Guy Delva Interview: “Impunity biggest threat to media freedom”
12 October 2006
by Charles Arthur, LatinAmerica Press
Guy Delva has worked as a journalist for over 20 years in his native Haiti, for numerous radio stations, Le Nouvelliste newspaper, and as a correspondent for the Caribbean News Agency and the BBC World Service. He rebuilt the Haitian Journalists’ Association and is a dedicated defender and promoter of journalists’ rights. In 2005 he established the media workers’ organization, SOS Journalistes. For the last two years, he has been the country correspondent for Reuters. Latinamerica Press correspondent Charles Arthur spoke to Delva in Port-au-Prince about covering this turbulent country and the threats facing media freedom there.
You have been working as a journalist for more than 20 years now — two decades during which Haiti has gone through dramatic political events such as the 1991 military coup against the Lavalas movement, the intervention of 20,000 US troops in 1994, and, more recently, an armed insurgency by right-wing groups and the collapse of the Lavalas Family party government in early 2004. What has it been like for a working journalist?
Well, there’s certainly been plenty of news to cover, but seriously, it has been difficult and sometimes dangerous work. Five journalists have been killed in the past five years. But, as the cliché goes in Haiti: “l’enquête se poursuit” [the investigation continues] which is a way of saying that the murderers will never be tried and sentenced. They will get away with it.
I myself have been repeatedly threatened — death threats. I have been arrested on several occasions, and been beaten up by police and military officers. I have almost been killed on several occasions because of my reporting. Back in the early 1990s, after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government was overthrown by the military, they said I was working for Aristide, for the Lavalas movement, because I was reporting on the killing and jailing of Aristide supporters. Then when Aristide came back from exile , the same thing happened. His supporters said I was working for the opposition, for the sectors that eventually formed the interim government in March 2004. But then, when that government was in power, I was accused of working for the Lavalas Family party.
So, many journalists have to eat, they have to live with this sort of thing, and they change with the governments, but for me, it is better to work through it and keep reporting what I see. Some people’s interests will be hurt but that shouldn’t worry me as a journalist. All I can do is have a clear conscience, and report what I see. There has been a lot of violence in parts of Port-au-Prince over the last two and a half years. You are one of the few journalists who actually goes into those areas and reports from the scene. What is that like, and what do you think about efforts to end the violence? I have been covering demonstrations in support of the ousted Lavalas Family government and I have seen the police shoot at people. I have seen with my own eyes the dead bodies on the street with bullet wounds. But when I reported on this, and even asked police force leaders about it at press conferences, they denied that anyone had been shot. In these areas, there are young guys with guns. They make a living with those weapons, and that means they are not going to give them up unless they have an alternative. In Cité Soleil [a massive shantytown in northern Port-au-Prince] there are gang leaders who are known as Aristide loyalists, and the interim government wanted to kill them, calling them criminals. Yet, at the same time, former soldiers who killed people in the uprising against Aristide were rewarded with jobs in the police force and in the port administration. In some parts of Africa, to bring an end to conflicts, the killers have been given an amnesty. Maybe we need that in Haiti because we cannot continue with the violence. A disarmament program needs to be implemented, but the gangs need an alternative. You have led the Haitian Journalists’ Association since the year 2000, and you have recently set up a new body called SOS Journalistes. What are some of the other problems — apart from the physical danger — that Haitian journalists face? Impunity is the biggest threat to media freedom. Murderers of journalists in Haiti enjoy 100 percent impunity. This situation only encourages the criminals to multiply attacks on press freedom, because they know the authorities won’t prosecute them. Another big problem is corruption and low pay. A Haitian journalist makes about US$100 a month. Therefore, if a politician gives a journalist just $200, how can you be free to write critical pieces about that politician? You can’t. Media owners are also politicians, and if he doesn’t want you to write a report on a political ally, then he’ll see to it that you don’t. Without media freedom, there cannot be a real democracy in a country. But to attain real freedom for the media, we cannot separate the issue from the day-to-day life of the journalist. That is why with this new organization, SOS Journalistes, we are setting up a solidarity fund to which journalists themselves will contribute. When a journalist encounters a problem and needs money, they can borrow money from the fund and not have to borrow from a politician. We want a training program to provide journalists with knowledge and information on economics, law and international issues. We are also planning to set up a subsidized cafeteria for journalists. Why? Because journalists spend almost half their salaries on food.