Published Tuesday, May 30, 2000, in the Miami Herald
Haitian's Widow Vows to Press OnSlain Radio Host's Station Resumes Freedom Legacy
By Don Bohning
PORT-AU-PRINCE -- The red and blue banners flapping in the breeze above the teeming streets of Port-au-Prince tell the story: Jean Dominique Fell. The Fight Continues, proclaims one. Jean Dominique. You Are Gone But Your Ideas Will Go On, says another.
Early the morning of April 3, an unknown assassin gunned down Dominique, stilling the always controversial and sometimes confrontational voice of Haiti's most famous radio journalist, as he arrived at Radio Haiti Inter in suburban Petionville. But his wife Michele Montas, his partner in the radio station as well as in life, vows to make sure that Dominique's fight continues and that his ideas survive.
``Considering what I have lost, there is no other way for me but to go forward,'' Montas said in a recent interview in her second-floor office on the busy Delmas street. ``What was important to Jean was that this station, which has been running since 1972, continued to do what he wanted for this station; what he wanted for this country, emphasizing the same things we always emphasized.'' She added, ``I think it is important to stress that the issues we were doing investigative reporting about and Jean was commenting about, those reports still will continue.'' She acknowledged, however, that ``we cannot hope to replace Jean.'' Nor can Haiti, where one foreign journalist described Dominique as the country's ``Walter Cronkite.''
``There is no doubt in my mind that his death was a huge loss that resonated outside of Haiti as well, with the communities in
New York, Miami and elsewhere,'' said Jocelyn McCalla, the Haitian-born director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights. ``Jean was a
pioneer as a journalist,'' said McCalla, noting that in the mid-1970s he was the first to begin broadcasts in creole, the language of the
majority of the population. ``Of all the journalists I knew in Haiti, he
McCalla said he was concerned that Dominique's assassination, coming at the beginning of a cycle of violence leading up to recent elections, has created ``fear on the part of remaining journalists to be overly cautious in reporting the news.''
Radio Haiti Inter returned to the air under Montas' direction, May 3, World Press Freedom Day and a month to the day after Dominique's assassination. The first 10 days were dedicated to rebroadcasts of Dominique's commentaries. ``I just announced that we were going to start again on the same line that Jean had always run this station. . . . We were going to prove that nothing had changed and that Jean was still alive.''
President Rene Preval, a Dominique friend of 20 years, declared Dominique's a National Funeral, the highest designation in Haiti for a final rite. It was held in the 18,000 seat soccer stadium, and later his ashes were scattered in the Artibonite Valley, home of the Haitian peasants he so frequently championed and defended.
``I realized after Jean died how important he had been to people in this country,'' Montas said. ``We took Jean's ashes to the Artibonite where several people had asked us to come and talk about Jean.'' After the ashes were scattered in the river, Montas said, the peasants said that you could find ``Jean's energy in every single grain of rice produced by the Artibonite Valley.''
Montas, a 1969 graduate of Columbia University Journalism School in New York, met Dominique in 1973 after her return to Haiti. They began living together then and were married in 1983 in New York after the station was shut down and they were exiled in 1980 by President-for-Life Jean-Claude Duvalier.
They returned to a triumphal reception and reopened the station immediately after Duvalier fled the country in February 1986. ``I have been in charge of the newsroom for years, but Jean was the dynamic force behind us,'' Montas said. But the pressures continued under a successive military government. The evidence is visible on the bullet-riddled facade of the station's studios on Delmas street. It occurred in November 1987 as the military terrorized the country to prevent the first democratic elections after the fall of Duvalier. At least three dozen people died, many of them murdered as they stood in line to vote.
A 1991 military coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide sent them
packing into New York exile again, returning to Haiti for the last time following the 1994 U.S.-led invasion that made Aristide's return
possible. The one thing that has changed since Dominique's death is
Dominique, said Montas, ``was always against armed men guarding the station. His idea was that a radio station, since it was supposed to be open to the public as the media in general, it should not be guarded by weapons.'' She has ``no clear view'' of who might have been responsible for Dominique's assassination. She said she believes the killer will probably be found, ``but maybe not the one who paid for the crime.'' In terms of security, she added, things were ``harsher but easier'' under previous authoritarian regimes ``to the extent that you knew where the bullets were coming from. Now it is much more difficult . . . and I don't know where Jean's assassination came from.''
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