Archive for March 17th, 2012

The Death of Investigative Journalism

March 17, 2012
Last of the Independents
The Death of Investigative Journalism

Fifteen years ago, in 1997, my Haitian friends helped to arrange my visit to Cite Soleil, then the largest and the most brutal slum (or ‘commune’) in the Western hemisphere, at the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. The arrangement was simple: my F-4 camera and I were to be loaded on the back of the van. The driver and two guards promised to take me there for a two-hour photo shoot. The condition was simple: I was supposed to stick to the back platform of the pickup truck.

Once we arrived, I broke the agreement: I simply couldn’t resist the temptation. I jumped from the van and began walking; photographing all that was in the radius of my lenses.

The guards refused to follow me and when I came back to the intersection, the van was gone. I was later told that my driver was simply too scared to remain in the area. The reputation of Cite Soleil was and probably still is that one could easily enter, but could never leave.

Abandoned, young and moderately insane, I continued working for more than two hours. I encountered no hindrance: locals appeared to be stunned seeing me walking around with professional camera. Some were smiling politely; others were waving, even thanking me.

At some point I noticed two Humvees and the US military men and women with the machine guns facing a desperate crowd. Local people were queuing to enter some compound behind tall walls and the US soldiers were screening those who could be eligible.

Nobody bothered to screen me – I just walked in with no interference. One of the US soldiers even gave me an enormous grin. What I found inside, however, was far from hilarious: a Haitian middle aged woman was laying on her stomach on some provisory operation table, her back split open, while several US military doctors and nurses were poking into her body with scalpels and something that appeared like pliers.

“What the hell are they doing?” I asked her husband who was sitting nearby, his face covered by palms of his hands. He was crying.

“They are removing her tumor”, he said.

There were flies all over, as well as certain much mightier species of insects that I never had a chance to encounter before. The stench was nauseating – that of illness, open bodies, blood and disinfectant.

“We are training for the combat scenario”, explained one of the military nurses. “Haiti is as close to real combat as one could get.”

“These are human beings, buddy”, I tried to argue, but he had his own way of looking at this. “We don’t come, they die. So we are helping them, in a way.”

All I could do was to photograph the mess. No diagnostic equipment was used to determine what was really wrong with the patients. No x-rays were taken. I took a mental note that animals in almost any urban veterinarian clinic in the US were definitely treated much better than those unfortunate people.

Surgery in a Haitian camp. Photo by Andre Vltchek.

The lady was in pain, but she didn’t dare to complain. They were operating on her with only local anesthesia. After it was over, they stitched up her body, and put bandages around her body.

“What now?” I asked her husband.

“We will take a bus back home”, he replied.

Eventually the lady had to get up and walk, leaning on her husband who was lovingly supporting her. I couldn’t believe my own eyes: the patient was made to walk after having her tumor removed.

I befriended a doctor who eventually took me to the series of tents that served as a military installation for the US soldiers and staff deployed in Haiti. Facilities were air-conditioned, spotless, equipped with a real operation theatre, and above all, empty. There were dozens of comfortable cots available.

“Why don’t you let your patients stay here”, I asked.

“Not allowed”, replied doctor.

“You use them as guinea pigs, don’t you?”

He didn’t reply. He considered my question to be rhetoric one. Soon after, I arranged the car and left.

* * *

I never managed to publish the story, except in one newspaper in Prague. I sent photos to the New York Times, to the Independent, but received no reply.

I was not really surprised as one year earlier, after hanging from the ceiling with my arms tied in some god-forsaken Indonesian military facility in occupied East Timor, and after being finally released with the words of “We didn’t realize that you were such an important man” (they found a letter from the ABC News stating that I was on a research assignment as an ‘independent producer’) I couldn’t find any Western mass media outlet that would show interest in publishing reports about mass rapes and other atrocities the Indonesian military had been routinely unleashing against the defenseless population of East Timor.

Refugees at Dadaab Camp. Photo by Andre Vltchek.

But several others already described this type of scenario before me, including Noam Chomsky and John Pilger. One could easily summarize the dogma of ‘free Western press’ as: “Only those atrocities that are serving geopolitical and economic interests of the West could be consider as the true atrocities and would be allowed to be reported and analyzed in our mass media outlets.”

But for this article I would like to look at the situation from slightly different angle.

* * *

continues on :,

Andre Vltchek  is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He lives and works in East Asia and Africa. His latest non-fiction book  “Oceania” exposes Western neo-colonialism in Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia. Pluto in UK will publish his critical book on Indonesia – (Archipelago of Fear) – in August 2012. He can be reached through his website.

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