The popular community radio station, Vwa Peyizan Sid (VPS), based in the port town of Les Cayes, Haiti, was ransacked and set alight in the wee hours of Saturday, June 22. The attack came shortly after the station criticized the policies of President Jovenel Moïse. Earlier, several VPS journalists had been repeatedly threatened and persecuted.
VPS thus joins a long list of Haitian media that have been attacked in recent weeks. It was only a fortnight ago that the journalist, Pétion Rospide, was shot dead, not long after having denounced an arson attack on vehicles belonging to another radio station.
These violations underline the growing social, economic and political tension in Haiti in recent months. Mass street demonstrations that sometimes turned violent were held in many Haitian cities over the month of February. The increasingly restive populace had been protesting high gasoline and food prices, the poor management of public spending and widespread corruption. These, and other concerns of rural and urban communities in its vicinity are often highlighted by Radio VPS.
VPS and other community radio stations are Haiti’s most popular media. They function as “proximity media,” remaining closely connected to and supporting their audience’s causes. They serve as strategic tools for citizen engagement in the fight for social change and democracy. Development and Peace – Caritas Canada has therefore been supporting community radio networks like SAKS (the Social Communication and Animation Company) and REFRAKA (the Haitian Community Radio Women’s Network), of which VPS is a part.
It is measure of the esteem in which these media are held that within a day of the attack on VPS, the Les Cayes community organized a demonstration in support of press freedom and to demand better protection for community radio stations. There is little question that this is a pressing need. Haiti ranks 62nd out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 World Press Freedom Index.
Development and Peace – Caritas Canada expresses its solidarity with Haitian journalists and supports their right to exercise their profession freely and safely.