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Voice of Slain Journalist Echoes in Haiti - Resurgent Violence Cannot Silence Widow on the Eve of Election

By John Donnelly, Globe Staff, 5/20/2000

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - She likes to go into her husband's office. She sits behind his desk sometimes, a green bowl of spent bullet casings within reach. And every morning at 7, she hosts their radio show by herself, opening the program by saying hello to her dead husband. 

''Bonjour, Jean,'' says Michele Montas, widow of Jean Leopold Dominique, Haiti's preeminent journalist, who was shot four times in the head April 3 under a fuchsia-flowered bougainvillea in Radio Haiti's courtyard.

This is part of the prelude to Haiti's first election in three years, which is set for tomorrow, an enormous logistical undertaking that has been marred by spasms of violence such as the killing of Dominique and more than a dozen others in April.

Late Wednesday, after a pause of peace, came another episode: a grenade launched at the metal gates of the Provisional Electoral Council, the election headquarters, that injured at least three passersby. 

The killings and the grenade attack seem ''part of a strategy to discourage people from going to vote,'' said Evans Paul, spokesman for the opposition coalition party, Espace de Concertation.

Former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, breaking a long public silence, called on Thursday for peaceful elections and denounced those using violence to disrupt the proceedings.

''You who fear defeat and who choose violence, remember, we are brothers and sisters. Haiti is for Haitians,'' he said.

No one here dares guess how the election will unfold because the insecurity factor stalks the process. Since the overthrow of Jean-Claude ''Baby Doc'' Duvalier in 1986, Haiti's 13 years of fitful steps toward democracy have produced a trail of blood, including election massacres in 1987, a military coup in 1991, and more than three years of ruthless military dictators who oversaw the killing of 5,000 civilians.

The dead are mostly forgotten now, especially in these hectic days surrounding tomorrow's vote for parliament and some 7,523 local positions. Even the leading resisters of the old military rule, people such as Father Jean Marie Vincent, businessman Antoine Izmery, and Justice Minister Guy Mallory, all assassinated in the early 1990s, are rarely mentioned now, their memories swallowed up by reports of new dead.

Michele Montas, though, and Radio Haiti's staff aren't ready to let go of the memory of Dominique just yet.

So she says good morning to him every day on air, and every day the staff inserts recordings of his voice in the morning program and then reruns his interviews at 4:30 p.m.

Dominique was tortured during the regime of ''Papa Doc'' Duvalier, and he was forced into exile during Baby Doc's time, because he was never afraid to speak out or to report news on his radio station, the first in Haiti to broadcast in the language of the masses, Creole.

When he and Michele returned from New York to Haiti days after Baby Doc's departure in 1986, tens of thousands of people welcomed him home at the airport. It didn't mean he lived far from danger, though. In the years after his return, he collected several dozen spent bullet casings from shots fired at the radio station.

After his death, the station shut down. A month later, the staff went back to work because ''his death would been absurd if we had given up and stopped working,'' Montas said. ''It was essential to the country. I'm convinced that the assassin of my husband wanted to block the whole electoral process and discourage people from going to the polls.''

But the solutions to end the culture of violence are not simple, she said this week, sitting in her husband's chair. 

''I think, and Jean said so, too, that the situation here is comparable to that in Lebanon several years ago,'' said Montas, 53. ''No one is disarmed. You have weapons all over the place, in the hands of all political factions. The country has never been as heavily armed as it is now.''

Justice, more than five years after 20,000 US troops helped remove the military leaders and restore Aristide as the democratically elected president, seems as fleeting as ever, say many Haitians.

Across town, in the tin-roof slums of Martisan, three families were mourning the deaths of three young men who were killed last Saturday while in police custody. The three - Alise Onore, Gusmane Pierre, and Alan Pierre - were picked up on suspicion of stealing, an accusation that the families denounced. Their bodies were found with bullet holes in their heads.

''The killings need to stop in Haiti,'' said Rodney Michel, 39, a neighbor of the victims, standing amid a crowd of 50 onlookers in a concrete alleyway. ''Nothing has changed here. It's the same thing as it was during the dictatorship.''

''We feel as insecure as before,'' said Jean Robert, 25, a friend of the three. ''If police are holding someone, how can they end up dead?''

Neighbors have threatened to hold protests until the killings are explained and the killers are brought to justice.

But the deaths of the three men and the killing of Dominique are different in one way from the deaths during the military regime: They happened in a time of supposed democracy, and people are voicing outrage.

''I was asked by peasants, `What are we going to do now without Jean Dominique? We lost our main voice,''' Montas said. ''You know, we just had a season here where a lot of bands play, and several made up songs about Jean. One of them had a verse, `Every peasant has to become the echo of Jean's voice so as to keep him alive.'''

She walked out of the radio station, past the spot where her husband was shot dead, and opened a metal gate. Two armed guards followed. They are new hires. 

There was something on the gate she hadn't seen before, a piece of paper barely held up by two strands of dirty masking tape. On it was a poem to him - and to her.

''It is 7. Bonjour Jean. Bonjour Michele,'' the note in French began, exactly echoing their voices once upon a time.

Her lower lip slightly trembling, Montas summoned her composure and read it aloud:

''They have turned off his mouth but not his voice. You died for us, you live on for us. What time is it? It is a somber hour. Goodbye Jean. Be courageous Michele.''


  NCHR Pays Tribute to Jean Léopold Dominique
  Event Photos
  An Alumna Stands Firm in Haiti article in 116th & Broadway
  Press Release:
NCHR to Honor Slain Journalist & Fellow Human Rights Activist
  Program & Benefit Committee
  Printable Donation Form
  Jean L. Dominique
  Michèle Montas
  Michael S. Hooper
  Eulogy by Jonathan Demme
  The Sound of Silence, Killing the Hope in Haiti by Jean Jean-Pierre
  Gunmen Kill Haiti Radio Journalist - AP
  Haiti Presidential Advisor Shot and Killed - Reuters
  US Troubled by Journalist's Murder
  Assassination of Radio Haiti Inter Director - AHP
  OAS Press Release on Dominique's Assassination
  Haitians Fear for Homeland After Slaying
  Leading Haitian Radio Figure Shot to Death Outside Station

Radio Commentator Shot Dead

  Diplomat: Shooting in Haiti Has Lesson
  Well-Known Journalist Gunned Down at Radio Station
  The Return of the Dark Days
  Journalist's Murder Points to Haiti's Slide into Chaos
  Reporters Without Borders Report on Press Freedom in 2001
  Journalists Unite
  Montas' Columbia University Classmates Demand Justice for Dominique
  500 People Rally in Protest of Journalist's Killing in Haiti, Report Says
  Haitians Mourn Assassinated Writer
  Violence Follows Funeral for Slain Haitian Journalist
  Haiti Journalists Protest Attacks
  Station of Slain Haitian Journalist Again on Air
Voice of Slain Journalist Echoes in Haiti
  Haitian's Widow Vows to Press On
  Free Haiti Fundraiser in Memory of Murdered Journalist
  Racked by Violence, Haiti Prepares to Vote in Controversial Election
  Jean Dominique
Haiti Inter Fait le Point:
Dany Toussaint prend-il les enfants du bon dieu pour des canards sauvages?
  A quand la prochaine victime?
Michèle Montas, 3 novembre 2000


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