From the June 2000 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 47, No. 06)

Jean Dominique

A Crusader Cut Down

Tekla Szymanski, World Press Review associate editor

The assassination triggered a week of rampage and political turmoil in Haiti: Jean Dominique, 69, the country’s most revered journalist, was gunned down in early April in Port-au-Prince outside the radio station he had founded. His mourners demanded answers.

Dominique, an outspoken democracy advocate, had twice been forced into exile because of his democratic views and his friendship with Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the ousted and than reinstalled former president of this impoverished, unstable nation. His killing is believed to have been politically motivated.

“The only weapon I have is my microphone and my unshakable faith as a militant for change, veritable change,” Dominique once said. As a political adviser to Haiti’s President René Préval, he advocated holding elections this year but was criticized for his call to postpone them in order to ensure their fairness. [At press time, elections were scheduled for June.—WPR]

Dominique was born in Port-au-Prince to a well-to-do family and attended private school in Haiti and France, studying agronomy. In the early 1960s, he founded Haiti’s first independent radio station, Radio Haïti Inter—the first broadcast outlet in Creole, the language of 70 percent of Haitians.

As a vocal opponent of Haiti’s infamous dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, Dominique was forced into exile in New York in 1980. Six years later, after Duvalier’s ouster, Dominique returned, only to leave again in 1991, this time together with ousted President Aristide, during Raoul Cédras’s military regime. Dominique went back to Haiti in 1994. He married Michele Montas, a fellow journalist, and they had three daughters.

“It is only when the bodies start piling up that the world takes notice of Haiti,” writes Andrew Marshall in London’s Independent. “So, Dominique may have performed one last service to his country when he died in a hail of bullets: putting Haiti back into the headlines at a time when the country is lurching again into anarchy.”

The country has lacked an effective government since President Préval dissolved parliament in January 1999, and now faces international sanctions—called for by the United Nations, the European Union, and the Organization of American States—if Haiti fails to hold democratic elections soon. The United States has threatened to stop issuing entry visas for Haitians.

“For Haitians to vote,” Dominique once said, “means more than in [Western countries]. It’s the way for the millions, who live in dirt and poverty, to prove to themselves that they are human. It is the difference between eternal darkness and light.” His vigorous advocacy of social and economic justice was what gave Dominique his unique stance among Haiti’s journalists.

And his assassination has provoked a worldwide wave of outrage. “Attack on Freedom of the Press,” read the headline on a recent editorial in Berlin’s taz; “for four decades, Dominique’s name stood for the freedom of the spoken word.”

Dominique was “a fighter for human rights and an advocate of democracy,” writes Zurich’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

“Dominique championed free speech against civilian and military dictatorships and was Haiti’s most influential figure,” states Montreal’s The Gazette, “and he passionately followed the government’s attempt at land reform to settle disputes etween peasants and landowners.” He was the “sword of free expression,” writes Paris’s Le Nouvel Observateur, and Le Monde adds that Dominique “was a genuine symbol....He was Haiti’s most feared and most celebrated journalist.”

The U.S.-based expatriate Haiti en Marche refers to Dominique as a “grand journalist and a courageous man.” And journalists who had worked with Dominique praised his professional rigor and discipline. “[He] was always demanding with regard to objectivity, the verification of information, precautions to avoid defamation, and respecting the right of the grass-roots sector and the democratic movement to make itself heard in their fight against the oppressive dictatorship. His voice, it was his will continue to speak to us.”

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