When a 7.0 earthquake hit Léogâne, Haiti on January 12, the shock waves completely destroyed the small town and much of the nearby capital of Port-au-Prince. The damage was horrific: at least 230,000 dead, 300,000 injured, and a million Haitians left homeless.
Also crippled in the catastrophe was Haitian-American newspaper Haïti Liberté. One writer was killed in the quake while dozens more were left living in tent cities.
On Saturday evening, Miami restaurant Tap Tap held a fundraiser for Haïti Liberté. Among the highlights: a book release by local author Edwidge Danticat, a set by Haitian music legend Manno Charlemagne, and a fierce critique of the relief effort in Haiti by Marleine Bastien.
Haïti Liberté editor Kim Ives said the event raised several thousand dollars for the cash-strapped weekly, split between Brooklyn and Port-au-Prince. The newspaper is published primarily in French with a small English section and costs 50 cents.
"We don't get any money from the big businesses or the bourgeoisie in Haiti because we bash them pretty regularly," Ives said. "Add that to the earthquake and the problems facing all newspapers these days, and these are tough times for us."
Jacques Elie Leblanc, a writer and member of Liberté's editorial board, made a trip to his native Port-au-Prince in July and found writers living under plastic tarps.
"We didn't even know how bad it was," he said. "Communication between the two countries is so difficult now." When he arrived. Leblanc learned that one writer, a Jerson Philippe, was killed when the Ministry of Social Affairs collapsed on him.
Leblanc, like his newspaper, criticized the relief effort.
"Most of the money is not going to filter down to the masses who need it," he said. "The Americans have made restoring downtown, the commercial section, their #1 priority. But we have to take care of the people first!"
Local politician Marleine Bastien -- who lost her Aug. 24 primary race for Florida's 17th Congressional district -- echoed Leblanc's frustration.
"The situation is a disgrace," she said. "Less than two percent of the money promised has actually been given baby."
"Haïti Liberté is the only one telling the truth," added Bastien, who is co-chair of the Haiti Relief Task Force.
She also criticized the presidential election coming up on November 28. "I don't think we need a president right now," she said. "The nation is in crisis. There should be a council of 10 to 12 people who should manage the country."
Bastien and others who donated money to Haïti Liberté received a free copy of Danticat's new book, Create Dangerously. Like Liberté, the book seeks to explain Haiti to readers overseas. But perhaps neither can truly capture the panorama of sorrow and devastation in the hemisphere's poorest country.
"We see it on TV and in pictures in the newspaper, but you have to be there to really feel it," Leblanc said of his last trip to Haiti. "The scene stays in your mind forever."
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