Jean-Bertrand Aristide was twice elected President of Haiti by margins that would be considered exceptional in a country like America. In 1990, he was elected with a 67% majority. In 2000, he was elected by a stunning 91% majority. In neither of these elections was there reasonable grounds for challenging the results. And yet during his service of both terms, he was removed from power, arguably by US-supported militants.
Until today, I was absolutely ignorant of any of these facts. This is a testaments to, or perhaps an indictment of, a number of factors not limited to: my relatively young interest in politics, my never having made an effort to learn about Haiti, the US government’s desire that it not be portrayed as the agent ousting Aristide (whether or not it truly was), and the media’s willingness to ignore such topics.
I doubt that all of those factors share blame equally, but it does give you some idea of the ignorance I had when sitting down to watch Aristide and the Endless Revolution, directed by Nicolas Rossier and distributed by the little known First Run Features.
The film’s analysis of Aristide’s ouster in 2004 leaves few stones unturned, interviewing people from the rather well-known leftist Noam Chomsky to representatives from the Department of State, which denies any role (beyond providing for his safe passage out of the country) in Aristride’s 2004 resignation.
The documentary tries to cut down the middle on the issue, letting partisans on both sides have time on screen. In the end, they do give more credence to Aristride’s defenders. This is not necessarily to say that it is being untruthful. Indeed, merely presenting both sides of an issue tends to create more muck and less knowledge. Having said that, I will not speak for the truth of the story, not knowing enough about the topic to have a true position on the issue.
But this ignorance that prevents me from taking a position is, in itself, important. This ignorance, both personal and within the electorate, poses a large problem for those interested in defending a country like Haiti from outside and potentially unjust, perhaps even illegal, intervention. Without interested and informed opponents in any great number, it is completely possible that the Bush administrations (both of them) were able to topple the populist Mr. Aristide in favor of an opponent more willing to work to protect the financial stakes of American corporations operating in the troubled country. Someone willing to allow the poor conditions of Haitian workers (only 30% of the population) to continue, to allow them to make a mere 38 cents a day rather than the dollar that Aristide advocated.
It is this troubling problem of ignorance that Aristide and the Endless Revolution points out and questions. And though it tries to enlighten the viewer, and even does an admirable job for an 84 minute documentary, it will never provide all that is needed for one to be well-informed. Is that an irrevocable problem? No, but this is only a place to start, even if a good one.