Marie Lucie Bonhomme, 36, a Haitian radio talk show host, arrived at her home in Port-au-Prince one evening and found a car with no license plates parked in front of her garage. When an escort from her station, Radio Vision 2000, walked over to inspect the mysterious vehicle, its driver sank deep into the front seat.
"Be careful," her chauffeur advised.
A friend, Danielle Saint-Lot, now an official in the Haitian government, drove Bonhomme to a safe house outside the city. Bonhomme now moves from hotel to hotel, never sleeping in the same place twice.
Weeks earlier, in mid-December, a deputy to then President Jean-Bertrand Aristide accused Bonhomme and five others of seeking the leader's resignation. And Jean-Marie Perrier, the leader of a gang that supported Aristide, vowed at a news conference: "Marie Lucie, you can wait for me. I am coming to shut you up."
But despite the threats, Bonhomme still showed up for work every morning at 5:45.
"I told myself: My duty is to go on informing. This is what is happening, and we cannot pretend it is not there. I let people talk," she said.
Bonhomme, who graduated from Haiti's State University in 1988 and also studied in Belgium and in Paris, is the information director at Radio Vision 2000. She and several other heroic women, including Saint-Lot, were honored Tuesday by Vital Voices Global Partnership at the Kennedy Center. The event drew together career women, political figures and a few celebrities who share concern for individuals trapped in harsh circumstances.
Alyse Nelson Bloom, a spokeswoman for Vital Voices, said that Bonhomme and Saint-Lot attended a conference in Uruguay in 1998 that focused on expanding the group's work into the Americas. The two women returned to Haiti, expanded their group to 100 members, and started reaching out to thousands of women and helping prepare them to run for office.
"They were amazing. Of all our chapters around the world, Haiti's women had the least resources and they were the most effective," Nelson Bloom said. "Marie Lucie's path illustrates where other women plan to go. She helped plant the seeds."
In December, police brutally entered a university campus in the capital, sparking rioting and bloody confrontations between civilians and strongmen loyal to Aristide. Violence engulfed Haiti, and opposition to Aristide grew. Young Haitian journalists emerged as his most damaging opponents.
Day-long coverage in the local media further destabilized the unpopular government, but his supporters declared open season on the journalists.
"They saw us as a pain, as a nuisance and a daily irritant," Bonhomme said. Anonymous callers delivered repeated death threats to journalists.
Bonhomme stopped using her own car after twice being accosted in traffic. She altered her routes and schedule in the evenings to scramble patterns that could make her an easy target. Police officers started questioning her neighbors about her habits.
Human rights violations multiplied. "There was total anarchy," Bonhomme said.
Still, she kept going to work, pressing officials on lapses in public accountability and devoting her one-hour show "Opinion" to Haitians who needed to air their grievances.
"As a journalist in Haiti, a place of permanent peril, you cannot look yourself in the mirror if you stay home," she said. "They could attack me even if I went off the air, so I made a choice. The choice you make is to help your country get out of this mess somehow."
Her mother, undergoing cancer treatment in Paris, and her father, living in Connecticut, called her daily and urged her to leave Haiti.
"I could not get myself to leave. . . . I was responsible for my co-workers, and I could not abandon my listeners," she said.
Aristide supporters drew up a list of six prominent journalists targeted for execution. "We even knew how they were going to kill us, Christine Jeune-style," Bonhomme said, referring to a police officer who was raped and killed in 1996 after speaking out against gangs during a televised meeting hosted by Aristide.
Bonhomme's office was riddled with machine-gun fire; bullets are still lodged in her thick metal file cabinets. On Feb. 28, a fire was set in the radio's basement, partially burning the facility.
On Feb. 29, Aristide finally left the country.
"We need leaders who can create trust," Bonhomme said. "You don't vote for a man, you vote for a program."
On Tuesday, Vital Voices also remembered Fern Holland, an American lawyer brutally killed with her friend and colleague Salwa Oumashi in Iraq in March.
Holland's sister, Vi Holland, said: "People often ask me how my sister was murdered. I know my sister does not want to be remembered for her death, but for the way she lived her life and her dedication to helping others."
Fern Holland left her practice to develop centers in Iraq where women could congregate safely to debate and pursue roles in their communities.
Vital Voices inaugurated an award in Holland's name. The first recipient, Fatima Hassan Miqdadi, a member of Baghdad's city council and an activist imprisoned under former president Saddam Hussein, accepted the honor in a taped speech from Iraq.