Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Agronomist


Haiti is a little country shaped like a crab claw on the western side of Hispaniola. In 1804 Toussaint L’Ouverture led a slave rebellion, the only successful one I know of. From there on, everything was pretty much downhill. (The Haitians had to pay the former slave owners, and it took them 100 years, and the economy never recovered.) This is the story of Jean Dominique, who trained as an agronomist so he could help Haitian peasants grow better crops, but who gained fame as a radio owner and personality who stood up to the Duvaliers and later to the military juntas. He was a moral, gentle, intense man who spoke the truth, so naturally he had to be killed. He is profiled wonderfully in this little documentary by Jonathan Demme. He’s one of those guys whose eyes can bore right through you, whose passion is always right out there on the surface. What a shame.

Idle observation: Dominique was a light-skinned man. So was his wife. So was everyone in a position of power that I saw in the black nation of Haiti, except maybe Papa Doc. Most of the peasants were black as ink. It’s that way pretty much throughout Latin America. You think slavery hasn’t left a legacy?