Why Kill Jean Dominique?
by Michèle D. Pierre-Louis
From: Chemins Critiques – Vol. V, No I – La tentation de la tyrannie
Translated by Max Blanchet
On April 3 2000, Port-au-Prince wakes up with three bullets to its heart. And the whole country cries.
They killed Jean Dominique and the caretaker of his radio station, Jean-Claude Louissaint. They shot them in the yard of the station, the place where they worked. A carefully planned and implemented execution. Without general rehearsal or mishaps. Jean died in a fraction of a second. Alone, armed only with his pipe. Everything happened as if the murderer had wanted in premeditated manner to signify the emblematical character of his crime. The physical elimination, the bloodstain on the ground as well as the terrifying and antithetic noise of the bullets in this space of words, would symbolize forever the ultimate transgression. The passage to action, without recourse or turning back.
The voice has been silenced. We will only hear it in texts already broadcast, interviews of yesteryears, whatever their current resonance. The voice will never speak again in the present tense. This is undoubtedly the reason behind the murder. To silence the voice that disturbed, that denounced with intelligence, insolence, irreverence, with arrogance even at times. Two questions come to mind. Why? And the answer does not involve any doubt. We have just suggested it. So that the voice would no longer fill the airwaves every morning at 7:00 AM. The voice that explained, grated and mocked. The voice that warned, between two exiles, shaking with anger, “the murderers are in the city.” Jean knew very well that death was watching him at the end of his mike. In a country like Haiti, the journalism profession involves as he conceived it a constant hand-to-hand battle with death, even complicity with death. But Jean to date had been able to elude all murderous plans and sneak through the web of dragnets. So much so that he had announced publicly a few months before his death that he was ready to go into exile in response to the rise in violence and intolerance. They did not give him the time. Could it be that they treated “God’s children as a bunch of wild ducks?”
But, the other question that has been haunting us for nine months, the most important in fact because we are talking about a murder: Who? Who coldly arrived at the decision, ordered the act, selected the murderers and had Jean’s body riddled with bullets? Who? The hypotheses are numerous.
Let us state at the outset that our intention is not to play the game of filling the gaps in the judicial police’s inquiry. Jean was until the day of his murder the advisor of the President of the Republic, René Préval. As a consequence, public action was ordered from high up and measures were taken without delay to track down the murderers. Other famous murders did not receive such favors and as time has passed, we have not learned any more than what was circulating as rumors and suspicions from the beginning. All of this said, the swift reaction of the head of state has not been able to minimize the obstacles or traps that the inquiry ran into constantly, thereby setting it back almost always to the starting gate. It must be noted that Michèle Montas, Jean’s widow, has relentlessly grappled with the issue, thus leaving no respite to the commissars and judges investigating the case. All of this to say that the inquiry is proceeding under the veil of secrecy. And it is essential that justice de done.
Our quest is of a different nature. Jean was a personal friend and collaborated with the magazine. In 1993, we had as a matter of fact published following the coup d’état in the issue dedicated to “Nationalism” his long article, “Haiti: the mandate. Who is afraid of participation?” (Chemins Critiques, Vol. 3, No. 1-2, December 1993.) We owe it to him to question his murder, to try and understand this vicious crime and to try and highlight the paradoxes that surround it.
In the first place, to ponder what is happening today, freedom of speech once again is creating a challenge in our country. Journalists are publicly threatened; media outlets are attacked in Port-au-Prince as well as in the provinces. Did Jean’s murder foreshadow other grave violations of freedom of speech that keep on taking place? And the list gets longer. Let us mention in passing the attack perpetrated on November 25, 2000 by newly elected ‘contested’ officials against the inhabitants of the Parish of Pliché where a community radio station, Radyo Vwa Peyizan Sid (The Voice of Haitian Peasants of the South,) broadcasts educational programs targeting mostly the peasant populations of the area. It is useful to recall that at the beginning of 2000, the antenna of Radyo VPS, located at the top of Morne Brulé, not far from les Cayes, was the target of sabotage. Serious damage had resulted and the station was forced to stop broadcasting for a few days. Let us recall the many anonymous threats made to various media on the very day of the elections of November 2000, because live reports had noted the low level of participation and the stuffing of ballot boxes with pre-marked ballots that had taken place. What of the broadcasts that were stopped voluntarily out of excessive prudence or fear? Are we witnessing, as in the time of dictatorship, the deliberate will to return to the baboukèt (Creole for muzzle), to the “time when we spoke in signs”?
The simple fact of recalling what is happening today takes us back to events of another time strangely similar to what we have just described because they relate to the prohibition imposed to our society since slavery against freedom of speech. Let us recall. The slave is mute, stricken with a double dumbness: the impossibility to communicate when confronted with the incomprehension of unknown languages and the denial of free speech instituted by the Code Noir. His or her word can only be a whisper spoken in code pawòl an daki, always clandestine and on the run. This blemish will leave its mark throughout our history. The newly created independent state will adopt from the outset arbitrary power practices, thereby reaffirming paradoxically the prohibitions of the colonial order. Which one among our governments has ever tolerated the free exercise of freedom of speech and critical analysis relating to it activities and pronouncements, or simply the free discourse about the country, the life of folks, their culture, in other words discourse in conflict with the deadened official discourse? Let us recall the circumstances surrounding under Duvalier the disappearance of Ezéchiel Abélard, the murder of Gasner Raymond, the jailing of Marcus Garcia, Elsie Ethéard, Pierre Clitandre, Jean-Robert Hérard, Richard Brisson, Konpè Filo, Konpè Plim, Lilianne Pierre-Paul and of other journalists of Radio Haïti Inter in 1980. Like Jean Dominique, they experienced exile and its suffering.
The same fear is hiding behind all these arbitrary acts; the same motive is pushing towards the repetition ad nauseam of raids, murders and crimes, whatever the justifications proposed. The same questions seem to haunt the offices of power: and what if the people were to listen to these journalists, activists and intellectuals? And what if the folks of this country – its intellectuals, workers, peasants, women, the young – listening to these commentaries were to begin to ask themselves questions and adopt positions at variance with those in power? And what if they began to understand things and to ask for accounts? Freedom of speech by its very nature raises the issue of freedom pure and simple. And we had thought we had completed this conquest in 1986 and 1991. Baboukèt la tonbe (the muzzle has fallen) we shouted then in our victory. The coup d’état will have weakened further an already precarious situation and the conditions surrounding the return to constitutional order did not reduce its degradation in spite of appearances.
Is Jean dead because his word was deemed to be threatening for the powers that be, just as in 1980? He was, however, of that power. He defended it. He was its spokesman in some manner, feeling obligated to justify the logic of this project or that action of the government, trying to demonstrate in some detail that the folks in the slums and the countryside, in particular the peasants, were the main beneficiaries of governmental policies. In spite of the risk of being mistaken. Why then would such a crime be engineered by allies, friends? Unless of course, this power, far from being monocephalic and monolithic, is fractured by contradictions and opposing currents? Maybe. This would not therefore exclude a crack, the locus of fermentation of premeditation. Possible.
It is worth noting that the rise to power of a Lavalas government in 1991 was the result of the mobilization of a vast popular movement whose slow maturation goes back to the harsh years of the dictatorship. An acephalus movement as Jean Dominique himself had noted in his article, ‘The end of Haitian marronage: elements for the study of the movements of popular agitation’ (Collectif Paroles, No. 32, may-December 1985.) “Collective, the popular agitation is boldly acephalous. During 12 years of struggle, has anyone been able to identify the leaders of this agitation in Bocozel, Raboteau, La Fossette?” he wrote at the time (page 44.) Further on, he wrote, “The movement has not, however, found the political articulation necessary to mobilize all this field preparation for a decisive blow…A few ‘natural’ leaders borne forward by different waves have found themselves dancing alone ‘ahead of the band’. They find themselves often paralyzed or corrupted by the system” (page 46.) In 1990, had the “challenging people” found this political articulation? They believed they had at least found its leader. To whom they gave the mandate to pull them out of their historical marginality, thereby receiving the status of full citizenship. After Jean, many analysts have pondered the meaning and reach of what has been called since “the emergence of the masses on the political scene.” This tidal wave that carried political as well as social grievances revived, however, among many sectors of the country, especially in the elites and the traditional political establishment, the ancestral fear vis-à-vis the poor popular strata. The panic at times reached its paroxysm. Jean Dominique was one of the finest analysts of the mutations that shock and are still shaking our society and of the multifaceted resistance that is opposed to any challenge to the status quo. From his microphone, since his return from exile in 1986 and the reopening of his radio station thanks to an immense national movement of solidarity, he continually stirred up the debate on the necessity to include the popular strata in the life of the nation, and in the process skewering all those who under various pretexts displayed vis-à-vis this process of inclusion “only the fear of an invasion by barbarians” to use the expression coined by Laënnec Hurbon (The Imaginary Barbarian, 1987, page 143.) In addition, the activities of this military man, corrupt minister, dishonest businessman, or that unscrupulous industrialist were often the target of famous editorials in which the criticism left no stone unturned. He called to vigilance against the opportunists of all stripe and warned that, “At all time, the old macoute corruption will infiltrate itself, through the civil and military bureaucracy as well as parliamentary representation”. (Chemins Critiques, quoted above, page 182.)
It is along the same line of ideas and editorial logic that since the return to constitutional rule and especially the presidency of René Préval, his friend, he continued his work as a journalist, egged on as he said himself by his “commitment to the struggle for change.” To listen to him, as we reiterate, all actions of the government reflected the popular will and addressed the needs of the poor popular strata, in particular the peasantry. Everything else was a vast plot. A plot by disappointed members of Lavalas who were hoping to dislodge Préval and replace him in power, thereby corrupting the popular mandate. A plot by certain active members of Lavalas hell bent on grabbing all the power for themselves. A plot by the imperialists allied to the traditional oligarchy that still believe in the possibility of their project to install a “controlled democracy”, thereby keeping at bay the popular movement, detested here and elsewhere. A plot by all those who have always displayed a “hatred of the people.” A plot by all theses sectors working in unison. Thus he took to task publicly those who were attempting to rehabilitate the memory of a former military officer who had died in jail. Just as he took on a media mogul whom he accused of plotting against the rise of Lavalas to power; a Lavalas former military man who in October 1999, had seemingly organized a demonstration in front of Radio Haïti Inter and in the process revived the old color conflict; a local pharmaceutical firm for having produced medication with toxic products that caused the death and infirmity of close to one hundred kids; the importers of ethanol whom he accused of falsifying the manufacture of clairin (white rum) using that product; foreign embassies and their untimely intervention in the internal affairs of the country.
The list is long and the investigators of the judicial police have their work cut out for them. These facts are public. Let justice do its work. We concede that the investigation of this case is complex, difficult, even dangerous. But we are looking forward to the disclosure of the truth, so that justice may be done, in other words that the guilty are tried and punished according to the dictates of the law.
Our interest in the truth compels us to ask this last question. And what if Jean was mistaken? Not about the meaning and his faithfulness to the peasant’s cause. Regarding this particular point, no one would dare question its authenticity. Nor would any one question his analyses relative to the resolutely antidemocratic nature of a substantial part of the sectors in opposition to Lavalas. But, in the light of recent events in the country, including the massive frauds in the May elections; the significant abstention to the November elections (It is well worth recalling the elections of December 1990!;) the official lies that convey contempt for the people; the intolerance and violence of Lavalas’ shock troops, the chimères; the continued degradation of the general environment; and more serious, the effective marginalization of the popular masses except in a few controlled pockets manipulated by the powers that be, would Jean be convinced today that this power still executes “the popular mandate?” He who loves to repeat that, “we must learn to decode the signs and the meaning of the actions coming from the base”, what interpretation would he put on current facts? “Facts are hard headed”, he loved to say. We know well he would take the time to bash the opposition’s projects, but what would his reading of the government’s drift be? What conclusions would he then draw of his own analyses?
Unfortunately, he is no longer around to answer our questions. And this is precisely what his murderers were after.