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6166: Gadfly's Killing Tests Haiti's Justice System (fwd)
From: Merrie Archer <MArcher@nchr.org>
Michele Montas will be honored for her work and Jean Dominique commemorated
on Sunday, December 10 in New York by NCHR
For information, please call Dina Paul Parks at 212 337-0005, ext. 11
Gadfly's Killing Tests Haiti's Justice System
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 7, 2000; Page A47
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- He was known as the "Crocodile of Delmas" for his
sharp-toothed hectoring of people in power and for the street where his
radio station was perched high on a hill.
Jean Dominique, a member of the Haitian elite and a champion of its poor,
had plenty of enemies of every political stripe. On this point everyone
agrees. What they can't figure out is which enemy may have killed Dominique
on an April morning with four gunshots, any one of which would have been
The killing has exposed Haiti's gaping social divide, again leaving the poor
majority blaming the rich for the death of a man who worked for their
rights, and tested a justice system that is just beginning to take on this
peaceless county's most serious political crimes.
After eight months, the investigation has yet to uncover who ordered the
killing. Three men are in custody for allegedly lying in wait in the
courtyard parking lot of Radio Haiti, firing with professional precision as
Dominique approached the entrance. A fourth died mysteriously on the
operating table from wounds suffered weeks earlier.
"That he was killed under a regime he had supported, under a constitution he
had fought for, has struck many as ironic," said his widow, Michele
Montas-Dominique, Radio Haiti's general manager, who went into exile three
times with her husband. "We are living in a climate of impunity where people
do what they want and say what they wish. People always get away with these
crimes. This time they won't."
The Dominique case unfolds as Haiti celebrates its most important modern
legal triumph: the conviction and sentencing last month of more than 30
military officers and their paramilitary recruits for a 1994 massacre in
Gonaives, 90 miles north of the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Among those convicted in absentia were two senior military officers, Raoul
Cedras and Philippe Biamby, and several top lieutenants who overthrew
Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991, seven months after his inauguration as the
first freely elected president in Haiti's 200-year history. The pre-dawn
massacre in the pro-Aristide slum of Raboteau left as many as 15 people
dead, some killed as they tried to escape into the sea.
While the Raboteau prosecution succeeded, Haiti's court system is otherwise
a shambles. An estimated 80 percent of the 6,000 prisoners held in the
country's squalid prisons are awaiting trial. Few judges, prosecutors or
defense attorneys are properly trained to handle complex legal cases,
leaving such high-profile killings as the 1993 slaying of Aristide's former
justice minister, Guy Malary, unpunished.
And those in power continue to undermine at least the perception of the
justice system's credibility: The new chairman of the Haitian Senate's
justice committee, Dany Toussaint, was detained three years ago in Miami in
connection with the 1995 assassination of an Aristide opponent. Toussaint,
Aristide's former security chief, has been both accuser and accused in the
Dominique case. So have some of Haiti's most powerful families, who were
frequent targets of the irascible radio reporter.
After his controversial election to a second term last month, Aristide
suggested that he may be planning to seek the extradition of some of those
convicted in the Raboteau case, saying Haiti's future peace depends on
building a system of justice. Cedras and Biamby received asylum in Panama;
others live in Honduras and the United States. "We are building a state of
law that must be rooted in a democratic process," Aristide said. "Of course,
every single citizen must feel free to talk."
"The system in Haiti has always been controlled by the people with guns and
money, but Raboteau showed that it is changing, slowly," said Brian
Concannon Jr., an attorney with the Office of International Lawyers--a
two-lawyer operation helping Haiti improve its justice system. He helped
organize the prosecution of the Raboteau case and is now doing the same on
the Dominique case. "This is the kind of change that takes place over a
For years, despite constant threats on his life, Dominique talked freely.
After working as a Radio Haiti reporter for years, Dominique bought the
station on Delmas Road in 1971 and turned it into a crusading voice against
Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier's repressive kleptocracy.
In Haiti, where as many as eight in 10 people cannot read and the price of a
television set can exceed the average yearly wage, radio rules the media.
Dominique was the first reporter to broadcast in Creole, the language of
Haiti's masses, and drew hundreds of thousands of Haitians closer to their
political system. Limited by Duvalier in its domestic coverage, Radio Haiti
used international news to signal resistance, notably in its reporting on
the overthrow of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, in 1979.
More recently, Dominique turned his attention to some of Haiti's wealthiest
families and the vestiges of the Duvalier regime, which collapsed 14 years
In 1997, Dominique reported that 80 children had died after drinking toxic
cough syrup made by Pharval, a pharmaceutical company owned by the Boulos
family. The family also had connections to the manufacturing of
ethanol-laced alcohol that poisoned dozens of southern farmers, according to
his reports. He implicated a second powerful family, the Mews, in the
Other people presumed to be enemies of Dominique included Gen. Claude
Raymond, who died in prison while being held for his role in a 1987
massacre. Montas-Dominique said autopsy reports showed that the general died
of AIDS, but his supporters blamed her husband for his incarceration. This
prompted Radio Liberte, a New York-based station run by former Duvalier
allies, to broadcast ominous warnings, such as "the heart of General Raymond
will be buried in the courtyard of Radio Haiti." Four months later,
Dominique, 69, died there.
Dominique's death triggered weeks of national mourning. The capital's soccer
stadium was used for his funeral, which drew more than 16,000 people.
Farmers in Haiti's Artibonite Valley asked if they could scatter his ashes
in the river that nourished their rice and sugar cane crops;
"They were convinced that the people who killed Jean were trying to take
away the rights he helped give them," she said. "That's what's a stake now.
If they don't find Jean's killer, we all lose."
So far, little progress has been made in reaching beyond the three alleged
gunmen in custody. Montas-Dominique said the investigation has found that 10
people were paid $600,000 to carry out the killing. However, another
arrested man, who allegedly would have served as the link to the contract's
sponsors, died of heart failure as doctors tried to remove bullets from his
buttocks and other parts of his body. His wounds, inflicted weeks earlier,
were not life-threatening.
Which brings the case back to square one, despite what Montas-Dominique
calls daily attention from President Rene Preval. Last month, the
investigating judge questioned Leopold Berlanger, vice president of Vision
2000, a radio station generally critical of Aristide.
The judge said Toussaint claimed Berlanger had a motive: Berlanger killed
Dominique to prevent a Radio Haiti report implicating Berlanger in a coup
plot against the future Aristide government. Toussaint later backed off the
claim, and Berlanger said his questioning was just an attempt to intimidate
"Finding his killer is a matter of political will," Berlanger said. "You
cannot build a society on these grounds."
© 2000 The Washington Post Company
Associate Director for
Programs and Development
National Coalition for Haitian Rights
275 Seventh Ave, 17th Floor
New York, NY 10001
(212) 337-0005, ext. 18
(212) 741-8749 fax