The Assassination of Jean Dominique:
Is it part of Washington’s offensive?
At 6:15 a.m. on Apr. 3, a gunman entered the courtyard of Radio Haiti Inter and shot to death pioneering radio journalist Jean Dominique, 69, as well as the station’s caretaker, Jean-Claude Louissaint. Dominique, who was just arriving by car to prepare for his hugely popular 7:00 a.m. daily news roundup, was struck by one bullet in the head and two in the neck. He was loaded with Louissaint into an ambulance, but both men were pronounced dead on arrival at the nearby Haitian Community Hospital in Pétionville.
In recent weeks, Dominique had been sharply critical of the U.S. government’s heavy-handed meddling in Haitian elections and bullying of Haitian President René Préval, to whom Dominique was a close friend and advisor.
Are agents of Washington behind Jean Dominique’s brutal murder? Is this just the opening salvo of a more violent stage in the wide-ranging campaign to intimidate the Haitian government and people into following Washington’s directives?
That is the suspicion voiced by Haitians on radio call-in shows and street corners since the killing. For them, this is just the latest act of aggression in an escalating war which Washington is waging to see that its neoliberal agenda eventually goes through in Haiti. Vilifying articles in the mainstream press, warnings from diplomats, hold-backs of international assistance, and killings by the “forces of darkness” have all been part of a growing offensive to block the return to power of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his party in what has become known as the “electoral coup d’état.”
Let’s briefly review the various elements of this offensive.
The media offensive
There are four things which Washington wants you to know about Haiti: 1) President Préval dissolved parliament in Jan. 1999; 2) a new Parliament must be elected and seated by Jun. 12, according to the Constitution; 3) Préval is former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s puppet; and 4) Préval is a dictator or close to becoming one.
Unfortunately, every one of these assertions is untrue.
1) The term of most parliamentians expired in Jan. 1999 and Préval refused to violate the constitutional ban on extending mandates; 2) Jun. 12 is merely the date a sitting Parliament is supposed to return from vacation; there is no sitting Parliament; 3) Préval remains in touch with Aristide, but Aristide and his party have often differed with and criticized Préval’s policies and decisions; 4) Préval’s administration bears no comparison to the regimes of his predecessors like Duvalier, Namphy, Avril, or Cédras; many of those who today accuse Préval were themselves members or collaborators of those truly dictatorial regimes.
Nonetheless, U.S. and Canadian mainstream newspapers, as Washington’s handmaidens, have been blaring the four lies far and wide in recent weeks. This is their way of preparing the North American public for aggressive U.S. actions.
Take for example, the Mar. 20 Miami Herald editorial “Haiti’s Elections in Peril: President Préval to Blame for Latest Holdup.” It says that “Mr. Préval is validating suspicions that he’s delaying the parliamentary elections to help his party, Fanmi Lavalas.” First, Préval is not a member of Fanmi Lavalas, Aristide’s party. Second, he has often repeated that he just wants elections which are fair and inclusive. With probably half the estimated 4.5 million-member electorate without electoral cards (nobody knows for sure how many have been issued), it is obvious that elections cannot be held. But the editorial never once refers to the lack of electoral cards. Instead, it calls Préval “contemptuous of democracy” and a “despot.”
One week later on Mar. 27, the Herald published the article “U.S. presses Haiti over elections,” by Don Bohning. The author is not embarrased to write that both the Democratic Clinton administration and the Republican Congress have their “patience growing shorter… over continued delays by Haitian officials in holding critical legislative and local elections.” Why are they impatient? Are Haitian elections being held in the U.S.?
The article contains all the usual untruths (Préval “effectively dissolved Parliament” and “June 12 [is] when Parliament is constitutionally mandated to begin its second session of the year”). Like the Herald editorial, the article never mentions the lack of electoral cards, nor the fact that the shortage can be traced back to the U.S. State Department (which funded the cards), the U.S. State Department-spawned International Foundation for Electoral Systems or IFES (which chose the contractor), and the Canadian firm, Code, Inc (which produced the card materials). In short, the Haitian government was (to its shame) not even involved.
Instead, the main purpose of Bohning’s article is to deliver the threats that the U.S. will undertake “economic and diplomatic isolation and the denial of U.S. visas to those seen as obstructing the democratic process.” Ironically, the real obstructionists are all in Washington.
The diplomatic offensive
Indeed, a constant stream of diplomats bearing threats have passed through Port-au-Prince in recent weeks. “Failure to constitute a legitimate parliament risks isolating Haiti from the community of democracies and jeapardizes future cooperation and assistance,” said Arturo Valenzuela, the White House’s National Security Council official for Latin America who visited Préval with Donald Steinberg, the State Department’s special Haiti coordinator last week.
Two weeks before it was a bipartisan letter from Benjamin Gilman (R-NY), chariman of the House International Relations Committee, along with John Conyers (D-MI) and Charles Rangel (D-NY), who threatened Préval in no uncertain terms. “The Clinton administration informs us that it will use all diplomatic means to respond to those who seek to disrupt or corrupt the electoral process,” the letter said. “The administration has our full support to so act to protect vital American interests.” So at least they are honest. They are protecting American, not Haitian, interests.
Also earlier last month, former National Security Advisor Anthony Lake visited Haiti where he met separately with Préval and Aristide to warn them of dire consequences if elections were not held before June.
Alarm in Washington grew last Friday, Mar. 31, when Préval and the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) met and agreed to postpone elections unrealistically set for Apr. 9 and to take about eight weeks to review and correct the deficiencies in the electoral machinery: recuperate all electoral registers, compile a definitive list of registration stations and authorized personnel, determine the shortfall in electoral card materials, check for duplicate registrations, verify electoral ballots with candidates, and so on. Despite this amiable accord between the only two instances concerned, State Department spokesman James Rubin used the death of Jean Dominique to reiterate U.S. pressure on Apr. 3. “From our standpoint, we believe that credible elections can be held in April and May, in time to convene the new parliament by the second Monday of June, consistent with Haitian constitutional law,” Rubin said. His “standpoint” is not relevant in a Haitian election.
Meanwhile, Albright buttonholed Foreign Minister Fritz Longchamp at the CARICOM meeting held in New Orleans, Louisiana on Mar. 29 to communicate U.S. displeasure over election delays.
The international assistance offensive
Then there are the dangled carrots. Whenever they want the Haitian government to do something, U.S. and “international community” officials inevitably announce that there are millions in international aid in jeopardy.
So last week , it was the turn of Gérard Johnson of the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB) to announce that he would not release $200 million earmarked for over sixty projects until after elections were held.
The U.S. has often repeated that it has hundreds of millions more that it is ready to “unblock” as soon as a Parliament sits and passes legislation neoliberalizing Haiti’s state and economy.
The “observer” offensive
Since early March, the U.N. began deploying about 80 election observers throughout Haiti (see Haïti Progrès, Vol. 17, No. 51, Mar. 8, 2000). But more central to their plan is the “Haitian” National Council of Electoral Observation (CNO) headed by Léopold Berlanger, who is director of the USAID-funded Radio Vision 2000, a frequent recipient of National Endowment for Democracy grants, and a long-time agent of Washington (see Haïti Progrès, Vol. 17, No. 43, Jan. 12, 2000). Last week, Jean Dominique revealed over the airwaves of Radio Haiti Inter that Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) president Léon Manus signed an accord with Berlanger on Feb. 25, without the knowledge of any other CEP members. The deal would allow Berlanger’s CNO to pick not only the CEP’s accredited election observers but also the members of the registration stations, voting stations, and the supervisors.
Jean Dominique’s last editorial was precisely to denounce Berlanger and the secret accord which made the entirely self-appointed CNO a final arbiter of any upcoming elections.
The “opposition” offensive
For months we have reviewed how the principal currents of the opposition – the Espace de Concertation, the Patriotic Movement to Save the Nation (MPSN), the Organization of People in Struggle (OPL), the Democratic Nationalist Patriotic Assembly (RDNP), and Mochrena – have waged their war against Aristide’s party, the Lavalas Family, and the people. This week however they have upped the ante.
Evans Paul of the Espace has virtually called for civil war, seizing on chaotic street demonstrations, which closed downtown Port-au-Prince from Mar. 27-29. The anti-electoral-coup-d’état demonstrations, which were surely infiltrated by provocateurs, were blamed for breaking car and shop windows and the shooting of a policeman. “The Espace is now calling for the establishment of committees for legitimate defense,” Paul said. “The Espace asks people to identify the rioters, point out the houses where they meet, and write down their license plates. We ask for drivers to show solidarity. When rioters attack a driver, don’t run away. Instead, run down the rioters with your car.”
Meanwhile, Paul’s putschist-collaborator colleague, Serge Gilles, called for all Espace partisans in the government of Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis to resign, a step toward the “Zero Option” (i.e. removal of Préval and new presidential elections without Aristide) proposed by the MPSN and the OPL over these past weeks. “The Espace asks the people it has placed in the government and which today occupy posts of minister or secretary of state to leave the Préval/Alexis government,” Gilles said. “This appeal is also addressed to all other government members who consider themselves democrats and who refuse to be seen associating with the downfall of the Lavalas power.”
The offensive of the “Forces of Darkness”
Historically, alongside all the above-mentioned visible offensives, there has always been the “invisible” pressure exerted by “forces of darkness,” that is former Tonton Macoutes, soldiers, death-squads, and assorted putschist henchmen. For example, while the U.S. formally supported the return of Aristide during the coup, the CIA set up and supported Toto Constant’s FRAPH as a network to pressure, spy on, and kill the population. Many Haitians call this CIA-Pentagon-Macoute nexus the “laboratory.”
“The assassination of Jean Dominique, it is clear as a bell, is a political assassination,” said Ben Dupuy, secretary general of the National Popular Party (PPN) in an Apr. 3 press conference. “It was carried out by the ‘forces of darkness’ and it was a warning.”
Dominique’s murder is very similar to that of Lavalas businessman and activist Antoine Izméry on Sep. 11, 1993. They were both outspoken and progressive elements from Haiti’s bourgeoisie. In both cases, their deaths sent a chill through the entire population.
Whether it was “rogue” elements of Washington’s shadowy reserve army of former thugs or whether it was an ordered hit, the killing was a “professional job.” It is almost certain that, in some way, the “laboratory” had a hand in Jean Dominique’s murder.
The “forces of darkness” are also used to infiltrate genuine demonstrations such as those last week, which were demanding the resignation of the CEP, electoral cards for all, and a single election in November. “Often in demonstrations, I have seen elements who start violent acts like breaking windows and damaging property randomly,” said Leon, a long-time Lavalas organizer. “When you question what they are doing, they won’t listen to you. They are acting under somebody else’s orders.”
Change of Strategy
Finally, the U.S. and its proxies may be now changing strategy, as outlined by Dupuy at the PPN’s Apr. 3 press conference. He noted that the Haitian people have up until now been able to thwart the original version of the “electoral coup d’état,” which was to hold an election for parliament with a limited electorate.
Now they may have shifted to a new and revised plan. Since electoral technicians have estimated they will need about two months to straighten out the current electoral mess, a new election date could be no earlier than June. If the CEP and government cling to having two elections, that leaves only 5 months for the CEP to prepare for the November presidential elections. Already it has taken them 15 months to prepare the legislative and municipal elections.
“If after 15 months we still haven’t had legislative elections, we wonder how long we will have to wait for presidential elections which are supposed to be in Nov. 2000,” Dupuy said. “That is where it seems that USAID and IFES now want to lead the country. To arrive at a point where there is not enough time to have a presidential election and then the Presidential mandate of President Préval will end [on Feb. 7, 2001], and thus they will have managed to have us arrive at a sort of ‘zero option.’ Then we will see a real catastrophe. The head of the Supreme Court, a zombie, will take control of the country, and I don’t need to tell you what kind of mess we will have. The country will be upside down. And since the proponents of the ‘zero option’ know that they can’t do much without the ‘international community,’ many of them will call for another occupation of the country and in fact, several have already made declarations in this sense.”
In short, Washington and its local agents are upping the pressure on the Haitian government and the Haitian people in every way possible. This week, even the normally submissive Prime Minister Alexis had to speak out. “I am sure that the ‘international community’ knows better than us what is really going on here,” he said. “It is very strange that certain members of the ‘international community’ were at one point pressuring us in the executive to get more involved with the CEP and today these same people are saying that we don’t want elections. That is strange.” Alexis went on to conclude that “the ‘internaitonal community’… is orienting things in a sense that is not in the general interests of the country.”
This is the essence of the problem in Haiti today. This was the very problem Jean Dominique was denouncing in his last broadcasts. And this may well be the reason why he was killed.
(credit Haiti Progres.)