BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Ever since Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced out of office in February of 2004, security in the Caribbean nation has steadily declined. Even with U.N. peacekeepers patrolling the streets, most of Port-au-Prince is controlled by armed gangs who have used Aristide's departure as an excuse for a campaign of terror. At least 600 people have died since last September, and over the last few months random kidnappings have destabilized Port-au-Prince, as election season approaches. Most kidnappings end when a ransom is paid, but this was not true in the case of the popular Haitian journalist and poet Jacques Roche who was kidnapped and killed earlier this month. As Michael Kavanagh reports from Port-au-Prince, outrage over Roche's death has calmed the spasms of violence in the capitol, at least for now.
MICHAEL KAVANAGH: On July 14th the body of journalist Jacques Roche was found handcuffed and nearly naked on the busy streets of Port-au-Prince. Garry Azémar [?] was one of the Roche's editors at the newspaper Le Matin. [GARRY AZÉMAR SPEAKING IN FRENCH]
INTERPRETER FOR MR. AZÉMAR: It appeared he'd received five bullets to his back, they had broken his wrists, and there were bruise marks all over his body, which was proof that he'd been savagely tortured.
MICHAEL KAVANAGH: By most accounts, at first Roche was the victim of one of the random kidnappings for money that have plagued Haiti for the last few months. But because of his stature, Roche's kidnapping became big news. Originally his kidnappers asked for a 250,000-dollar random. As Roche's editor explains: [MR. AZÉMAR SPEAKS IN FRENCH]
INTERPRETER FOR MR. AZÉMAR: We raised a small pot of money, and it seemed that the kidnappers agreed to accept that. But Thursday afternoon when I came in, someone asked did you hear the news. I said no, what happened. Jacques was found dead this morning. To arrive one day and to hear that he was killed and the way that he was killed, it was like a cold shower. [MR, AZÉMAR CONTINUES IN FRENCH]
MICHAEL KAVANAGH: Roche's death rocked a Haitian population that had become almost immune to random acts of violence, since the forced departure of President Aristide a year and a half ago. Aristide supporters are widely suspected of supporting the killings and kidnappings, including the death of Roche. Some in Haiti suspect that Roche was eventually killed because he'd hosted a series of discussions on Haitian national television that included members of the Group of 184, the pro-business coalition that opposes Aristide's Lavalas Party. But if Roche's murder was politically motivated, it seems the kidnappers were misguided in their choice of target. (MUSIC UP AND UNDER) Roche was a staunchly independent journalist who was as beloved as he was difficult to pin down. [ROCHE SPEAKING IN FRENCH ON AIR] This is one of the last broadcasts of Roche's nightly sports radio show on Radio IBO. He was also a television personality and wrote on arts and culture for Le Matin. He spoke and wrote with passion about the environment, debt relief and development, and was a highly regarded poet. The day of Roche's funeral was declared a national day of mourning by interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue who also suggested he name the street where Roche's body was found Jacques Roche Street. [SOUND OF PEOPLE CHANTING] After the funeral, Haiti's main journalist staged a march from the church to the National Palace. Jean-Paul Pierre who worked with Roche at Radio IBO addressed the crowd at the end of the march. [JEAN-PAUL PIERRE ADDRESSING CROWD IN FRENCH]
INTERPRETER FOR MR. PIERRE: We staged a demonstration to tell the authorities to take responsibility and to say no, to say no, this is unacceptable.
MICHAEL KAVANAGH: Jean-Paul Pierre has reason to be skeptical of Haitian authorities. Jacques Roche is far from the first journalist to be killed in Haiti in recent years. And because most of these cases are politically explosive, they languish unresolved in Haiti's ravaged judicial system. Roche's editor at Le Matin, Garry Azémar, is furious about the lack of justice. [GARRY AZÉMAR SPEAKING IN FRENCH]
INTERPRETER FOR MR. AZÉMAR: Is there a country in the world that allows this kind of barbarity, these kinds of heartless things to happen while nothing is done about those who do it? And my anger is also directed at certain people who've got it in their head that killing people who've done nothing will achieve the result they want, because it won't.
MICHAEL KAVANAGH: It's an anger that many Haitians share. As if Roche's death were a wakeup call for all sides, security in Haiti has improved, says Azémar. [MR. AZÉMAR SPEAKING IN FRENCH]
INTERPRETER FOR MR. AZÉMAR: I'm not saying it's good but it's improved a great deal in the last month. But often after days of violence, there are two or three weeks of calm, and then it explodes again.
MICHAEL KAVANAGH: Franck Séguy [sp?], Roche's colleague and friend at Le Matin, worries that Roche's death will continue to be exploited by political opportunists, particularly anti-Aristide factions, and the pro-business Group of 184. [FRANCK SÉGUY SPEAKING IN FRENCH]
INTERPRETER FOR MR. SÉGUY: I listened to many of the people talking before the day of the funeral. And that day, and in my opinion, Jacques Roche's memory was co-opted. I don't believe that the ideology of many of these people was the same as Jacques Roche's. [MR. SÉGUY, SPEAKING FRENCH]
MICHAEL KAVANAGH: But, at the same time, Séguy says: [MR. SÉGUY CONTINUES]
INTERPRETER FOR MR. SÉGUY: I noticed on the day of the funeral that outside the church there was a lot of talking. It's not easy to get people from different parts of Haitian life to talk. And I said to myself, at least people with so many differences can listen to each other at the funeral of Jacques Roche. Perhaps his death will help. Perhaps it will make people realize they've all got a country to build. [MR. SÉGUY CONTINUES]
MICHAEL KAVANAGH: Last week one of Roche's kidnappers was apprehended, and he's reportedly been talking to the police, leading some to hope that perhaps this time justice might be done in a country where gangs and governments alike have almost always wielded violence with impunity. In Port-au-Prince, I'm Michael Kavanagh for On the Media.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: A postscript: in 2003 Jacques Roche published a poem called Survival. Part of it reads, "You can gouge out my eyes and my eardrums, cut off my arms and legs, leave me naked in the street, but you cannot kill my dream, you cannot kill hope." Jacques Roche died a week before his 44th birthday.