Haitian Leader Charges: White
House Behind Coup
by Sara Flounders and Johnnie
Stevens - Bangui, Central African Republic
International Action Center, www.iacenter.org/March
U.S. agents abducted President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide of Haiti over a week ago and flew him to this intensely
poor former French colony in the heart of Africa in an attempt
to isolate him and keep him from telling the truth about what
has happened in his Caribbean country.
It didn't work. Through his own efforts,
and with assistance from a solidarity delegation that quickly
flew in from the United States, Aristide has been able to tell
the world that he did not resign, as the Bush administration has
been claiming, but was forced to leave Haiti after being threatened
by the U.S. ambassador with death--his own, his family's and thousands
of his supporters. At the same time, U.S. troops were taking up
key positions in the capital and convicted murderers known to
collaborate with Washington were advancing on Port-au-Prince in
command of heavily armed troops.
This gangster-style operation to uproot
Haiti's democratically elected president and install a government
under the heel of U.S. and French imperialism has involved a full-court
press--in Haiti and here in the Central African Republic.
The U.S. delegation that succeeded in
breaking the blockade around Aristide included three people representing
former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark: Kim Ives of Haiti Support
Network and the newspaper Haïtí Progrès, Sara
Flounders of the International Action Center, and Johnnie Stevens
of People's Video Network. Also in the delegation were attorney
Brian Concannon of Aristide's U.S. legal team and filmmaker Katherine
At first we were denied access to the
Haitian president and his wife, Mildred Trouillot Aristide. We
went to the Palace of the Renaissance but were told we couldn't
give him a message or send him our phone number, we could not
go in and he could not come out to meet with us.
ARISTIDE REPLACED BY 'U.S. REGIME OF OCCUPATION'
But after a release entitled "Aristide
under lock and key" was circulated around the world in a
massive Inter net and media campaign by the International Action
Center and the International ANSWER Coalition, the blockade was
forced open. The CAR authorities acknowledged to us that they
had been taking direction from the U.S. State Department and the
French Foreign Ministry.
By the next morning everything was different.
Foreign Minister Charles Wenezoui, who
had refused to return our calls, set up a meeting with our delegation,
told us we could meet privately with President Aristide, and said
that afterwards Aristide would hold a press conference.
At the meeting with the foreign minister,
he told us that the decision to send Aristide to the CAR was made
by the U.S. and France. Not one Haitian had any part in this decision.
The CAR minister was told he must be in daily contact with Washington
and Paris about Aristide, and his government could not comment
on the situation in Haiti.
We then met with President Aristide and
Mildred Trouillot Aristide, who greeted us warmly. Later we attended
a luncheon with them and officials of the CAR, followed by another
meeting with President Aristide. The group discussions were held
in English and French. Kim Ives was also able to speak at length
with Aristide in Creole about his kidnapping.
After our first meeting, Aristide was
finally allowed to hold a news conference at the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs--his first public appearance since the coup. Our delegation
scrambled to find a working cell phone for him, and he has now
given several detailed phone interviews to the international media,
including Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now! program. This program
had first broken the news of his kidnapping during an interview
by Amy Goodman with U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters of the Congressional
In our conversations and at the news conference,
President Aristide was very forceful about the fact that he had
been kidnapped, and that his government is being replaced by a
U.S.-sponsored regime of occupation. He also said that only his
return to Haiti can bring peace, and characterized the people
who carried out the campaign against his government as "internationally
Aristide said he had been lied to by the
U.S. ambassador to Haiti, James Foley, who assured him that he
was being taken to a press conference to talk with international
and Haitian media. Aristide agreed to leave his home on condition
that he could speak to the media and that his home would be protected
from any attack or looting.
The press conference never took place.
He was instead forced onto a plane and taken out of the country.
His home was looted almost as soon as he had left.
'ARMED AMERICANS AND DIPLOMATS' KIDNAPPED
The State Department has given the impression
that around 4 or 5 a.m. on Feb. 29, Aristide called U.S. officials
and asked for their assistance in leaving the country. But Aristide
told Kim Ives that, in fact, "armed Americans and diplomats"
came to his residence 12 hours earlier and told the 19 security
guards that have functioned as a presidential security detail
that they should abandon their posts. These security guards were
on assignment from the Steele Foundation and are mostly former
members of the U.S. Special Forces. They were told by U.S. officials
that they wouldn't be protected.
President Aristide asserted that these
Steele Foundation security guards basically obeyed the orders
from their former employers--the U.S. military. On Saturday night,
they were flown by helicopter away from the Presidential Palace,
leaving Aristide with no armed protection.
Aristide told Kim Ives that when he was
taken to a U.S. plane early in the morning on Feb. 29, his 19
security guards were already there. They were all taken--including
the one-year-old child of one of the guards-- to the Central African
Republic. After spending 20 hours on a plane flying to a destination
unknown to any of them, the security guards were then flown back
to the United States. The trip prevented them from revealing the
details of the coup until long after Aristide was out of Haiti.
U.S. MOVED BEFORE AID COULD REACH ARISTIDE
Ives reports that "In the course
of the discussions with President Aristide, it became clear that
the timing of the coup coincided with several international developments
that could have shifted the relationship of forces in the Haitian
government's favor. While the U.S. government escalated pressure
on Aristide to resign in that last week, the government of South
Africa had sent a planeload of weapons that was set to arrive
on Sunday, Feb. 29. Venezuela was in discussions about sending
troops to support Aristide.
"There was also gathering international
support and solidarity for the maintenance of constitutional democracy
in Haiti. African American leaders were receiving increasing media
attention as they denounced the efforts towards a coup. Two prominent
U.S. delegations, one led by members of the Congressional Black
Caucus and another by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark,
in conjunction with the International Action Center and Haiti
Support Network, were set to arrive within days.
"We can see that there were various
converging influences of aid about to come. This accounts in large
part for the timing of the coup. It explains why the U.S. had
to rush in and remove Aristide," Ives concludes.
Aristide's situation in the Central African
Republic is tenuous. His aim is to return to Haiti to serve out
his elected term. He is being treated graciously by members of
the government here, but has limited freedom. He has not asked
for political asylum and does not accept being in exile.
The timber and diamonds of the CAR enriched
the French ruling class during a century of colonial rule, but
today life expectancy is only 42 and the vast majority of people
enjoy not one benefit of modern life. On the Oubangui River, which
flows through the capital, people still travel by dugout canoe.
The infant mortality rate is 93 deaths per 1,000 live births.
French troops still remain in the area.
Clearly, if any people have the right
to demand reparations for a history of exploitation and oppression,
it is the people of the Central African Republic--and of Haiti.
One of Aristide's crimes, in the eyes of the imperialist West,
is that he demanded just that.
It is at least two days' travel by commercial
plane from the CAR to Haiti, the first Black republic in the world.
There is one flight a week between Bangui and Paris. The best
hotel in Bangui has no Internet connection, and landline phones
often don't work.
Nevertheless, Aristide has found ways
to get the news from his country. He pointed out to us that U.S.
Marines and other foreign soldiers are now being housed in what
was Haiti's main medical school, effectively closing it down.
"Haiti has only 1.5 doctors for every 11,000 people,"
he emphasized, and now it will have even fewer.
Our meetings with Jean-Bertrand and Mildred
Aristide were held on March 8, International Women's Day. Johnnie
Stevens informed them of a women's conference being held in New
York that would discuss Haiti's long struggle and what it means
to women. The presidential couple sent their warmest greetings
to the women of the world.