By November 1980, it was clear that Jean Claude Duvalier’s regime would soon target the opposition, silence the press and curtail certain fragile liberties. These limited, tentative freedoms had been gained through the efforts of Haitian independent journalists and human rights activists between 1977 and 1980, as the Duvalier regime reluctantly capitulated to political pressure from human rights-oriented aid donors, particularly the Carter administration. In November 1980, however, Carter had lost his bid for reelection and a Reagan presidency was on the horizon. For the Duvalier regime, a Reagan presidency meant an opportunity to roll back progress on human rights.
In the preceding months, the independent media (such as Radio Haiti, the weekly magazine Le Petit Samedi Soir, and various small publications) had been covering a variety of issues unfavorable to the Duvalier regime: mounting opposition to the dictatorship, emerging political parties and labor unions, “boat people” fleeing economic and political oppression, previously-unreported peasant uprisings, corruption, toxic waste dumping, and human rights violations. In October 1980, Le Nouveau Monde, the official government paper, published an editorial announcing that the “party was over” (“le bal est fini”). Journalists were harassed, arrested, intimidated, sometimes facing spurious charges in court.
On October 20, Jean Dominique responded to these events with his prophetic editorial “Bon appétit Messieurs”, foreseeing what would happen when the independent press in Haiti was silenced.
On November 28, about a month after this editorial aired, the regime undertook a brutal crackdown on the press, political parties, labor union organizers and human rights activists. More than a dozen journalists were arrested at Radio Haiti, some tortured and later expelled out of the country. The station was closed and its studios physically destroyed. The rest of the Haitian media was effectively silenced until Jean Claude Duvalier was forced to leave the country in 1986.
“Therefore, gentlemen, the official journalists — the country is yours and yours alone from now on. And all will be beautiful, all will be peaceful, all will be idyllic, all will be pink and wonderful. However, the Haitian people run the risk, one beautiful morning, of waking up to a ghastly, unbearable smell, a putrid, nauseating stench! In surprise, they will pinch their noses and ask, “but what is this, what has happened?” The official press, they will not tell them. They will go and look for it themselves, and oh, they will not have to go far, as meanwhile the country will have become a trash heap, the panye fatra of the rest of the industrialized world…. Will you dare, gentlemen of the official government press? Will you dare risk your paychecks, your jobs, your positions or, who knows, perhaps your lives, to denounce in time, as we have tried to do in March and April, the project that would turn Haiti into the trash heap of American cities and factories? Would you dare, gentlemen of the official press?”