The Ghosts of Cité Soleil, Haiti
In 2004, the United Nations called Cité Soleil the “most dangerous place on earth.” The largest slum in the western hemisphere and one of the poorest places in the world, Cité Soleil was established during the 1950s in the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, by the government of the dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier. Today in Cité Soleil, over 300,000 residents live in conditions as bad as any urban settlement anywhere: clean running water and electricity are inaccessible to most that live in this over-populated area. Nearly four years ago the departure of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a priest who had emerged from the slums to lead the government, led to new levels of poverty and violence in Cité Soleil. As his grip on power weakened, Aristide and his Lavalas government-- the Haitian Creole word for “flood”-- armed and funded street gangs from slums around Haiti including, most prominently, Cité Soleil. Employed to intimidate political opponents, these street gangs, known as chimeres (a Creole word which roughly translates as “ghosts”), engaged in armed conflict with the UN military force that attempted to occupy Cité Soleil after Aristide’s removal from power.
A graduate student in English literature and journalism at the University of Florida, I traveled to Port-au-Prince in late December 2007 to visit Cité Soleil. After a couple of days, I was able to find a translator and driver willing to take me in to Cité Soleil. Though the violence of 2004 has lessened to a certain degree, the UN occupation of Cité Soleil continues as murders and kidnappings still plague the slums. After spending some time in Cité Lumiere, a “neighborhood” in the middle of Cité Soleil, I have decided to try to provide some support by way of school supplies for the children of Cité Lumiere. The most basic of necessities are a rarity for many in Cité Soleil; whatever can be done will make a difference in the lives of the young people.
On Monday February 11 at 8pm, the Civic Media Center will be showing Ghosts of Cité Soleill: a documentary that follows two brothers, James ‘Bily’ Petit Frère and Winson “2Pac” Jean, both of whom are chimere leaders from Cité Soleil. Whilst Bily remains loyal to the embattled Aristide, 2Pac is disillusioned with Haiti and dreams of a life outside the slums. Intimate, stylized, and disturbing, Asger Leth’s documentary provides both a rare insight in to Cité Soleil, as well as opening up questions about the role of the documentary filmmaker. I will also be showing photos from my time in Port-au-Prince and talking about what I learnt of life for the residents of Cité Soleil today.
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