Down, but not out in Port-au-Prince

Editor Yves Pierre-Louis, on a mission

I’ve delivered the last of the three computers to journalists and editors in Port-au-Prince who continue to publish amid the rubble and despite personal losses. Yves Pierre-Louis, who edits the weekly Haiti Liberte, opened the wrought iron gate to greet me. The massive concrete building behind him was scarred with cracks and tilted rightward.

This is the new home of Haiti Liberte, a left-leaning weekly. But it won’t be for long. The owner wants to repair the building, so his new tenants must leave soon. Pierre-Louis is concerned but not defeated. Surviving the earthquake was far worse.

Pierre-Louis and his  staff of 10 escaped with their lives, although a photographer was crippled. Five of the staffers lost their homes and are living in tents designed for overnight camping, not daily living. All of them would like sturdier housing.

The heavy downpours of the past few days have been pure misery. The rains came at night. Dirt turned to mud, the mud oozed and flowed, bedding was soaked and the tent dwellers were forced to stand clutching anything they hoped to keep dry — sometimes for hours — until the rains stopped.

The rains are a harbinger of what could come with hurricane season — now just three weeks away.

The highly regarded “Shelter-in-a-box” tent would be a much better alternative to pup tents, but Pierre-Louis is hoping for stronger, modular units.

Haiti’s reconstruction is coming, but the effort thus far has been maddeningly slow and there is little to show anywhere for all the attention and promises. Without help, Haiti Liberte’s tent residents could be in temporary confines for months, even  years.

Pierre-Louis and nine of the paper’s staff have returned to work. The quake demolished Haiti Liberte’s former office a block away, taking with it five of the six computers, two printers, a photo-copier and assorted  furniture, supplies and personal memorabilia.

At least one couriers who distribute the paper lost his car and, consequently, his livelihood. The paper’s advertising  revenues slipped to a fraction of what it was before the quake. Circulation, once at 25,000, has dropped precipitously to  10,000.

U.S. based Publisher Berthony Dupont says he has few resources to bail out the Haiti operation. He publishes papers in Miami and Brooklyn, N.Y. but, as has been the case with many U.S. newspapers, the recession has taken a heavy toll.

I tell Pierre-Louis about the consortium of U.S. and Caribbean media companies that I represent. We’re raising money and collecting equipment to help newspapers like his continue publishing. The delivery of three computers is the first of what we expect will be a much more fulsome support initiative.

Haiti Liberte’s plight makes the urgency of the our mission and those of others resoundingly  clear.
“We would appreciate any help you can give,”  Pierre-Louis says. Then he begins to itemize his very long wish list.

His demeanor is stoic, somber. But his face brightens when I ask him about the paper’s mission.

“We’re a populist, independent newspaper,” he says. “We represent the people. ..We believe in democracy and the democratic process. We are the opposition newspaper and our job is to do more than deliver the news. We try to inform and educate our readers.”

It is quite obvious that Pierre-Louis and his staff will do everything they can to continue their mission. They  barely escaped  the earthquake with their lives. The next step in the journey to recovery depends not only on what they do but what we and others do to help.

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One response to “Down, but not out in Port-au-Prince

  1. Anders Gyllenhaal

    Joe,
    A note of appreciation for these dispatches on your visit to Haiti on behalf of the news project. It’s very good to see your first-hand reports. Let us hope that it helps to drive this project forward and supply the aid our fellow journalists are in such need of.

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