Practicing journalism in a country under a dictatorship is almost a suicide mission.
If it’s a foreign correspondent, he’s up against the scorn of government censors and the unblinking surveillance of security agents.
It’s like swimming in a sea infested with hungry sharks, where a reckless move by the reporter could result in the fatal bite.
This is how I saw and felt in Haiti when I arrived as a correspondent for the international news agency Reuters, to cover an armed invasion against the dictatorship of Jean Claude Duvalier, in 1982.
It was directed by Bernard Sansaric, a 37-year-old man, six feet tall, stocky and bearded, exiled in Florida, who with his military boy looked like a Haitian Fidel Castro.
Before traveling, I used a high-ranking Dominican intelligence officer to provide me with a reliable contact, and he chose a Haitian agent who was working as a double spy.
I only remember his false name: Jean Louis Celestin.
I moved with him in his role as a taxi driver through the areas where the government persecuted and fought the expedition members, and I under the guise of a fake tourist.
That’s why I didn’t have so many hounds on my trail.
The big problem then was not to gather enough information, which it collected in a very limited way, about the course of the confrontation, but to transmit it to the Reuters headquarters in Mexico, so that it could be disseminated to the world from there.
The only office for telephone and cable services was guarded by “Ton ton macoutes” agents, the fearsome security force of the dictatorship.
When I went there to send a telex, one of them stood behind me and demanded that I show the message before sending it, because the dictatorship exercised prior and total censorship. I gave up writing and set out to find other ways to evade that control.
My salvation was the Dominican consul in Port-auPrince, who brought me closer to diplomatic and trusted sources and allowed me, risking his position and his life, to use the telegraphic equipment in his office to transmit the news.
Only in this way, the Reuters agency was able to spread the details of the invasion to the world, without censorship and without the authorities of the dictatorship discovering where they came from or who sent them, because I even had to hide my signature to be able to return unharmed from such a risky mission.