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7349: Report on Jean Dominique's murder (part one) (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
Inter-American Press Association (IAPA)
Haiti: The Case of Jean Léopold Dominique
By Ana Arana (January 2001)
Bodies have disappeared, suspects have died unexpectedly and the
cast of characters who are said to have conspired to kill 69-year-old Jean
Leopold Dominique, Haiti's most prominent radio journalist, is a story more
colorful than any a mystery writer could dream up. Dominique was shot dead
on April 3, 2000, as he arrived to work at his radio station. The first
list of suspects was long--former supporters of the Duvalier dynasty as
well as corrupt businessmen. But recently, the investigation indicates
that Dominique, a key advisor to former President René Préval, and a friend
of President Jean Bertrand Aristide, apparently was a victim of an
internecine conflict among members of Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas political
An investigation by the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) has
found that Dominique, a man who spent his life defending Haiti's poor,
combining journalism with leftist political activism, was killed in a
political conspiracy apparently planned and conceived over several months
by leading political figures tied to Aristide. Among those named in the
investigation as possible suspects are Sen. Dany Toussaint, a
Machiavellian figure who commands a lot of power inside Lavalas, and
several of his allies who serve in the Aristide government or are members
of the Haitian Senate.
These officials, evidence indicates, viewed Dominique's
independence and honesty as a threat to their quest for power, and their
involvement in corrupt businesses, according to sources close to the
investigation. A number of sources provided valuable information to the
IAPA on this investigation. But because the murder conspiracy involves
powerful and criminal figures in Haiti, most sources agreed to talk only if
they were not identified in the report. The threats against the judge,
witnesses and investigators on this case are palpable. Already last
January, a man who was allegedly passing on information on the crime was
killed in broad daylight in Port-au-Prince.
Even Dominique's widow, Michele Montas, who is legally able to
learn details about the investigation, was reticent to share much of her
knowledge. "I am part of the investigation so I have to be careful what I
divulge publicly, " she said.
Dominique's assassination shocked Haiti, because he was seen as an
unconditional, if critical, Lavalas supporter. His death was a dire signal
that the movement President Aristide built in the 1990s in opposition to
the corrupt Duvalier dynasty has serious internal rifts. Before his death,
Dominique harped that a patchwork of corrupt officials with links to
criminal networks, including drug trafficking and car theft, had hijacked
the political party. He had named influential, corrupt Lavalas officials
in his radio programs, in the hopes of promoting their dismissal from the
party. "Dominique thought he had more political clout than he did," said a
Haiti today is more divided and impoverished than when President
Aristide was returned to power by the U.S. Army in Oct. 1994, following a
military coup that ousted him from office for three years, after winning
the 1990 presidential elections. Several political murders have shocked
Haiti in the last few years, but none of the victims was a loyal, long-term
Lavalas member like Dominique. During the first ten months after the
murder, the government lost precious time following false leads, and the
investigation was seriously stalled.
Not until October 2000 did the case advance significantly. The
reason apparently was outgoing President Préval's willingness to use his
last remaining months in office trying to solve the murder. The Préval
administration allocated more money for witness protection, for bodyguards
for Dominique's widow, and for security for the investigating judge, a man
who has received serious death threats. Préval's decision came despite
internal suspicions among Lavalas party officials that the case could have
a negative impact on President Aristide's second term in office. As an
example of this paranoia, party officials have directly told Dominique's
widow, Michele Montas, that the case is dangerous for Aristide.
The IAPA believes a quick resolution of the Dominique case should
be held as a litmus test of the Aristide Administration's decision to
respect press freedom in Haiti. Already Dominique's murder has had an
indelible impact on how journalists do their work. Several threats against
the press have prompted international response, but the use of vigilante
mobs to pressure the news media against critical reporting apparently
continues to be promoted by top Lavalas officials.
Dominique had a violent end in a country where political allies
quickly become enemies. "What people don't understand is that these
officials who are in power today are determined to stay there and won't do
anything they fear is going to affect their power base. Dominique was so
close to power he underestimated the danger," said Marvel Dandin, of Radio
Kiskeya, an independent radio station also under attack by Lavalas
Aristide was elected president last November after contested
legislative and presidential elections. Most of the opposition refused to
participate in the presidential elections. Today that opposition, united
under a group called the Democratic Convergence, which includes most
political parties, in addition to former Lavalas people, refuses to
compromise and has elected a symbolic parallel government in clear defiance
Aristide's second term as president begins as the country faces its
worst political, economic and public safety crisis. Unless he comes to an
agreement with the opposition, the country won't receive $500 million in
international aid. International aid is necessary. Haiti is the poorest
country in Latin America according to the United Nations—with 80 percent
unemployment, a 15 percent inflation and a population growth of 2.1
percent. The next few years will be difficult for Haiti.
Most intellectual and political sectors in Haiti say Lavalas has
contributed to the crisis by its incapacity to tolerate dissent, and its
willingness to look away in the face of corruption among its members.
Lavalas remains a powerful political force because of Aristide's cult
popularity among the Haitian poor.
Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas party has become a haven for vigilante
groups, known as Chimères. These vigilante mobs are allegedly hired to
frighten the opposition. During Dominique's funeral, these protesters
burned the political party headquarters of opposition leader Evans Paul, a
former Aristide ally.
Most sources with knowledge about the Dominique investigation said
they believe President Aristide was not interested in getting rid of
Dominique, the most prominent Fanmi Lavalas leader killed to date. But
foreign and Haitian sources believe sectors within Lavalas are completely
independent of Aristide. They point out that Aristide's failure to
publicly denounce the Dominique murder, other political assassinations, and
attacks against the opposition and the press, have only encouraged more
Others are even more openly critical of Aristide and cast more
doubts on the role he plays in Haiti's political circles. "He continues to
be an important figure in Haiti and in Lavalas," said one source. "In
these matters you don't have to say a word. A nod, or a gesture, can been
interpreted as tacit approval," said one Haiti expert.
Michele Montas, Dominique's widow agreed. "I don't think Aristide
had anything to do with anything related to Jean's death. But he doesn't
control everyone in his party," she said adamantly when asked about the
possibility. Montas remains shaken up by the decision to murder her
husband who remained a loyal party member until his death. "It's ironic,"
she said. "We never dreamed this was a possibility."
Close Aristide associates said Dominique was hated by many people
because of his acid editorials in a country where people are more muted in
their criticism of others. Brian Concannon, an American lawyer who works
with a legal aid group formerly called Lawyers for Aristide, said many
people wanted to get rid of Dominique. He also argued that Western
journalists were too willing to point the finger to people close to
Aristide just to hurt the newly elected president.
Six years after Operation Uphold Democracy, which brought Aristide
back to Haiti in an ambitious military display, and approximately $3
billion in international assistance, the Clinton Administration's Haiti
policy is being declared responsible for the current debacle in Haiti.
"What happened with the Clinton Administration is that they wanted a
success so badly they never questioned problems as they surfaced, and as a
result the situation just got messier," said one congressional source.
US Haiti policy has been marred by the fact it became so divisive
in Washington during the Clinton Administration, pitting Democrats against
Republicans in a manner not seen since the Nicaragua Contra War.
Complicating the issue was the fact that key policy makers became too
involved in Haitian politics. Several members of the Congressional Black
Caucus, for instance, serve in Aristide's Foundation, sending mixed signals
to Haitian officials. Similarly, such organizations as the International
Republican Institute (IRI) had as its in-country director a
Haitian-American whose family had been pro-Duvalier. IRI was forced to
close its office after several attacks against its representatives and
Aristide supporters are highly suspicious of anything American, but
they still want the aid, which is partially American and European. IRI's
involvement in helping organize the Democratic Convergence, the loose
anti-Aristide opposition umbrella group, has been another pebble in the
shoe, in this highly paranoid country. So willing are people to believe in
American malfeasance that a rumor that Dominique was killed by the
Americans was credible in the first months after the murder. Aiding that
rumor was an unfortunate incident where a key informant and possible hit
man in the case turned out to be a Haitian man who had an independent
relationship with the Public Affairs office at the US Embassy.
Until his death Dominique was intensely critical of U.S. policy.
He thought conservative sectors in the United States wanted to finish
Lavalas and posed a danger to Aristide's hopes to win a second run for the
presidency. Thus months before his murder he criticized the role of US
organizations such as the IRI, IFES and USAID, which were directly involved
in the initial preparation of May's legislative elections. In his
typewriter, he left an unfinished editorial on the role the United States
had played in Haiti since 1917.
Ironically, as with anything in Haiti, it is the country's nemesis,
the United States, that gets the ball rolling. In the Dominique case, it
might well be US attention that may convince Aristide to take the case to
court, despite serious opposition within his party. The US is interested
in the case because it is a good vehicle to tackle powerful Haitian
government officials involved in drug trafficking.
But Joanne Mariner, Deputy Director for the Americas at Human
Rights Watch, said it was important for the Bush administration to move
forward beyond drugs, and look at the Dominique murder and other political
assassinations, as a way of helping Haiti improve its judicial system and
"Human Rights Watch will be closely following the progress of the
investigation into Dominique's killing, and, in our view, so should the
Administration. The outcome of this case will be an important indicator of
the strength and reliability of the Haitian justice system," she said.
An irascible and critical reporter, Dominique made many enemies
because of the caustic editorials he delivered on his morning and afternoon
radio shows. His enemies at the time of his death ranged from far right
Duvalier supporters to far left Lavalas populist supporters.
The son of a mulatto, upper-class family in caste-ridden Haiti,
Dominique was considered an enemy of his class because of a lifelong
support for the poor in Haiti. A trained agronomist, Dominique turned to
radio journalism in the 1960s with a one-hour program he hosted on a
time-leased slot on Radio Haiti. By 1971, he had purchased the station,
and began a meteoric rise in the profession because of his bombastic style
and willingness to challenge abuses of power.
A passionate speaker, with a colorful command of French and Creole,
Dominique used the radio waves to oppose Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, his
son "Baby Doc", and the military juntas that ruled Haiti until the early
1990s. He was exiled twice. In 1980, after his station was destroyed, he
went to the United States with his wife Michele, and returned to Haiti only
after a popular revolt overthrew Baby Doc Duvalier in February 1986. In
1991, when a military coup ousted President Aristide, he again went into
exile in the U.S., only returning in 1994, when President Aristide was
brought back by the U.S. military.
He became extremely popular throughout Haiti, especially among
peasants in the countryside because his station often addressed issues of
land ownership and agriculture. His station was the first to offer
Creole-language radio programs, a decision later copied by others in a
country where 90 percent of its citizens are illiterate and speak Creole,
not French, the official language. "Dominique helped lay down the
groundwork for an independent press in Haiti," wrote Jean Jean-Pierre, a
journalist who lives in New York.
Dominique and his wife hosted Inter Actualites, Radio Haiti's most
popular morning show, which included news reports, commentary and
editorials. Montas, a US-trained journalist, delivered the national news,
while Dominique read international news, and wrote the station's editorials
and commentary, which were sizzling tirades against corrupt politicians and
An early Aristide supporter, Dominique embraced his handpicked
successor, President René Préval, who served from 1996 to February 2001.
Also an agronomist, Préval and Dominique both believed in bringing change
in Haiti through political access in the countryside. Together they
founded Kozepep, a peasant organization that could congregate thousands of
peasants for political meetings and began to run into problems with the
Lavalas leadership, who saw it as competition. Several Kozepep members
were attacked by Lavalas in Haiti's interior. Although many serious
problems affected the Préval government, including his decision to dissolve
the Parliament, Dominique had hope with Préval.
"He was more of a politician than a journalist," said Max Chauvet,
editor of Le Nouvelliste, the leading daily in Haiti.
A casual dresser in this tropical capital, where men wear coats and
ties in 90-degree weather, Dominique preferred to work in shirtsleeves and
shoes without socks. But he was an unbending moral conservative. He told
his wife he would not permit Lavalas, which means cleansing flood in
Creole, to become dominated by corrupt officials.
Dominique remained supportive of Aristide, according to Montas.
Even at times when other prominent Lavalas members became part of the
growing Aristide opposition, Dominique stayed with the party. In 1996, for
example, when leaders of the Lavalas Political Organization (OPL), which
supported Aristide's first election in 1990, refused to endorse Aristide's
desire to lengthen his first presidential term, and broke off, Dominique
stayed on. Dominique joined Aristide's new Fanmi Lavalas, helping rescue
the Lavalas' popular name recognition away from the other party, which
became known as OPL. Dominique told Aristide on several occasions he
needed to clean up Lavalas of unsavory characters who were engaged in
corruption and drug trafficking. In the end, Dominique seemed to have been
failed by those he protected.
"Jean's motto was transparency, truth and participation," said
Montas, an elegant, soft-spoken 54-year-old woman who continues to run
Radio Haiti, and is determined to keep her husband's name in the news until
the case is solved.
In May 2000, a month after Dominique's murder, Lavalas won 72 of 82
Lower House seats and 18 of 19 Senate seats. They won another eight seats
in the November elections. But the tabulating methods used to count votes
in the May elections are hotly contested. Vote counting in nine areas was
declared irregular by both the Haitian opposition and independent
international organizations such as the Organization of American States
(OAS) and the United Nations. "If Dominique were alive, he would not have
allowed this to go unnoticed," said a political observer.
The day he was killed, Dominique arrived at the radio station at
his usual time—shortly after 6 a.m. to have a few minutes alone with his
editorial. The news show started at 7 a.m.
The killers apparently watched the station for two weeks prior to
the murder. During that time Michele Montas had been arriving at the
station with Dominique because of a back problem. That was not their
normal routine. They had different schedules and preferred to take
different cars. As fate would have it on April 3, 2000, Montas was driving
herself for the first time in days. "Apparently they had two shooters. I
suppose one was for me," she explained in an interview in her second floor
office at Radio Haiti Inter.
Dominique drove up to the station's entrance on Delmas Road, a
thoroughfare connecting the upscale neighborhood of Petionville and
downtown Port-au-Prince. Jean-Claude Louissaint, the security guard,
opened the blue metal gate. One man was loitering nearby, but Dominique
did not pay attention. Two cars were parked in front of the station with
other men inside.
Dominique parked and took a few steps towards the station's door.
The man loitering entered the gate on foot. Catching up to Dominique he
pulled a gun and shot him seven times with deadly hollow-point bullets—in
case he was wearing a bulletproof vest. One shot pierced his aorta. The
gunman then shot and killed the security guard. "Jean would not have
survived his wounds," said Michele Montas, who found the bodies when she
arrived at the station a few minutes later.
Dominique's death provoked demonstrations and massive displays of
mourning. Eighteen thousand people attended his funeral and a ceremony at
the soccer stadium. But ten months later, the culprits have not been
brought to justice. Six men are in prison, accused of being either
material killers or accessories to the crime. But the investigation inches
slowly, hampered by the deteriorating political situation in the country
and emboldened displays of bravura by people investigators said were
involved in planning and carrying out the murder.
Bizarre incidents have complicated the murder investigation,
putting in display Haiti's penchant for drama and occultism. Last July,
Jean Wilner Lalane, a key suspect died after an orthopedist extracted
bullets lodged in his buttocks, an injury he obtained as he attempted to
escape when he was arrested. A member of a car theft ring, Lalane was said
to be the contact between both the material killers and the intellectual
killers. He was believed to have provided the getaway cars. When police
asked for Lalane's body for an autopsy, it had disappeared from the morgue.
Hospital sources said it was probably buried in a common grave, where they
dispose of unclaimed bodies. The hospital apparently buries bodies quickly
since electricity is cut off for hours during the day because of energy
shortages. The explanation is odd, since hospital staff knew Lalane was an
important suspect in the Dominique murder.
The orthopedist who operated on Lalane also disappeared, after
investigators theorized he had a darker specialty—that of getting rid of
people for criminal reasons. His friends said he is being used as a
Two influential lawyers, Jean Claude Nord and Gerard Georges, who
are also suspects in the case because they threatened Dominique in a radio
program a few weeks before the murder, represent the main suspect, Senator
Dany Toussaint. Georges, a tall man who prefers tailored suits and gold
bracelets, also represents the orthopedist who operated on Lalane.
Then there are the "chimères," screaming Lavalas protesters who are
brought out to challenge the opposition and are reportedly paid for their
services. They have come to scream at the judge every time he hauls in
suspects for questioning in his chambers.
Lavalas leaders claim chimères are out of control Lavalas fans.
Haitian journalists say the chimères have leaders who command their
screams. Such a leader was in the news in January. Paul Raymond, head of
the Lavalas Little Church Community, which operates out the ruins of St.
Jean Bosco, the old parish where Aristide began his career as a priest,
sent shivers down the backs of 80 Haitians journalists, clerics and
politicians when he warned chimères would kill them and turn their "blood
to ink, their skin to parchment and their skulls to inkwells," if they
continued with their opposition antics.
Haitians took the warnings to heart, and the government was forced
to haul Raymond to court to explain the threats—his lawyer was the
ubiquitous Jean Claude Nord who also represents Toussaint and is a suspect
in the crime. During a quick visit to the church ruins in downtown
Port-au-Prince, chimères were being put in trucks and Lavalas leaders were
giving final orders to a group of cars taking protesters to a site.
Chimères can get out of hand. In the past mobs have engaged in
"Pere Lebrun," which means you kill someone by placing a burning tire on
the neck of the intended. They have burnt down opposition headquarters and
staged disorder in front of newspapers and radio stations they see as their
A "petit" judge
Judge Gassant is a small, thin man with a quick smile. A graduate
of the National School of Magistrates in France, he is part of a new crop
of judges in Haiti who take their job seriously. Asked why he took the
Dominique case, he said he "could not refuse the offer because of his
professional integrity." But people in Haiti like to say the judge is
practically carrying a "coffin under his arm."
Between October and January, the judge worked freely if teetering
with fear. The investigation is treacherous, and Gassant who makes arrests
with a group of policemen who wear masks to avoid recognition, was not shy
to express his terror. He never expected the pressure to be so relentless,
but he is hanging on. He has opened a parallel investigation on the Lalane
murder to determine if there was gross negligence, or a direct attempt to
silence a key witness.
Gassant is the third judge on the case. Two judges resigned
following death threats. Gassant took on the case for the prestige and
legal challenge and is hanging on by his fingernails. He broke down in
tears one day, during a brief interview. He takes to heart the rules and
regulations of the proceedings, which means journalists have no access to
the investigation. It is part of the "secret clause," enforced by Haiti's
Napoleonic legal system.
The Dominique case documents are stashed in two big cardboard boxes
which the judge keeps at an undisclosed location. His family has left
Haiti, and he sleeps in a different house every night. He travels around
town in a number of unmarked cars with bodyguards and swat team members.
The killers loom in the darkness of Port-au-Prince, or hide among
pedestrians crisscrossing in front of cars in Haiti's notorious traffic
jams. Dozens of political killings in the last five years have occurred on
clogged city streets.
A few weeks ago, the judge thought he had a close encounter: his
car was cut off by the car of Milien Rommage, a Lavalas deputy and former
number two at the presidential palace's security force. The unit has been
cited by international observers as the place from where several political
murders were planned. Recognizing the judge's car, Rommage yelled that he
could easily spray the car with gunfire. The remarks were supposed to be
in jest, but the judge has received several death threats, and the
encounter came as he battled the Lavalas-controlled Senate, which was
threatening to investigate him because he was attempting to summon key
suspect, Dany Toussaint, who was elected Senator in the May 2000 elections.
Yvon Neptune, president of the Senate and a Toussaint supporter
said the judge's request to question Toussaint was unacceptable coming from
a "petit" judge, which translates roughly as an insignificant judge.
The driving force behind the Dominique investigation is Michele
Montas, a top journalist
who never delved into Haiti's underworld until her husband's murder forced
her to look at a Haiti she did not know. "Jean was murdered because he was
going to stop a lot of people from making a lot money," she said. She uses
the radio station and whatever few connections she has in the Aristide
government to twist arms and move the case along.
Montas met Dominique when she came to work for Radio Haiti in the
early 1970s. Fresh from Columbia University's Graduate School of
Journalism, where she witnessed the 1969 anti-Vietnam War demonstrations,
Dominique swept her off her feet with his passionate politics. Married for
25 years at the time of his death, Montas has suffered tremendously with
the murder. She considered closing the station, but with the help of
Dominique's daughter Gigi, she resumed operations a month after his death.
She also swore to solve her husband's murder. It is a dangerous mission,
to boot. But she is determined. "They killed me when they murdered my
husband," she explained, in her soft French-accented English, her eyes
welling up with tears.
The Préval government gave her four bodyguards who follow her
everywhere. She still seems in shock over her ordeal. Images of her
husband are everywhere at the radio station and in her home. At Radio
Haiti, a life size portrait of a photogenic Dominique welcomes visitors.
At home, his pipes and leather cap remain where he left them.
Montas remains under intense scrutiny by those who planned and
executed her husband's murder. She sometimes gets more bodyguards. "When
the trail gets hot," she said with a nervous laugh. She has written her
will but doesn't believe the killers will come after her. Limited by the
secret clauses controlling the investigation, she only writes stories on
the case when she fears the investigation is being sidestepped. "They
thought I was going to go away because I am a woman."
In February 2001, before the Aristide presidential inauguration,
for example, Montas suspended all transmissions at Radio Haiti for three
days. The action was to protest a motion to investigate Judge Gassant by
the Lavalas-controlled senate after his third attempt to force Sen.
Toussaint to testify. "They have to understand that there won't be
impunity in this case," she added, although she is aware she will need
international support to get the case through Haiti's labyrinth-like