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2000-04-04

Jean Dominique, Director of Radio Haiti, Killed

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Haiti’s democratic movement remained in shock today, just 24 hours after pioneering radio broadcaster and leading activist Jean Dominique was gunned down in the courtyard of his radio station. [includes rush transcript]

As we reported on Democracy Now! yesterday, gunman ambushed the 69-year-old Dominique as he was getting out of his car outside of Radio Haiti Inter in downtown Port-au-Prince. A security guard at the station was also killed. Police said two people fled the scene in a pickup truck.

The attack generated widespread condemnation in Haiti and abroad. The Organization of American States said the killing constituted an attack against the freedom of the press and democracy in Haiti.

The assassination comes in the midst of fierce election year battle for thousands of municipal and regional posts as well as parliamentary seats. Later this year, Haitians are slated to vote in presidential elections.

Dominique was leading crusader against the Duvalier family dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s and was the first Haitian radio journalist to broadcast in Creole, instead of French, the language used by Haiti’s tiny but powerful elite.

Dominique and his family fled into exile during Baby Doc Duvalier’s regime in 1980 and returned after Duvalier was ousted in 1986. The night of the 1991 army coup that overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first freely elected president, gunmen attacked Radio Haiti Inter and ransacked the station.

Dominique again went into exile and returned to Haiti in 1994, after the army was ousted with the help of U.S.-led invasion forces.

Today, we’re going to take a look at contemporary Haiti with one of the last interviews — if not the last — that Jean Dominique gave to a US broadcast network.

Pacifica Radio’s Dan Coughlin interviewed Jean Dominique earlier this year at his radio station in Port-au-Prince.

Dominique starts by talking about the upcoming elections and the role of the U.S. Agency for International Development or U.S. A-I-D, the vehicle through which the U.S. funnels huge amounts of money into the country, influencing both the economy and politics of the poorest country in the hemisphere.

Guest:

  • Ray Laforest, of the Haitian Information Center.

Tape:

  • Dan Coughlin Interview with Jean Dominique.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

Haiti’s Democratic movement remained in shock today, just twenty-four hours after pioneering radio broadcaster and leading pro-democracy activist, Jean Dominique, was gunned down in the courtyard of his radio station.

As we reported on Democracy Now! yesterday, gunmen ambushed the sixty-nine-year-old Dominique as he was getting of his car outside of Radio Haiti Inter in downtown Port-au-Prince. The security guard at the station was also killed. Police said two people fled from the scene in a pick-up truck.

The attack generated widespread condemnation in Haiti and around the world. The Organization of American States says the killing constitutes an attack against the freedom of the press and democracy in Haiti. The assassination comes in the midst of fierce election-year battle for thousands of municipal and regional posts, as well as parliamentary seats. Later this year Haitians are slated to vote in presidential elections.

Jean Dominique was a leading crusader against the Duvalier family dictatorship in the ‘70s and ‘80s and was the first station radio journalist to broadcast in Creole instead of French, the language used by Haiti’s tiny but powerful elite. Dominique and his family fled into exile during Baby Doc Duvalier’s regime in 1980 and returned after Duvalier was ousted in ’86.

The night of the 1991 army coup that overthrew Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first freely elected president, gunmen attacked Radio Haiti Inter and ransacked the station. Dominique again went into exile and returned to Haiti in ’94, after the army was ousted with the help of the U.S.-led invasion forces.

We turn for a minute before we go to this interview with Jean Dominique, one of that last interviews he did certainly with an international journalist, we go to Ray Laforest, who is a Haitian American activist. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ray.

RAY LAFOREST:

Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN:

Can you give us a little background, since you personally knew Jean Dominique well. Your families were close.

RAY LAFOREST:

Yeah, I knew Jean. Well, Jean was older than I am. His older brother, Philippe, was my father’s closest friend, and he — Jean comes from a background of liberal politics of a family that was dedicated to change. And as I mentioned earlier, his brother was involved in the first attack against the Duvalier dictatorship in 1957 and was killed in the process.

Jean is — I can tell you that the radio stations in Brooklyn are ablaze not only with shock, but people’s anger, denouncing the killing and calling for retribution and striking back at the enemies of the people.

Jean was a towering figure. He had an acid tongue at times and could be as hard as tack, as a nail. He had a clear vision of where he wanted to go, where Haiti should be, and the right to free speech was one of them. Even though he was a tremendous supporter of President Aristide, he was never in anybody’s pocket.

And I can tell you that in New York the reaction is tremendous. The people are looking at ways to express their — not only their outrage, but recognize the tremendous job that he has done. I’ve spoken to people yesterday telling me how they remember the role the station played after the overthrow of Baby Doc, during those very difficult, dangerous years between 1986 and the election of Aristide, when the forces that controlled Haiti for thirty years were using violence to prevent consolidation of democracy, and Jean was always at the forefront of that fight.

AMY GOODMAN:

And Jean Dominique was also following in the tradition of his brother.

RAY LAFOREST:

Yes. His brother, Philippe, was one of the few, rare breed of Haitian officers who really believed in that — the army could play a role in assisting positive change in Haiti, and died for it. There are very few people like that. Some of them are people like Frank Laraque, who was a very well known professor here, who just retired, and writer, and he dedicated his life also to that kind of activity.

AMY GOODMAN:

His brother dying in a coup attempt against Duvalier.

RAY LAFOREST:

The first one.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, Ray Laforest, I want to thank you for being with us, and with that, we’re going to move into the interview that we have. We’re going to take a look at contemporary Haiti with one of the last interviews, if not the last, that Jean Dominique gave to a US broadcast network. Pacifica Radio’s Dan Coughlin interviewed Jean Dominique earlier this year at his radio station in Port-au-Prince. Dominique starts by talking about the upcoming elections and the role of the US Agency for International Development, known as USAID, the vehicle through which the US funnels huge amounts of money into Haiti, influencing both the economy and politics of the poorest country in the hemisphere.

    DAN COUGHLIN:

    Haiti is moving into a new election phase. What’s at stake in these — both the parliamentary elections coming up and the presidential elections later this year? What’s at stake?

    JEAN DOMINIQUE:

    Recently, and for many times, the Prime Minister Agronome Jacques Edouard Alexis said — and I quote — “This election is something very important for the national sovereignty.” And he repeated this statement many, many times. Why? Because the Prime Minister last year tried to stop an attempt by USAID, Mrs. Phyllis Forbes, of course, who wanted to finance directly a private company, COD, that was supposed to produce the electoral cards with photo. And USAID decided to give directly the money to this company through an NGO called IFES, which is an NGO working inside the electoral body.

    So, the electoral process, starting with the registration of citizen, is obviously under the management of a foreign company financed by a foreign power without any accountability for us Haitian citizen. That’s the first point. And I can tell you that the Prime Minister lost, and the USAID is financing directly the production of this inscription of this registration card. So you can understand what is at stake.

    First point, we can ask one question about this electoral process. Through the experience of IFES, which is the NGO with the mandate of going along with the electoral process, and with COD, the private company for the inscription — the registration card, the problem is, are we going towards an electoral process where all, and I said all the Haitian citizens, will be able to register first, then to vote? The answer is no, because we have 565 counties in Haiti, and actually IFES and COD and COP are preparing for 4,000 registration office. That means less than five registration office for one county. How can you register four million citizen with five registration office for each county?

    Facing this problem and this danger, there has been a lot of peasant organization throughout the country asking the electoral body to stop the registration process outside the cities and in the rural counties, in order to allow all the peasant in the country to register. They are afraid to be excluded of the electoral process. It is exactly what is at stake. Are we going toward an electoral process where only a minority of citizens will go to vote, the majority of the citizens will be excluded of the vote? And as one of the peasant leader told publicly six days ago, “Is this electoral process going toward an electronic result decide before the vote.” That’s the problem.

    DAN COUGHLIN:

    We’re speaking with Jean Dominique, the director of Radio Haiti Inter, arguably the most important radio station here in Port-au-Prince in terms of news and information. Radio Haiti has been at the forefront of the democratic struggle, the struggle against the Duvalier dictatorship through the ‘70s and ‘80s and the military regimes that followed. Let’s talk about this a little bit more. What is the purpose of the electoral card?

    JEAN DOMINIQUE:

    First of all, let’s say that the fact that they decide to put an electoral registration card with the picture of the citizen was a very, very, very good decision, very good initiative. This initiative was contrary to all bad electoral practices of the past, where there was what we call "magouille" possibility for a candidate to collect 100 registration card and sell them to the voters. No more, because every citizen will be with his registration card with his picture. That’s a very positive fact.

    But the fact that the company in charge of doing those registration card with picture, first, and giving it to the citizen, this company and the NGO did not prepare the spreading of the process throughout Haiti. In order to — the majority will not be practically able to register.

    I can tell you that throughout Haiti now, more and more poor citizen are asking questions. What question? There has been with the actual government of President Preval many attempt to put in practice what the Constitution call decentralization, decentralization. What does that mean? That means that the small communities are actually able to take their own affairs in their hands. That’s power to the local government. That’s decentralization, contrary to the Haitian tradition of centralization, everything in the national palace. Now, every community has the chance to take in their hand their business, the business of the community, which is a fantastic step for democracy, actually.

    And because of this decentralization process, actually in process, the poor citizens are saying that we are the master of our destiny. We can now start caring — taking care of ourselves. And they are saying, if we are to vote for the local government, we have to participate, because those people will be our people. We are going to hire them, the same way we can in four years — in four years fire them. So the sense of citizenship is actually emerging and spreading. That’s a wonderful step in the process of democracy in Haiti.

    Maybe our masters don’t like this process. Maybe, maybe, in the paradise of our big brothers, they don’t like that those poor, desperate, illiterate, dirty people can take their destiny in their hands. But I think that they are wrong. They are wrong with their own principle, because a town meeting in the United States is not a revolutionary, is it? When a citizen goes to a town meeting to discuss things about his town, his city, he’s a normal citizen. We want our democracy based on town meetings. We want our democracy based on the Jefferson principles. Is Jefferson contrary to Washington now?

AMY GOODMAN:

Jean Dominique, assassinated yesterday morning in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as he and his security guard were going into his offices at Radio Haiti Inter. When I was covering Haiti during the coup and spending time there, as well as when Jean-Bertand Aristide returned, I got a chance to also meet Jean Dominique, as I went into his offices and saw the bullet-ridden place that he calls home, because he was such a threat to the dictatorships. That interview done by Pacific Radio’s Dan Coughlin, who spent time with Jean Dominique just a few months ago.

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