Haitian Leader Charges: White House Behind Coup/ Solidarity Delegation Wins Access to Aristide
By Sara Flounders and Johnnie Stevens
Bangui, Central African Republic
March 9, 2004--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.
(photo credit: Johnnie Stevens, PVN)
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 Kean.
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.
U.S. delegation with President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and and First Lady Mildred Aristide in Central African Republic Left to right: First Lady Mildred Aristide;President Jean-Bertrand Aristide; Kim Ives, Haiti Support Network; Brian Concannon, lawyer for President Aristide; Sara Flounders, International Action Center (photo credit: Johnnie Stevens, PVN)
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 Black Caucus.
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 recognized criminals."
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.
(photo credit: Johnnie Stevens, PVN)
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 HIM
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.
Press conference in Paris, France
on March 10
Left to right: Claude Bassiel, Reparations Campaign in
France; Sara Flounders, International Action Center;
Johnnie Stevens, People's Video Network; Brian Concannon,
lawyer for President Aristide; Kim Ives, Haiti Support
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