9 Dec 2007

The Agronomist: Haiti under siege

This film was directed by Jonathon Demme who is best know for the Hannibal Lector cannibal flick, ‘The Silence of the Lambs’. The Agronomist is Haitian journalist Jean Dominique. Jean was trained as an agricultural scientist and his first loyality was to the peasants.
He set up the first independent radio station in the country in the 1970s and went down in a hail of bullets for his trouble in 2000.
Its difficult to express how entertaining the film is or to convey in cold cyber print the charisma of Jean Dominique, most of the film is made of interviews with him.

The back story may be a little mysterious to some of you, so here goes....

Hatian politics is a long fascinating and by turns a grim story. The great Cuban novelist Carpentier describes the slave revolt that toppled the French colony in The Kingdom of this World. Revolution led to tyranny with the creation of a black emperor who mimicked Napoleon, re-enslaving the Haitians to build a citadel. The Haitians resist colonialisation but time after time the heros described in CLR James book The Black Jacobins were oppressed by new tyrants.

This is a good and accurate summary from the wiki oracle here:
Inspired by the French Revolution, the gens de couleur pressed the colonial government for expanded rights. In October 1790, 350 revolted against the government. On May 15, 1791, the French National Assembly granted political rights to all blacks and mulattoes who had been born free - but did not change the status quo regarding slavery. On August 22, 1791, slaves in the north rose against their masters near Cap-Français (now Cap-Haïtien). This revolution spread rapidly and came under the leadership of Toussaint L'Ouverture. He is commonly referred to as the "Black Napoleon." He soon formed alliances with the gens de couleur and the maroons, whose rights had been revoked by the French government in retaliation for the uprising.[2]
Toussaint' armies defeated the French colonial army, but then joined forces with it in 1794, following a decree by the revolutionary French government that abolished slavery. Under Toussaint's command, the Saint-Domingue army then defeated invading Spanish and British forces. This cooperation between Toussaint and French forces ended in 1802, however, when Napoleon sent a new invasion force designed to subdue the colony; many islanders suspected the army would also reimpose slavery. Napoleon's forces initially were successful at fighting their way onto the island, and persuaded Toussaint to a truce. He was then betrayed and captured and died in a French prison. Toussaint's arrest and the news that the French had reestablished slavery in Guadeloupe, led to the resumption of the rebellion, under the leadership of Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe, two of Toussaint's generals. Napoleon's forces were outnumbered by the combination of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Henri Christophe, and Alexandre Petion, the "Generals of the Revolution."
[edit] Independence
Dessalines's armies won their final and decisive victory over the French forces at the Battle of Vertières on 18 November 1803, near Cap-Haitien. On 1 January 1804 the nation declared its independence, securing its position as the second independent country in the Americas, and the only successful slave rebellion in world history.[3] Dessalines was its first ruler. The name Haiti was chosen in recognition of the old Arawak name for the island, Ayiti.

The new State of Haiti supported the abolitionist cause wherever possible. Haiti aided Francisco de Miranda and Simón Bolívar, giving them refuge and supporting their revolutionary efforts under the condition he free South America's slaves. The slaveholding powers surrounding Haiti isolated the new nation under a cordon sanitaire, fearing slave revolutions of their own. The Haitian Revolution is thought to have inspired numerous slave revolts in the Caribbean, Brazil and United States. The blockade was virtually total. The Vatican withdrew its priests from Haiti, and did not return them until 1860. France refused to recognize Haiti's independence until it agreed to pay an indemnity of 150 million francs, to compensate for the losses of French planters in the revolutions, in 1833. Payment of this indemnity brought the government deeply in debt and crippled the country's economy.

In 1806, Dessalines, by now Emperor, was murdered in a power struggle with political rivals who thought him a tyrant. The nation divided into two parts, a southern republic founded by Alexandre Pétion (mulatto), becoming the first black-led republic in the world,[4] and a northern kingdom under Henri Christophe. Christophe was responsible for the order and oversight of the construction of two New World marvels; his capital palace of Sans Souci and the massive Citadelle Laferrière, the largest fortress in the Western hemisphere.

In August 1820, King Henri I (Henri Christophe) suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. When the news spread of his infirmities, the whispers of rebellion, deceit and treachery began. On October 2, 1820, the military garrison at St. Marc led a mutiny that sparked a revolt. The mutiny preempted a conspiracy of some of Christophe's most loyal generals. Some of his trusted aides took him from the palace of Sans-Souci up to his Citadel, to await the inevitable confrontation with the rebels. Christophe ordered his attendants to dress him in his formal military uniform and for two days desperately tried to raise the strength to lead out his troops. Finally, he ordered his doctor to leave the room. Shortly after he left, Christophe shot and killed himself.[5]

Voodoo runs through Haiti and as the film shows has been used for both politically radical and repressive purposes. A post on voodoo will have to be a task for another day but the film by Maya Deren ‘The Divine Horsemen: the livings gods of Haiti’ is worth a look.

Jean Dominique lived through the bloodstained rule of Papa Doc, maintained in power by his gang the tonton macoutes and as always the gang in the White House. The Casa Blanca under President Carter deposed his son Baby Doc but Haitian politics has been marked by corruption, violence and US meddling. Jean Paul Aristide, a radical priest, won a free election but Jean Dominique was critical of his continual compromises with the corrupt elite. Aristide was famously deposed twice but his heritage is controversial.

After the Duvallier regime collapsed, Mr. Dominique's fight for democracy and strong interest in social issues drew him to the Lavalas movement, which emerged in 1990 around the presidential candidacy of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He continued to air the news and comment- show "Interactualité", as well as an interview programme entitled "Face à l'opinion". Mr. Dominique made many enemies by harshly criticizing the country's moneyed elite, the army, the United States policy towards Haiti and, most recently, certain figures in Aristide's Lavalas party. As the documentary showed, he did not shy away from eventually criticizing Mr. Aristide himself in a radio interview regarding alleged corruption in his government.

The journalist was murdered when he arrived before dawn at the radio station in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Delmas. He had parked and gotten out of his car and had turned to go into the building when a stranger walked into the yard and fired seven shots. He died instantly. The station's security guard, Jean-Claude Louissant, was also killed. His wife has said that Mr. Dominique was killed because nobody could tell him what to do or say. Watching The Agronomist, one certainly gets a sense of how true that statement is. His charisma and courage are undeniable, and the documentary captures his essence: a slim, passionate, witty, eloquent and fearless man with a penchant for smoking a pipe.

Who killed Jean Dominique remains an open question but there is little doubt that acted on behalf of the rich, corrupt elite....

for solidarity with Haiti take a look here

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Of interest -- You can see a clip of Toussaint's last moments in prison from the award-winning new short film "The Last Days of Toussaint L'Ouverture" at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2468184/ This film is the basis for a new feature (not with Danny Glover) that is in development.

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