“There’s a saying in Haiti: ‘deye mon, gen mon.’ It means, ‘beyond mountains, there are mountains,’ Vladimir Duthiers, CBS News correspondent and anchor of the network’s CBSN streaming service tells Variety as he takes pause reporting live from the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, where the island was rocked Aug. 14 by a powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake that has led to a rising death toll of over 2,000. Per the United Nations, at least half-a-million people on the island are in need of emergency assistance in the devastating aftermath.
“That’s how Haitians get through calamities, the instability and the dire straits that they often find themselves in. They have lived through countless hurricanes; countless periods of political instability,” Duthiers adds. “And yet, this nation, founded and inspired by the ideals of the American and French Revolutions, gained their independence from what at the time was a major superpower transporting slaves. They created the first independent Black nation in the Western Hemisphere, which has never really been done, and that is a miracle.”
Duthiers says that, although seeing the home country of his Haitian immigrant parents in this chaotic state is saddening, he knows that Haiti will pull through — yet again, following the shocking 2010 earthquake that led to more than 200,000 dead, which Duthiers also covered on the ground when he was still a CNN intern on an Emmy-award winning team with Anderson Cooper.
Right now, he is reporting for all CBS platforms with the latest on recovery efforts and incoming evidence of the scale of destruction. It hasn’t been as visually excruciating as his experience in 2010, where Duthiers saw “bodies piled up taller than I was, stacked up in front of cemeteries and in front of buildings, and on the streets, while other people burned the bodies,” but it has been difficult all the same. To report in such conditions, Duthiers believes that it takes an incredible amount of empathy.
“You need the realization that you could be a father, or a parent who has a child missing in the night, be it living in Boko Haram, Nigeria or Port-au-Prince,” he says. “Once you can put yourself in the shoes of the people that you’re covering and see life through their eyes, it allows you to share their stories with the world.”
Being both the first-generation son of Haitian immigrant parents and fluent in Haitian Creole and French has allowed Duthiers to empathize even further with the emotional state in which Haitians have found themselves during natural and political catastrophes.
“Haiti finds themselves in another hurricane season, not adequately prepared; yes, Haiti finds themselves in the midst of political instability, and yet, they will climb this mountain just like they’ve climbed every other one,” Duthiers explains. “Haitians have been failed by their elected leaders and by other foreign countries who have failed them and still meddle in Haiti, and they know that, but they don’t want to be pitied. They just want to be able to do all the things we are all able to do, like send their children to school without worrying if their school is going to collapse on them when there’s an earthquake or a hurricane.”
Duthiers adds that he finds himself “with a broken heart again” thinking about the people of Haiti and how they’ve suffered, and how an earthquake 11 years later can produce the same structural results as the one in 2010. While in Haiti now, he has seen houses pancaked and buildings collapsed to the ground, likely because they were not built properly or zoned properly.
“In fact, one of the locations near the epicenter that we visited on Tuesday, I asked somebody at this four-story hotel that had collapsed had been built prior to 2010, and someone said ‘no, it was built after.’ If you don’t use quality materials and you don’t use quality engineers, then this is the result. It didn’t have to be this way 11 years later, but, here we are.”
Duthiers’ ability to speak in Haitian Creole caught Cooper’s attention back in 2010, when Duthier had decided to leave his career in global finance at 38-years-old and worked at CNN as an unpaid intern under the wing of Christiane Amanpour. Duthiers recalls that he was at a play with his brother when the earthquake struck, and he got a call during the intermission from his executive producer, Charlie Moore, asking him to tag along with the CNN team to be his interpreter and production assistant. Duthiers would go on to secure a position as an international correspondent for CNN, working out of Lagos, Nigeria, and remained with the network for five years before transitioning to CBS News.
“I’ve told my Mom before that, sometimes I feel enormous guilt that my career was born out of the plight and suffering of the people of this country, people that I share roots with. I know that many reporters have careers borne out of calamities — whether it is 9/11, the war in Afghanistan — but, to be connected to the Haitian people in the way that I am, it really sometimes cause some to pause and think about my place in the world.”
Duthiers says that, if something goes wrong at work, or if he didn’t get an assignment that he wanted or he’s had an argument with his wife over something, he often pauses and thinks about where he could be if his parents hadn’t made the decision to leave Haiti and come to the United States. He feels especially blessed when covering Haiti now.
Says Duthiers: “All I can ever hope to do as a reporter is carry out the mission to memorialize those who have not survived any situation, whether it be a hurricane in the United States or an earthquake in Haiti, and to honor those who make it, and those who wish to see another day.”