By Deji Olukotun
PEN Haiti’s Liberez la Parole! (Free the Word) festival concluded today at the biblioteque of Gonaives. The three-day event featured some of Haiti’s most prominent writers and journalists as well as diaspora writers from as far afield as France, Montreal, Switzerland, and the U.S. The event sites themselves were diverse; at libraries, language institutes, and town halls. Again and again, audiences in searing heat engaged with the panelists by asking difficult questions of prize-winning authors as well as national senators. (On one panel, an audience member even told a senator to sit down until he finished his question—and he did.)
Haitians take free expression seriously because of their historical legacy under successive dictatorships, but also more recently under President Martelly, who has become more hostile towards muck-raking journalists. The participants drew further inspiration from Jacques Stephane Alexis, a doctor, novelist, and statesman who challenged the Duvalier regime until his forced disappearance in 1962.