Tag Archives: AV

April 3: Jistis pou Jando

“Why all this noise and all this furor for a man two years dead?  Why all these mobilizations throughout the country?” With these words, Michèle Montas began her April 2002 editorial on the second anniversary of the assassination of her husband, Radio Haiti-Inter director Jean Dominique, and station employee Jean-Claude Louissaint.  “Why Jean Dominique?  This question has been asked for several weeks, in the background of the mobilizations around the second anniversary of the assassination of the journalist Jean Dominique.  It is asked in whispers, but the admiring or, for some, incredulous sotto voce at times grows annoyed and strident among those who do not understand that this dead man refuses to die.  That a murder perpetrated two years ago, now, continues to make news. Why Jean Dominique?”

pa kite san jando drive ate

On April 3, 2002, the grassroots human rights group Fondation 30 Septembre poured red paint before the gate of the Ministry of Justice (which leader Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine referred to sardonically as the “Ministry of Injustice”) and displayed an effigy of the slain journalist.  The slogan was “Pa kite san Jando drive atè.”  “Don’t let Jean Do’s blood pool on the ground.”   Two years after the murders, people were angry and frustrated that the judicial process had stalled.  Now, sixteen years on, Jean Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint have still not found justice.  The Jean Dominique case, like so many attempts to combat injustice in Haiti, has been filled with absurdity, a tragicomedy of errors and malfeasance.

Pessimism is seductive in the face of such impunity, when the system is stacked and cynical, when the victories are relative or Pyrrhic, when convicted murderers, torturers, and war criminals like Luc Désir and the perpetrators of the Raboteau massacre eventually walk free.   When the state cannot or will not provide justice — when the state provides, instead, a mockery of justice –justice can manifest beyond the courts, beyond the government, beyond the system.  It can manifest in the streets.  La justice du peuple est en marche.

In 2001, artist Maxan Jean-Louis painted the assassination of Jean Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint.  The canvas is dominated by the Radio Haiti building with its emblematic red-and-blue vèvè (a vodou symbol reimagined in the shape of a microphone).  In the background are two men struck down in the parking lot.  Jean’s silenced microphone lies beside him. Jean’s family and the Radio Haiti staff weep while the police and the media look on – rather helplessly, it seems, their arms at their sides.  Tears run down the face of one of the policemen.

yo touye jando

The most dynamic part of the painting are the protestors in the foreground, the men and women standing in the street, outside the station’s walls, clamoring for justice while the weeping policeman looks on.  Their arms raised in protest, their lips parted as they shout, they carry signs:  DOWN WITH CRIMINALS.  WE MUST HAVE JUSTICE.  DOWN WITH THE DEATH MACHINE.  LONG LIVE PEACE.  JUSTICE FOR JOURNALISTS. JUSTICE FOR JEAN DOMINIQUE.  Above them is written: APRIL 3 2000.  FAREWELL JEAN DOMINIQUE.  THE PEASANTS WILL NEVER FORGET YOU.

In the literal sense, that was not how it happened.  Jean Dominique was shot just after 6 am, at the time of the daily Creole news broadcast, and he was pronounced dead at l’Hôpital de la Communauté Haïtienne shortly after.  There was no time for crowds to assemble while his body still lay on the ground.

The painting is a metaphor, then, or perhaps a depiction of time compressed.  The urban and rural masses and civil society organizations did mobilize that very day and for years after: grassroots human rights groups, grassroots peasants’ groups, women’s groups, unions, and ordinary citizens. As Michèle Montas explains, “the mobilizations began on April 3, 2000, through the protests and the expressions of solidarity of hundreds of people shocked by the assassination of a pro-democracy activist who had survived all the regimes against which he had courageously fought, to fall victim to a contract killing during a democratic season that he worked to establish.”

Five days after the murders, on April 8, the state funeral for Jean Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint at Stade Sylvio Cator in downtown Port-au-Prince was attended by 15,000 people, of whom 10,000 were rural farmers.   On July 31, 2000 – what would have been Jean Dominique’s seventieth birthday – more than 10,000 peasant farmers from the Association des Planteurs et Distillateurs de Léogâne et Gressier gathered at the Darbonne sugar factory to thank and demand justice for Jean Dominique.  That same day, the Centre de Production Agricole Jean L. Dominique, run by small-scale coffee growers, was inaugurated in Marmelade.  Hundreds of peasant farmers gathered to pay tribute.  And that same day, musicians, poets, and vodouisants gathered in the courtyard of Radio Haiti to pay homage to Jean Dominique.

In the archive of things Radio Haiti held onto, I came across a song called “Won’t Jean Dominique Find Justice?” by Haiti Rap Force.  From the hand-drawn cover, I assume it was a local rap group from one of Port-au-Prince’s quartiers populaires.  They sing that justice is not achieved through only formal, state-sponsored institutions.

Dosye Jean Dominique pa koute sèlman tribinal
sa konsène tout tout moun an jeneral
n’ap bat poun fè ti pèp la bliye
Nou pa gen dwa janm bliye lanmò Jean Dominique
Men se ki lès ki gen flanbo-a kap klere chimen-an poun pa tonbe
Men se ki lès ki konn chimen-an ki va di nou kote nou prale

The Jean Dominique case won’t just be heard in the tribunal
It concerns every single person in general
Trying to make the people forget
But we shall not ever forget the death of Jean Dominique
But who will hold the torch that will light the way so we do not fall?
But who knows the path, who will tell us where we are going?

At the end of the editorial, Michèle returns to the question with which she opened.  “Why Jean Dominique?  Why all this noise, all this noise and all this furor, for a man two years dead?  Why these mobilizations reaching well beyond our borders?  This question is asked in different tones: with admiration among those who understand only now that justice and the defense of freedom are not a gift, and that they can only be the result of permanent pressure to force institutions and political leaders to act in accordance with their mandates; with hostility on the part of the enemies of the journalist, those who ordered his killing, or those who rejoiced at April 3, 2000, at being freed from a voice so strong and, for certain interests, so troublesome. ‘Jean Dominique pa pitimi san gadò’ [Jean Dominique is not unguarded and free for the taking], as we say in one of our radio spots.  His killers had no idea how true that was.”

Thinking about grassroots mobilization in response to injustice reminds me of Jacques Roumain’s Masters of the Dew (Gouverneurs de la rosée).  It is the story of Manuel, a poor cultivator from rural Haiti who becomes politically engaged and organizes his fellow peasants to overcome the things that divide them, to unite in defense of their rights and their land.  Manuel organizes a konbit, the traditional form of communal labor, before he is stabbed to death.  Jean Dominique and his elder sister, the writer Madeleine Paillère, were so moved by novel that they translated the dialogue into Haitian Creole and adapted it for radio in 1972-1973.  It is one fitting epitaph for an agronomist-activist, an intellectual who at great cost threw in his lot with the dispossessed, a man who believed that redemption lay not in suffering, but in solidarity.

On chante le deuil, c’est la coutume, avec les cantiques des morts, mais lui, Manuel, a choisi un cantique pour les vivants: le chant du coumbite, le chant de la terre, de l’eau, des plantes, de l’amitié entre habitants, parce qu’il a voulu, je comprends maintenant, que sa mort soit pour vous le recommencement de la vie. 

It is the custom to mourn by singing hymns for the dead, but he, Manuel, had chosen a hymn for the living – the song of the konbit, the song of the soil, of the water, of the plants, of friendship between peasants, because he wanted, I understand now, that his death be for all of you the a new beginning of life.

RH painting detail

Post contributed by Laura Wagner, PhD, Radio Haiti Project Archivist. 

The Voices of Change project was made possible through a generous grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.

Onè! Respè! (Honor! Respect!)

The Radio Haiti archive project is underway! We’ve spent the first couple weeks creating a behemoth database…

rh database

…assigning each and every tape a unique ID number, and putting the tapes in nice new comfortable bar-coded boxes. This means that an archive which arrived looking like this…

Rh bins.png
Radio Haiti boxes arrive in North Carolina after a long voyage

… now, happily, looks like this.

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AV archivist Craig Breaden with some newly-boxed Radio Haiti tapes


We are incredibly fortunate that the former Radio Haiti staff and friends and family in Port-au-Prince (you know who you are!) sent the tapes with a detailed inventory — it makes our job so much easier.

We are also inspecting the tapes for mold (and we have found mold aplenty).

rh tapes 2
¼ inch tape with mold on it
rh tapes 1
¼ inch tape with mold on it


We are also keeping track of which tapes are going to require a little extra TLC.

rh tlc tapes

We’re creating rather sweeping controlled vocabulary — describing subjects, names, and places that appear in the archive. Once we’ve put in all this metadata, we can send the more than 3500 tapes off to be cleaned and digitized.

These tasks (organizing, typing in data, cross-referencing, labeling, bar-coding, describing, mold-noting), while arguably unglamorous, are necessary groundwork for eventually making the recordings publicly accessible, ensuring that these tapes can speak again, and that Radyo Ayiti pap peri (Radio Haiti will never perish).

We’ve only listened to a small sampling of the recordings so far, but the tapes themselves, as physical objects, tell a story. Even the mold is part of the story. That white mold on the tapes and the dusty dark mildew on the tape boxes tell of the  Radio Haiti journalists’ multiple exiles during which the tapes remained in the tropics and the future of the station was uncertain.

To glance over the titles of the recordings — the labels on their spines, lined up in order, row upon row — is to chart the outline of late 20th century Haitian political history — a chronology of presidencies, coups, interventions, massacres, disappearances, and impunity. The eighty-nine tapes chronicling the Raboteau trial of 2000, in which former junta leaders were tried for the 1994 torture and massacre of civilians, take up an entire shelf.

rh trial tapes

And then there is the long, long sequence of recordings after the April 3, 2000 assassination of Jean Dominique, when the center of the station’s orbit violently and irrevocably shifted.

rh labeled tapes
It is uncanny to look at the tapes with hindsight and see the patterns emerge. Here is the political landscape of Haiti, from the 1970s to the 2000s, from dictatorship to the democratic era: The same impunity, the same lies, the same corruption, the same suffering, the same mentalities, the same machinations. Chameleons change their color, oppressors repaint their faces, state-sanctioned killings become extrajudicial killings, and the poor generally come off the worst.

The journalists who did these reports and conducted these interviews experienced these events in real time. They could not yet know the whole story because, in each of these moments, they were in the middle of it. For them, the enthusiasm of 1986 (after Duvalier fell, and Radio Haiti’s staff returned from their first exile) and of 1994 (when Aristide was reinstated, and Radio Haiti’s staff returned from their second exile) was unfettered. Likewise, for them, the struggle against impunity and injustice was urgent.

There is a recording labeled “Justice Dossier Jando Blocage 4.9.01” — “Justice Jean Dominique case blocked investigation.” Those short words contain a saga: by September 2001, a year and a half after Jean Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint were murdered, Radio Haiti was already reporting on how the investigation had stalled. In 2001, perhaps, justice appeared attainable, just out of reach. Now, fourteen years later, the case remains unsolved.

rh tapes closeup

Back in 2011, I attended a talk by Haitian human rights activist Jean-Claude Bajeux in Port-au-Prince, where he said, “gen anpil fantòm kap sikile nan peyi a ki pa gen stati.” (“there are many ghosts wandering through this country that have no statue”). He was speaking of those who were disappeared under the Duvalier regime. But he could have been speaking, too, of innumerable others who have died and been erased – those who were killed by the earthquake, under the military regime, through direct political violence and through the structural violence of everyday oppression.

This archive is not a statue or a monument, but it is one place where the dead speak. Sometimes the controlled vocabulary feels like an inventory of ghosts.

Sometimes I think I am working on an archive that was never meant to be archived, something that was supposed to remain an active, living struggle. I think of how far these clean cardboard storage boxes and quiet temperature-controlled spaces are from the sting of tear gas, the stickiness of blood, the smell of burning tires, the crack of gunfire, the heat and noise, the laughter and fury of Haiti.

But salvaging and preserving are part of the struggle; remembering is, itself, a political act.

Post contributed by Laura Wagner, Radio Haiti Project Archivist.

The Voices of Change project was made possible through a generous grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.