Jean Dominique Eulogy
by Jonathan Demme
The coward with the pistol, apparently an expert
at snuffing out the life of a great human being, must have studied my dear
friend Jean Léopold Dominiqueís routine very closely in the days preceding his
assassination at 6:15am on Monday, April 3.
Armed only with his notes for the dayís 7:00am broadcast, Jean was shot
four times in the head moments after his car passed through the gates of his
station, Radio Haiti.
Jean Dominique was born in 1931, one of twelve
children. Jeanís father was an
employee in a private business and a member of the petit-bourgeois portion of
the elite. He instilled a strong
sense of Haitian pride in his children, and made Jean see himself not as a
light-skinned member of the elite, but rather as a direct descendant of
Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Toussaint LíOuverture, the liberated African
slaves who defeated Napoleonís army in creating the worldís first free Black
republic in 1804.
As a teenager, Jean became involved with outreach
projects organized by the Catholic church to improve living conditions in rural
communities. He attended the
Haitian Agricultural School in Damien for four years, then went on to the
University of Paris from 1952 through 1957, where he studied agronomy,
specializing in plant genetics.
It was at the University that Jean first fell
under the spell of cinema, the idea of the movies that "get unleashed in
our heads by the movies on the screen." Later,
after his return to Haiti, Jean formed a cine-club, showing European films
provided by the foreign embassies. The
Tontons Macoutes shuttered the club after a showing of Alain Resnaisí NIGHT
AND FOG, a devastating documentary meditation on Auschwitz, because the film
brought into sharp relief Haitiís own ongoing Auschwitz, Fort Dimanche, the
military prison/torture chamber where two of Jeanís brothers-in-law would die
at the hands of the Macoutes.
Jean grew up in a land of oppression, a land
ruled by tyrants and despots throughout his nationís history.
He came of age under one of the most dreaded dictators of all, Francois
"Papa Doc" Duvalier. Meanwhile,
this product of the privileged "elite" fell madly, hopelessly in love
with his country and its vast peasant population.
Returning to Haiti in the late 50s after completing his studies in Paris,
Jean began a career in applied agronomy, working with rural peasants and urban
slumdwellers alike in an effort to help his countrymen better cultivate their
soil, enrich their crops and by extension, empower their lives.
When Jeanís brother, Lieutenant Philippe
Dominique, a renegade Haitian army officer, was killed in a valiant attempt to
topple Papa Doc Duvalier from power, Jean was jailed for six months, during
which time he was tortured as a perceived possible enemy of the state.
Released from the penitentiary, Jean found work
as a freelancer at Radio Haiti, and two years later bought the station himself.
Jeanís mission now was to harness the power of the airwaves as an
instrument of social change. This
grand notion was, in Jeanís words, a very, very risky business, flying in the
face of a medium hitherto used solely as entertainment for the upper classes, or
as a mouthpiece for the government.
Jean introduced two extraordinary new ingredients
to his countryís broadcast stew. First,
he brought Creole to the radio, the language of the uneducated
population, where only French, the language of the elite, had previously been
heard. For the first time, the overwhelming majority of the
population could now understand what was being broadcast.
And with this, came News. Real
news. News of other oppressed
populations around the world, struggling against tyrants not unlike the
Haitiansí hated dictators, the Duvaliers.
News from Nicaragua and Iran, of the dethroning of Somosa and the Shah by
popular movements in those countries. Inspiring
news. Consciousness-raising news.
In Jeanís words, "people decipher the foreign news, and digest it
in their own culture and they start responding.
We send them newsmen, journalists, to pick up information.
They come to the station to give us information.
People start living the daily news.
For them, information this became their life."
Fledging peopleís movements started to arise
all over Haiti. Things started
heating up around Duvalierís palace. So
much so that on November 28, 1980, the Tontons Macoutes invaded Radio Haiti,
destroying the stationís equipment, arresting Jeanís wife Michele Montas and
his daughters, and forcing Jean into the sanctum of the Venezuelan Embassy and
finally into exile in New York with Michele for the next six years.
But the grassroots movement that Jean helped
create continued to grow and erode Baby Docís power.
Days after Duvalier finally fled Haiti for asylum in France, on February
7th 1986, Jean and Michele returned to Haiti.
Tortured under Papa Doc, exiled under Baby Doc, 70,000 people were at the
airport to welcome Jean Dominique home from exile.
The crowd escorted Jean and Michele to the radio station for a jubilant
and spontaneous celebration that spread throughout the surrounding streets for
miles. With an avalanche of
donations more of them measured in cents than in dollars the equipment was
repaired and bigger transmitters installed.
With the promise of Haitiís first presidential election scheduled for
one year hence a lifelong dream Jean Dominique was back on the air. With no lurking secret service in evidence to "play cat
and mouse" with, Jean ratcheted up the ante, spewing Creole, people power,
unbridled criticism of the still deeply-entrenched dynasty Duvalier left behind,
and scathing indictments of the United Statesí efforts to "discreetly"
continue the American control of Haiti even in the face of a new democracy that
our country had enjoyed throughout the century.
Jeanís dream of free elections finally came
true when more than two million Haitians voted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide
into office on December 16, 1990. Twice
offered the Cabinet position of Minister of Information by President Aristide,
Jean Dominique demurred both times, responding that he could do his best for
Haiti outside the government, at his microphone, where he would be free
to help the President in the best way he knew how by criticizing, rather than
publicizing, the powers-that-be.
When the Haitian Military in cahoots with the U.
S. Central Intelligence Agency and a consortium of international business
interests overthrew President Aristideís government in 1991, Radio Haiti was
once again attacked in a barrage of bullets, and Jean and Michele again found
themselves exiles in New York.
They returned to Haiti for the last time in 1994,
after the ruling junta was routed by U.S. armed forces and Aristide was restored
to the National Palace. Once again, Jean rebuilt his station and resumed his mission
of broadcasting the truth as he saw it. As the political and social situation
deteriorated over the remainder of the past decade, Jean remained at the
microphone, perhaps quixotically, speaking with the voice of the people, for the
people, to the people until the morning he was gunned down in the shadows of his
I remember with love and admiration and heartbreak the words that Jean said to some friends in New York in í94, as he prepared to return for his last bout with the demons that haunt Haiti, that "the moment may have come to go back to Haiti, trying to reopen the station, and trying to participate again at this democratic process that was one of the reasons of my life, and of my work in Haiti. So now I am just at the eve of another season of my life. Trying to reopen the station, that I build for 24 years now, a radio station."
©2002 NCHR -- ALL RIGHTS RESERVED -- Last updated: 01 May 2007