Magazine article New Internationalist

Radio Revolution: Haiti's Poor Take to the Airwaves

Magazine article New Internationalist

Radio Revolution: Haiti's Poor Take to the Airwaves

Article excerpt

[Graph Not Transcribed]

In Haiti - where the poor are not supposed to hold opinions - Jean Dominique was a dangerous man. Father of the country's grassroots radio revolution and ferocious defender of free speech, he was gunned down in April 2000 after denouncing the rigging of elections on air.

Dominique, director of Radio Haiti Inter, pioneered news bulletins in the local language of Creole in the early 1970s. In a country with 80-per-cent illiteracy where the rich and powerful control public discourse and speak exclusively in French, this was in his words a 'revolutionary process, making the Creole-speaking audiences familiar with what was going on in Nicaragua in terms of the Sandinista revolution; what was going on in Iran in terms of the fight against the Shah; what was going on in Haiti in terms of striking workers at the factories around Port-au-Prince and the farmers in the Artibonite Valley fighting against the Macoutes'.

For the first time 'the poor people of this country, whether workers or farmers or jobless people, were able to speak through the radio - to make people know what was their life, their daily fight'.

Where Haitians gather for dance, worship or community meetings, the vibrant tradition of teledjol - word of mouth - means that illiterate peasants in remote areas are often conversant with the current political issues of the day. Unleashing this rich oral culture on to the airwaves has been an explosive act of empowerment.

The radio revolution led by Jean Dominique played a major role in the popular mobilizations that led to the overthrow of the dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986. …

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