While mystery still attends the abrupt 2004 departure of democratically elected Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide did he voluntarily resign or was he literally kidnapped and forced into exile? Nicolas Rossier's well-researched documentary draws its own definite conclusions. In many quarters, Aristide's "resignation" on January 29, 2004, was nothing short of a coup, and the subsequent savage violence at the hands of exiled rebel forces many of whom secretly returned to Haiti in the previous weeks served as further evidence that Aristide's departure was anything but voluntary. Throughout 2003 the Haitian president was embroiled in a parliamentary election scandal, but stood firm, leading many to believe that his departure from office occurred at gunpoint. And it wouldn't have been the first time military force was used to counter the will of the once-voiceless Haitian people. Rossier briefly traces the events that took Aristide from a humble, socially committed priest in Haiti's poorest parish to the presidential palace in 1990, effectively putting an end to the 30-year reign of Duvalier terror and corruption; Rossier then turns his attention to the details of the 1991 military coup that put a premature end to Aristide's first term. Having earned the enmity of Haiti's elite and foreign business interests, who depended on the country's poor for sweatshop labor, Aristide was forced out in a coup that few doubt was largely engineered by the CIA and executed by U.S.-trained forces. Returned to office in 1994, Aristide was reelected in 2000, only to once again face a strong, organized international opposition that would ultimately leave him in exile and the leading members of his party, Fanmi Lavalas, in prison. Rossier attempts to present the other side of the story by handing the mic over to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega, who insists the fateful January 29 decision was entirely Aristide's, but Rossier's evidence particularly Aristide's own testimony, recorded in his current home in Pretoria suggests just the opposite. The U.S., however, isn't singled out as the biggest villain in this national tragedy: That honor goes to France, which continues to maintain an economic stranglehold on a poor, underdeveloped country by demanding the repayment of a massive 200-year-old debt. Along with the landmark documentary of THE BATTLE OF CHILE (1975-79), and the recent film about Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez's troubled term in THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED (2003), Rossier's film leaves the dispiriting impression that democracy simply will not be tolerated in the Southern Hemisphere.
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