Michèle Montas, still remembers her conversation with the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon when he invited her to become his spokesman “I know your story and that’s why I have chosen you,” he told her.
Montas, an award-winning Haitian radio journalist, and her husband, also a journalist, vocally fought for justice, human rights, and democracy. The couple was forced to flee the country twice to briefly live in exile in the U.S.
On April 3, 2000, Monta’s husband was brutally killed after leaving their private radio station. Montas took over the station, but shut it down in February 2003 after facing an assassination attempt herself. She fled to New York again.
The U.N. job offer came at a turning point, she says. Montas realized “It was not about my fight anymore. It was about other people’s fight.”
“U.N. experience was unique. First, culturally – I am a woman from the third world, and I was the voice of the Secretary General, and a man from South Korea. I saw different realities, but also many similarities. We are all humans…The world is so big, but also quite small” she added.
Montas, 66, who won the oldest international awards in the field of journalism, The Maria Moors Cabot prize, began her career reporting for Radio Haiti-Inter in the early 1970s with her husband, Jean Dominique. Both, exposed political corruption and human right abuses in Haiti.
Montas is passionate about movies. She has recently watched two mystery crime novels, including the “La Chambre Bleue.” However, it’s her country’s fight for democracy, and justice for her husband’s assassination, the story that took Montas to a movie set. The Agronomist (2003) is a documentary by Jonathan Demme, a tribute to Monta’s husband, and the issues faced by the Haitian people. “There has been local and international work to bring Jean’s murder to justice, but this movie is not only a tribute for a friend. This is about a nation’s struggle,” said Montas.
Montas explains that if she had to write a movie, it would be about solidarity. “I never felt alone [referring to the period after Jean’s death]. I would go to the radio, and there was always a journalist sitting across the road from the radio station. After a week, I realized that they did not want to leave me alone. They took turns. They stayed there, looking at me, so I wouldn’t feel that I would be doing the program by myself,” she explained.
Montas is extremely disciplined. This was the key element for her success; she explains, “Whether you are a journalist, or spokesperson, you need to have great discipline. I woke up every day at 4:00 a.m. The same time I woke up to conduct my radio program. I had to brief the Secretary General at 7:00 a.m. This is the same time that I used to kick off my show. I had to brief him on what happened in the world while he was asleep the night before. I worked 12, 13, and 14 hours, sometimes I did not sleep at all.”
After her period at U.N., having travelled 130 countries, and delivering key messages on U.N. key priorities she was ready for retirement.
Montas’ retirement from the U.N. came to a sudden end. A devastating earthquake hit the country three days after her arrival in Haiti on January 7th 2010. 102 UN workers lost their lives. Montas received a call from Secretary General asking, “Michele could you please leave retirement? Could you get back on board?” “I said yes. I realized they needed me,” explained the loyal U.N. worker. It was her time to support the thousands of hundreds of Haitian people that got on the roads to protest against her husband’s murder in 2000. They needed Montas’ help.
Today, Montas is back home, in New York. “In my mind and heart, home is Haiti. In my everyday life, home is New York,” explains Montas.
After finally hitting retirement; she explains that she has never been so busy. She continues to write, and 14 years after her husband’s assassination, Montas is still looking for justice. She hasn’t been to Haiti for a while though.
After spending her life devoted to human rights issues, and facing some of the worst nightmares in her own country, Montas explains what makes her homesick “Drinking a cup of coffee, you are sitting barefooted on the stairway, they bring you the coffee that has gone through a sieve, it is hot, it is amazingly great, and you have the smell of the earth coming to you. For me, that’s happiness.”
Jefferson Souza is currently heading the European field marketing team at Forrester Research. His professional career has been a mixture of international roles (Netherlands, UK, Belgium, Italy, Turkey, and Guatemala) managing PR, branding, journalism and field marketing.
He graduated from London Metropolitan University (UK), and is currently taking journalism courses at Harvard Extension School. In addition to his native Portuguese, he speaks English, Italian and Spanish.