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Agronomist, The

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 03/23/04 19:26:21

"Suddenly this documentary means a lot more than it did when it was shot."
5 stars (Awesome)

Chances are you have no idea who Jean Dominique was. Chances are, if I said he was the man who built Radio Haiti, the only true independent radio voice in the island of Haiti over the past several decades, your interest level would drop off markedly. At least it would have a few weeks ago, before the twice re-elected leader of the island, Jean Aristide, was hustled away by American soldiers claiming they were 'taking him to safety', while they refused to stop rebels from killing hundreds and effecitvely taking over the country. Haiti has always been considered the retarded stepson of the Carribean, the kid who won't learn and is best left locked under the stairs. But one man had worked for twenty years plus to get Haiti out of the cellar. That man was Jean Dominique. And his story is one the really deserves to be seen.

So it's a good thing that Jonathan Demme, one of the world's foremost names in directing, has put his moniker on this film. That way, maybe people will see it. And if they see it, they'll be shocked at how the USA has (yet again) kept a nation of people as virtual slaves, implanting leaders and supplanting them as they choose.

Haiti is an island with a brutal past. The French ran the joint for a long time, and the people subsequently speak their language even today. But the Haitians didn't enjoy the way the French used them and thus chased them off the island. As leaders came and went, the Americans rolled in, bringing peace and stability at last. But the Americans rarely do anything for charity, and of course in good time the leaders of Haiti became well funded henchmen for US corporate interests. "Twenty thousand dollars, all for me? Sure, you can have the national tobacco crop. See you again next year!"

Haiti struggled through several dictators, before finally kicking out the bad guys and forcing an election, whereby they brought a Priest, Father Aristide, to power. And there was dancing in the streets. For a while, anyway. With Bush Sr sitting pat in the White House, the rebels went in and shot their way back to power. Enter Clinton, who decides that the electoral process must be restored, and sends in military troops to reinstall Aristide.

Fast forward to this year, and Bush Jr's government refused to budge when Aristide claimed rebels were somehow becoming very well armed and very ornery. "Mr Aristide wil have to change his methods of government," said Colin Powell, as the rebels began to slaughter hundreds and take cities one by one. When they were at the palace gates, then and only then did the US move in, take Aristide away to Africa (against his wishes) and the rebellion stopped right there.

Did America once more remove a government that wasn't prepared to bow to US interests? It sure as heck looks that way, at a time when we're all supposed to be helping spread democracy around the globe, at that.

So where does Jean Dominique come in? He was a guy way back in the day who got a radio station up and running. Radio Haiti ran through several of these dictators, giving an independent voice to a nation of people who have never truly been represented in government. When thugs shot at the building, Dominique left the microphones on so the nation could hear. When presenters were carted off and tortured, he refused to close the doors. When the building was gutted and he was wanted for arrest, he fled to the US and lived in exile until the climate cooled, then returned, rebuilt and was given a hero's welcome.

Dominique is an intriguing character. Very brash, very outgoing, very verbose, educated and funny, Demme uses footage of him shot over several decades and tracks the ups and down of Radio Haiti as it tried to stay under the radar and critique those who would not allow public critiquing. Dominique made such a name for himself with the Haitian people, that Radio Haiti was at times nearly untouchable. When advertisers were told to abandon the station by government thugs, people donated their cars to serve as taxis, the proceeds from which would keep the doors of the station open regardless of advertising revenue.

That a man such as Dominique lived is something we should all celebrate. He truly lived his life in the service of others, and that our own nations had a part in reasons such a man were needed is something we should all live in shame about. Go see The Agronomist, go learn about a nation that you'll never visit, and maybe we can start making our own representatives stop the sort of behavior that leaves entire nations of people struggling simply to stay alive.

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