Aristide and the Endless Revolution
Baraka Productions
Directed by Nicholas Rossier
82 minutes, English, French and Creole with English subtitles
Showings: Vancouver International Film Festival, Oct. 1 and 10; UN Film Festival at Stanford University, Oct. 19-23.

On Feb. 29, 2004, elected Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was deposed a second time and forced to leave the country. In “Aristide and the Endless Revolution,” veteran filmmaker Nicolas Rossier takes his camera to Haiti, the U.S., South Africa and Barbados to learn the truth about what led to Aristide’s expulsion from office. The result is an engaging, informative documentary that sheds light on the U.S. role in overthrowing a democratically elected president.

Aristide, a Catholic priest, rode a wave of discontent that took him from a small parish in the Port-au-Prince slum of Cite Soleil to Haiti’s presidential palace. From his parish pulpit, he spoke out against the widespread poverty and inequality that characterized Haitian society. Soon after a popular uprising that overthrew the 30-year Duvalier dictatorship, Aristide founded the Fanmi Lavalas party and contested the country’s first free elections in 1990 as the party’s presidential candidate. Campaigning among the country’s poor whom the country’s elite had long ignored, he defeated the U.S.-backed candidate.

But the Haitian president never had an easy time with its U.S. neighbor. In 1991, the CIA sponsored a coup under the elder Bush administration, which deposed Aristide for three years. In 1994, Aristide was restored to power under the Clinton administration, yet was subsequently betrayed in 2000 by the same administration.

According to John Shattuck, former U.S. assistant secretary of state under Clinton, Aristide tried to be “the voice of the voiceless, the voice of people who had no source of support, victims of a corrupt elite and military regime.” This led, according to Rossier, to Aristide’s ouster.

Once in power Aristide built schools, hospitals and medical clinics in impoverished areas; he raised the minimum wage from 38 cents a day to one dollar; he disbanded the country’s hated military. While earning him a dedicated following among the poor, Aristide’s reforms were deeply unpopular with the country’s elite and Washington. Large U.S. companies such as Walt Disney, which make clothing and other products in Haitian free trade zones, resented that Aristide raised the minimum wage.

Haiti held parliamentary and presidential elections in 2000, which Lavalas won overwhelmingly. While international observers judged the elections to be largely clean, they disputed the results of eight senate seat races. The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) declared Lavalas candidates in these contests to be the winners because they received the most votes. However, according to a former Organization of American States official who observed the elections, the Haitian constitution requires that candidates receive at least 51 percent of the vote to win, and if no one candidate receives this amount, a runoff is held. Seven of the Lavalas senators resigned and Aristide asked the CEP to set new elections.

The U.S. government and Haiti’s business-backed opposition used the senate seat controversy as an excuse to declare the 2000 elections fraudulent. The U.S. then convinced the World Bank to cut off loans to Haiti, depriving the country of funds for social programs. Soon the economy began to fray.

Then, during the George W. Bush presidency, in January 2004, former Haitian soldiers armed with U.S. built M-16s invaded the country from bases in the Dominican Republic. Sweeping aside lightly armed opposition, they marched towards Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince. As Aristide prepared to defend the capital to the death, he told Rossier that U.S. soldiers seized him, placed him on a plane and flew him into exile to Africa.

Rossier’s documentary is well researched and balanced. He speaks with both opponents and supporters of Aristide. From the standpoint of cinematography, Rossier artfully mixes images of interviewees, old news footage and lush scenes of Haitian landscape. “Aristide and the Endless Revolution” is an excellent documentary that should be seen by those wanting a better understanding of contemporary Haitian politics.