Is life imitating art in Haiti right now with the return of Baby Doc Duvalier to Port-au-Prince? Is a plan underway to sweep him or, more likely, his faction of the Haitian oligarchy back into power on the wings of revolutionary upheaval in Haiti by co-opting any such movement's leadership? And strangely enough, have we seen this happen before to a Caribbean island-nation in a noted Italian director's movie, not to mention in real life, past or present?
In 1969, the Leftist Italian film director Gillo Pontecorvo, already famous his La battaglia di Algeri (The Battle of Algiers, 1966), which re-enacted the struggle of Algerians to liberate their country from jaded French colonialism, and for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Director as well the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, released yet another anti-colonial film.
It was called Queimada, which was the name of the fictional island the screenplay was set in, but it was released in the United States under the title Burn! and it starred Marlon Brando in one of his most serious, bluntly political roles that he ever portrayed. Perhaps because it was so in-your-face politically, as well as totally devoid of any female romantic interest for Brando that it was a box-office failure in the States, but nonetheless, it was a powerful, poignant movie.
The screenplay is thought to be loosely based on the revolutionary history of both the Caribbean archipelago of Guadeloupe and of Haiti. Brando plays a British agent-provocateur sent to Queimada to help stir up a slave rebellion against the Portuguese (actually the Spanish by design, which is more historically accurate, but Spain complained bitterly about being represented in the movie), with the ultimate aim of creating a compliant bourgeois state that can be controlled economically by Great Britain. Brando's immediate goal is to befriend the man who turns out to be the island slaves' most natural revolutionary leader, JosÃ© Dolores (played by Evaristo MÃ¡rquez) while working behind his back the entire time to implant a latifundist (large landowner) government that will again crush the now freed Black slaves, in effect turning them into peons and serfs this time around. Sound familiar?
Brando's character is actually given the name William Walker, which is a slap at the American penchant for overthrowing Central American governments, since Walker was the adventurous and infamous American filibuster who briefly bamboozled and murdered his way into becoming the president of Nicaragua before being shot. Thus the movie is not lacking in historical wit and irony.
But to relate this movie to what is going on in Haiti, we must recognize that Haiti is in chaos and that revolutionary instincts are quickening as catastrophe after catastrophe continues to inflame masses of angry and desperate Haitians, all the while the oligarchs and elitists watch nervously while being offered bromides by equally anxious American, French and other Western officials, not to mention OAS states and the UN Mission. The popular solution for millions of Haitians is simply to bring Jean Bertrand Aristide back, but he represents the interests of the poor and working classes and the fulfillment of their needs, not the needs of the rich and exploitative, indigenous or international. Consequently we have the spectacle of a brutal and corrupt dictator being allowed back into Haiti and given a government escort, while the most popular president in recent Haitian history is verboten, persona non grata!
Above all, many in the ranks of the bourgeoisie wish to maintain Haiti as a giant sweatshop, so the return of Aristide is the last thing they desire. But are these folks now starting to realize that a violent revolutionary wave may soon sweep the entire island-nation, and that Preval, whom many elitists look down upon, not to mention most other Haitians, has got to go, and along with him, perhaps, the floundering and shredded democratic system that was further abused and humiliated in the recent joke of a presidential election? And why not let a "monitored" wave of revolution, the elite may be thinking, sweep the island while they take a page from history and cinematic art, once again co-opting said movement while proffering the returned ex-dictator, Baby Doc, or more likely, someone whom he can pass the Duvalier mantle to, as " the man of the hour who can restore stability and order ", that tired old Fascist dictator's cliche that was used to empower Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Pinochet and many others who took advantage of the masses' miseries to institutionalize new miseries, even if they did bring "order".
Already we are seeing some Haitians being interviewed in the streets who say that things were better with Duvalier, that he can restore order, as non-factual as that may actually be, but the perception is there nonetheless, so the danger is that many Haitians, in their desperation, might fall for such propaganda barrages from the Duvalier camp, and perhaps others of cynical persuasion, including foreign powers.
So, my point here is this: As things continue to fall apart in Haiti, there is a deep need for real revolution in Haiti, and it does not, in the 21st Century, HAVE to be violent. It certainly was not fundamentally violent in many of the Color Revolutions in Europe and elsewhere in recent memory.
Yes, RADICAL CHANGE (getting to the roots of problems) IS NEEDED IN HAITI! But all who want real change should beware of those who will once again attempt to co-opt revolutionary forces in that luckless nation in the service of injustice and exploitation, offering instead only shiny, newly-minted chains for the Haitian people.
Now watch a few scenes from Burn! to allow me to emphasize how revolutionary energies can be ignited when the underlying, tinder-box conditions exist, and then sadly be undermined by those with ulterior motives.
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