Black History Highlight: Journalist Jean Léopold Dominique

According to Haitian Times:

Jean Léopold Dominique was born to an affluent family in Haiti. Dominique was educated in agronomy in France and Haiti. In a country where one’s standing could be measured by the lightness of skin, a mixed-race agronomist from a well-to-do family was not the norm. During his formative years, Dominique worked with rural farmers; his fervent advocacy for their plight landed him in jail — an experience that would shape his politics and help define a generation’s fight against oppression. Dominique would become one of Haiti’s most respected political commentators and a leading activist for democracy.

Prior to the 1960′s, most broadcasts were conducted in French. The colonial tongue was used as a tool to exclude the masses. Dominique began his broadcasting career in the early 60′s with a time-leased commercial program on Radio Haiti, where he introduced the first daily radio program in Haitian Creole.

(A decade later, he purchased the station and changed its name to Radio Haiti Inter). Dominique became a prominent voice in journalism for his political reporting, which included in-depth coverage and analysis of the brutal Duvalier regime. Dominique was also one of the pioneers of Haitian cinema; he founded Haiti’s first film club. He would go on to produce one of Haiti’s first documentaries, But, I Am Beautiful.

Along with his wife and co-anchor, Michele Montas, Dominique was forced into exile twice — from 1980 to 1986 — and once again from 1991 to 1994. He returned to the island once Jean-Bertrand Aristide was restored to power. In what was widely viewed as a politically motivated killing, Dominique was shot to death in front of his radio station on April 3, 2000. The anniversary of his death is commemorated across the island and throughout the diaspora. Dominique’s contributions helped lay the foundation for the promise of an independent press in Haiti. – Thanks to This Great Source

According to Wikipedia:

Jean Léopold Dominique (July 30, 1930 – April 3, 2000) was a Haïtian journalist who spoke out against successive dictatorships. He was one of the first people in Haïti to broadcast in Kreyòl, the language spoken by most of the populace. Despite fleeing the country twice when his life was under threat, he continued to return to his native Haïti, firmly believing in the cause of the Haitian plight. He was assassinated on April 3, 2000, a crime for which no one has ever been prosecuted.

Dominique was born into the elite of French society living in Haiti. His father, Leopold Dominique, moved the family there from France with a belief in the cause of the Haitian plight. After Jean completed his private schooling in both France and Haiti, he trained as an agronomist agriculturalist in Paris, France. He believed in educating and training the Haitian people so they could take care of themselves. Upon his return to Haiti, he began working with the poverty-stricken peasantry. Using his skills, Dominique helped rural farmers to better manage their land and stay out of debt of wealthy landowners. Some landowners, in an effort to maintain control over the farmers, convinced local authorities to jail Dominique for six months. After his release he emerged as one of the strongest critics of the militant regime of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier. During the 1960s, he became interested in film and founded Haïti’s first film club. Later, he made one of Haïti’s first documentaries, But, I Am Beautiful.

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.Dominique joined Radio Haïti initially as a reporter, and followed this in 1971, by purchasing the station’s lease. This was the first time that a Haïtian radio station had broadcast locally in the language spoken by most of the populace, as opposed to French, which was the language of the ruling elite.

“The only weapon I have is my microphone and my unshakable faith as a militant for change, veritable change,” Dominique once said. Dominique was married to Michèle Montas, and they had three daughters: Jan-J (JJ), Nadine and Dolores.

Despite pressure from the regimes of both “Papa Doc” and Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, Dominique continued criticizing the government, campaigning for electoral democracy and social and economic justice. His criticisms resulted in Radio Haïti being shut down several times. Duvalier sent Dominique to exile in New York in 1980. Six years later, after Duvalier’s ouster, Dominique returned. He was greeted at the airport by 60,000 people.There was some suggestion that he may have run for President himself, but Dominique declined to do so. He then became involved in the Lavalas party that won the 1990 elections. However, when the military overthrew the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991, Dominique feared for his safety, and fled into exile again. He returned in 1994, after Aristide’s return to power.

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In the final years of his life, Dominique concentrated on issues of corruption and negligence. He criticised a pharmaceutical firm, Pharval Laboratories, for selling contaminated cough syrup that was responsible for the deaths of 60 children. Dominique also took on a former police chief Dany Toussaint (a former Haïtian Senator), whom he accused of having his rival for the position of Secretary of State for Public Security, Jean Lamy, assassinated. As a result of this, Toussaint’s supporters surrounded and attacked the radio station building. The New York Haïtian radio station Radio Liberté had also reported that Dominique had received death threats via Toussaint’s lawyers. This led Dominique to state “I know he has enough money to pay and arm henchmen,” he said. “If he tries to move against me or the radio station and if I’m still alive, I’ll close the station down and go into exile once again with my wife and children.”

As a political adviser to Haiti’s President René Préval, he advocated holding elections but was criticized for his call to postpone them to ensure fairness.

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Hospital workers carry the body of prominent Haitian radio journalist Jean Leopold Dominique after he was shot in front of his radio station in Port-au-Prince, Haiti Monday April 3, 2000. Dominique, a strong advocate of a free press in Haiti, reportedly was shot dead by two gunmen as he arrived for work Monday at Radio Haiti Inter. The assailants also killed a station worker. The attack underscored the sense of insecurity in Haiti as officials try to organize elections and install a new parliament.(AP Photo/Daniel Morel) DANIEL MOREL — AP

On April 3, 2000, at 69 years of age, Dominique was shot four times in the chest as he arrived for work at Radio Haïti. The station’s security guard was also killed in the attack. President René Préval ordered three days of official mourning, and 16,000 people attended his funeral at a sports stadium. Dominique’s wife fled to the United States in late 2003 after the murder of her bodyguard and repeated death threats. There have been numerous inconsistencies in the investigations into the murder, including the mysterious death of a suspect. Pharval Laboratories and Senator Toussaint came under suspicion as a result of the murder. Toussaint was the prime suspect. While the Pharval somewhat cooperated with the inquiries, Toussaint claimed parliamentary immunity and refused to testify. The first investigating judge, Claudy Gassant, fled to the United States after suggesting that Toussaint be charged over the murder. Despite this, Gassant’s superiors decided that no charges would be laid. Under increasing international pressure, the Aristide government arrested three alleged gunmen Ti Lou, Guimy and Markington, but they were never charged. These three men all mysteriously escaped under the U.S.-installed government of Gerald Latortue.

Though six more people were jailed in March, 2004 for involvement in the killing, the person who ordered it has never been found.Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders both strongly criticised the Aristide government for not doing more to solve the case. Since the assassination, several large public protests have called for more action to be taken. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and anti-Lavalas political parties within Haiti have been accused of allegedly exploiting the case for political purposes towards destabilizing Haiti’s democratically elected government which was overthrown in February 2004.

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The Jonathan Demme documentary The Agronomist suggests that figures within the Lavalas government under Aristide, such as Dany Toussaint, may have had a motive to kill Dominique. On December 16, 1996, Dominique had accused Aristide in a live interview that Aristide had showered the “big oligarchy” with gifts after returning to the country. Dominique said that the oligarchs, in return, had corrupted the tax office and the electricity company, and that this corruption had been accepted by Lavalas. At one point Dany Toussaint led a group of armed men into Haiti’s senate and threatened Lavalas senators with guns if they voted to revoke his immunity. Lavalas leaders now claim that Toussaint was a rogue working the ex-military and was working against the government from the inside. Toussaint also hindered the government’s attempt to alter the constitution to outlaw the military.

But RSF felt that Aristide government itself was hindering the investigation and called for a government aid embargo. An embargo (2001–2004) on aid to the desperate government greatly contributed to a health crisis causing an untold amount of damage. The Aristide government supported Gassant’s investigation of the case more so than any other similar case in Haitian history but Gassant and the government were constantly at odds. The interim government of Gerald Latortue stalled the case and a few suspects were able to escape from prison.

A profile of Haitian radio journalist and human rights activist, Jean Dominique. It includes: historical footage of Haiti’s vivid and tumultuous past; interviews with Dominique, himself and with Michele Montas–his heroic wife, life-long love, and extraordinary partner; and incorporates footage shot before Dominique’s assassination on April 3, 2000.

3 comments

  • Pingback: Haitian Black History: Journalist Jean Léopold Dominique | L’union Suite « Rapadoo Observateur

  • Haitian politicians will always use Jean Dominique to play politics, while they all know what really happened. Solving his murder case would mean taking themselves down, not to forget their friends that were deeply involved in the assassination. On a lighter note however, The civil society needs to raise funs and dedicate a statue to Dominique. That is the strongest message we can send to the perpetrators of the crimes and impunity itself. We cannot forget what happened; his legacy must live on.

  • Pingback: Haitian American Caucus NYC | HAITIAN BLACK HISTORY: JOURNALIST JEAN LÉOPOLD DOMINIQUE

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