This week I posted the hashtag #JeSuisVladjimirLegagneur (I am Vladjimir Legagneur) on my Facebook profile, and I really mean it because I’ve been in the same situation. I can relate to Vladjimir’s ordeal, and I’m here to tell my story.
By Jonel Juste
Thirteen years ago, I was sent to Bel-air (a no-go zone in the heart of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital) after the Haitian police and the UN forces raided the area and killed two people. I was sent the day after the raid by the Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste to do a news story. In the morning of this fateful day (January 14, 2005), I remember I didn’t want to go to Bel-air because I was afraid. I told them I had to participate in a press conference in Jacmel. I was lying. That didn’t work. The editorial secretary insisted. He was sending me to death, but he didn’t know it. He sent me with another journalist, Claude-Bernard Sérant.
We reluctantly went to Bel-Air. When we got there, people were looking at us like we didn’t belong. We tried to interview some people who refused to talk to us, but we kept going. As we tried to go farther, while we were strolling through a narrow walkway into the slum, a group of hostile young men surrounded and stopped us. They asked us where we were going. We said we were journalists, we just came to do a story. They said: “You lie, you’re spies sent by the police. The police want to know our weaknesses, so they can come back and kill us”. One of the guys added: “We will do to you the same thing the police and UN did to our brothers”, meaning they would kill us. We understood then that we were being attacked, and that we may not be able to escape and come out alive.
Trying to stay calm (while I was dying inside), I strived to explain that we wanted them no harm while my eyes was searching for any deadly weapon they could have. I didn’t see any gun, but I saw iron bars, big wooden sticks and other stuffs. So, I thought to myself they were going to beat us to death. One of the guys asked us to identify us as journalists. I had my badge on. My colleague had not. Before they killed us, they wanted to be really sure about our identity. In hindsight, I think the fact that we were working for a newspaper made it difficult for our attackers to categorize us. In Haiti, journalists are often identified as radio reporters or news anchors. So, these guys couldn’t know for sure if we were working for Radio Caraibes, Radio Metropole or Vision 2000, the three radio stations who they said played a major role in Aristide’s ousting in 2004.
While I was talking to our assailants, Claude Bernard Sérant, my colleague, was fighting them. Maybe he thought that we wouldn’t get out alive from Bel-air this day, and that fighting for his life was the only way out. He escaped, beaten and bleeding. “Ok, your colleague has escaped, we’re not gonna let you go”, one the guys told me. I was trembling, I was asking for mercy. “Please, don’t kill me, I beseech you. I’m really a journalist, not a spy, I want you no harm”, I said while tears were rolling down my eyes. “Please, check my badge, call to my workplace, they’ll confirm my identity”, I implored. Finally, one of them accepted. They called Le Nouvelliste and the newspaper confirmed I was a journalist. After the confirmation, some of them were still not convinced; they kept threatening me while others pleaded to release me. To make a long story short, they accepted to let me go, thanks to God. But before, one of them hit me in the back of my head with a wooden stick. My blood squirted out and spread all over my clothes. My assailants let me go with a warning: “Don’t ever come back again or we will kill you this time”.
I will never forget this day. I was strolling down the streets of Port-au-Prince covered with my own blood. Maybe some people thought I was a zombie who escaped from a nearby funeral home. But to me it was like a new birth. I was given a second chance at life. I was happy to be alive. I am glad I’m still alive to tell my story 13 years later.
I wish Vladjimir Legagneur, wherever he is, will have like me a second chance to live.