Film captures horror of repression in Haiti

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — After U.S. Marines seized Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Feb. 29, 2004, and flew him to the Central African Republic, the newly installed interim government unleashed a campaign of terror against Aristide’s supporters.

U.S. filmmaker and journalist Kevin Pina captures the horror of this period in his new documentary “Haiti: We Must Kill the Bandits.” He spoke to the World during a brief stopover here to screen his new film.

“We Must Kill the Bandits” is a disturbingly powerful account of the 22-month period between February 2004 and March 2006, when the U.S./Canadian/

French-backed interim government ruled the country. Pina lived in Haiti from January 1999 until March 2006.

After Aristide’s ouster, Haitians began to spontaneously pour into the streets to demand his return. Rather than put up an armed resistance to the U.S. troops and the UN’s military stabilization mission (Minustah), Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas Party decided to employ peaceful, civil resistance.

Such resistance met with brutal repression. The documentary reveals how the Haitian National Police (HNP) and former soldiers carried out many massacres while the Brazilian-led Minustah and U.S. Marines stood by.

Pina recalls one demonstration against the interim government in the poverty-stricken Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Bel Air on May 18, 2004, that he attended. After U.S. Marines — driving around in armored vehicles with guns pointed at the crowds — failed to discourage protesters from demonstrating, the troops disappeared.

Shortly thereafter, a SWAT team with HNP sharpshooters arrived and began shooting people in the head.

“This kid was in front of me and his head burst open like a cantaloupe hit by a rock,” Pina recalled. He said that this scenario — with Minustah and U.S. troops suddenly disappearing, and HNP forces then arriving to shoot unarmed demonstrators — became “a pattern that I saw repeated over and over again.”

In the Bel Air incident, Pina began filming the HNP sharpshooters. They responded by shooting at him.

“I ducked behind two overturned refrigerators and got out my phone and pretended I was calling my embassy really loudly and they stopped and left,” Pina said. Afterwards, he approached a group of U.S. Marines and called them “cowards” for allowing the police attack. An officer told Pina “to leave my men alone” and threatened to arrest him.

In several scenes in the film, Pina approaches Minustah soldiers and asks them why they are refusing to protect pro-Aristide demonstrators, who in plain view are being shot at by Haitian police. In one clip, a Brazilian soldier repeatedly tells him to “f—- off.” Pina said that the soldier also threatened to provide his name and photo to the Haitian police.

In another clip, HNP forces in black uniforms block a road and get ready to fire on marchers. However, when they see Pina and his camera crew, they leave the scene.

Pina also shows that Minustah forces took part in the repression. One of the most gruesome scenes in the film is an interview with a 29-year-old man whose two young sons and wife lay dead on a nearby bed. The man says that Minustah forces had thrown a tear gas canister into his house. He ran out and wrongly assumed that his family had followed him. He returned to his house to find his family dead, bullet holes in their heads.

Pina said he made a point of challenging Minustah, U.S. troops and the HNP every time he could.

“Where we were, we noticed they weren’t opening fire so it just became a question of getting around to as many places as we could ... and try and film as much as we could, just to let them know that someone was watching them,” he said.

Pina artfully includes old black-and-white newsreel clips of U.S. Marines seizing control of the island in 1915, hunting down rebels and installing a friendly government. It’s a reminder of the history of U.S. intervention in Haiti.

Pina stated that he is working on a director’s cut of his documentary and hopes to have it available on DVD soon.

tpelzer@shaw.ca