Born in the dawn of Haiti’s 1994-95 transition from military-backed rule to democracy, Ranmase was created as a place for debate and analysis, said Caraibes owner Patrick Moussignac.
“The show is undeniably an important part of our learning experiences of democracy because debates with opposing sides are still rare here,” said Liliane Pierre-Paul, a respected radio journalist.
Still, speaking out remains risky business in Haiti where the murders of 12 journalists since 2000 remain unsolved, according to a recent press freedom study by the University of San Francisco Law School and the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti.
While conditions have vastly improved, Martelly’s hostility toward journalists “has created an atmosphere of fear and a chilling effect on journalists’ freedom of expression,” according to the study.
Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe dismisses the study’s claims.
Martelly has “people on the radio talking bad about him the whole day from the opposition and they are doing so freely,” he said. “There is no arrest of these people or anything.”
To tune in to Ranmase is to eavesdrop publicly on Haiti’s dysfunctional democracy.
“It is an arena where the good, the bad and the ugly compete with each other and the population listens,” said Michel Eric Gaillard, a political analyst who has appeared on the show over the objections of friends. “You can hear the most amazing things. It’s where culture, politics, and social conflicts burst open.”
Take for instance the time Gaillard, a light-skinned Haitian, found himself having to justify his “Haitian-ness” after a fellow guest challenged him.
The guest, a former presidential candidate who is darker, looked at Gaillard and said, “We here are all children of Dessalines, but you must be able to prove it.”
Jean-Jacques Dessalines, former slave-turned-fighter, is one of the founding fathers of Haitian independence.
Gaillard didn’t flinch at the insinuation that he was a foreigner because of his skin color.
“I told him I have two great-grandfathers who were generals during the independence of Haiti and who are signatories of the act of independence of Haiti. Yes, I can prove it,’’ Gaillard said.
This is what’s called a “psychological assassination,” in which one guest targets another in hopes of winning the debate — much like the recent appearance by Sen. Moise Jean-Charles, a fierce Martelly opponent who has accused the president and several government ministers of holding foreign passports, making them ineligible to serve.
On this particular day, Jean-Charles’ target was Tourism Minister Stephanie Balmir Villedrouin, who has faced the accusation of holding a foreign passport.
“I’d like to have your opinion as a foreigner,” Jean-Charles said to Villedrouin, who was caught off guard and sat in stunned silence.
As the program swirled around her, she would never regain her voice. When she did try to speak, Jean-Charles kept interrupting.
Finally, a fellow government minister, Rose-Anne Auguste, grabbed Villedrouin and declared in a huff: “Let’s go, Steph. We are not going to stay among these mediocre” people.
“On my Facebook, they all commented that Stephanie Villedrouin was at the wrong place, at the wrong time, in front of the wrong senator who spat in her face,” said political blogger and avid listener Jean-Junior Joseph.
The presence of government ministers and advisors on the show week after week is no accident, said Metellus.
“Martelly does not like Caraibes and Ranmase. But every Saturday he sends us members of his team to prevent the opposition from taking over the show and convey ideas that are unfavorable,” Metellus said. “He knows the importance of communication in the political battle.”