Gadfly's Killing Tests Haiti's Justice System
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti –– He was known as the "Crocodile of Delmas" for
his sharp-toothed hectoring of people in power and for the street where
station was perched high on a hill.
Jean Dominique, a member of the Haitian elite and a champion of its
poor, had plenty of enemies of every political stripe. On this point everyone
agrees. What they
can't figure out is which enemy may have killed Dominique on an April morning with four gunshots, any one of which would have been fatal.
The killing has exposed Haiti's gaping social divide, again leaving
the poor majority blaming the rich for the death of a man who worked for
their rights, and tested a
justice system that is just beginning to take on this peaceless county's most serious political crimes.
After eight months, the investigation has yet to uncover who ordered
the killing. Three men are in custody for allegedly lying in wait in the
courtyard parking lot of
Radio Haiti, firing with professional precision as Dominique approached the entrance. A fourth died mysteriously on the operating table from wounds suffered weeks
"That he was killed under a regime he had supported, under a constitution
he had fought for, has struck many as ironic," said his widow, Michele
Radio Haiti's general manager, who went into exile three times with her husband. "We are living in a climate of impunity where people do what they want and say
what they wish. People always get away with these crimes. This time they won't."
The Dominique case unfolds as Haiti celebrates its most important modern
legal triumph: the conviction and sentencing last month of more than 30
and their paramilitary recruits for a 1994 massacre in Gonaives, 90 miles north of the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Among those convicted in absentia were two senior military officers,
Raoul Cedras and Philippe Biamby, and several top lieutenants who overthrew
Aristide in 1991, seven months after his inauguration as the first freely elected president in Haiti's 200-year history. The pre-dawn massacre in the pro-Aristide slum
of Raboteau left as many as 15 people dead, some killed as they tried to escape into the sea.
While the Raboteau prosecution succeeded, Haiti's court system is otherwise
a shambles. An estimated 80 percent of the 6,000 prisoners held in the
squalid prisons are awaiting trial. Few judges, prosecutors or defense attorneys are properly trained to handle complex legal cases, leaving such high-profile killings
as the 1993 slaying of Aristide's former justice minister, Guy Malary, unpunished.
And those in power continue to undermine at least the perception of
the justice system's credibility: The new chairman of the Haitian Senate's
justice committee, Dany
Toussaint, was detained three years ago in Miami in connection with the 1995 assassination of an Aristide opponent. Toussaint, Aristide's former security chief, has
been both accuser and accused in the Dominique case. So have some of Haiti's most powerful families, who were frequent targets of the irascible radio reporter.
After his controversial election to a second term last month, Aristide
suggested that he may be planning to seek the extradition of some of those
convicted in the
Raboteau case, saying Haiti's future peace depends on building a system of justice. Cedras and Biamby received asylum in Panama; others live in Honduras and the
United States. "We are building a state of law that must be rooted in a democratic process," Aristide said. "Of course, every single citizen must feel free to talk."
"The system in Haiti has always been controlled by the people with guns
and money, but Raboteau showed that it is changing, slowly," said Brian
Concannon Jr., an
attorney with the Office of International Lawyers--a two-lawyer operation helping Haiti improve its justice system. He helped organize the prosecution of the
Raboteau case and is now doing the same on the Dominique case. "This is the kind of change that takes place over a generation."
For years, despite constant threats on his life, Dominique talked freely.
After working as a Radio Haiti reporter for years, Dominique bought the
station on Delmas
Road in 1971 and turned it into a crusading voice against Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier's repressive kleptocracy.
In Haiti, where as many as eight in 10 people cannot read and the price
of a television set can exceed the average yearly wage, radio rules the
media. Dominique was
the first reporter to broadcast in Creole, the language of Haiti's masses, and drew hundreds of thousands of Haitians closer to their political system. Limited by
Duvalier in its domestic coverage, Radio Haiti used international news to signal resistance, notably in its reporting on the overthrow of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio
Somoza, in 1979.
More recently, Dominique turned his attention to some of Haiti's wealthiest families and the vestiges of the Duvalier regime, which collapsed 14 years ago.
In 1997, Dominique reported that 80 children had died after drinking
toxic cough syrup made by Pharval, a pharmaceutical company owned by the
The family also had connections to the manufacturing of ethanol-laced alcohol that poisoned dozens of southern farmers, according to his reports. He implicated a
second powerful family, the Mews, in the ethanol scandal.
Other people presumed to be enemies of Dominique included Gen. Claude
Raymond, who died in prison while being held for his role in a 1987 massacre.
Montas-Dominique said autopsy reports showed that the general died of AIDS, but his supporters blamed her husband for his incarceration. This prompted Radio
Liberte, a New York-based station run by former Duvalier allies, to broadcast ominous warnings, such as "the heart of General Raymond will be buried in the
courtyard of Radio Haiti." Four months later, Dominique, 69, died there.
Dominique's death triggered weeks of national mourning. The capital's
soccer stadium was used for his funeral, which drew more than 16,000 people.
Haiti's Artibonite Valley asked if they could scatter his ashes in the river that nourished their rice and sugar cane crops; Montas-Dominique agreed.
"They were convinced that the people who killed Jean were trying to
take away the rights he helped give them," she said. "That's what's a stake
now. If they don't
find Jean's killer, we all lose."
So far, little progress has been made in reaching beyond the three alleged
gunmen in custody. Montas-Dominique said the investigation has found that
were paid $600,000 to carry out the killing. However, another arrested man, who allegedly would have served as the link to the contract's sponsors, died of heart
failure as doctors tried to remove bullets from his buttocks and other parts of his body. His wounds, inflicted weeks earlier, were not life-threatening.
Which brings the case back to square one, despite what Montas-Dominique
calls daily attention from President Rene Preval. Last month, the investigating
questioned Leopold Berlanger, vice president of Vision 2000, a radio station generally critical of Aristide.
The judge said Toussaint claimed Berlanger had a motive: Berlanger killed
Dominique to prevent a Radio Haiti report implicating Berlanger in a coup
plot against the
future Aristide government. Toussaint later backed off the claim, and Berlanger said his questioning was just an attempt to intimidate him.
"Finding his killer is a matter of political will," Berlanger said. "You cannot build a society on these grounds."