I just watched the movie “Ghosts of Cite de Soleil” on Ilona’s computer. It’s devastating; it’s what I felt but didn’t know about Port-au-Prince (and Haiti): the suffering, the violence, the anger, the sadness, the hopelessness, the love, the grasping for power, and, above all, the no-way-out.
Here are my impressions of the movie:
Haiti: dictators and foreign trade embargoes have made it poor. 2004 Aristide, a former preacher (no surprise), takes power and becomes the president of Haiti. His army/party is the Lavaras. When rebels closed in on Aristide, he armed gangs from Cite de Soleil. They were called the Chimeres.
The movie focuses on two brothers 2Pac (the Haitian 2Pac, a rapper and a gangster) and Bily, his brother. Cite de Soleil was a city of 300,000 people in 2004, mostly country people who came to Port-au-Prince to find a better life. It’s still a total slum today, but not “the most dangerous place in the world,” as the UN called it in 2004.
2Pac: “You have to have your own dreams.” “All we need is peace, baby.” “There can never be peace.”
The African slaves’ successful revolt in 1804 was 200 years before this situation in Cite de Soleil. Bob Marley posters on the wall; smoking dope.
The people revolted in 2004, and Aristide paid and armed gangs to fight government critics and beat up anti-government marchers in the streets. Young men like Bily and 2Pac are completely powerless. They have no house, no food, no water, no jobs, little education (though they can speak quite a bit of English), and no money to send their kids to school. They wanted power, and they were given guns. They considered themselves the chiefs of Cite de Soleil.
An interesting character, eventually 2Pac’s girlfriend, was Lele, a French aid worker. She helped when she could, but eventually was able to do nothing to help the “gangsters, thugsters.” At the end of the film, she’s in Paris.
A coalition of wealthy businessmen, merchants and students began fighting Aristide in 2004. The Chimeres, 2Pac and Billy’s gang of Aristide’s enforcers, was for the government; the people were turning against Aristide and the government. 2Pac had already spent two years in jail, ignored by Aristide (whom he said knew he was in jail, but did nothing to help him). I got the impression 2Pac and Bily felt they had no options but to serve the President. The police, upon Aristide’s orders, killed demonstrators in the street.
Wyclef Jean, a famous Haitian singer who lives in New York City now, is on the phone with 2Pac (whom he calls the real 2Pac), and 2Pac is rapping his songs for him. “They (the Haitian people) will live by (rap music) and they will die by it,” he says, remarking on how great the effect rap has been here.
Rebels against Aristide seize the city of Gonaives, up north of Port-au-Prince, along the coast. Lots of bloodshed.
Mambos, voodooiennes, shown; some of the Chimeres are believers. 2Pac: “Fuck voodoo. Fuck God.”
In 2004, Aristide ran; he left the country and gave up his power. A man in the street: “We need food, school for the kids, and sleep.” Soldiers and police are starting to search for the Chimeres to disarm them. 2Pac, who is as thin as a rail, says, “We die of hunger already. Why we gonna die by arms (guns) now?” Lele tries to convince 2Pac and Bily (who was also in love with her) to give up their arms; she knows a massacre could ensue if they do not.
2Pac: “Power is the gun in Haiti.” “Every door is closed.” He gets a policeman (“my brother”) to get him a “license” to leave the country or he knows he’ll be killed. 2Pac thinks the soldiers have killed Bily. His only regret is leaving Taina*, his daughter; 2Pac leaves by bus. He later returns when Bily gets out of jail; 2Pac is killed soon after returning to Haiti. (*So much like the word for the people called the “Taino,” Amerindians who inhabited Haiti long ago.)
Wyclef Jean goes back to Haiti and to Cite de Soleil (despite warnings that he would be killed there). He wrote the song, “The Ghosts of Cite de Soleil”:
“No way out… How can I be scared of people who look like me… cry like me… of gangsters who bleed like me… The people don’t know where they’ll find food… No way out.”