Tag Archives: Haiti

Documenting Radio Haïti Inter’s Time in Exile (1981-1986) Using L’Heure Haïtienne’s Archive

Post contributed by Ayanna Legros Doctoral Student in the History Department at Duke

In New York City, Radio Haïti-Inter staff joined musicians, writers, professionals, and other Haitian exiles who had fled the Duvalier regime about two decades earlier. Barbershops, cafés, bookstores, churches and street corners became stages for Haitians to passionately debate politics and the future of the nation. While newspapers such as Haïti Observateur circulated around the Upper West Side of Manhattan, offering exiles space to present opinions, radio provided members of the Haitian community a sonic space to grapple with the realities of their homeland while also discussing strategies for combatting racism, xenophobia, sexism, classism, and the linguistic privileging of the French language over Kreyòl. Some radio programs operated with proper licensing, while others bypassed institutional confines, using creative strategies to avoid surveillance and regulation.

One radio station that rose to prominence was L’Heure Haïtienne (also known as L’Ayisyen and Lè Ayisyen), a Haitian Creole radio show run out of Columbia University between 1969 – 2002. Like Radio Haïti Inter, L’Heure Haïtienne staffers and volunteers understood that Haiti’s issues had to be interconnected with the democratic struggles of Caribbean, Latin American, and African nations. Conflict in nations ranging from Nicaragua to Eritrea were documented and shared with the community. The founder of the program, my father Lionel Legros, explained to me in an oral history interview that he wanted listeners to understand “The United States was not going to save Haiti.”[2]

In November 1981, one year after living in New York in exile, Jean Dominique participated in an interview with Daniel Huttinot on Lè Ayisyen. Huttinot asked Dominique about his silence, the state of Haiti, and his perception of democratic movements. Dominique replied with messages of hope in the diaspora while also expressing frustration in lacking his own station. After two years, Jean Dominique came back on the air, on a program called Radio Haiti in New York (Radyo Ayiti nan Nouyòk) on WNYE 91.5FM. a non-commercial independent radio station licensed through City University of New York (CUNY). Co-hosted by Jean Dominique and Konpè Filo, the program surveyed issues impacting the everyday lives of Haitians in the early 1980s such as immigration, HIV/AIDS stigma, and the murder of Firmin Joseph, founder of the weekly newspaper Tribune d’Haïti.

Jean Dominique and Konpè Filo
Photograph of Jean Dominique and Konpè Filo from the Radio Haiti Archives

Daniel Huttinot many years later recalls the impact of L’Heure Haïtienne on the Haitian community in New York stating that they had “loyal listeners” for years and would regularly host Haitian exiles on their program seeking to share about their experiences back home.[3] Further discussion about the collection with researcher Jennifer Garcon, PhD, as well as Radio Haïti-Inter archivist, Laura Wagner, PhD, demonstrate the force of radio within the Caribbean and the diaspora. Laura and I for several Saturdays went through the L’Heure Haïtienne collection and unbeknowest to us discovered many Radio Haïti in New York cassettes, adding to the robust collection already housed at Duke. These cassettes offer valuable information about the painfully repressive Reagan years and the enormous contributions of exile voices to the ousting of Jean-Claude Duvalier 7 February 1986.

Cassette tapes
Some recovered Radio Haïti New York tapes found in L’Heure Haïtienne’s Collection
Labeled: Jan ak Filo (Jean and Filo) or Radio Haïti Nan Nouyòk (Radio Haïti in New York)

Radio Haiti in New York tapes will soon be digitized and made available. The vast majority of L’Heure Haïtienne’s collection remains independent and unprocessed. Both  collections will offer researchers access to an important chapter in New York City Haitian migration history. Bridging the L’Heure Haïtienne archive with Radio Haïti Inter’s fills an important gap in the Radio Haiti Archive. Values such as tèt ansanm (literally putting your heads together) and collaborative working practices in archival preservation and academic work are continued necessities particularly in the rapidly paced digital age in which data collection and digitization present libraries and researchers a new set of challenges.[4] The practice of tèt ansanm by historians, archivists, and data collectors will continue to be necessary in order to create solutions for the impending challenges of the digital age.

Patrick Elie, Lionel Legros, Jean Dominique
Patrick Elie, Lionel Legros, Jean Dominique
New York City Early 1980s

 

 

[1] Demme, Jonathan, director. The Agronomist. 2003.

[2] Legros, Lionel, phone interview, April 20, 2019

[3] Huttinot, Daniel, interview, August 2, 2017

[4] Lara Putnam, The Transnational and the Text-Searchable: Digitized Sources and the Shadows They Cast, The American Historical Review, Volume 121, Issue 2, April 2016, Pages 377–402, https://doi-org.proxy.lib.duke.edu/10.1093/ahr/121.2.377

11 of My Favorite Haitian Creole Expressions from the Radio Haiti Archive

Post contributed by Laura Wagner, Ph.D., Radio Haiti Project Archivist

Processing the archive of Radio Haïti-Inter can be difficult work. The collection is filled with human rights violations, suffering, injustice, and death — including both the repression that the station’s journalists covered and the repression they personally endured. Yet despite the heaviness of the subject matter, listening to Radio Haiti is often joyful. Jean Dominique is the single most expressive person I have ever had the privilege of spending time with. (He was, in the words of his friend Jonathan Demme, “an absolute theater superstar waiting to happen.”)  In French, he’d quote Henri de Montherlant and La Rochefoucauld. In Haitian Creole, he’d draw on the language’s evocative proverbs and expressions. Creole is a language of poetry and double meanings, of metaphor and dissembling, of mawonaj.

As I head into my last week on the Radio Haiti project, I wanted to emphasize a lighter side of the project and share some wonderful Haitian Creole phrases. I’ve also learned some fantastic French terms over the course of this project (like scélérat – a villain! often paired with mediocre, because to Jean Dominique, mediocre was one of the worst things a person could be. Or histrion, a buffoon; scribouillard, a penpusher; or crêpage de chignons, a catfight!). But, as I said, in this list I’m going to concentrate on the Creole expressions that I’ve picked up along the way, not only from Jean Dominique, but also from Michèle Montas, J.J. Dominique, Konpè Filo, and other members of the Radio Haiti team, as well as some of the people they interviewed.

    1. Sòt pa touye w, men li fè w swè – Literally, stupidity won’t kill you, but it’ll make you sweat. My personal mantra every time I made a mistake while processing the Radio Haiti collection. It’s pretty much what it sounds like: stupidity isn’t fatal, but it creates a lot more work for you.
    2. Sezi kou berejèn – Very surprised; literally, surprised as an eggplant. I have no idea why.
    3. Depi djab te kaporal – Literally, “ever since the Devil was a corporal.” Figuratively, since the beginning of time. I’m told that’s because the Devil has been a general for a long time, so if he was a low-ranking officer, that must have been a very long time ago.
    4. Mare sòsis – Literally, to tie your sausage together with someone else’s. Figuratively, to be in cahoots with someone.
    5. M a di w sa Kasayòl te di bèf la – Literally, “I’m going to tell you what Cassagnol told the cow.” When you want to curse someone out without doing it directly. No one knows who Cassagnol was, or what he told the cow, but we can only imagine that it was very bad indeed.
    6. Pitit trannde dan – Literally, “a child with thirty-two teeth.” In a report from 1979 by Konpè Filo, sex workers from Port-au-Prince explained that they referred to their pimps as “children with thirty-two teeth” because they were all grown up but still depended on women for everything.
    7. Benyen san kache lonbrit – Literally, bathing without hiding your belly button. Letting it all hang out, not having any secrets.
    8. Panzou – Traditionally, a children’s game in which you slap someone’s hand, often to make them drop something. Panzou came to mean coup d’état, referring to the way the army seized power from Haiti’s democratically-elected government in 1991. The perpetrators of the coup, accordingly, were panzouyis (panzouists).
    9. Mete absè sou klou – Literally, putting an abcess on top of a boil. Figuratively, making a bad situation worse.
    10. Nou se lanmè, nou pa kenbe kras – A proverb, and of Radio Haiti’s slogans. Literally “We are like the sea, we wash away the dirt.” It means “we reveal the truth, we don’t keep secrets.”
    11. Nou pa manje lajan Chango, nou pa manje manje bliye – Literally, “we don’t consume Chango’s money, we don’t eat the food of forgetfulness.” Figuratively, “we’re not taking part in corruption and we never forget.” Chango is a Vodou lwa known for his anger. If you take Chango’s money, you have to be prepared to do something in exchange. The original expression is Lè w manje lajan Chango, fò w peye Chango (“When you use Chango’s money, you better pay Chango back.”)
    12. Degi – A small bonus, like a baker’s dozen. (This twelfth entry on a list of eleven is your degi!) I knew this word before, from every time I’ve bought rice or beans in a Haitian market, but I did not know that degi comes from the Fon language of West Africa, as Jean Dominique learned when he interviewed the ambassador from Benin, Patrice Houngavou, in 1978.

A Note from Rubenstein Staff: Laura, we will miss you! Thank you for your incredible and invaluable work on this massive and complicated project.  We are so lucky to have pote kole with you these past few years. Because of your hard work, expertise, and passion, the Radio Haiti Archive  is accessible to people all over the world. How amazing is that?! We wish you all the best and look forward to hearing about your future endeavors.

Radio Activism and the Politics of Grassroots Change

Post contributed by Jennifer Garcon, Bollinger Fellow in Public and Community Data Curation at Penn Libraries

One morning in July 1965, an unfamiliar voice radiated from the transistor radios of Port-au-Prince residents. Rather than hearing pre-recordings of President-for-Life, François Duvalier, residents heard the dissenting voices of exiles based in New York. The program, La Voix de l’Union Haïtienne Internationale, would become known as Radio Vonvon.  While they must have immediately recognized the dangers of tuning in, people unearthed radios hidden in kitchens and in bathrooms, and continued to listen to the clandestine program each Sunday, “to listen to words of hope about one day ending this nightmare, in the words of New York-based Haitian journalist Ricot Dupuy. This, I argue, was a political act.

My doctoral research explores how journalists deployed various media strategies to mobilize their audiences against dictatorship in Haiti. I centralize broadcasting because, I argue, 1) radio was, and in many places, remains a powerful cultural force; 2) the medium was easily accessible and widely available, and thus had unparalleled democratic appeal and influence; and 3) radio, unlike print media, does not require literacy as a prerequisite for participation. Radio, particularly Kreyòl language broadcasting, was a platform that embodies equity and democratized politics; and vernacular radio archives reflect this inclusion.

From a material culture standpoint, reduced cost and increased post-WWII supply transformed radio technology into a crucial instrument of struggle in Cold War Latin America, and elsewhere in the Global South. As historian Alejandra Bronfman reminds us in Isles of Noise: Sonic Media in the Caribbean, “the sounds of radio are [by their very nature of production and dissemination] ephemeral.” For that reason alone, the comprehensiveness of the Radio Haiti Records are indeed exceptional.

Using a sampling of the approximately 5300 recordings and 191 boxes of paper documents that constitute the Radio Haiti archives —  spanning  field reports, editorials, investigative reports, in-studio interviews, and special programming —  I built an argument that reframes the everyday activities of ordinary people as political activity and agitation.

Investigating radio listening as a form of political engagement allows for a more granular examination of the transformation of civil society that I argue occurred between 1971 and 1987, during the presidency of Jean-Claude Duvalier and in the immediate aftermath of his fall from power. This, I contend, challenges the scholarly interpretations that mischaracterize peasants as politically inert throughout much of the Duvalier era, until the killing of three schoolboys in Gonaïves on November 28, 1985 (the Twa Flè Lespwa, or Three Flowers of Hope). In contrast, my research charts broad domestic ferment on the air-waves. Radio media, in addition to independent vernacular print outlets, offered a space where dispersed sectors of the Haitian population could critique and challenge state power. Radio records have helped to offer insights into patterns of open opposition to government excess that predate the 1985 killings. These included reactions to the murder of the young journalist Gasner Raymond, who was killed after investigating workers’ strikes at the state-owned cement factory in 1976;  rice farmers’ revolts against repressive local Macoutes in the Artibonite between 1977 and 1979; peasant farmers’ and workers’ opposition to Reynolds Haitian Mines in Miragoâne; attempted coups in 1981 and 1982, and anti-government bombings between 1980 and 1983.

Radio programming offered a discursive public space in which to practice one’s politics, where few other avenues remained. Having grown used to practicing forbidden forms of citizenship on the airwaves, this radio activism soon moved onto the streets. In the popular movement that uprooted Duvalierism, the Haitian majority– Kreyòl speaking peasant farmers, agricultural day laborers, and urban workers—who had once formed bases of support for the regime now demanded the end of the dictatorship. I plot the emergence of a nearly decade and a half long grassroots political movement against Jean-Claude Duvalier by examining radio media to show  how ordinary people first negotiated the terms of their citizenship within an authoritarian system, and later struggled to uproot that system in its entirety.

The complete audio archive of Radio Haiti will soon be available to the public via Duke’s Digital Repository, which will be an unparalleled resource for historians and other researchers interested in radio, political resistance, and the circulation of information in Haiti and in the Haitian diaspora.

April 3: Jistis pou Jando

“Why all this noise and all this furor for a man two years dead?  Why all these mobilizations throughout the country?” With these words, Michèle Montas began her April 2002 editorial on the second anniversary of the assassination of her husband, Radio Haiti-Inter director Jean Dominique, and station employee Jean-Claude Louissaint.  “Why Jean Dominique?  This question has been asked for several weeks, in the background of the mobilizations around the second anniversary of the assassination of the journalist Jean Dominique.  It is asked in whispers, but the admiring or, for some, incredulous sotto voce at times grows annoyed and strident among those who do not understand that this dead man refuses to die.  That a murder perpetrated two years ago, now, continues to make news. Why Jean Dominique?”

pa kite san jando drive ate

On April 3, 2002, the grassroots human rights group Fondation 30 Septembre poured red paint before the gate of the Ministry of Justice (which leader Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine referred to sardonically as the “Ministry of Injustice”) and displayed an effigy of the slain journalist.  The slogan was “Pa kite san Jando drive atè.”  “Don’t let Jean Do’s blood pool on the ground.”   Two years after the murders, people were angry and frustrated that the judicial process had stalled.  Now, sixteen years on, Jean Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint have still not found justice.  The Jean Dominique case, like so many attempts to combat injustice in Haiti, has been filled with absurdity, a tragicomedy of errors and malfeasance.

Pessimism is seductive in the face of such impunity, when the system is stacked and cynical, when the victories are relative or Pyrrhic, when convicted murderers, torturers, and war criminals like Luc Désir and the perpetrators of the Raboteau massacre eventually walk free.   When the state cannot or will not provide justice — when the state provides, instead, a mockery of justice –justice can manifest beyond the courts, beyond the government, beyond the system.  It can manifest in the streets.  La justice du peuple est en marche.


In 2001, artist Maxan Jean-Louis painted the assassination of Jean Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint.  The canvas is dominated by the Radio Haiti building with its emblematic red-and-blue vèvè (a vodou symbol reimagined in the shape of a microphone).  In the background are two men struck down in the parking lot.  Jean’s silenced microphone lies beside him. Jean’s family and the Radio Haiti staff weep while the police and the media look on – rather helplessly, it seems, their arms at their sides.  Tears run down the face of one of the policemen.

yo touye jando

The most dynamic part of the painting are the protestors in the foreground, the men and women standing in the street, outside the station’s walls, clamoring for justice while the weeping policeman looks on.  Their arms raised in protest, their lips parted as they shout, they carry signs:  DOWN WITH CRIMINALS.  WE MUST HAVE JUSTICE.  DOWN WITH THE DEATH MACHINE.  LONG LIVE PEACE.  JUSTICE FOR JOURNALISTS. JUSTICE FOR JEAN DOMINIQUE.  Above them is written: APRIL 3 2000.  FAREWELL JEAN DOMINIQUE.  THE PEASANTS WILL NEVER FORGET YOU.

In the literal sense, that was not how it happened.  Jean Dominique was shot just after 6 am, at the time of the daily Creole news broadcast, and he was pronounced dead at l’Hôpital de la Communauté Haïtienne shortly after.  There was no time for crowds to assemble while his body still lay on the ground.

The painting is a metaphor, then, or perhaps a depiction of time compressed.  The urban and rural masses and civil society organizations did mobilize that very day and for years after: grassroots human rights groups, grassroots peasants’ groups, women’s groups, unions, and ordinary citizens. As Michèle Montas explains, “the mobilizations began on April 3, 2000, through the protests and the expressions of solidarity of hundreds of people shocked by the assassination of a pro-democracy activist who had survived all the regimes against which he had courageously fought, to fall victim to a contract killing during a democratic season that he worked to establish.”

Five days after the murders, on April 8, the state funeral for Jean Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint at Stade Sylvio Cator in downtown Port-au-Prince was attended by 15,000 people, of whom 10,000 were rural farmers.   On July 31, 2000 – what would have been Jean Dominique’s seventieth birthday – more than 10,000 peasant farmers from the Association des Planteurs et Distillateurs de Léogâne et Gressier gathered at the Darbonne sugar factory to thank and demand justice for Jean Dominique.  That same day, the Centre de Production Agricole Jean L. Dominique, run by small-scale coffee growers, was inaugurated in Marmelade.  Hundreds of peasant farmers gathered to pay tribute.  And that same day, musicians, poets, and vodouisants gathered in the courtyard of Radio Haiti to pay homage to Jean Dominique.

In the archive of things Radio Haiti held onto, I came across a song called “Won’t Jean Dominique Find Justice?” by Haiti Rap Force.  From the hand-drawn cover, I assume it was a local rap group from one of Port-au-Prince’s quartiers populaires.  They sing that justice is not achieved through only formal, state-sponsored institutions.

Dosye Jean Dominique pa koute sèlman tribinal
sa konsène tout tout moun an jeneral
n’ap bat poun fè ti pèp la bliye
Nou pa gen dwa janm bliye lanmò Jean Dominique
Refren:
Men se ki lès ki gen flanbo-a kap klere chimen-an poun pa tonbe
Men se ki lès ki konn chimen-an ki va di nou kote nou prale

The Jean Dominique case won’t just be heard in the tribunal
It concerns every single person in general
Trying to make the people forget
But we shall not ever forget the death of Jean Dominique
Refrain:
But who will hold the torch that will light the way so we do not fall?
But who knows the path, who will tell us where we are going?


At the end of the editorial, Michèle returns to the question with which she opened.  “Why Jean Dominique?  Why all this noise, all this noise and all this furor, for a man two years dead?  Why these mobilizations reaching well beyond our borders?  This question is asked in different tones: with admiration among those who understand only now that justice and the defense of freedom are not a gift, and that they can only be the result of permanent pressure to force institutions and political leaders to act in accordance with their mandates; with hostility on the part of the enemies of the journalist, those who ordered his killing, or those who rejoiced at April 3, 2000, at being freed from a voice so strong and, for certain interests, so troublesome. ‘Jean Dominique pa pitimi san gadò’ [Jean Dominique is not unguarded and free for the taking], as we say in one of our radio spots.  His killers had no idea how true that was.”

Thinking about grassroots mobilization in response to injustice reminds me of Jacques Roumain’s Masters of the Dew (Gouverneurs de la rosée).  It is the story of Manuel, a poor cultivator from rural Haiti who becomes politically engaged and organizes his fellow peasants to overcome the things that divide them, to unite in defense of their rights and their land.  Manuel organizes a konbit, the traditional form of communal labor, before he is stabbed to death.  Jean Dominique and his elder sister, the writer Madeleine Paillère, were so moved by novel that they translated the dialogue into Haitian Creole and adapted it for radio in 1972-1973.  It is one fitting epitaph for an agronomist-activist, an intellectual who at great cost threw in his lot with the dispossessed, a man who believed that redemption lay not in suffering, but in solidarity.

On chante le deuil, c’est la coutume, avec les cantiques des morts, mais lui, Manuel, a choisi un cantique pour les vivants: le chant du coumbite, le chant de la terre, de l’eau, des plantes, de l’amitié entre habitants, parce qu’il a voulu, je comprends maintenant, que sa mort soit pour vous le recommencement de la vie. 

It is the custom to mourn by singing hymns for the dead, but he, Manuel, had chosen a hymn for the living – the song of the konbit, the song of the soil, of the water, of the plants, of friendship between peasants, because he wanted, I understand now, that his death be for all of you the a new beginning of life.

RH painting detail

Post contributed by Laura Wagner, PhD, Radio Haiti Project Archivist. 

The Voices of Change project was made possible through a generous grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.

“Radio Haiti, You are the Rain. If You Didn’t Fall, We Could Not Bloom”: Repression and Remembrance on November 28

On November 28, 1980, the Duvalier regime unleashed a campaign of violent repression on the independent press and human rights activists, destroying the Radio Haiti station on Rue du Quai in downtown Port-au-Prince.  The crackdown was not unexpected: in October of that year, Jean-Claude Duvalier had decreed on the National Radio station that only state media would be permitted, that “the party is over” (“le bal est terminé”) for independent Haitian media. In response, Jean Dominique composed his prophetic (and beloved) editorial Bon appétit, messieurs, in which he sardonically declares, “gentlemen, journalists of the official press — the country is yours and yours alone from now on.  And all will be beautiful, all will be peaceful, all will be idyllic, all will be pink and wonderful!” and warns these “official journalists” of what will befall Haiti when the independent press is silenced. Ronald Reagan’s triumph in the US presidential election that November meant decreased international pressure on Duvalier’s government – which was largely dependent on US aid – to respect human rights.  And so, on November 28, the inevitable crackdown occurred.  More than a dozen of Radio Haiti’s journalists were imprisoned, tortured, and expelled. The regime issued an order to kill Jean Dominique on sight; he escaped to the Venezuelan embassy and later went into exile with Michèle Montas in New York.  In the years that followed, resistance to the regime spread throughout the country, as economic conditions worsened for the majority of Haitian citizens while the Duvalier family’s lifestyle grew more ostentatious, lavish and dissipated.

On November 28, 1985, five years to the day after the 1980 crackdown on the independent media, protests broke out in Haiti’s third-largest city, Gonaïves.  Three high school students — Jean-Robert Cius, Mackenson Michel, and Daniel Israël – were gunned down by Duvalier’s forces.  In photos, they are heartbreakingly young – boys, not yet men.  The teenaged martyrs were christened the “Twa Flè Lespwa” (Three Flowers of Hope), and their deaths catalyzed outrage and resistance to the regime, both within Haiti and in Haitian communities abroad.

1
Flier for Brooklyn protest against Duvalier and the killing of the Twa Flè Lespwa. Radio Haiti Archive.

In January 1986, Jean Dominique co-authored a short op ed in Newsday with lawyer and human rights advocate Arthur Helton, discussing the deaths of the Twa Flè Lespwa, the grassroots agitation provoked by their murders, and the United States’ complicity in supporting the Duvalier regime.

2
“Haiti No Longer Suffers in Silence” by Jean L. Dominique and Arthur C. Helton. Newsday, January 27, 1986. Radio Haiti Archive.

They warn, perhaps cautiously: “Discontent grows and a fundamental conflict is looming.”  The conflict was indeed looming, but it was not yet clear how imminent it might be.

3
Le Petit Samedi Soir, Haitian independent magazine, for February 1-7, 1986. Radio Haiti Archive.

But on February 7, 1986,  just over a week after Jean Dominique’s and Arthur Helton’s editorial was published, it happened: Jean-Claude Duvalier and his family boarded a US Air Force cargo plane and fled to France.  On March 4, Jean Dominique and Michèle Montas returned to Port-au-Prince, where many thousands of people – “une masse en délire,” a delirious crowd, according to the Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste – received them at the airport and nearly carried them to the old Radio Haiti station on Rue du Quai.

4
Photocopy of Nouvelliste story on return of Jean Dominique and Michèle Montas to Haiti. March 5, 1986. Radio Haiti Archive.

The station had been ravaged, their equipment smashed.  But the recordings, miraculously, had survived.  J.J. Dominique – Jean’s eldest daughter, who became the station manager after 1986 — explains: “We always said, ‘The Macoutes, they may destroy, but they don’t know the true value of so many things’… They didn’t think, they didn’t understand that the most valuable thing at the station was the work contained in the station’s archive.”

With assistance from the Haitian people – many of whom, though very poor, gave what little money they could afford — the station reopened in 1986.  On November 28 of that year, Radio Haiti held a day-long commemoration of November 28, 1980 and November 28, 1985. It included tributes to the Twa Flè Lespwa and to station manager Richard Brisson who had been killed in 1982.

5
Radio Haiti’s November 28, 1986 special programming. Radio Haiti Archive.

The archive also contains many pages of poetry written by Radio Haiti’s listeners, in Haitian Creole and French, on the Twa Flè Lespwa, the reopening of the station and the return of the journalists. The heartfelt, earnest intensity of these poems (these love letters, really) evinces the public’s devotion to Radio Haiti.  For Radio Haiti’s listeners, the station was more than a station; it was a symbol of liberty, grassroots democracy, and freedom of expression.  For Radio Haiti’s listeners, the journalists were more than journalists; they were heirs to the revolutionary legacy of Haitian heroes who had fought against French colonizers and US occupiers. For me, as the project archivist, finding these poems is a reminder of how irreplaceable and beloved Radio Haiti was and still remains, and how important this archive is.

poem

poem2
Un Jour Comme Aujourd’hui” by Elmate Parent. Radio Haiti Archive.



A day like today

            Under the sorrowful sky of November 28 in the year ‘80

            Haiti’s sun went out

            Sending these brave men, these heroes,

            Fruit of the body of Dessalines, of Charlemagne Péralte

            Fighting with courage,

            For nothing more than the liberation of Haiti,

            Upon the claws of assassins cruel

            With hope they suffered and toiled

            All for the same cause.

A day like today

                        The skies of Haiti wept,

                        And her tears, borne of pain,

                        Allowed life to germinate.

                        You, brave patriots, true offspring of the people,

                        You have suffered such humiliation

                        And endured physical torture.

                        You left your families

                        Your country and your friends

                        To go and live under another sky

                        Where you were strangers

                        All of this for nothing more than the deliberation of Haiti

                        Your native land…

            A day like today

                        In the heavens over Gonaïves,

                        Three brilliant stars burned out

                        They gave their light

                        To reveal crimes

                        And their blood to fertilize

                        The arid soil of Haiti

                        Whereupon shall sprout and grow

                        The tree of freedom.

                        Mackenson Michel, Daniel Israël, Jean Robert Cius

                        Will your famous names,

                        Be erased from our thoughts?

                        Today, 28 November ’86…

8

9
“Men bèl ti paròl yo” by Emmanuel St. Louis. Radio Haiti Archive.

“Men bèl ti paròl yo” (“Some lovely little words”) draws on metaphors of nature and harvest befitting Jean Dominique, a man who was, after all, an agronomist before he was a journalist and activist.  The poet touchingly explains that he “spent all night thinking about Radio Haïti-Inter” before setting pen to paper.

If the sun didn’t shine, plants would not give fruit

 If the rain didn’t fall, drought would never stop dancing,

If the rain didn’t fall, there would be no springs

Springs would not give rise to rivulets

Rivulets would not become streams

Streams would not become rivers,

Rivers would not become the sea…

Radio Haiti, you are the sea, we are the fish

If you were to dry up, we could not live.

Radio Haiti, you are our rain,

If you didn’t fall, we could not bloom…

Radio Haiti, be encouraged! Sow!  Plant!

God will bring it to fruition.

Let us weed, even if the thorns are many,

The pruning shears of the Holy Spirit will aid us always.

10

11
“Ayiti Intè ou se manman liberasyon won” by Gueline Alexis. Radio Haiti Archive.

From “Haiti-Inter, You are the Mother of Liberation”:

Yes, you are the mother of liberation

Because when the children of your womb were suffering

You never closed your eyes to it

You stood bravely to defend the people

Just as a mother hen would do

If a vulture came to devour her children…

Now the idol of the Haitian people

Has returned to continue

The wonderful work it began

Beautiful mama, hold on tighter

Stronger – courage — never give up.

Post contributed by Laura Wagner, PhD, Radio Haiti Project Archivist. 

The Voices of Change project was made possible through a generous grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.

Defending Haitian Rights: A Transnational Challenge

The National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR) papers documents this NGO’s advocacy for human rights in Haiti and for Haitian refugees in the United States. NCHR has conducted its mission reaching out to congressmen and international organizations to influence policy, using its connections and credibility to assist Haitians, whether in their individual immigration issues or as this recent discovery notes, to flee persecution in Haiti and reach safety.

 

Let’s start with a little bit of context. In 1992 Haiti democratically elected its first president ever, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was subsequently forced out of the country for about 6 months. A military regime came immediately into power. Human rights violations became more prevalent, particularly toward supporters of former President Aristide.

 

Logo for the National Front for Change and Democracy
Logo for the National Front for Change and Democracy of Haiti, found in the National Coalition for Haitian Rights Records

During this tumultuous period, three Haitian members of the Aristide’s political party FNCD (National Front for Change and Democracy) [whose names will be withheld for their protection], decided that, for safety reasons, they had no other option than to flee Haiti. They arrived in Guantanamo, Cuba which at that time was used as an immigration transit camp to assess the validity of asylum claims made by Haitians. The asylum process required an initial interview in Guantanamo that would assess whether an immigrant had a credible fear of persecution, and then a second interview in Miami that would assess whether this fear was well-grounded. The screening process was tough, as it is estimated that only 2% of Haitian applicants were granted asylum between 1980 and 1992.

 

It is in Guantanamo that the three Haitians first came in contact with NCHR. Living conditions at the camp were difficult, and several reports documented humiliating treatments, separation of families or refusal of medical care. As the founding members of the Association of Haitian Political Refugees, the three Haitians asked NCHR to witness and then advocate for better treatment of Haitian refugees inside Guantanamo’s camps. The three Haitians successfully passed the first step of the asylum process. However, accounts of mistreatment during the second interview in Miami, especially directed towards members of the Association of Haitian Political Refugees, made them refuse to submit to the second interview. Additionally, the omnipresence of the US military in the camps made many Haitians nervous about telling their stories to immigration officials.

 

Having abandoned the asylum process mid-way, the three Haitians were sent back to Haiti. Beatings by the police on their day of arrival confirmed their fears of political persecution. They decided to go into hiding and attempt to leave Haiti one way or another. They were unable to apply for asylum from within Haiti, and the American embassy was not a sanctuary. The three Haitians called NCHR for help.

 

NCHR’s strategy was first to get them into the Dominican Republic,

Logo for Radio Enriquillo, a station in the Dominican Republic
Logo for Radio Enriquillo, a station in the Dominican Republic

where the United Nations had set up a refugee camp, and then try to obtain permanent residency in the United States, Canada or another Caribbean nation. In a parallel to the American abolitionist Underground Railroad, NCHR resorted to Haiti’s own underground railroad dedicated to helping persecuted Haitians cross the border and enter the Dominican Republic. The underground railroad was managed by a priest on the Haitian side, and by a radio station on the Dominican side.

 

By means of the underground railroad the three Haitians arrived safely in the Dominican Republic. They were greeted by a team of lawyers, enlisted by NCHR to build their asylum case; further complicated by the three being HIV positive at a time when both the United States and Canada had a practice of rejecting asylum claims of HIV positive individuals unless a waiver was obtained.

 

That is the last update in the archives about the three Haitians. We do not know how significant the underground railroad was, as so far we haven’t found any other account of its use in NCHR’s archives. We also do not know whether their asylum claims have been successful, or whether they managed to get permanent residency in the Dominican Republic. Nevertheless, we have been able to reconstruct this story using a variety of documents present in NCHR archives: letters of the three Haitians to NCHR written in Haitian Creole, communication between NCHR’s Haiti and New-York teams in English, status reports coming from the underground railroad in Spanish, interview transcripts in French. This diversity illustrates the fact that the issue of Haitian rights encompasses much more than just the Haitian territory: the flow of refugees coming to the Dominican Republic and to the United States has made the protection of Haitian rights a multinational challenge.

Post contributed by Marie Veyrier, student assistant in Technical Services

Rubenstein Library Acquires Radio Haiti Archives

Jean Dominique and Michèle Montas in the Radio Haiti newsroom.
Jean Dominique and Michèle Montas celebrating the anniversary of the station in the Radio Haiti newsroom, 1990. From the Radio Haiti Records.

The Human Rights Archive at Duke University’s Rubenstein Library and the estate of broadcaster Jean Dominique have announced a partnership to preserve the broadcast archives of the journalist’s iconic Radio Haiti station.  From the 1960s to 2002, Radio Haiti was that country’s first independent radio station, promoting democratic freedoms, speaking out against human rights abuses, and celebrating Haitian life and culture. The station’s archive includes approximately 2,500 audio recordings of programs, as well as 28 boxes of paper records. Recordings include daily coverage of events, cultural programs, interviews on public affairs, political analysis, and roundtable discussions on different aspects of Haiti’s recent history.

“The Radio Haiti collection is an incredibly important resource for understanding the recent history of Haiti,” said Laurent Dubois, Marcello Lotti Professor of Romance Studies and History at Duke. “Because the station broadcast news and reportage largely in Creole and extensively covered events both in Port-au-Prince and the rural areas of Haiti, the collection gives us unequalled access to an understanding of one of the most important grassroots democratic movements in recent history: the movement that overthrew the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986.”

The Radio Haiti archives were donated to the Rubenstein Library by Michèle Montas, station co-anchor and widow of Jean Dominique. Dominique had an unquenchable passion for Haiti and its people, and his quest for truth and justice may have led to his assassination in 2000.

According to Montas the archives “capture a time and place in which journalists and broadcast journalism played a major role in redefining a country and reaching a people. Beyond Haiti, they bear witness to the turbulent transition from a dictatorship to a functioning democracy. ”

Montas stressed that the archives matter today because they touch on and track issues that remain of paramount importance in Haitian society. “By saving these archives and making them once more accessible to large audiences, Duke and the Rubenstein Library are playing a crucial role in advancing the dialogue about Haiti and its future.”

On April 3, Montas will be at Duke to discuss the history of Radio Haiti and its archive. Archivists from the Rubenstein Library will also share some of the challenges of preserving such a large audio collection and discuss the importance this archive has for the broader Haitian community and the human rights movement.  Those interested in learning more about preserving Radio Haiti can visit Duke Library’s Youtube channel.  The event is free and open to the public and will be held at 12 p.m. in the Forum for Scholars and Publics, Old Chemistry Building Room 011, on Duke’s West Campus. Lunch will be provided.

The Radio Haiti archives join other recent acquisitions by the Rubenstein Library documenting the history of Haiti, including the records of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights, the Mark Danner Papers, and a scribal copy of the Haitian Declaration of Independence dating from 1804.

The Radio Haiti archives will open for research after conservation review and archival processing are complete. For more information, contact Patrick Stawski, Human Rights Archivist.

Preserving Radio Haiti

RadioHaiti_blog_photo

The Radio Haiti Records are the fruit of the work of Haitian dissident and “agronomist” Jean Dominique, and chronicle the station’s role in fighting for the people of Haiti.  Jean Dominique was assassinated on April 3, 2000.  His widow and Radio Haiti partner, former UN Spokesperson Michele Montas, brought the Radio Haiti Records to the Rubenstein Library last year, and while it has its challenges – its primary language is Haitian Kreyol and its 3,420 analog tape recordings have spent the better of their lives in a mold-inducing tropical climate – it is that rare collection where value (historical, cultural, human) outweighs almost any conceivable obstacle to making it accessible.

To begin the process of digitizing the recordings, as a first step to transcription and translation, we have created a small pilot project that tests our capabilities and captures the kinds of numbers we need to evaluate the costs associated with preserving Radio Haiti in the long term.  We made the video below to demonstrate some of the basic considerations in approaching the preservation of this important collection.  For more information, check out the Preservation Underground blog, where Head of Conservation Beth Doyle discusses the process we used to clean the mold off the tapes.

Post contributed by Craig Breaden, Audiovisual Archivist

Unveiling the Haitian Declaration of Independence

HaitiDeclaration1blog
The first page of the manuscript copy of the Haitian Declaration of Independence now at the Rubenstein Library.

Date: Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Time: 5:00-7:00 PM
Location: John Hope Franklin Center for International and Interdisciplinary Studies, 2204 Erwin Road, Room 240
Contact Information: Will Hansen, william.hansen(at)duke.edu

The Rubenstein Library has acquired a very rare manuscript copy of the Haitian Declaration of Independence.  This declaration by the army of black Haitians, of liberty from French colonial rule or death, made on 1 January 1804, carries strong echoes of the rhetoric of the American Revolution some thirty years earlier.  It established the first black republic in the world, and is the first declaration of independence written after the American version of 1776.

The scribal copy of the Declaration now at the Rubenstein was found in the papers of Jean Baptiste Pierre Aime Colheux de Longpré, a French colonizer of Saint-Domingue (Haiti) who fled the country during its revolution and settled in New Orleans.  The copy was very likely made shortly after the Declaration took effect on 1 January, 1804. It is one of only a few contemporary or near-contemporary manuscript copies known to scholars, joining copies at the British Library, the French National Archives, and the National Library of Jamaica.

HaitianDeclarationLiberte

A celebration of the Haitian Declaration of Independence will be held on 21 January at the John Hope Franklin Center for International and Interdisciplinary Studies, in collaboration with faculty and staff from Duke’s Haiti Lab.  A round table of scholars of the Haitian Declaration, including Duke Professors Laurent Dubois and Deborah Jenson, Assistant Prof. (and Duke PhD) Julia Gaffield of Georgia State University, and Prof. Richard Rabinowitz and Lynda Kaplan of the American History Workshop, will discuss its history and creation.  The Rubenstein Library’s manuscript copy of the Declaration will be on display in the Center’s gallery. Haitian specialties will be served.

New Acquisitions Week, Day Three: Calligraphic Devotion and Haitian Rights

We’re celebrating the beginning of a new fiscal year with a week’s worth of new acquisitions from the first half of 2012.  Two newly acquired selections will be featured in a post every day this week.  All of these amazing resources are available for today’s scholars, and for future generations of researchers in the Rubenstein Library!

  •  Kitab Dala’il al-Khairat wa Shawariq al-Anwar fi Dhikr al-Salah ‘ala al-Nabi al-Mukhtar [Guidebook of Benefits and Illuminations of Prayers to the Chosen Prophet].  The Dala’il al-Khairat of al-Jazuli (Al-Jazuli, Abu ‘Abdallah Muhammad ibn Sulaymana, d. 1465) is one of the most popular devotional works in Islam, comprising a cycle of prayers to the prophet Muhammad.  The manuscript now at Duke is Arabic written in the Maghrebi script, and likely was created in North Africa in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century.  The manuscript also contains other prayers and devotional texts.  Its calligraphy and ornamentation are beautiful witnesses to a text of surpassing importance in the Muslim faith.
Opening from the newly acquired manuscript of the Dala’il al-Khayrat. Arabic in Maghrebi script.
  • National Coalition for Haitian Rights Records: This organization is dedicated to furthering the civil and international human rights of the Haitian community in the US and helping influence US policy over Haiti to support human rights.  In over 146 linear feet of material, the records document the activity of the Coalition from 1981 to 2003.  This adds to a growing collection of material in the Human Rights Archive related to human rights in Haiti; see the Human Rights Archive’s LibGuide for more information on other collections related to human rights in Latin America.

Previous posts: