Maybe it was the holiday spirit. Who knows? The good news is that Customs authorities have finally released Haiti News Project computers and printers that were destined for Haitian journalists.
The shipment of seven computers, two printers and 52 laptop computer bags had been held in limbo by Customs at Haiti’s Toussaint Louverture airport since November 15 when I went to Haiti to meet with journalists and editors.
Customs officials said that papers showing the cost of the equipment, including delivery and shipping fees, weren’t in precise order. So they held the equipment for a month, sending it once to a warehouse in downtown Port-au-Prince only to later return it to the airport.
The breakthrough came a week before Christmas when Georges Gedeon, a local broker that HNP hired to unravel the tangle at Customs, sent me a text message. “The clearance is done for the computers and bags,” the note said. It would take another week to get possession of the computers and printers, but not the bags, which are still being held.
Linda Francois, HNP’s local contact in Port-au-Prince, retrieved the computers and printers and began getting them to journalists last week. One of the first to get a new computer was Wislin Vital, a radio/television journalist. ”I thank you so much; it’s like a Christmas gift,” he said in an email to me.
Wislin is one of the many Haitian journalists whose salary was cut by half or more after last year’s earthquake. He hopes the computer will help him improve his chances of keeping his job and, eventually, regaining some of his previous salary.
The printers will be given to Elsie Etheart, owner of a joint radio/newspaper business: Melodie FM radio and Haiti en Marche newspaper. Etheart’s small offices in Port-au-Prince suffered minor damage, but the earthquake still inflicted a serious setback to her ability to continue her operations. Furniture, computers and printers were destroyed or damaged, and Etheart said she didn’t have the wherewithal to recover without help.
Nevertheless, Etheart and her determined staff continued to soldier on with a few computers that were not severely damaged. HNP helped by replacing the operation’s computers last summer. This week HNP re-equip the office with printers.
Meanwhile, the laptop bags — a gift to Haitian journalists from members of the National Association of Black journalists – remain in limbo, awaiting confirmation that the holiday spirit at Customs is real.