PBS' "Frontline" is literally on the front lines tonight with "Showdown in Haiti"(at 9 p.m. on KCET-TV Channel 28 and KPBS-TV Channel 15; 8:30 p.m. on KVCR-TV Channel 24).
Indeed, more than most investigation-prone "Frontline" reports, this one by producer June Cross and reporter Robert Parry serves as a document of the recent fast-moving Haitian events. It only touches upon the complex Haitian history, including the decades-long occupation by U.S. Marines, that informs everything boiling to the surface today. But it starkly shows Haiti's clear choice: Either the unproven but democratically elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide, or the rule by terror of junta leader Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras.
Cross and Parry constantly come close to that terror, as no less than two key interview subjects (justice minister Guy Malery and Aristide activist Antoine Izmery) are assassinated during the making of the film.
But the power plays must go on, and the Aristide-Cedras match is shown as one of communication ploys. Aristide demands tough trade sanctions against Haiti to force Cedras to step down. Cedras demands a full amnesty for him and his fellow military.
Behind all the scattershot events, the Clinton Administration appears well-intentioned but ham-fisted. Perhaps because of the rush to get "Showdown in Haiti" on the air, Cross and Parry don't take a full account of Clinton's policy shifts, including the current indecision on imposing further sanctions on the ruptured island nation.