U.S. Delegation Meets with President Aristide
Aristide Reveals Details of Coup
March 8, 2004
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 (credit: Johnnie Stevens, PVN)
A delegation from the United States met twice today with overthrown Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Bangui, Central African Republic. Following the first meeting, President Aristide held a news conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and then conducted a 30-minute phone interview in English with Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now.
The delegation includes Kim Ives from Haiti Progres and the Haiti Support Network, and Johnnie Stevens and Sara Flounders from the International Action Center. Ives, Flounders and Stevens are representing former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark. Also on the delegation are Brian Concannon, acting in the capacity of President Aristide's lawyer; and Katherine Kean, a friend of President Aristide.
Aristide's press conference today and his meeting with the U.S. delegation constituted a remarkable turnabout from the day before when the delegation was barred by the Central African Republic government from meeting with Aristide. Following the refusal to give the delegation access to meet with the ousted Haitian president, a press release entitled "Aristide Under Lock & Key" circulated around the world. Thousands of individual activists and organizations submitted the press release and statement to local media throughout the United States in a high-visibility emergency mobilization to tell the truth. The Central African Republic officials have made it clear that their country is under severe pressure from the United States and France.
The Curtain of Silence that has surrounded President Aristide since the February 28/29 coup has now been significantly opened as a consequence of this political intervention. The world, and especially the Haitian people, has been anxious to hear from President Aristide. It is precisely for this reason that the U.S. State Department and the French Foreign Ministry have applied so much pressure to the Central African Republic to prevent him from having access to the media, and to his attorneys, friends and supporters.
The delegation arranged for President Aristide to be interviewed by Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now introduced today's interview with these words:
"Moments before the Democracy Now! interview, Aristide appeared publicly for the first time since he was forced out of Haiti in what he has called a US-backed coup. The authorities in the Central African Republic allowed Aristide to hold a news conference after a delegation of visiting U.S. activists charged that the Haitian president was being held under lock and key like a prisoner. The delegation included one of Aristide's lawyers, Brian Concannon, as well as activists from the Haiti Support Network and the International Action Center, representatives of former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark. Shortly after they arrived in Bangui on Sunday, the delegation attempted to meet with Aristide at the palace of the Renaissance. The CAR government rebuked them.
"Shortly after, the country's foreign minister held a press conference in Bangui. Armed men threatened journalists in the room, warning them not to record the minister's remarks. Mildred Aristide, the Haitian First lady, was brought into the room, but was not permitted to speak. The CAR foreign minister told the journalists that President Aristide would hold a news conference within 72 hours. Hours later, Aristide was allowed to address journalists.
"In his interview on Democracy Now!, Aristide asserted that he is the legitimate president of Haiti and that he wants to return to the country as soon as possible. He details his last moments in Haiti, describing what he called his 'kidnapping' and the coup d'etat against him."
In his press conference and in the direct meetings with the delegation, "President Aristide was very forceful about the fact that he was kidnapped, and that his government is being replaced by a U.S.-sponsored government of occupation," said Sara Flounders of the International Action Center. President Aristide also said that "only his return to Haiti can bring peace, and he stated that the people who carried out this campaign against his government are internationally recognized criminals.
"President Aristide said that he had been lied to by the U.S. ambassador, who assured him that he was being taken to a press conference to talk with international and Haitian media. He was instead forced onto a plane and taken out of the country in a U.S. coup d'etat," according to Flounders. "President Aristide also pointed out the irony that Haiti, which only has 1.5 doctors for every 11,000 people, now has seen the closing of its primary medical school and that school is now being used to house U.S. Marines and other foreign soldiers."
President Aristide expanded on this point both in the press conference and in his interview on Democracy Now!: "In my country, after 200 years of independence - we are the first Black independent country in the world - but we still have only 1.5 Haitian doctors for every 11,000 Haitians. We created a university, we founded a university with the faculty of medicine that has 247 students. Once U.S. soldiers arrived in Haiti after the kidnapping, what did they do? They closed the faculty of medicine and they are now in the classrooms. This is what they call peace. This is the opposite of peace. Peace means investing in human beings, investing in health care, respect for human rights, not violations of human rights, no violations for the rights of those who voted for an elected President, and this is what it means. ... How can you imagine that you come to me, you want to be in peace, and you close my university and you send out 247 students of medicine in the country where you don't have hospitals and you don't have enough doctors. God, this is an occupation. When you protect killers, when you protect drug dealers like Guy Philippe, like Chamblain, when you protect the citizens of the United States in violating the law of the United States, Mr. Andy Apaid is a citizen of the United States, violating the Neutral Act, the way with this act will destroying our Democracy, and once we do that, then this is an occupation." (quotation from Democracy Now!)
Kim Ives, who is with the Haiti Support Network and is a journalist with the newspaper Haiti Progres, is a member of the delegation and had an opportunity to speak to President Aristide in Creole during the meeting following today's press conference. Ives states that Aristide's account of the events of February 28-29 stand in sharp contrast to the account given by Colin Powell and other U.S. officials to the Washington Post on March 3. The U.S. "story" was that Aristide was ready to leave the country and that they simply facilitated his departure at his request. Colin Powell and other U.S. officials later said that Aristide's assertion that he had been the victim of a U.S. coup were "absurd" and "not true."
Ives stated, "The Washington Post and other U.S. media coverage gives the impression that the sequence of events leading to Aristide's departure at 6 am on February 29 began around 4 or 5 am when Aristide allegedly called U.S. officials and asked for their assistance in leaving the country. President Aristide told me that in fact 'armed Americans and diplomats' came to his residence the day before - that is, on the evening of February 28. Aristide reported that U.S. officials told the 19 security guards that have functioned as a presidential security detail that they should abandon their posts. These 19 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, the gig was up.' President Aristide asserts that these Steele Foundation security guards basically obeyed the orders from their former employers (the Pentagon). They were flown by helicopter on Saturday night away from the preidential palace, leaving Aristide with no armed protection."
A recent Miami Herald article on the subject reported that another 25 reinforcement security guards from the Steele Foundation, who were supposed to arrive Saturday, February 28, received a call Friday night telling them that the U.S. would block their deployment.
Mr. Ives also stated that "President Aristide was told by U.S. Ambassador James Foley that the U.S. officials and armed forces would take him to a press conference with the international and Haitian press, where President Aristide could make his case. President Aristide agreed to go on the condition that he could speak to the media, and also that his home would be protected from any attack or looting. The fact is, the press conference never took place and his home was looted almost immediately after he left.
"President Aristide was instead driven to a plane. Upon arriving at approximately 5 am on February 29, he found his 19 security guards already there. They were all flown - 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 them, the security guards were then flown back to the Untied States. The trip prevented them from revealing the details of the coup until after Aristide was out of Haiti and in the Central African Republic.
"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, February 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 led by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, 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," concluded Ives.
Johnnie Stevens of the International Action Center stated, "Today, as a consequence of strong international pressure, the people of Haiti and the rest of the world have had a chance to hear President Aristide refute the lies and slanders of the U.S. government and its henchmen from the former Haitian military who are behind the coup. We believe that the U.S has tried to muzzle or silence President Aristide, not simply to stop one man from speaking out. The goal is to discourage the people of Haiti from continuing the growing struggle demanding President Aristide's return. It is really an effort to muzzle, silence and pacify the people in order to impose U.S. regime change."
Stevens continued, "The people of Haiti have been a source of inspiration for two centuries. Their struggle for freedom, independence and sovereignty is part and parcel of the struggle of oppressed people everywhere. We must continue to do everything in our power to stand up against the racist designs of the Bush administration."
In his interview with Democracy Now!, President Aristide was asked if he planned to return to Haiti. His response: "If I can go [to Haiti] today, I would go today. If it's tomorrow, tomorrow. Whenever time comes, I will say yes, because my people, they elected me."
To schedule an interview with a member of the delegation or to get more information, contact Sarah Sloan or Brian Becker at 202-544-3389 or 212-633-6646.
To read the March 7 press release - "Aristide Under Lock & Key" - go to http://www.internationalanswer.org/news/update/030704haiti.html
Contact: Sarah Sloan or Brian Becker 202-544-3389, 212-633-6646
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