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“Pote Mak Sonje: the Raboteau Trial” (2003), an award-winning documentary directed by Harriet Hirshorn and produced by Chris Cynn and Harriet Hirshorn, is a must-see for anyone trying to understand recent events in Haiti. It chronicles the courageous and persistent fight by victims of a 1994 massacre to obtain justice through Haiti’s court system. The Raboteau victims insisted on forcing a justice system that had always served those with guns and money to serve democratic ideals. They rejected violence, knowing that extrajudicial retaliation would only continue the vicious cycle. They bet on democracy continuing, and ensuring that anyone angered by their efforts would be forced to play by the same non-violent rules.
In a way the victims won their bet: many of their oppressors were convicted, and the trial was hailed as fair to defendants and victims alike, and one of the most significant human rights trials in the hemisphere. They showed Haiti and the world that poor people can win a fight for justice.
The victims also lost their bet, and are paying a high price. Haiti’s nine-year democratic interlude ended on February 29, 2005 with the violent coup d’etat against the elected government. Many of the insurgency’s top leaders had been convicted in the Raboteau trial and for other atrocities. The rebels emptied the prisons in every city they took, releasing everyone in custody for Raboteau. The criminals are not playing by democratic or non-violent rules: they are back to doing the same systematic human rights violations as the last time they were in charge. Even before the coup d’etat, the Raboteau victims had been subject to retaliation. Most have been in hiding since December, two victims and the chief prosecutor have had their houses burned.
Pote Mak Sonje places the Raboteau victim’s fight squarely within the broader context of the struggle of Haiti’s poor majority for freedom and self determination, against powerful forces in Haiti and abroad.
It has won the following awards:
– Gold Remi Award at WorldFest, Houston, TX
– 3rd Winner of the Indie Spec Category (documentary feature) at the Boston International Film Festival, Boston, MA
– Best of Festival, Documentaries, Berkeley Independent Video and Film Festival, Berkeley, CA
The film is available in French and English (both with subtitles). To order, contact producers Christine Cynn, email@example.com or Harriet Hirshorn, firstname.lastname@example.org.