Free Haiti Fundraiser in Memory of Murdered
Contributions can be made at the National
Coalition for Haitian Rights campaign web site.
By Jean Jean-Pierre
On April 3 of this year, Jean Léopold
Dominique was gunned down, execution style, in the garage adjoining the
courtyard of Radio Haiti Inter, the station he founded in 1971. Dominique, 69 at
the time of his death, was just exiting his vehicle to enter the station to host
Inter-Actualités, the most popular early-morning show in the country.
Dominique normally shared a ride to work and then the microphone with his wife,
Michéle Montas, but that day was one of the rare times they did not ride
together to the radio station. The death of Dominique has propelled Montas into
the international spotlight and kept her husband's death front and center in
On Sunday, December 10, Montas and Dominique will be honored at an event to be
held at the Columbia University School of Journalism, where a
documentary-in-progress on the life and death of Dominique produced by filmmaker
Jonathan Demme will be shown.
This will be a homecoming for Montas, and an opportunity for all those who value
Haitian democracy to contribute to Radio Haiti Inter and the National Coalition
for Human Rights.
Radio Haiti Inter has long been boycotted by many from the business elite, and
Montas and Dominique have often been viewed as class traitors by the
light-skinner ruling class in Haiti. Montas and Dominique are mulattoes from
financially well-off families who strongly espoused the causes of the masses, an
anathema in Haitian society. Today the station relies on a handful of
advertisers who themselves believe that more than ever before, Haiti needs
independent voices to promote the causes of the voiceless.
The origins of Haiti's free press
When Columbia University graduate Michéle
Montas returned to her native Haiti in the spring of 1970 to begin work at Le
Nouvelliste, she was already well aware of the dangers associated with the
practice of journalism in that country.
After all, her Uncle Lucien Montas, editor in chief at Le Nouvelliste, has been
waging a battle for more than 25 years with one of the worst dictorial regimes
Haiti has ever known. And, Haiti had survived quite a few before 1957, when,
after well-established fraudelent elections, Francois "Papa Doc"
Duvalier became president. The title of president "for life" was added
seven years later.
Shortly after his investiture, Duvalier either jailed, killed or exiled hundreds
of professionals, including writers, doctors, professors and journalists,
creating the first wave of "brain drain" in Haiti.
Dominique, an agronomist by vocation, was the country's most prominent
journalist. Montas and Dominique began their partnership in 1973 after she had
spent nearly nine months in Europe writing for the French daily Le Monde and the
African weekly Jeune Afrique.
Right off the bat, it was obvious that this union would endure. As Dominique,
whose older sibling Philippe Dominique was executed by Papa Doc in a failed
invasion in 1958, became a constant thorn in the side of the regimes -- Papa Doc
first, followed by Jean Claude Baby Doc in 1971 -- with his daily acerbic
editorials, Montas started broadcasting news heretofore forbidden by the
tyrants. The tandem, along with a fistful of other young print and radio
journalists, began testing the young president-for-life's publicly held policy
of relaxing the brutal state apparatus while reigning over the murderous Tonton
Macoutes, Duvalier's militia that operated mostly at night. Haiti's first
independent press movement was born.
Jimmy Carter's human rights-based foreign policy helped jumpstart the fledgling
independent Haitian press. For almost four full years, Haiti knew for the first
time what is now called the "golden era of journalism" in the
country's 200-year history. (Haiti, the first country to abolish slavery in the
world, became independent in 1804 after achieving victory over Napoleon's might
French imperial army.)
In the wake of Ronald Reagan's election, Baby Doc's regime lost its patience
with the press. In November 1980, Montas, Dominique and score of other
journalists and human rights activists were thrust into exile in the United
States and elsewhere. For the next six years, Montas worked at the United
Nations' radio as press officer and radio producer.
They returned to Haiti in 1986 on the heels of a popular uprising that toppled
Baby Doc. With the help of the Haitian Diaspora and thousands of people from all
social strata in the country, they rebuilt the station, which was destroyed by
They survived another string of military dictators for the next four years only
to find themselves forced into exile once again in the United States in 1991
after the bloodiest coup d'état in the country's history was staged by the
Haitian military, many of whose officers are graduates of the U.S. military's
School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. Their open support of president
Jean Bertand Aristide, who was re-elected last week, cost them another three
years outside of Haiti. They finally returned to the country in the fall 1994,
when a U.S.-led multinational force restored Aristide.
The Never-ending murder investigation
From 1995 to that fateful day last spring,
Montas always begins Inter-Actualités with the words, "Bonjour,
Jean." She still does today. "I have no choice," she said in a
phone interview from Port-au-Prince. "After all these years with this man,
partner, friend and mostly an unfeigned advocate of the desiderata of the
people, I must continue."
While the government investigation on Dominique's death meanders along without
resolution, demonstrations, some led by Montas and other Radio Haiti staffers,
are being held by people from all walks of life on the third of every month to
protest the inquest's laggard pace.
Montas' broadcasts of those protests have resulted in a flood of veiled threats,
sometimes by telephone or competing radio stations sympathetic to the atavistic
Duvalier regimes; other times by unidentified individuals lurking outside the
gate of the station.
Recently those warnings took the form of open threats when a female reporter at
Radio Haiti was publicly told a few weeks ago by a relative of the well-known
street gang leader Ronald "Cadavre" Camille: "We will make sure
that everyone at the station experiences Dominique's fate."
Camille's gang, named Chiméres, after the mythological fire-breathing monster,
operates in the same manner as the frightful Tonton Macoutes. They are
self-proclaimed allies of Lavalas Family, Aristide's political party. Thus far,
Aristide's party officials have said precious little on the subject of the Chiméres
who flagrantly rampage on the streets of Port-au-Prince and some of the
provinces with impunity.
In a stinging editorial radiocast last month, the usually mild-tempered Montas
scolded Haitian authorities for allowing "the virtual new Tonton Macoutes
and mercenaries of change in the country to act with license and impunity."
Addressing directly the overt threats voiced against the station, Montas added,
"If an employee of Radio Haiti loses a hair, if the blood of one of our
journalists is shed again, you will pay for this."
In the aftermath of Dominique's killing, the government apprehended one Jean
Wilner Lalanne who was admitted to a hospital as the result of a leg wound
suffered during what police described as a scuffle. The suspect was later found
dead on his hospital bed. Authorities said he died of a massive heart attack; he
was 35 years old. In a bizarre twist of events, Lalanne's body disappeared from
the morgue three weeks ago. One week later, under a barrage of threats, the
judge in charge of the investigation left the country with his family.
Since her husband's slaying, all ears have been glued on Montas' every
editorial, as she's been hosting both daily shows the very popular Dominique
used to do. As if on a mission, she reports to the station every day at 5:00
a.m. "Since Jean's death, I've been living on borrowed time," she said
with resolve, adding, "but as long as I'm alive, as long as Radio Haiti
exists, this crime will not stay unsolved."
On Sunday, December 10 (International Human Rights Day), filmmaker Jonathan
Demme and the National Coalition for Haitian Rights will honor the work of Jean
Dominique and Michéle Montas at the Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia
University, Broadway and 116th Street, Manhattan. A 30-minute segment of a
'documentary-in-progress' by Demme about Dominique will be shown. Montas will
receive the Michael F. Hooper Award for Human Rights. The program will begin at
5 p.m. This event will also serve as a fundraiser for Radio Haiti Inter and the
National Coalition for Human Rights. For further information or to make a
donation to the cause of free Haitian press, please call (212) 337-0005.
Posted December 7, 2000.
Original article found at OnMoney.com