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6100: Widow of Slain Haitian Radio Journalist Carries on His Work... (fwd)

From: nozier@tradewind.net

Published November 29 - December 5, 2000
Widow of Slain Haitian Radio Journalist Carries on His Work Amid Threats
The Investigation Continues by Jean Jean-Pierre_ THE VILLAGE VOICE._

Haitian journalist Michèle Montas has witnessed the ominous signs
before: the anonymous nocturnal phone calls, the veiled acts of        
intimidation hurled publicly by those who claim to be connected to one
of the many factions criticized in Radio Haiti Inter's editorials, the
occasional prowling of unidentified individuals in front of the
station's gate. Montas is the widow of Haiti's most celebrated
journalist, Jean Léopold Dominique, with whom she co-anchored a popular
radio show.Dominique was shot dead execution-style on April 3 of this
year in the station's garage, apparently by a lone gunman who then
walked brazenly to a waiting vehicle. Also gunned down was Jean-Claude 
Louissaint, a caretaker at the station. A few weeks ago, a spate of new
warnings grew into overt threats when a relative of a well-known member
of a new street gang named Chimères, after the mythological
fire-breathing monster, told a young female reporter at the station, "We
will make sure that every one at Radio Haiti experiences Dominique's
 Montas recalled in a telephone interview from Port-au-Prince that "Jean
and I used to listen together to recordings of similar threats a few
days before his murder" The Chimères, whose tactics uncannily resemble
those of the dreaded Tonton Macoutes, are made up of self-proclaimed
allies of Fanmi Lavalas (Lavalas Family), the party founded by
Jean-BertrandAristide,the former president who was reelected over the
weekend. Strangely, Lavalas officials have yet to publicly dissociate
the party from this gang, which has been rampaging on the streets of
Port-au-Prince and other cities with impunity. In a blistering editorial
broadcast following renewed threats to station members, Montas rebuked
authorities, declaring, '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.' Dominique, 69 at the time of his death, founded Radio Haiti in
1971. His daily criticisms of the dictatorial regimes of both Duvaliers
(Papa Doc and Baby Doc) and his unadulterated passion for advocating the
aspirations of the masses propelled him and Montas into exile in the
U.S. in 1980. They returned after the popular uprising that overthrew
Jean Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier in 1986. Again in 1991, the couple 
found themselves in exile in the U.S. when the Haitian military?many of
whose officers are graduates of the U.S. military's School of the
Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia?staged the bloodiest coup in the
country's history. Dominique and Montas finally returned to Haiti in
1994 when Aristide was restored by a U.S.-led multinational force.At
Dominique's funeral, more than 15,000 people crowded Port-au-Prince's
soccer stadium to pay tribute to the man they affectionately nicknamed
"Jean Do." Today Montas believes that "most of the people who admired
him strongly believe that things would have been different if he were
alive." Indeed, on the third day of every month since Dominique was
murdered, there have been demonstrations throughout the
country?especially in the rice-rich region of the Artibonite Valley
where Dominique, an agronomist by profession, was extremely popular
among the peasants.

 Since her husband's murder, Montas has been at the helm of Radio
Haiti. Early each morning she begins Inter Actualités, the show they
used to host together, with the words, "Bonjour, Jean." 
 A graduate of the Columbia University School of Journalism, class of
'69, Montas returned to her native Haiti in 1970, working at the daily
newspaper Le Nouvelliste. She recalls that her uncle Lucien Montas,
who was editor in chief, taught her how to navigate the perilous
waters of the profession under a dictatorship. Three years later, after
stints with the French daily Le Monde and the African weekly Jeune
Afrique, she returned to join Dominique at Radio Haiti. (Subsequently,
during both of her periods of exile, she worked at the UN as a press
officer and radio producer.)

 In contrast to Dominique's free-spirited, improvisational commentaries,
 Montas has always specialized in hard news, insightful essays, and
penetrating interviews. Lately, however, this has been changing. In a
blistering editorial broadcast three weeks ago following renewed threats
to station members, she rebuked Haitian authorities for allowing what
she called "the virtual new Tonton Macoutes and mercenaries of
change in the country to act with license and arrogance," and 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 Haiti, the saying goes, "L'enquête se poursuit" (the investigation
 continues). After Dominique was killed, the government's investigation
led to the apprehension of one Jean Wilner Lalanne, who was admitted
to a hospital because of a leg wound sustained during his arrest. A few
days later, Lalanne was found dead in his hospital bed. The official
cause of death: a massive heart attack. He was 35 years old. The
week before last, Lalanne's body disappeared from the morgue. The
investigation continues. 
Amid a storm of coup rumors on the eve of the presidential election,
Haiti's police commissioner, Pierre Denizé, Minister of Justice Camille
Leblanc, and Judge Claudy Gassant, who is in charge of the Dominique
 case, all left the country with their families. 
 Meanwhile, Port-au-Prince experienced yet another of its traditionally
violent pre-election weeks. Dozens of bombs exploded in the streets in
the most populated quarters, killing and injuring scores of people. 
 Not that the government has done nothing. However, some of its timid
efforts have been stymied by members of the new legislature?most of
them are from the Lavalas Party?who won office last May. A key issue
in those elections: the method of tabulating the vote. (Sound familiar?)
Short of changes in the way votes are tabulated, the opposition
parties?as well as the U.S. government?now say they will not
recognize anyone who is elected, including Aristide, who is still the
most popular politician in Haiti. 
 Does all of this signal the end of the investigation of Dominique's
murder? "I believe it is just temporary," replies Montas firmly. "As
long as I'm alive and as long as Radio Haiti exists, this crime will not
stay unsolved." In the background, the clearly audible reverberation of
machine-gun shots is a reminder that the investigation undoubtedly will
take a bit longer.

 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 Michèle 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.
For further information, call 212-337-0005.