BOB GARFIELD: The Associated Press reports that on December 18th in Haiti, police stormed a pro-opposition radio station, smashing equipment in what they claimed was a search for weapons. And while President Jean-Bertrand Aristide says he favors a free press, some 30 Haitian journalists have chosen self-imposed exile after receiving threats in the past two years.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Meanwhile, Haitian radio journalist Michelle Montas, the former director of Radio Haiti International, was honored this month as a defender of press freedom by the watchdog group Reporters Without Borders. Her husband, journalist Jean Dominique, was murdered in 2000, and she was forced to close the radio station and leave the country after mounting threats on her life. Bob spoke to her in March, soon after she closed down Radio Haiti.
MICHELLE MONTAS: We realized that the danger was not just on me; the danger was on everyone. I did it because I felt that we had to protect lives. We have lost three lives in three years. That's a lot. I was no longer willing to go to another funeral, and we decided that the only way to stop this right now was just to stop broadcasting.
BOB GARFIELD:You have reported and your late husband reported on corruption in the regime of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. This regime was supposed to be the democratic alternative to the years of repression under the Duvaliers, but some things, I guess, in Haiti never change.
MICHELLE MONTAS: That's true. A few things, of course, have changed to the extent that we don't have censorship the way we did when we worked under Duvalier at Radio Haiti. We don't have open repression on the press on the part of the government as we did during the coup which was from 1991 to 1994. However, now we have forces, people in the streets, some people, who think that they can, you know, force anyone into silence. If a journalist says anything that they don't like, they can threaten that journalist, and there will be no punishment to them. So it has been really kind of an open season against not only journalists but against anyone expressing ideas that are against the party in power.
BOB GARFIELD:There are other radio stations in Haiti, perhaps not as significant politically as Radio Haiti, but there nonetheless. What are they doing with you off the air? Anything more substantial or it's just status quo?
MICHELLE MONTAS: We know that there is a radio station where they have started counting days. You know, for the last three years, I've been counting days. Every day I've been saying good morning to my husband, every day counting the number of days since he was assassinated. And they have picked up, since we stopped broadcasting, one radio station has started counting, but the other way around -- it has been one day since Radio Haiti had to shut down. It has been two days, three days, four days. And they keep it up. You know, radio journalists feel very endangered by the fact that Radio Haiti had to close. It is a symbol of the situation that most journalists face, because of a general climate of threats against the press. The idea is that if you break the thermometer, maybe you will change the temperature. And you have right now a level of self-censorship on the part of a number of journalists who feel that they cannot say what they used to. And in fact, when I think of the type of journalism we were doing at Radio Haiti, investigative reporting, I don't think there is any room right now for investigative reporting. I remember recently we covered the story of one Congressman that had been assassinated by a known gunman, and it touched people close to the party in power, and right now I don't think any station could do it.
BOB GARFIELD:I want to change the subject a little bit. The director Jonathan Demme has made a documentary about your struggle, and particularly your late husband's struggle. It's a film called The Agronomist. Your husband, Jean Dominique, was trained as an agronomist. He became a journalist only later in life. But the film isn't about agronomy.
MICHELLE MONTAS: Well, it's about not only the struggle of a man for democracy. I think it's the struggle of the country for democracy. And he has covered the years from the '70s when, you know, Radio Haiti was on the air, until now. And the whole story is about the love of a man for a land, for a country. And that's why he kept the title The Agronomist.
BOB GARFIELD:I'm going to ask a difficult question. I don't mean for it to sound indicting, but I must ask it nonetheless. If this film, The Agronomist, is about a movement and a people who refuse to be intimidated, how should we regard the irony of the possibility that the film will debut for world audiences and Radio Haiti won't even be on the air to speak about it.
MICHELLE MONTAS: Radio Haiti stopped broadcasting from 1980 to 1986. We went back on the air then. We went back on the air again in '94 after stopping to broadcast for four years. We haven't stopped fighting. I think our silence is a way of fighting. The fact that we stopped broadcasting is putting pressure on the government to an extent that is maybe even more important than actually speaking out --to the extent that right now they are going to be forced to come out with indictments in the case of Jean Dominique. So I don't think it is--
BOB GARFIELD: So the silence is deafening.
MICHELLE MONTAS: It is. It is. I think it's louder than words.
BOB GARFIELD: Michelle Montas, thanks very much.
MICHELLE MONTAS: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Michelle Montas is the news director of Radio Haiti, and the widow of Haitian journalism martyr Jean Dominique. [MUSIC]