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#3467: Jean Dominique Eulogy by Jonathan Demme (Time Mag) (fwd)
From: Tequila Minsky <email@example.com>
JEAN DOMINIQUE "EULOGY"
By Jonathan Demme
April 7, 2000
(Special to Time Magazine)
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 Leopold
Dominique¹s routine very closely in the days preceding his assassination at
6:15am on Monday, April 3. Armed only with his notes for the day¹s 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. Jean¹s 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 Dessaline and
Toussaint L¹Ouverture, the liberated African slaves who defeated Napoleon¹s
army in creating the world¹s 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 Ton-Tons
Macoute shuttered the club after a showing of Alain Resnais¹ NIGHT AND FOG,
a devastating documentary meditation on Auschwitz, because the film brought
into sharp relief Haiti¹s own ongoing Auschwitz, Fort Dimanche, the
military prison/torture chamber where two of Jean¹s 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 nation¹s 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 Jean¹s brother, Lieutenant Phillipe 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. Jean¹s mission now
was to harness the power of the airwaves as an instrument of social change.
This grand notion was, in Jean¹s 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 country¹s
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
against tyrants not unlike the Haitians¹ 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 Jean¹s 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 people¹s movements started to arise all over Haiti. Things
started heating up around Duvalier¹s palace. So much so that on November
28, 1980, the Ton-Tons Macoute invaded Radio Haiti, destroying the
station¹s equipment, arresting Jean¹s wife Michelle Montas and his
daughters, and forcing Jean into the sanctum of the Venezuelan Embassy and
finally into exile in New York with Michelle for the next six years.
But the grassroots movement that Jean helped create continued to grow and
erode Baby Doc¹s power. Days after Duvalier finally fled Haiti for asylum
in France, on February 7th 1986, Jean and Michelle 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 Michelle 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 Haiti¹s 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 criticsm of the still
deeply-entrenched dynasty Duvalier left behind, and scathing indictments of
the United States¹ 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.
Jean¹s 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 Aristide¹s government in 1991, Radio Haiti was once again
attacked in a barrage of bullets, and Jean and Michelle 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 studio.
I remember with love and admiration and heartbreak the words that Jean said
to some friends in New York in ¹94, 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