Tuesday, April 03, 2007

N'ap sonje w, Jean Do

Seven years ago today, on 3 April 2000, in the courtyard of Radio Haiti-Inter on the Route de Delmas in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, journalist and free man Jean-Léopold Dominique, and Radio Haiti's caretaker, Jean-Claude Louissaint, were gunned down, and Haiti lost one of the most powerful advocates for a free press and the enfranchisement of the peasant majority that the nation had ever seen.

In the years that followed, I watched as a young, Paris-educated barrister named Claudy Gassant fought against the weight of a corrupt state and a 200-year tradition of impunity, to try and bring justice to the slain men. During the first tenure of Haiti's president René Préval, until 7 February 2001, Gassant was supplied with security, vehicles ad other tools that he needed to prosecute the investigation. Upon the installation of the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2001, all of that was peeled away until Gassant was left virtually defenseless. Even before, he had reason to be afraid. His requests to interview then-senator Dany Toussaint were met with scorn by Haiti's senate, controlled by Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas political party, of which Toussaint was a member, with then-senate president Yvon Neptune dismissing Gassant as “a small judge that cannot summon someone from such a great body” and threatening to launch an investigation into his “exact motives.” In early 2001, Police nationale d’Haïti (PNH) assistant traffic chief Evens Sainturné, a former bodyguard of Aristide’s, demanding that Gassant return an armored vehicle that had been given to the investigation by Préval, and on 30 January of that year, driving through Port-au-Prince, Gassant’s car was cut off by a vehicle full of armed men belonging to Millien Rommage, a Fanmi Lavalas deputy who brandished weapons at Gassant from the windows of their vehicle and shouted that they could kill him anytime they wanted. Finally, in January 2002, Gassant fled into exile in the United States. At the time, Gassant, the staff of Radio Haiti-Inter and now-PNH chief Mario Andresol all charged the Aristide government with having intentionally blocked the investigation into the murder.

Over the years, I got to know something of Dominique's widow, Michele Montas, who bravely soldiered on running Radio Haiti alone until a Christmas 2002 attempt on her own life resulted in the death of her bodyguard, Maxime Seide, and forced her as well to flee into exile in the United States. She is now the spokesperson for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon here in New York. Her courage, and the courage of the entire staff of Radio Haiti to soldier on under such conditions served as a great example to me.

Now, in 2007, Aristide is gone and Préval is once again president. Claudy Gassant has returned to Haiti, and is the chief magistrate of Port-au-Prince. But alas, as the press freedom group Reporters sans frontières said in a statement today, "the investigation that was relaunched two years ago has still not yielded any results and impunity continues to prevail in this case." Of the suspects two - Dymsley "Ti Lou" Milien and Jeudi "Guimy" Jean--Daniel - are said to hiding among the gangs of the capital's Martissant neighborhood, where I reported from this past summer, while others have fled abroad.

Jean Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint deserve better.

I close today with some lines from a radio broadcast Dominique made shortly before his murder, where he denounced the destructive violence that was tearing apart his country and directly addressed those who were trying to intimidate him:

I have no other weapon than my journalist’s pen! And my microphone and my unquenchable faith as a militant for true change! Over Radio Haiti, there is a silence to awaken the dead, the five thousand dead of the coup d’ètat; this is the truth that must emerge from this insignificant exercise in intimidation today. This is the truth that it is right to speak of this morning, the truth of a free man. Earlier I cited another free man, Laclos. I close with Shakespeare: “The truth will always make the face of the devil blush!”

Long live a free press. Viv Ayiti.

1 comment:

Todd Steven Burroughs said...

Thanks for this.

Here's my little contribution to remembering Jean Dominique: