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Tribute to Jean Ristil Jean Baptiste

March 1, 2012

On Saturday, March 3, 4-6 p.m., Haiti Action Committee invites you to an afternoon of solidarity with the Haitian people to mark the eighth anniversary of the Feb. 29, 2004, coup d’etat, dedicated to the memory of Jean Ristil Jean-Baptiste, at La Pena Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley

by Ezili Dantò

The wonderful Jean Ristil surrounded by children at his May-June 2009 Fondasyon Kolézépol Photography Workshops – Photo: ©Jennifer Pantaléon
On Feb. 25, 2012, the sun set on the life of Jean Ristil Jean-Baptiste. We lost a great warrior, courageous and committed. Jean Ristil suffered from chronic ill health, anxieties and stress, but for him, saying he was feeling fine was an automatic reflex, almost to the very end, even when it wasn’t true.

He wanted to live. He was only 30 years old. He spent months before his death in hiding because of the constant threats to his life from the Duvalierist retaking of Haiti behind U.S.-U.N. firepower and false NGO charity.

Jean Ristil gave his life, all his love, even his health for Haiti. His blood flowed for Haiti. He was a brave and consequential man. He was our true brother – Dessalines’ descendant. He never sold Haiti out to the foreigners. He knew it was the blood of the Ancestors which gave us our freedom. It was not a gift the whites made us.

Jean Ristil’s photographs are etched into our hearts. Here are some of our favorites that the Bay View has run over the years. This is his classic photo of the outpouring of love shown to former President Aristide and his family on March 18, 2011, the day they returned to Haiti for the first time since the Feb. 29, 2004, coup. They poured into the yard of his home, even onto the roof, to welcome him home at last. – Photo: Jean Ristil Jean Baptiste
Jean Ristil was born in Site Solèy (often spelled in French as Cité Soleil), Haiti, on Dec. 12, 1981. Jean lived his entire life in the city. Through good times and bad times, he was always there for the people of Haiti. He was thrown in jail under the Gerard Latortue regime. He was persecuted. They beat him many times for his work as a journalist and photojournalist. He fought hard to give voice to the voiceless.

Jean Ristil fearlessly, even recklessly faced the complexities and harsh realities of living in Site Solèy – the poorest, most destitute community in the Western Hemisphere. He was a living library of information which he extended to the world as a Haiti journalist, photographer, community leader, founder of Fondasyon Kole Zepòl Pou Sove Timoun Site Solèy and longtime member of the HLLN (Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network)-Ezili Dantò Witness Project.

When the rains came in June 2010, five months after the earthquake, these meager tents housing suvivors in Cite Soleil were surrounded by a lake. The tents, then new, are now tattered and torn but still home. – Photo: Jean Ristil Jean Baptiste
Jean Ristil was an information source for us at Ezili Dantò’s HLLN from 2004 to the present on what was going on in the populous neighborhoods under attack by the U.S.-U.N. occupation forces. A loyal friend, a soldier for justice, a respected leader in Site Solèy, an indomitable spirit.

Jean led with a quiet energy. You reached out, he was there, watching, already in the mix, listening intensely, ready to be of service, to share. He had stubborn determination. He hustled, he had game, he refused to be defeated. No matter the difficulty, he expected to come through it safely.

Jean Ristil worked closely with the beloved Father Gerard Jean-Juste. – Photo: Jean Ristil Jean Baptiste
He would take on a task, even when he had no idea how to get it done, but then he’d make a way. Jean frustrated you sometimes but you forgave him. What are you going to do? It wasn’t Jean Ristil’s fault that he scared you to death always facing danger so directly – going where angels fear to tread. Not his fault he had to feed and provide for so many who would otherwise go hungry in NGO-occupied Haiti.

It wasn’t Jean Ristil’s fault that he scared you to death always facing danger so directly – going where angels fear to tread. Not his fault he had to feed and provide for so many who would otherwise go hungry in NGO-occupied Haiti.

Jean Ristil was the real thing. He could not look away or betray his community – as the most educated, privileged and powerful in Haiti, in the world, at the U.N. Security Council do. Jean didn’t live to make a profit over people but to be of service.

When former President Aristide’s party, Lavalas, was banned from the April 19, 2009, ballot, Haitians boycotted the election. This photo of the nearly empty ballot box dramatically illustrates the success of the boycott. – Photo: Jean Ristil Jean Baptiste
We’ll miss Jean Ristil. So much. His work and courage remain to inspire us, to keep us going forward.

He spent all his time helping the children in Site Solèy – especially those without fathers, those without mothers. Everyone of consequence who knew him loved Jean Ristil, loved what this humble man did with his life.

He didn’t have much formal schooling, but he was a degreed professor in the university of life. He knew the real meaning of “honor and respect.” He educated us: His life showed us how a Haitian without material means fights on without rest for justice for the people. His life showed us the very meaning of being in the struggle for justice.

The coup that saw U.S. Marines pluck democratically elected President Aristide and his family out of Haiti and fly them to the Central African Republic occurred on leap year day, Feb. 29, 2004, perhaps, considering Haitians’ habit of marking anniversaries with huge marches, to foil commemorations. But they were held every year anyway, this one on the first leap year day following the coup, Feb. 29, 2008, in Port au Prince. – Photo: Jean Ristil Jean Baptiste
His life is testimony that a genuinely educated man is a man with empathy for those less privileged. Pale Fransé pa edikasyon (Speaking French doesn’t necessarily mean you’re educated.)

A great warrior, great warrior. Jean Ristil Jean-Baptiste, we wanted to save you. An avan, an avan for Jean Ristil, his children, family and all in need in Site Soley. We mourn our loss but rejoice in the memory of his ceaseless struggle for justice and equality. Nou pap bay legen (We will not give up).

When starvation looms in Haiti, a special clay containing calcium and other nutrients from near the town of Hinche in the Central Plateau is combined with salt and vegetable shortening to make cookies that are dried in the sun and eaten. As these children’s lethargy testifies, the cookies help to sustain life – barely. – Photo: Jean Ristil Jean Baptiste
He worked for justice, to bring life and health to Haiti. He kept his honor. Ayibobo pou ou Jean Ristil (All hail Jean Ristil). He was our genuine brother and, as Jean once wrote, “God will never forget those he loves.” Haitians with loving hearts will never forget you.

We are tired of death. Tired that so many of our warriors are dying, brave men like Jean Ristil Jean-Baptiste who work for social justice in Haiti but never live to see justice done for themselves nor for their children. He leaves the rest to us.

For more information

To learn more about the life and legacy of Jean Ristil Jean Baptiste, read the HLLN Sept. 9, 2005, post “Free Kevin Pina and Jean Ristil,” photos of his 2009 Cité Soleil Photography Workshops taken by Jennifer Pantaléon and the photos Jean Ristil took recently for HLLN. Visit Kole Zepòl Pou Sove Timoun and Facebook pages Jean Ristil Jean Baptiste and Zanmi Lakay.

Ezili Danto, award winning playwright, performance poet, dancer, actor and activist attorney born in Port au Prince, Haiti, founded and chairs the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network (HLLN), supporting and working cooperatively with Haitian freedom fighters and grassroots organizations promoting the civil, human and cultural rights of Haitians at home and abroad. Visit her at or This story was translated by the Haitian blogger.

This is Jean Ristil’s footage of the U.N. December 2006 massacre in Site Soley, Haiti. The U.N. lied, said they only shot “gangsters” on Dec. 22, 2006. Jean Ristil interviews those “gangsters” – innocent, unarmed civilians in Site Soley – as they lay dying from U.N. bullets. @haitiinfoproj

Jean Ristil’s footage of the July 2005 massacre in Site Soley is at the end of “Haiti: We Must Kill the Bandits.” @haitiinfoproj


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