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28010: Hermantin(News)PBS airs two grim looks at foreign affairs (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Posted on Mon, Feb. 27, 2006

PBS airs two grim looks at foreign affairs


 American Experience: Hijacked, 10-11 tonight, WPBT-PBS 2

 Failing Haiti, 11-midnight tonight, WLRN-PBS 17

They really ought to fill those tote bags they hand out during PBS fundraising weeks with anti-depressant drugs. They'd sure come in handy tonight as both South Florida PBS stations offer grim looks at two of America's most intractable foreign-policy problems -- Middle Eastern terrorism and the eternal political dysfunction of Haiti.

Hijacked, an episode of the American Experience documentary series airing on WPBT, examines the 1970 hijackings of three airliners by Palestinian militants that ushered in the age of transnational terrorism. And Failing Haiti, an independent film screening on WLRN, focuses on a country that has been mired in chaotic poverty literally since the day it was born. Neither will leave you feeling very peppy about the future of liberal democracy.

In the wake of Sept. 11, recounting the story of a hijacking in which the only casualties were the airplanes themselves seems almost quaint. But as Hijacked, the work of veteran Israeli-American documentarian Ilan Ziv, makes clear, the seeds planted that day by the Palestinian gunmen would eventually bear ghastly fruit.

''They did not have the sophistication nor, let it be said, did they at that time have the ruthlessness to press home the initial attack on the airplanes by killing people,'' says one witness interviewed in Hijacked. ``They were to learn, but they didn't have it then.''

Palestinians and Jews had been trading terrorist punches in the Middle East for most of the 20th century. But the hijackings in Europe that began on Sept. 7, 1970, marked the first time that attacks were staged in -- or targeted citizens of -- another country. Two planes were flown to the Jordanian desert, a third to Cairo. (A fourth attempt, on an El Al flight, was thwarted when Israeli sky marshals overpowered the hijackers.)

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which carried out the hijackings, threatened to kill several hundred passengers unless imprisoned Palestinian militants in Europe and Israel were released. The Israelis flatly refused, and the PFLP eventually settled for half a dozen prisoners from Europe. They freed the passengers, then blew up the airliners.

As Hijacked notes, the PFLP -- showing ''an almost child-like innocence'' about public relations -- had expected to win sympathy for its cause with the hijackings. In that sense, they were a failure. But the ready acquiescence of European countries in swapping prisoners for hostages would haunt the world for decades to come, as hijackings and kidnappings became a regular tool of Middle Eastern zealots.

''Once you get started with this kind of militancy, it's hard to turn it off,'' observes a former American diplomat interviewed in Hijacked. ''People are beginning to compete with ways of doing other, more dramatic blows.'' Left unspoken is the chilling implication: Exactly what sort of attack is under contemplation right now in the Middle East that would be more dramatic than Sept. 11?


Like Hijacked, Failing Haiti is briskly paced and sharply drawn. It's also visually and editorially blunt, making no attempt to disguise what a mess the country is, in terms of both social and physical infrastructure. Particularly disturbing is the ample footage of burned and mutilated corpses (the reason it's airing at such a late hour) that makes it clear that ''politics'' in Haiti is often just a polite word for murder.

Failing Haiti's script is as uncompromising as its pictures. Haiti is not a developing country but a devolving one, and nobody pretends otherwise. ''How can it be that after nearly a century of foreign intervention, and billions of dollars in international aid, Haiti remains so tragically poor and misgoverned?'' asks writer-narrator David Adams as a montage of grisly images flashes across the screen.

The answer proves elusive, though not for want of trying. Adams, the Caribbean correspondent for the St. Petersburg Times, and producer-director Rod Paul, an Atlanta filmmaker, have conducted an impressive array of interviews with figures all around the ideological and social spectrum.

Everybody from deposed lefty president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to Roger Noriega, the Bush administration's chief shock trooper on Haiti, gets his say, providing Failing Haiti with a refreshing diversity of opinion -- not to mention a reality check -- that's usually missing from works on the country. When Aristide says he was kidnapped by the CIA and forced from office in 2004, it's followed immediately by an interview with the head of his security detail labeling the claim hogwash.

With so many viewpoints represented in Failing Haiti, it's no surprise that no consensus emerges on either the causes of the country's problems or their solutions, and Paul and Adams do not attempt to impose one. Intentionally or not, however, their interviews with Haitian political figures offer a clue. All of them, regardless of political stripe, blame Haiti's travails on the international community, particularly the United States.

A peasant organizer says the United States ruined the country by training Haiti's first professional army. Former military officers say the troubles began when the Americans permitted Aristide to abolish the army. Aristide supporters say the Americans forced him out; Aristide critics say the Americans didn't put enough pressure on him. No Haitian, it seems, is ever responsible for anything that happens there. Watching Failing Haiti is likely to leave you thinking that the next shipment of foreign aid to the country should include a large mirror, because Haitian leaders need to take a hard look in one.

Miami Herald television critic Glenn Garvin will answer your TV questions online. Go to MiamiHerald.com and click on Q&A Forum.


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