Box 27, Folder: Democratic Contra Alternative, Washington Office on Latin America Records, David M. Rubenstein Rare Books & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
Boom, Bust, Exodus: The Rust Belt, the Maquilas, and a Tale of Two Cities
T he Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and Duke University have named Chad Broughton’s book, Boom, Bust, Exodus: The Rust Belt, the Maquilas, and a Tale of Two Cities (Oxford University Press, 2016) as the winner of the 2016 WOLA-Duke Human Rights Book Award. Broughton will be at Duke University on March 23, 2017 to accept the award.
Boom, Bust, Exodus traces the ripple effects of a single factory closing in Galesburg, Illinois, and its reopening in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, a border city in Mexico. Broughton uses a transnational and longitudinal approach to tell a human and humane story of the NAFTA era from the point of view of those most caught up in its dislocation – former industrial workers and their families in the Rust Belt; assemblers and activists in the borderland maquiladoras; and migrant laborers from the Mexican countryside.
Chad Broughton, senior lecturer in Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago, conducted several years of fieldwork in the United States and Mexico, and interweaves stories of people, places, and policies in this narrative account. He remarks, ”
I’m deeply honored to receive the WOLA-Duke Human Rights Book Award. After an election cycle filled with divisive sloganeering about trade and immigration, I believe it’s critical to move beyond demagoguery in order to understand these complex social and policy issues as they are felt in the everyday lives of working people on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. I hope Boom, Bust, Exodus has contributed to the effort to amplify their voices and their cause.”
First awarded in 2008, the WOLA-Duke Human Rights Book Award honors the best current, fiction and non-fiction book published in English on human rights, democracy, and social justice in contemporary Latin America. The books are evaluated by a panel of expert judges drawn from academia, journalism, and public policy circles.
Leonor Blum, WOLA-Duke Human Rights Book Award Committee Chair and Emerita Professor of History and Political Science at Notre Dame of Maryland University, comments, “This is a timely reflection on the plight of labor as a result of globalization. The longitudinal interviews of American workers are excellent and we feel for each individual.”
This year’s judges include Alex Wilde, American University Research Fellow in Residence, who says, “Boom, Bust, Exodus is a searching examination of the human effects of globalization on communities in the US and Mexico. It is a model of how serious scholarship can illuminate complex issues. It could hardly be more resonant with issues central to the U.S. election campaign and its outcome.”
Fellow judge, author Roger Atwood, states that, “There are plenty of books out there on the decline of industry in the age of NAFTA. What makes this one innovative, even pioneering, is the way it delves into the effects of this process in Latin America, and more specifically Veracruz and Tamaulipas, and weaves the two sides of the story together without giving short shrift to either.”
Holly Ackerman, librarian for Latin America, Iberian, and Latino/a Studies at Duke Libraries, comments, “I found this to be well written, engaging for both academic and popular audiences, and a profoundly timely reference that recognizes the struggle for human dignity across borders.”
Previous award receipts are:
2015 – Kristen Weld, Paper Cadavers: The Archives of Dictatorship in Guatemala
2014 – Oscar Martínez, The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail
2013 – Jonathan M. Katz, The Big Truck That Went By: How The World Came To Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster
2012 – Héctor Abad, Oblivion: A Memoir
2011 – Kathryn Sikkink, The Justice Cascade
2010 – Victoria Bruce and Karin Hayes, with Jorge Enrique Botero, Hostage Nation
2009 – Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz, The Dictator’s Shadow: Life Under Augusto Pinochet
2008 – Francisco Goldman, Who Killed the Bishop? The Art of Political Murder
The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library is now accepting applications for our 2017-2018 travel grants. If you are a researcher, artist, or activist who would like to use sources from the Rubenstein Library’s research centers for your work, this means you!
The grants are open to undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, independent scholars, artists, and activists who live more than 100 miles from Durham, NC, and whose research projects would benefit from access to collections held by one of the centers listed above.
More details—and the grant application—may be found on our grants website. Applications must be submitted no later than 5:00 PM EST on January 31, 2017. Recipients will be announced in March 2016.
Blog post contributed by Laura Wagner, PhD, Radio Haiti Project Archivist. Translation by Laura Wagner and Tanya Thomas.
It was Radio Haiti’s eighty-first birthday a few days ago. The station was founded on 17 September 1935 by Ricardo Widmaïer, and later, under Jean Dominique’s leadership, Radio Haïti-Inter continued to commemorate that anniversary. On 17 September 1991, they did a special broadcast celebrating fifty-six years of Radio Haiti. It is a beautiful, moving, and enchanting program. They dove into their own archives, revisiting some of their most memorable broadcasts. And Jean Dominique, always the interviewer of others, at last became the interviewee. Michèle Montas asked him about Vodou, the Haitian Creole language, pale andaki (speaking in veiled or covert ways) the 1973 kidnapping of American ambassador Clinton Knox, and resistance to Duvalierism and dictatorship. At the end of the program, Jean took back the microphone to pay surprise tribute to Michèle. He gave credit to the fanm vayan (courageous woman) who shared the struggle, knew how to fouye zo l nan kalalou (investigate, dig deep), ran the newsroom and trained Radio Haiti’s journalists. That less than two weeks after this broadcast, Haiti’s democratically-elected government was overthrown in a military coup makes the program all the more poignant: Radio Haiti was hurtling toward another long exile.
Today, we have translated a portion of the 17 September 1991 broadcast from Haitian Creole into English. In an earlier broadcast, he referred to the Italian adage “traduttore, traditore” – “translator, traitor” – to describe the perils and impossibility of translating Haitian Creole to French. Translating Haitian Creole to English, too, was an exciting challenge, made all the more exciting because the original words were spoken by an uncommonly gifted and playful wordsmith with an uncommonly expressive voice.
With that caveat, we present Jean Dominique:
Before I did radio – don’t forget, I’m an agronomist – I spent a lot of time in the field, since as an agronomist, as an agronomy student, I spent a lot of time in the Artibonite when I finished my studies I went to work as an agronomist in Quartier Morin, in the Plaine du Nord, in Plaine Bayeux, where I spent time face-to-face with Vodou, with peasants who served the lwa, with oungan [Vodou priests], with manbo [Vodou priestesses].
Since I also had books to read, I read them, I learned from them. And after I finished studying agronomy I spent two years in the School of Ethnology (which later became the Institute of Ethnology, but at the time it was the School of Ethnology), where I met a whole bunch of professors who showed me the way. I came to know the way, so I could find what I was searching for. And when I began to work in radio, radio could let people hear Vodou songs for the spirits, to hear rasin songs, to hear the beats of the drum. That too is an important thing. But this also presented a big problem because Duvalier used Vodou, too. The problem was that many people who were opposed to Duvalier thought that all of Vodou was tied to Duvalier. Likewise, anyone who spoke about Vodou was suspected of being pro-Duvalier. So I had to be very careful. Yet again l’oncle, Jean Price-Mars, helped me to be very careful. And the fellow we just heard there, Maître Pierre, and another of my spiritual fathers named Aristène. Aristène Jecrois. They both greatly helped me to understand. And another of my fathers, a father from the Northwest… Hmm! That’s another story. A patriarch, a patriarch from the Northwest. He came one day to the station, and I was testing the waters for my usual little afternoon program, and from time to time I’d put on a little music. And one day he showed up at the station to see me, and he told me, “I had a dream about you.”
And he described the dream to me, and then he said, “There are things you understand, and there are others you do not understand. I understand what you don’t understand. And I understand why you don’t understand it.” Hmm! And he told me. And it was he who put me on the path. It was he who told me, “Jean, under the American occupation, we spoke of everything in the peristil (Vodou temple).” They would speak those words, and the Americans were there, within the peristil, but they didn’t understand anything at all. And so the word spread. It was he who told me of Charlemagne Péralte [who led an armed resistance to the US occupation] . It was he who told me of Benoît Batraville. It was he who told me of the Cacos. It was he who told me of the role of Vodou in the resistance. It was he who explained that this tradition began waaaay back, long long ago, from the time of Boukman, from the time of Biassou. Those words, [historian Thomas] Madiou didn’t write them, [François] Dalencourt didn’t write them, but those words were passed along through song.
Likewise, I came to understand something important that dialectical philosophy could show me, but that the blan could never understand: what we call the Haitian people’s strategy of mawonaj. The dialectic of mawonaj. The dialectic of everything having two faces, two sides. Heads and tails. Everything on the blessed earth has two sides to it. There are two sides. Duvalier took one side, but there is another side he didn’t take. He couldn’t take it.
And so it was, when an oungan was taking me through his lakou, he was showing me his lakou. And when they saw that I wasn’t an enemy, when they saw that I all I wanted was to learn – I didn’t make any trouble – they taught me. And I learned that there were some altars that were sealed shut.
“Oh-oh!” I said, “Papa, why are these altars sealed?”
“Mm-mm. I’ll tell you another time.”
Another altar was sealed. I said again, “Oh, papa, why are these altars sealed?”
Now remember, this was in ‘73, ‘74, we were under Jean-Claude Duvalier. When I got home, I kept thinking about what he had said, I got in my car, I came back, and I asked again. “Why are these altars sealed off? I know there is a spirit, some meaning behind it.”
Eventually, one day, the patriarch told me, “I’ll tell you why those altars are sealed off. In 1957, when the devils took over the country, a great many of the Ginen spirits returned to Africa. They turned their back on the country. They left the country for the devils.”
I said, “Oh!” I said, “Papa, those are serious words you’re telling me!”
He said, “They are serious words, my child. That’s why the altars are shut.”
I said, “So, they’ve abandoned us! They’ve left us helpless!”
He said, “No, my child. The day the Ginen spirits return, that means the time has come. The time has come.”
So, since I’ve been traveling deep, deep into the countryside, I’ve come to realize that there is a force in the Haitian people. The word “no” cannot cross their lips — but that’s not what’s going on in their hearts. They bow their heads when someone says “Bow your head!” It looks like they’re bowing their heads, but in their hearts they’re not. And they’re waiting for the day to come. They’re waiting for the moment to come, when they can say, “No!” When they will raise their heads again. That is what I learned within the peristil. That is what I learned Vodou held.
And then came a day, then came a day (I don’t remember whether it was in ‘72 to ‘73), I said to someone who was close to me, “Oh, I’m going to take a little trip, I’m going to go up to Ville Bonheur, to the annual July pilgrimage, when they celebrate the festival of Saut d’Eau.” So I went, like any tourist, like any citizen, like anyone else from Port-au-Prince, who goes to watch and have fun! When I got there, that fateful July at Saut d’Eau, I started moving through the crowd: people, people, people, people, people everywhere! I got to the front of the church, cassette in hand, I started to record, and there I discovered a great truth. That truth…! I realized — and I said all of this on the radio in a report that caused an uproar at the time, because it was the first time that listeners had heard such things. And we were under Jean-Claude Duvalier, we were under [high-ranking Macoutes like] Luc Désir, Jean Valmé, Luckner Cambronne, and company! We were under the tigers! The people opened their arms in front of the pilgrimage site, they looked toward the church, and they described their misery. They described their oppression, how the life was squeezed out of them [peze-souse]. They described how everything was being destroyed [kraze-brize]. They spelled it all out. They described it in a litany, for hours. For days. And when I arrived under the palm tree — you know? You go past the church, go straight down, and there’s the palm tree where they say Emperor Faustin saw the apparition. When I arrived under the palm tree, I heard something else: “Those who do evil cannot set foot in Saut d’Eau.” Big words! When you got up to the water, they said the same thing. I said, “Hmm! Listen to what the people are saying. The people are using the spirits to reveal their enemies.” That is what I meant at that time [in that report].
I feel the same thing in the drumbeats that echo throughout the country. Sure, Macoutes could use the drum, too. To make a show, to intimidate people. But there is another kind of drumbeat: boom. And that beat, Haitians of courage will understand it. Haitians who are ready to fight will understand it. That is the drumbeat that sounded at Bocozelle [where peasant farmers rose up against landowners]. That is the truth I came to see — implicitly! secretly! — but I came to see it nonetheless. And when I saw it, I held onto it! I held tight! And it revitalized me. It let me understand that my people are a people of courage. Days came and went — February 7, 1986 was about to be set in motion. That is the quest that Vodou taught me.
I’m not saying “go practice Vodou, sprinkle water for the spirits” — no. That’s not the question, no, that’s not it. It’s that strength, that capacity for resistance that I found within the peristil. And I found it again, later, in the ti legliz [Catholic churches preaching liberation theology]. The current was always there… heheh. The current was flowing, the current knows nothing of the borders between the Vodou peristil and the church of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost — no! The current doesn’t know anything about those kinds of borders. Wherever it finds an outlet, it gushes out! Like hot water ready to boil! It finds an outlet under a mapou tree, it gushes out! It finds an outlet under layers of rock, it gushes out! It doesn’t choose. It pushes ahead. And that is what I discovered at Saut d’Eau, Ville Bonheur. That’s what I discovered in the Artibonite, that it what I came to understand, deep in the countryside, from Aristène Jecrois: one day, the Ginen spirits are going to come back, they’re coming to purge the country and drive the devils out, so that the brave people can rebuild their home. That’s the message contained in the songs. That’s the message contained each beat of the drum. And that is why, on Radio Haiti, the drum never stops beating.
The Voices of Change project was made possible through a generous grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.
(Note that the interview excerpts in this post have been translated from Haitian Creole and French, and in some cases have been lightly edited for clarity.)
Father Jean-Marie Vincent was halfway around the globe, at a conference in Rome, when he received word that mass violence had broken out in the remote town of Jean Rabel in arid northwest Haiti on July 23, 1987. The priest, part of the ti legliz (small church) liberation theology movement, had been working with the grassroots peasants’ rights organization Tèt Ansanm (which later became Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen) in Jean Rabel for fourteen years. Upon hearing that scores of Tèt Ansanm members had been massacred in his absence, Father Vincent returned to Haiti as soon as he could, only to find it impossible to reach Jean Rabel. In the midst of what were surely desperate days, he spoke with Michèle Montas at Radio Haiti-Inter to try to make sense of what had happened, and to explain the seemingly unthinkable: that a group of poor farmers had slaughtered other poor farmers en masse.
“There is an alliance between the big landowners [in Jean Rabel] and Macoutes, who coerced the ti peyizan… to kill other ti peyizan malere [poor peasant farmers] just like them, who are agitating for justice and for their rights in this country.” In Jean Rabel, most of the land was controlled by a few families: the Lucas, Poitevien, and Richardson clans. As in most of Haiti, those landowners had long profited from their alliance with the Duvalier regime, while the landless peasants remained systematically oppressed.
Father Vincent was accustomed to violent opposition from those in power, and was unruffled by rumors about his own ideology and practices. “If I’m not there anymore… there won’t be anyone to bother the landowners anymore, and they’ll regain the same power they’ve always had over people in the area, everyone calling them Uncle, Papa, so they can buy them off, do whatever they want with them. So I think it’s natural that they attack me…They’ve come to my house already, that same Nicol Poitevien and [others], carrying machetes, they said they were going to kill me… But I don’t think that’s what’s most important. What’s most important is that peasants’ rights be respected, that they continue to be able to organize.” His voice was measured and calm, even comforting, infused with warmth and good humor despite the circumstances.
In his early forties, Father Vincent still had a boyish, lively face and the energy of the soccer player he had been in his youth. “If you’re mobilizing poor peasants to assert their rights, you aren’t going to make certain big families who have held political and economic power for more than forty years very happy, because they’re going to lose certain advantages, they’re not going to find workers to come and work their fields for only one or two gourdes [a few cents] anymore… They find that people are a little ‘disrespectful’ now, they find people aren’t docile anymore. The peasants have become a little too enlightened, and they say, ‘You, you’ve taken the blindfold of the peasants’ eyes.’ They don’t like that kind of work, obviously. They call that kind of work communism.”
Jean-Marie Vincent’s analysis reflected not only the case of Jean Rabel, but also a wider reality about the Catholic Church’s moral and political identity in the 1980s, in Haiti as well as beyond. Liberation theology had emerged in Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s, focusing on poverty, human rights violations, and political oppression. For Jean-Marie Vincent and priests like him, following Christ’s example meant fighting against structures of oppression and injustice, against the tangible, worldly causes of suffering. Church authorities lashed out against liberation theology, in essence creating a battle for the soul of the Catholic Church.
The rise of and backlash against liberation theology in Haiti cannot be separated from the particularities of political context, for in Haiti, the “hierarchical Church” was associated with the powers-that-be: the Duvalier regime and their supporters and henchmen—the Macoutes. On February 7, 1986, the brutal right-wing Duvalier dictatorship had fallen after nearly thirty years in power, and the unsteady process of democratization cast Haiti into political uncertainty. For pro-democracy activists and human rights advocates, 1987 was filled with promise often overtaken by peril, a push-and-pull of freedom and repression. New political parties formed, while the army cracked down on the democratic movement. Although Duvalier was gone along with his death squads, the official Tontons Macoutes, Duvalierism nonetheless persisted, as did the Macoutes themselves. They were no longer formally designated Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale, or VSN; now, “macoute” referred to members of the army, chefs de section and others who employed Duvalierist methods of domination and violence. Rural farmers, long oppressed under the Duvalier regime, began to organize. For the members of Tèt Ansanm and other grassroots peasant groups, the fall of the regime and the possibility of democracy represented an opportunity to at last reclaim their land and literally reap the fruits of their own labor.
The massacre began on July 23, but it lasted through the weekend and into the next week. Members of Tèt Ansanm hid in the brush – some survived, while others were found and slaughtered by the armed brigades. Those who had been injured were threatened at the hospital. Those who had been arrested were threatened at the prison. In the days that followed, members of Tèt Ansanm who had survived the massacre spoke on the radio. On Catholic-run Radio Soleil, they called on the Catholic Church authorities, the monsignors, the Red Cross, or any “moral person” to come with a convoy of cars to save the 120 or so people “who are left, whom they haven’t yet killed.” They declared it a duty for the Church to save them, and asked how many cars they could expect.
By July 28, 1987, two members of Tèt Ansanm who had survived the massacre made their way to Port-au-Prince and spoke with Michèle Montas on the air at Radio Haiti:
“It was a group of landowners that organized it, in La Montagne [in the commune of Jean Rabel],” explained Anne Jean-Louis. “They paid people 10 or 15 gourdes, to organize them to kill people…. [The landowners] are hiding behind them, they’re hiding themselves to send those people out to fight for them.”
Noland Métayer described what had happened. “We went to go see our fellow peasants in La Montagne, near La Reserve. We were going to have a meeting between peasant and peasant. We were going to hold a demonstration. We came in solidarity with our brothers. But when we arrived, they didn’t accept being together with us. From the moment we appeared, we didn’t even have the chance to explain why we’d come. They began to attack us, to throw rocks at us, shoot bullets at us, shoot rifles. And that’s when everyone became afraid. There were four people who got shot, they got hurt, they died – I believe of the four who were shot, we only saw one. The others, they disappeared. After that, when we saw that we had come in friendship and they hadn’t accepted it, we turned to leave, and that’s when they ganged up on us, they cornered us on a path, they joined up with the Macoutes from Jean Rabel… They formed their brigades. They blocked a bunch of people on the path, they forced them to go to Jean Rabel. And there were a lot of other people who were hurt, who had broken bones, and they thought that in the town of Jean Rabel they would be safe. So they tried to get to Jean Rabel. But when they got to Jean Rabel, that’s where they really massacred them. They put them in prison, they put some in the hospital. But even in the hospital, they weren’t safe. The Macoutes, all those people, they entered freely whenever they wanted. They were threatening them, they were putting lots of pressure on them, and they told them that whenever a single one of them was released, they’d be watching them, and they’d be eliminated nonetheless. They are going to die nonetheless. All those people…” his voice trailed off.
Anne Jean-Louis described in harrowing detail her escape from the massacre. “I pulled myself together not to sleep on the street, I didn’t want to sleep at someone else’s house. If someone came and found me sleeping on their porch, they could beat me and I could die badly. I had already almost died. I managed to sleep in a corner of the hospital, on the ground behind a toilet.” Her brother Fadiné, also a member of Tèt Ansanm, was arrested. “They took him, they wounded him to the point that he was in the hospital. I tried to see him, then. Everyone was worried. They were already saying I’d been killed, that I wasn’t among the living anymore. They thought I was dead, and when they saw me on Friday they were shocked. As for Fadiné, he was inside the hospital, and there was no security. They were asking for members of the gwoupman in both the hospital and the prison. They blamed them for everything…. Their lives are in danger. They can’t sleep. People say there was a massacre on July 23, but that’s only when it started. It lasted Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday. They kept killing people.” In the interview, Anne Jean-Louis said she had last seen her brother in the hospital. She wanted to know what had become of him, but she was afraid that if she reappeared, she would be arrested and killed.
The two pleaded, again, for people to come and rescue the survivors. “The danger is still there,” explained Noland Métayer. “That’s why we’ve left, because the lives of those people are in danger, we left to see if we could find any authorities, anyone who is mindful, if there’s any possibility for them to rescue those people as soon as possible from the prison so they don’t finish killing them all. That’s why we left.“
“If those people don’t get out of the hospital tomorrow, we should buy our mourning clothes here… Even though we’ve already lost people, we don’t want anyone else to die,” added Anne Jean-Louis. She requested perhaps thirty or forty cars, and asked that the rescuers come all at once, nan yon sèl kou, because if they came in shifts, those who were left behind would certainly be killed.
The events of July 1987 were strategic, born of long-standing anti-communism (which had been central to political strategy throughout the Duvalier years), the instability of the post-dictatorship landscape, and deepening divisions in the Catholic Church that pitted the church hierarchy, which was allied with the elites, against liberation theology priests like Jean-Marie Vincent, who worked alongside and promoted the rights of the poor.
Violence and discontent had been escalating for months in Jean Rabel. In February of 1987, the powerful landowning families had orchestrated the burning of peasant farmers’ homes in the nearby village of Gros Sable, though the wealthy landowners maintained that they were the true victims and accused Father Vincent and his team of fostering violence and communist ideology among the peasants. “The grassroots group is the arm of the movement, but the ekip misyonè [missionary team] is the head,” declared Rémy Lucas in an interview with Konpè Filo after the events in Gros Sable. When Filo asked Jean-Michel Richardson if he was affiliated with the Macoutes, his response was evasive and absurd. “That’s a strange question, because Tonton Macoutes don’t exist anymore, so I don’t see what relation I could have with the Tonton Macoutes.”
In the face of escalating oppression, Tèt Ansanm continued to demand their rights. Two days before the July 23 massacre, Tèt Ansanm issued a kout lambi [call to action]. Over drumbeats, a member of Tèt Ansanm invoked the revolutionary spirit of Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Charlemagne Péralte and called on rural cultivators, grassroots groups, and ti legliz members throughout Haiti to come together to uproot the spirit of Macoutism.
In the aftermath of the massacre, journalists and human rights advocates tried to understand its roots. It was not immediately clear what had happened, nor exactly how it had happened. The independent press could not reach Jean Rabel, and so Radio Haiti’s only option was to speak to people who had managed to approach the area. In an Inter-Actualités Magazine special report on Jean Rabel, Jean Dominique sat with Chavannes Jean-Baptiste and Michèle Pierre-Louis, and they tried to comprehend a situation in which, as Jean-Baptiste put it, “the little dog eats the little dog, poor peasants are killing poor peasants just like themselves.” Agronomist and activist Jean-Baptiste described the unrelenting propaganda campaign to convince the rural peasantry that Father Vincent was a communist, and that the communists were going to seize their land, their homes, even their wives. Michèle Pierre-Louis, who at the time was with the literacy program Mission Alpha, described a devastated landscape filled with incinerated houses, and the conflict between the peasant farmers and the landowners as a battle between good and evil. “This is what’s happening in this country, a face-off between the forces of change and the forces of death. There are certain forces, it is death they are spreading. That is their lifeblood and their source of power. And there are forces that are demanding change, and those are the forces of life. This is what is happening now. And all the forces that worship death, as we say, are coming into action now.”
“Forces de changement contre forces de mort,” repeated Jean Dominique. “Michèle has defined it well for us. What has happened in Jean Rabel, and what is at risk of happening to the rest of the peasantry.”
From the studios of Radio Haiti-Inter in Port-au-Prince, Dominique used his razor-sharp analysis to piece the story together and explain the political context of the slaughter to listeners throughout the country. He demonstrated that the Jean Rabel massacre was not spontaneous, and the manipulation of the poor and landless by the region’s powerful landowners was not an extraordinary act of brutality and avarice. “Jean Rabel is not an isolated case. Jean Rabel is not an exception. At the heart of Jean Rabel are problems that are taking place among all the Haitian peasantry, and, alas, throughout the whole Church, as well.”
On August 28, 1994, Jean-Marie Vincent was gunned down in a rainstorm in front of his rectory in Port-au-Prince. He was forty-eight years old. No one has been held accountable for his assassination. There has been no justice for Jean-Marie Vincent, just as there has been no justice for most of the victims of the “land conflicts” and politically-motivated massacres of which Jean Rabel was only one. Twentieth-century Haitian history is inscribed with the names of the recognized dead and with a litany of locations (Cazale, Jean Rabel, St. Jean Bosco, Piatre, Ruelle Vaillant, Gervais, Raboteau, Carrefour-Feuilles…) which have come to stand for the untold numbers of dead, mostly poor, whose names are largely unknown.
Yet they are not erased. Their voices persist, in Radio Haiti’s archive. “Is Gwoupman Tèt Ansanm going to be destroyed by this?” asked Jean-Marie Vincent in his July 28, 1987 interview at Radio Haiti. “I don’t believe it! I don’t believe that.” He laughed a little, a laugh that somehow contained exasperation, sadness, and hope all in one. “There is no people who will accept wearing chains forever. The solution for Haiti cannot come about through anything other than grassroots organization…. Are these peasants going to be discouraged? Are these deaths going to make it so we can no longer work alongside them?… Or is the solidarity of the Haitian people so strong that Gwoupman Tèt Ansanm will not perish? That is what I most believe, myself…I believe that the peasants may die, but they will not disappear… I believe that the poor will have their day, and the Macoutes will indeed lose, one day.”
The Voices of Change project was made possible through a generous grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.
Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University