Democracy Now! aired a special show Friday afternoon on the latest from Haiti where opposition groups with ties to the U.S. are preparing to invade the capital city of Port Au Prince. We spoke with Haitian First Lady Mildred Aristide, independent reporter Kevin Pina in Haiti, U.S. Reps. John Conyers (D-MI) and Maxine Waters (D-CA) and attorney Michael Ratner.
To listen to this special broadcast, you can download the show in MP3 format here or in OGG format here. * View more Democracy Now! special coverage on Haiti*
AMY GOODMAN: From Pacifica Radio, this is a special report: "Haiti in Crisis." I’m Amy Goodman, host of "Democracy Now!" At this hour the streets of Port-au-Prince are barricaded, President Aristide and his wife, Mildred Aristide, are inside the palace. Armed gangs, paramilitaries are moving closer towards the capital of Port-au-Prince. Reports are that they have seized the town of Mirebalais, only 30 miles away, after taking the southern port of Les Cayes, Haiti’s third largest city; but it is difficult to determine the accuracy of all this because there is a major disinformation that is going on. US Secretary of State Colin Powell has come very close to telling President Aristide that he should bow out as President before his term expires, February 2006. He told reporters whether or not he is able to effectively continue as President is something he will have to examine carefully in the interests of the Haitian people. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, visiting Libya, urged the United States to protect Aristide. Jackson said, "Unless something happens immediately, the President could be killed." He said, "We must not allow that to happen to that democracy. We must give the best troops to Haiti to protect the President’s compound." In this hour we turn to the palace where I just got off the phone with the first lady of Haiti, Mildred Aristide. This is the full tape of what she had to say.
MILDRED ARISTIDE: Amy, it’s Mildred Aristide.
AMY GOODMAN: Hi. I thank you very much for calling. Why don’t we just speak right away, and, that is, are you afraid for your life and for your husband’s life?
MILDRED ARISTIDE: OK. The situation is quite critical. The thugs and the FRAPH and the military, who are heavily armed in the north, are sending messages repeatedly on the airways in Haiti, that they stand ready at any moment to storm Port-au-Prince. And here in Port-au-Prince, the population has erected–I am looking out the window — lots of barricades along the streets to prevent an attack. Security is at a heightened situation, but the president’s resolve is very strong, as he indicated yesterday and through to this morning that what is important in this moment for Haiti, in terms of the future of Haiti, is to establish the stability and the political stability that Haiti has never had, and for there to be a continuity of governance from one president to the next.
AMY GOODMAN: We are just reading a report that says that the Bush Administration believes that best way to avoid an armed rebel takeover in Haiti is for Aristide to resign and transfer power to his constitutional successor, this according to an unnamed senior US official. Meanwhile the Marine Corps indicates that it is preparing a possible mission to waters off the coast of Haiti. Any such deployment would be aimed at deterring a potential refugee crisis and protect the 20,000 American citizens in Haiti. Secretary of State Colin Powell signaled that direction–administration policy–in remarks Thursday night, said the US official who discussed the situation only on grounds of anonymity. So here we have for the first time, the Bush Administration saying that the best way to avoid an armed rebel takeover is for President Aristide to resign. Your comment.
MILDRED ARISTIDE: I think that the position being taken by the United States and other members in the international community, that see that as an option, is completely antithetical to democracy and to constitutional democracy. It’s a great tragedy. This will be the achievement of a coup, one of many in Haiti’s hard and very sad history. We’ve had thirty-two coups. This will be the achievement of a coup. This will be the ability of a group, a small group, a relatively small group of convicted murderers, drug dealers. This will show their ability to the world that, in the face of elections, in the face of a vote of poor, black people, who voted for a president, and voted for a government, it will show their ability to override that democratic authority and be able to seize power in the nation. I think it is a truly sad day, not only for Haiti, but for the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think the United States is behind this coup?
MILDRED ARISTIDE: I think that the international community has continuously failed to provide the support necessary to the democratically elected government to, in fact, to accomplish its goal of providing an improvement in the lives of Haitians. I think that it has been hiding behind this façade of: "There is some opposition to the president’s policies." And by God, if it wasn’t a democracy, you wouldn’t hear that. And in fact, what you’re hearing in Haiti and have been hearing for three years is the ability of the opposition to criticize and to say, "We hate Aristide," or "We support Aristide," "We don’t agree with him here, we don’t agree with him there." That’s fine. That’s democratic opposition, and that’s what any healthy democracy should have. But what we have now is the ability of armed persons, and we must ask the question, "Where are those arms coming from?" because Haiti doesn’t produce M-16s and other automatic weapons that we are seeing, slung behind the backs of these people. These are the same people who have killed over 5,000 people, who have been allowed by some force to come back to Haiti and to continue that reign of terror; and that’s what it is. With the complicity of some of the sectors of the international community? I really don’t know. I know that Haiti doesn’t produce arms, so it’s not home-grown. This is coming from somewhere.
AMY GOODMAN: The rebels are saying that it’s leftover weapons from the Haitian army.
MILDRED ARISTIDE: Yeah, but the indications are, the volume has also increased, and so it’s got to beyond the leftover weapons. And if you remember back in 1994, after the president returned, he was emphatic with the international community that not only must the military be disbanded, but it has to be disarmed. And if you remember, too, in '94, that was not done. And FRAPH, which was the paramilitary organization, which now stands convicted — one of the guys who is now in Cap-Haitien, Chamblain, he stands convicted in absentia for the murder of Guy Malary, who was the Minister of Justice in Haiti in 1993, and Antoine Izméry, and many other persons, suspected in the murder of other persons, but convicted of those two high-profile murders. And so now it is clear that it is the same group that has returned and which is bent on producing the same effect. And yet FRAPH in 1994, there was an attempt by the international community to say, "No, no. Let's try to fit them into the mold of an 'opposition' or a 'counter-balance' to Lavalas." And therein was the danger. And therein was the seed that was ready to sprout, as it has now, ten years later.
AMY GOODMAN: Louis Jodel Chamblain, who already was convicted in absentia has said, "Aristide has two choices: prison or execution by firing squad." Your response.
MILDRED ARISTIDE: What would you respond to something like that? I would ask you to ask the international community, and perhaps the United States, what is their response. Is that the strategy that the world is saying is OK to deal with political dissention in today in the world? And if that is the case, then again I say that it is a sorry day for democracy in the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Louis Jodel Chamblain, the number-two man in the FRAPH. The FRAPH, launched by Emmanuel Constant, and US intelligence agencies, as was shown by the investigative journalist, Alan Nairn, in 1994 and 1995. Do you believe he is still on the US payroll?
MILDRED ARISTIDE: I don’t know. I don’t know, and I think that would be better asked maybe from somebody in the Administration. I don’t know. Just ask the question whether that is so. I don’t know.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to the first lady of Haiti, Mildred Aristide. She is in Port-au-Prince right now. It is Friday afternoon. There are barricades all over Port-au-Prince, and the armed forces moving in. They say they have also taken the third-largest city. What is your understanding at this point?
MILDRED ARISTIDE: I don’t have information for the city of 'Cayes. I am truly not informed on that situation because I have kind of been out of pocket this morning, making lots of phone calls. So I am not sure if that is correctly being stated. I do know that there were some armed persons in ’Cayes whether they've taken over the city, I’m not sure.
AMY GOODMAN: Louis Jodel Chamblain said on Radio Metropole, "The fight in Port-au-Prince will not even last one hour. Actually, at this moment, we already have control inside the National Palace." He was then asked, "How is that? Because you do not have anybody in there." And Chamblain replied, "That is what you think. Let me tell you something. The people, who are going to help us get him, are already with him," referring, of course, to Aristide.
MILDRED ARISTIDE: Yeah, that’s part of the psychological warfare that they are engaged in, to demoralize further the National Police. And, you know, this is a cruel way of proving what President Aristide has been saying for the past three years, that the police force, which is severely undermanned, severely under-resourced, under-equipped, is now facing M-16s, automatic rifles, and other kinds of heavy armaments, without being properly equipped on their end. So their ability to, in small numbers, and on top of that, using passers-by and children as sorts of human shields, as they did in Gonaïves, has meant that the police force has not responded as aggressively as they could or as they should in this situation. Now these questions, I mean, Haiti is fraught with rumors, and that’s in normal times, let alone in the times that we are living now where they said two weeks ago that I had left the country, that I had left with my children, and all sorts of things, and that I was not coming back, and here I am, right here in Haiti. I say this, but with a clear understanding and knowledge that, indeed, if forces, who are assisting them, or if whatever allies that they may have, do indeed intend to come to Port-au-Prince, I’m not going to be naïve enough to say that it won’t happen. What I say is that it will be an abomination, and this is an abomination of all the principles of democracy, and really must make everyone pause to wonder, what is democracy and what are we defending in the world when we allow a group of armed terrorists, armed murderers, convicted murderers, and drug dealers, to come and overrun a democratically elected government.
AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think the US has not intervened, and, until this point, are saying they’re waiting for a political settlement?
MILDRED ARISTIDE: I truly don’t know. I would urge you to be able to get an interview with some appropriate individuals in the international community to ask that question, because I can say, that on the Haiti side, that we have a direct and recent example in our history, a very recent example in our history. If you remember, Amy, and I know you were following events back in 1993. During the coup d’é·tat in '93, in July 1993, President Aristide participated in a US-brokered agreement called the Governors Island Agreement, and under that agreement, the president was to return to Haiti in September, at the end of September, 1993, and he was to name a new consensus government — new prime minister, new ministers. All of that was done in terms of the naming of the new consensus government. And that government did not have the adequate security to survive or to govern in any effective way in Haiti. There was a steady escalation of violence in August, September, and October, making the president's return impossible, and the emergence of FRAPH the reality then. And in October, to be specific October 13, 1993, Guy Malary, who was not a member of Lavalas, but who was an honorable Haitian citizen, who agreed to partake in this consensus government as the Minister of Justice, was gunned down in front of his ministry, killed. And the person who stands convicted of his murder is none other than Louis Jodel Chamblain, who is today, attempting to do the same thing. And when the international community then asks, "political settlement" first, then security second, then you are condemning anyone who would come forward to the same fate as Mr. Malary at the hands of the same murderer.
AMY GOODMAN: Mildred Aristide, with this same man, who has been convicted of the murder of the Justice Minister, Guy Malary, so you know what he is capable of, saying Aristide has two choices: prison, or execution by firing squad, why are you both staying right now in Port-au-Prince?
MILDRED ARISTIDE: Because right now, the importance, in this moment, for Haiti is for the establishment of continuity in the democracy. It is no accident that Haiti is the poorest country economically in the Western hemisphere, and that it is a country whose 200-year history is wrought with instability, 32 coups, and always this notion, "if you don’t like ’em, take ’em out!" We saw it most recently in a bloody coup d’é·tat in 1991, when, after seven months, President Aristide was deposed and over 5,000 people killed. And so the importance is to say that democracy must survive. Now, if the forces who are speaking now and who have opined and said that democracy cannot go forward, and that, somehow, these thugs can be allowed to overrun the country and come into Port-au-Prince and do what they think they say they can do, that might require another analysis. But right now the analysis is that that democracy has to be saved or it is an incredible set-back for the country. Although, you know, the president has said that Haiti’s past and Haiti’s progress, democratic progress, slow, short, but sure and steady. The population will not sit back and it may be a question of averting the murder of thousands and thousands and thousands of Haitians. That is the type of violence which will be unleashed if this is allowed to go forward. And it is a question of what do we do, at all costs, to avert that, because the population has spoken. They will be slaughtered in great numbers if it is allowed to come to that, where the president is forced to leave, or if the president is killed.
AMY GOODMAN: What is the president doing? What are you doing? What are people doing in the streets now to protect the palace, to hold onto power?
MILDRED ARISTIDE: Well, there’s a huge security presence here at the palace, and there’s a huge mobilization on the streets of Port-au-Prince, where there are a lot of barricades that have been set up to stop any cars. So there are lots of barricades throughout the city that have been set up, really since the day before yesterday, and more so last night and tonight. And there are other measures that the government is looking to that has secured and augmented the security capabilities of the police. For obvious reasons I won’t go into that. I’m not privy to that, but I know that those are going forward.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you and President Aristide in the palace now?
MILDRED ARISTIDE: Yes, I am right in my office, looking out the window. He’s in his office.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you leave?
MILDRED ARISTIDE: Can I leave? If I chose to leave, I could leave. But I’ve got a lot of work to do this afternoon, so I am not leaving right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Where do you draw your strength from?
MILDRED ARISTIDE: It’s from him. You know, perhaps it’s because the US has no framework from which to understand a person like Jean-Bertrand Aristide. But this is a person with a mission. You know, he had this mission, as you know, and I know that you know his history. He had this mission as a Catholic priest, as a parish priest in the poorest of poor neighborhoods here in Haiti, and his mission was to uplift his parishioners. And that became expanded when he was asked to be a candidate for president. And the reason that… The other day, in an interview, someone asked me if I am shocked by the level of opposition, and I say, "No, I am shocked by the depth of the commitment to Aristide that this country still has, because, notwithstanding his good will and his will to provide for the people of Haiti, he has been greatly handicapped in that ability by the embargo placed by the international community on Haiti’s access to the resources that we need to increase the level of literacy, to increase the level of healthcare in this country, to increase the number of schools. Notwithstanding what we have done with our fingers and our hands, the government has done has made great, significant efforts. In the last ten years since the restoration of democracy, the number of public high schools built in Haiti has doubled. There have been roads pierced and made in areas where there have never been roads. There have been over 50 parks built in Haiti. President Aristide has made electricity a reality for small towns which have never had electricity. The literacy campaign is working to undo or reverse a 75% illiteracy rate. With the cooperation that we have gotten from the Cuban government, we have doctors in areas of the country that have never seen the light of day of a health-care worker, let alone a doctor. We are now training over 400 doctors in schools in Cuba, and here in Haiti, thanks to that cooperation. These are the real issues that Haiti needs to confront. These are the real issues that Haitians look to when they decide who will and who will not be their leader. And this is what they will look to when there are the next free and fair elections, which must go forward in November of 2005.
AMY GOODMAN: Have you been negotiating with the United States over leaving and, if you are forced out, where you will go?
MILDRED ARISTIDE: No, and I won’t answer any questions to those lines because we are maintaining the position that I said. That’s not an issue right now.
AMY GOODMAN: We have heard some reports that there are a thousand Marines on the ground in Port-au-Prince. Is that true?
MILDRED ARISTIDE: On the ground? I just saw the deployment, as reported on Monday or Tuesday. There were 100 Marines that were sent to Haiti. Are there 1,000? I don’t know. I don’t know.
AMY GOODMAN: What about President Bush saying that they will not allow Haitian refugees into the United States?
MILDRED ARISTIDE: It’s up to President Bush and the United States and to determine its policies and politics with respect to immigration policies. You know, obviously, in accord with international standards, with respect to refugees fleeing political violence, I can tell you it has begun. The number of refugees, the flight of refugees has begun. It’s not a threat. It’s not a warning. It’s a reality. You look at the numbers, and you look at what happened during the coup d’é·tat, and the steady increase in the number of refugees that were fleeing Haiti during the three years of the coup d’é·tat. Before the coup began in September of 1991, there were practically no boat people leaving Haiti. During the seven months we had achieved, and that’s always been the goal of the president, for the Haitians to stay in Haiti, and work here for democracy, for the improvement of our lives, and for the betterment of the people. And that’s what the situation was for seven months of the beginning of his term. Once the coup happened in September of 1991, the refugee situation spiraled and spiraled, and the risks, and the lives, and the numbers of bodies that washed ashore in Florida. You saw the images, and those images are damning, and they are fearing in the minds of all Haitians, and specifically the Haitians that are now in Florida. And now we are faced with the threat of not only that, but with the threat of the thousands and thousands of lives that will be lost if these thugs are allowed to rule the day and say, "We have the power and we have the support to be able to move into a country where there was a democratically elected government and decide that we, a minority of armed persons, can take control."
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Mildred Aristide. If I could just briefly ask you how you came to be where you are today, the first lady of Haiti, having been the Counsel for Fr. Aristide at the time.
MILDRED ARISTIDE: Right. I, along with Ira Kurzban, who is an attorney down in Florida, who is Counsel to the government, I worked with the government when it was in exile in Washington in 1993 and 1994, and then when President Aristide’s government was restored, we continued our representation, and we decided to continue here on the ground in Haiti. Because I am of Haitian background, my parents are from Haiti, although I was born in the United States, I decided that I would come to Haiti and continue to work for the government, which I did through 1994 and 1995, and then President Aristide and I married about 15 days before the end of his first term, in January of 1996.
AMY GOODMAN: And you’ve had two girls, two children.
MILDRED ARISTIDE: Two girls.
AMY GOODMAN: And how old are they?
MILDRED ARISTIDE: Seven and five.
AMY GOODMAN: And you’ve sent them out of the country now?
MILDRED ARISTIDE: I did. On Tuesday night we did hear shooting near the palace, and the girls… The stress was not good for them, and so, because my parents are in the United States, I just decided to send them. So they are with them.
AMY GOODMAN: Ten years ago, perhaps fifteen years ago, do you think there would have been millions of people in the streets, and are there people in the streets now defending the palace?
MILDRED ARISTIDE: Oh, yes, there are people in the streets defending the palace. But you have to know that the arms being borne and the arms that the opposition has are quite significant, and so, you know, it’s a very difficult situation, and they are preventing people from coming out, and the threats and the warnings coming on the radio are very significant. But notwithstanding that, there are people out there. There are people out there, and… It’s a difficult situation.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think could happen right now to prevent the overthrow of the Aristide government?
MILDRED ARISTIDE: You know, yesterday he spoke on CNN, and he said it could be as little as few dozen troops, a strong statement coming from the international community, an unequivocal statement, and a few dozen troops to say that this will not stand. It would only take that to begin the process of stabilizing the situation. To stop the flow of blood now, move towards this political resolution, which is a new consensus government, but as I said, "Who can come forward in the actual situation? No one." Allow that to go forward and move towards the reforms in the police force that we have been asking for repeatedly for the past three years. Professionalization, the better training, the better equipment, etc; and therein is the resolution to this crisis here in Haiti. I have to go.
AMY GOODMAN: And that was Mildred Aristide, the first lady of Haiti, speaking to us from the palace in Port-au-Prince. The situation is grave. Armed gangs, paramilitaries are moving in on the capital, and we are going to turn right now to another person on the ground in the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, Kevin Pina joins us. Welcome to this special on "Haiti in Crisis."
KEVIN PINA: Thank you Amy, I am here.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what is happening right now as you understand it and tell us where you are in relation to the palace where Mildred Aristide was just speaking to us from.
KEVIN PINA: Well I am about a mile and a half from the palace. And I actually thought about playing a little game on you, and attacking Mildred with all the lies that all of their opponents have attacked them with, so you could understand exactly where all these people are coming from, and how nasty they really are. They have said so many ugly, nasty things, rumors, and lies about the First Lady and the President. Especially, the press here that they call themselves free and independent. They may be free, but they are not independent at all. They are aligned with the opposition, clearly. They are in their camp. And you can tell it everyday that you listen to the news. An example is, everytime there is a Lavalas demonstration, they play music. They never give any coverage. Whenever there is an opposition demonstration, they pay themselves to run advertisements and spots on their radio stations, to extol the population against the government. And then they cover everything from A to Z, every chant, every nuance. William Randolph Hearst would blush in comparison to the kind of yellow journalism that the major radio stations in the capital Port Au Prince are currently participating in. Right now, people are very scared. They are very angry. But they also remain resolute. They are very clear that they are willing to die and sacrifice their lives for this constitutional government to continue. And if it doesn’t continue, believe you me, this is not over by a long shot. Haiti has a long history of coup d’etats. We know that there has been 32 over the last 100 year period during Haiti’s history. We know that the first democratic transition in the history of the country occurred with the passage of power from President Aristide to Rene Preval, from Preval back to President Aristide. It’s a matter of establishing democratic traditions in this country. And what is the best way to do that? By allowing an opposition that’s been built by Washington and by Paris to overthrow this government. First they attempted it by political means. When those political means didn’t work, now enters FRAP, the former paramilitary death squads trained by the CIA, the Front for Advancement and Progress in Haiti, and the former military, the guys of chief Guy Philippe who’s a former CIA trained military officer in the Haitian army, the former Chief of Police, of Cape Haitian, the second largest city in Haiti. What is the best way to guarantee democratic traditions in this country? Is it to allow these former killers and murderers to enter the capital and to commit atrocities again? Or is it to stay the course and to allow Haiti to build democratic traditions. What ever the faults his opponents have leveled against him, and a lot of it is serious, and a lot of this is involved to corporate media, who have continue to repeat a lot things that the opposition has created here and a lot of the things that the Haitian press helped to create here. And its not a question of me making this up. I’ve been documenting that; that’s been my work here in Haiti. I record the major radio stations every day, so I have the tapes, you know. I can show you innumerable examples of people being allowed to make unsubstantiated claims against the government, the major radio stations playing them, and the effect and the ripple that it had on Haiti. A recent example, is that Evans Paul, one of the leaders of the opposition, and Lidia Clapeyons, another leader of the opposition within the democratic convergence, just yesterday had stated that President Aristide had resigned and already left the country, and that they were merely negotiating, which country he would be allowed to return to. Right now I have a helicopter flying over me. It is a U.S. military helicopter. Its not quite clear where its going, but there is a U.S. military presence in Haiti right now. There are two of them, excuse me. Two U.S. military helicopters flying directly over me. They are U.S. Marine military helicopters. Its not quite clear where they’re going, but they are here.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re speaking to Kevin Pina, an independent journalist in Port Au Prince describing the scene right now, saying, there are two U.S. military helicopters above him. Just before speaking with Kevin Pina, we have been speaking with the First Lady of Haiti, Mildred Aristide who is inside the palace. We turn now to Congressman John Conyers who joins us from Michigan. We welcome you to this Pacifica Radio special, Haiti in Crisis. Welcome Congress member Conyers.
JOHN CONYERS: It’s a very difficult time right now and I am glad that you are doing this kind of media service Ms. Goodman. Its something that’s invaluable. I don’t know of any else doing it in the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us? First lets hear from Kevin Pina. I heard him yell for a moment. Kevin, are you still there?
KEVIN PINA: Yes. There are four U.S. military helicopters. I can quite clearly identify them as Marine helicopters. They’re circling above me right now. It’s not quite clear where they are headed, but they are here and it is heavily armed. Those four military helicopters are heavily armed.
AMY GOODMAN: As Kevin describes what he is seeing on the ground in Port Au Prince, Congress member Conyers, can you tell use what you in Congress are being told by the Bush administration? The Congressional Black Caucus met with Bush this week. What do you understand as happening at this point?
JOHN CONYERS: Well, we met with the President, the Secretary of State, and the Security Advisor. The whole point was that we urge that there be some kind of statement immediately coming forth from the President indicating his wanting to see a nonviolent resolution of the problem and to ask people to put away their weapons and help restore order. Then we wanted to make sure that the United States did not subscribe to the theory that we had to get a political solution before security could be sent in, which could be too late. Since maintaining peace and order would seem to need to proceed any political resolution of differences between at least some of the parties. The fact of the matter is, that there are operatives and organizations there that do not want peace, that do want violence. They do want to physically overthrow the existing government in Haiti.
AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Conyers, as we speak to you I want to check back with Kevin Pina on the ground in Port Au Prince. Kevin, what are you seeing right now?
KEVIN PINA: I am seeing several U.S. Marine helicopters circling where I currently am. I’m not quite clear. I am going to go down. There five — you can hear them now passing right over top?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
KEVIN PINA: They’re quite clearly U.S. Marine helicopters. Its not quite clear, what’s going on. I am going to descend into the palace right now.
AMY GOODMAN: And we were hearing reports today that there were something like a thousand Marines already on the ground in Port Au Prince. But then we were told that this was a disinformation campaign, that there were some fifty that were there to protect the U.S. embassy. What do you see?
KEVIN PINA: At that time that was true. At that time that was true. This is an entirely different ball game right now. You can hear them, right now in the background.
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, we can hear them. This is?
KEVIN PINA: Quite certainly identify them. They are U.S. Marine helicopters flying over above.
AMY GOODMAN: Are they going towards the National Palace?
KEVIN PINA: No. Its not quite clear where they are going at this moment, but they are here.
AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Pina on the ground in Port Au Prince. We’re speaking to Congress member John Conyers. You have written a letter, Congress member Conyers, to Secretary Ridge, urging him to use his authority under the provisions of section 244 of the Immigration Nationality Act to designate the Republic of Haiti for temporary protected status. What does that mean?
KEVIN PINA: They’re here.
AMY GOODMAN: Ah, lets go back to Kevin for a moment. Kevin?
KEVIN PINA: Hello?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
KEVIN PINA: Hello, I’m sorry. I’m sorry ask that again.
AMY GOODMAN: You just said, they are here?
KEVIN PINA: Yeah. We’re watching many, many more helicopters enter Haitian airspace this moment.
JOHN CONYERS: How many more?
KEVIN PINA: I’ve counted four so far, I’ve counted four so far, but they are quite clearly doing a maneuver right now over the capital. Its not clear what is going on at this moment. I wish I could say more. I really can’t.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’ll continue?
KEVIN PINA: Until I can go down to a better vantage point, I really cannot give you more information.
AMY GOODMAN: Stay on the line with us?
KEVIN PINA: But there are crowds in the streets cheering
AMY GOODMAN: Stay on the line with us and keep moving towards where you’re trying to go and where you’re trying to see more clearly what’s happening. Congress member Conyers, if you can explain what you are asking of the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge.
JOHN CONYERS: We’re trying to get our government to use every means possible to give every support to a beleaguered democratic government in the Western Hemisphere only miles from our own shore. And that is one of the ways that we can do it. Another way would be to form a humanitarian corridor, which would be bringing in much needed food, supplies, and medical equipment to the citizens of that country and they would have to be accompanied by people who would be prepared to protect and deliver that equipment. We are also trying to get the, we thought we were at an agreement with the French ambassador and the Canadian ambassador to raise the issue in the Security Council. We also have a meeting with the Secretary of the United Nations on Monday. And we’re also considering massive demonstrations in front of the White House in support of 8 million people of color, who are standing helpless before gangs and thugs and drug lords and predators of every kind, while we stand idly by them. Maybe these helicopters are a prelude to a different scenario.
AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Congress member Conyers who has appealed among others to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, to invoke, or designate the Republic of Haiti for temporary protected status. This is a Pacifica Radio special: Haiti in Crisis. Kevin Pina, lets touch base with you again, in Port Au Prince, observing at least four U.S. military helicopters overhead in the capital for the first time.
KEVIN PINA: The opposition is reporting on the telephone, over the radio, that this is a contingent of U.S. military to evacuate him from the country. However, the president just made a statement on the radio that that isn’t the truth, in fact that an agreement has been reached for the crisis in Haiti.
AMY GOODMAN: Repeat that one more time so we can understand exactly who you’re referring to. First you said?
KEVIN PINA: the opposition in Haiti, the democratic convergence along with the group 184, and Evans Paul who are announcing that these are helicopters that are here to evacuate the president; that he has just resigned. The president has stated that this is not the case, that an agreement to the crisis has been reached which may not involve the opposition.
AMY GOODMAN: And the president speaking from the national palace?
KEVIN PINA: Yes. That’s correct
AMY GOODMAN: Any more helicopters?
KEVIN PINA: Speaking through one of his advisors? Yes. Listen.
AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Pina speaking to us from Port Au Prince, Haiti.
KEVIN PINA: Can you hear that?
AMY GOODMAN: We get the idea. As you were describing it. We heard the helicopters more before.
KEVIN PINA: It is very unclear, I want to be clear, — it is very unclear what the situation is. There are contradictory accounts that are being told about what this means. We won’t know until tomorrow, until the situation evolves clearly, exactly what this means. I can tell you, they continue to circle the capital right now. They’re here. A show of force, clearly.
AMY GOODMAN: You continue to monitor what happens and let me ask Congressman Conyers, the Bush Administration believes the best way to avoid an armed rebel takeover in Haiti, this according to a report just out, is for the president, John Betrand Aristide, to resign and transfer power to his constitutional successor, according to an unnamed senior U.S. official. Your response to that Congressmember Conyers. For the first time, saying at the highest levels, they want him out.
JOHN CONYERS: That was never brought up and, of course, would have been vigorously rejected by all of the members of the caucus that were in the White House the day before yesterday. So I am shocked to read that Colin Powell had said, since we met with him, that he thought that for the best interest of the country of Haiti, that the president remove himself by resignation. Which again he and the president and Dr. Rice knew would be very strenuously objected to, because we have the simple proposition in front of us, that a democratic country cannot be idly watched–to go down in flames by critics, marauders, gangs–as if there were nothing we could or should do about it.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Conyers speaking to us from Michigan. Kevin Pina, independent journalist, on the ground in Port Au Prince as this program is being broadcast?
KEVIN PINA: Amy, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, Kevin. What are you seeing now?
KEVIN PINA: Can I tell you a scoop. The scoop is that the–it’s not confirmed–but that the Venezuelan government may have offered unilaterally assistance to Haitian government and that that has pressed the hand of the U.S. government in Haiti.
JOHN CONYERS: To do what?
KEVIN PINA: The Venezuelan government may have offered unilateral assistance under the Rio Treaty and under the democratic treaty that the was signed under the OAS recently, the Democratic Charter, that the Venezuelan government may have offered direct military assistance to the Haitian government and this may have forced the U.S. hand. That is not confirmed, but I have several forces who are telling me that now.
AMY GOODMAN: And what would unilateral assistance mean?
KEVIN PINA: It would mean the landing of Venezuelan troops on Haitian soil under the provisions of the Rio Treaty and the Democratic Charter of the OAS–a fellow government asking for unilateral assistance to protect a constitutional democracy in the hemisphere.
AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Pina on the line with us. And how do you know–how do you come to believe that this is the case?
KEVIN PINA: People who are close to the Venezuelan embassy here in Haiti as well as people who are close to the Venezuelan ambassador in Washington D.C.
AMY GOODMAN: What we were hearing about Venezuela the past few days, was that it could be a place of asylum for President Aristide.
KEVIN PINA: Absolutely out of the question. President Aristide has made it very clear that he has no intention of resigning and he has made it clear that he is willing to die in his country.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Conyers, can you make some sense of this? This is, if true, a surprise development.
JOHN CONYERS: Well, we know that the French had 4,000–5,000 troops nearby. That they thought that with some support, they would be willing to do what, perhaps, is going on in terms of the Venezuelan military. We had heard that Venezuela was one of the countries that felt strongly sympathetic to the preservation of a democratic form of government in Haiti and that there ought to be something that nations that support democratic processes would be able to do. And, so, it is not inconsistent with what I had been hearing. We’re talking with congress member Conyers, who is one of the longest reigning congress members in Congress. Also part of the congressional black delegation, the congressional black caucus, who met with President Bush, deeply concerned about the situation in Haiti. Kevin Pina, on the line with us from Port Au Prince, has just seen at least four U.S. military helicopters come in and has put forward the idea, that possibily, and maybe you could explain this, because we also have Michael Ratner on the line with us, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and I want him to hear what you have just laid out, Kevin Pina, to comment on this and the significance of this
MICHAEL RATNER: I actually heard Kevin and it is extraordinary news and a scoop. Remarkable. I just–I got to tell you, tears started rolling down my eyes–if this is true, that actually someone is coming, Venezuela, to Haiti’s aid. Let’s see what happens now, because it does put the United States in an incredible position. Kevin is right about the Rio Treaty. What that basically allows is for a country within this hemisphere to ask for the aid of another country as well as the OAS agreement to protect democracy. That’s a democracy that, of course, as everybody who now has listened to your show knows, that the U.S. has done everything not to protect and in fact, is itself, probably, deeply involved in undermining. It is an incredible move. So the question is what will the United States do now? Will they actually try and prevent Venezuela from coming to help out a democracy and Jean Bertrand Aristide? Will they actually begin to fight? Or are they being, maybe, put in a position where they actually have to defend that democracy, rather than let Venezuela come in and defend it. It would be hard to believe. They may just say to Venezuela, 'Keep out or we'll kill ya.’ It remains to be seen what will happen, but it shows every contradiction of the United States’ position. Here is a country with the populist leader Chavez coming to the aid of another country that is trying to be overthrown by the United States. The very country, of course, Venezuela, that a few months ago the U.S. had a hand in trying to overthrow. An incredible act of solidarity, one that just really brings tears to my eyes.
AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Pina, have you heard anything else on the ground in Port Au Prince?
KEVIN PINA: At this point I’m just watching these military helicopters circle. I have to get myself down to the palace. I need to ask people what is going on exactly. As I said, I cannot confirm what I said, but very, very reliable sources have indicated to me that that was the case and that is possibly why the U.S. is now being forced to play its hand in Haiti. Because they would not like Venezuelan troops to land here, to give unilateral assistance. Remember these are the only two popular democratic governments in the hemisphere. They obviously stand in solidarity for one other. President Hugo Chavez himself has openly accused the CIA of trying to undermine his government, of trying to overthrow his democratically elected government. I believe, that from what people are telling me, that this was an act of solidarity because the same is in action in Haiti today. The ones who are the losers is Paris, is France. Because obviously they have tried to play the francophile, the francophone card here in Haiti. They have given tremendous support and back up, tremendous financial assistance to the opposition. They are the great losers if this is, indeed, the case in Haiti today.
AMY GOODMAN: We have just been joined by Congressmember Maxine Waters, who, together with Congressmember Conyers, went to the White House and met with President Bush. I don’t know if she heard the latest news from Kevin Pina, who again, has not confirmed this, but does believe it might be that Venezuela said it would send in its own troops to help a nation in trouble in the hemisphere–that is Haiti. That might have forced the hand of the United States and that is why Kevin Pina is now seeing U.S. military helicopters overhead in Port Au Prince. Congressmember Maxine Waters, can you tell us what you understand at this point?
MAXINE WATERS: Well, I don’t know about–well, I’m glad to hear it. Because I did hear the conversation where he talked about the connection between Venezuela, Haiti and Cuba. It is very, very clear to those of us who watch our government and its relationship to the small countries in this hemisphere and in the Caribbean, that this administration wishes to get rid of these leaders in these three countries who don’t cry uncle, who are not puppets to our government–people who are responsible for creating popular movements. I absolutely agree and this Haiti policy–as a matter of fact, I have a discussion in a paper that I just read today that was sent to me, where Mr. Noriega gave a speech and this is basically what he described in so many words–that these were the three countries that they were focused on in terms of their brand of democracy. So, I hope and pray that Venezuela is prepared to send some help to the national police force. I hope that is true. I do know that the United States is supposed to have some ships off the shores of Haiti there, but that is supposed to be to keep the people, Haitians, from getting up to Florida and other places. That’s to put the immigrants, the, the–I’m so upset about all of this. Any how?
AMY GOODMAN: The refugees. To prevent the Haitian refugees from leaving Haiti.
MAXINE WATERS: Yes. Absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s check back with Kevin Pina right now — if he has learned anything else in the last minutes of this national broadcast: Pacifica’s program, Haiti in crisis. Kevin, what do you know at this point?
KEVIN PINA: Hello?
AMY GOODMAN: Hi, Kevin, what do you understand at this point. Have you learned anything else?
KEVIN PINA: No. I’m still–these helicopters have just disappeared into horizon. I have to make my way down to the national palace. I have to say goodbye. I obviously have a lot of work ahead of me to figure out what this means.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, thank you for being with us, Kevin Pina, independent journalist, reporting to us on the ground in Port Au Prince, laying out an idea, a theory, that perhaps Venezuela had offered aid to Haiti, and that the United States–forcing the hand of the United States. Again, this has not been proven. Kevin Pina saying that the opposition was saying that the military was moving in to evacuate Aristide and president saying that he was not going anywhere. Maxine Waters, congress member from Los Angeles has just made reference to the refugees and the fact that she believed the U.S. military moving in thousands of soldiers on the coast–in the marines–in a mission off the coast of Haiti, could you Michael Ratner, who dealt very much with the refugees in Guantanamo from 1991-94 during the coup, could you reference, for a moment, what this means? Why the U.S. is so concerned with the refugees and the significance of President Bush saying that they would not let any refugees leave Haiti? In fact, in the last 24 hours, the U.S. has repatriated more than 500 fleeing Haitians.
MICHAEL RATNER: During the last coup, Amy, tens of thousands of refugees tried to flee Haiti. The United States from the beginning took a few in. After that, picked them up on the high seas and sent them back to Haiti without any refugee processing at all to determine if they would be killed, prosecuted or tortured when they would be sent back to Haiti. That’s, of course, completely illegal, utterly illegal. You can’t send someone back to their place of prosecution. The Unites States is obviously concerned, because what could undercut their whole coup policy in Haiti is refugees in Florida, a state that Bush has to take for the presidency. He doesn’t want to see them land there. The United States is obviously willing to expend thousands of soldiers and boots to be able to stop them and basically is willing to have people killed, really, to get Bush reelected. That’s what this is about. There is no doubt about it. I think, those soldiers are not just there for that. I think they obviously know about Venezuela’s starting to come in. Those soldiers are there, if it is a true rumor that we are hearing–those soldiers are there to tell Venezuela: You better not do this or you’re going to have a war with the United States. Or, they are there so that basically after this coup is finally over, which is to say after Aristide is removed one way or another according to the United States’ plan, the U.S. troops will come in there and make peace, supposedly, and probably knock out some of the thugs, that they basically put in there to knock out Aristide. Those troops, I think, have more than a refugee purpose. They are probably there to intimidate Venezuela as well as to figure out what to do after the U.S. run coup is finished.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember, Maxine Waters, it seems that the congressional black caucus is taking the lead on this issue. In fact, we are hearing very few number of other congress members addressing this. Can you talk about that?
MAXINE WATERS: Yes, we do have some other members that have been working with us like Jan Schakowsky and Mr. Delahunt, but basically, this is an issue that must be taken care of by us, because really congress does not care about Haiti. Congress has been lead for so long by the Haiti haters: Like Mr. Goss and Jesse Helms, and they have been spouting their venom for years and they use their power to malign Haiti in any way that they possibly can. Half of the members believe what they are told and they don’t care enough to put time in on it to do investigation. We can’t get them to hold hearings on this issue, and because of that the black caucus must take a lead. We must do everything that we can in order to save Haiti and save this democratically elected president.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Conyers, how is the administration telling you that they will inform you about what is happening right now and are you encouraging people in this country–what are you telling, saying to people is the most effective thing to do at this point?
JOHN CONYERS: It is to write the president and bring ourselves to the White House to let him know and let the members of the congress and senate know that they should join with all of us that believe that democracy is in serious danger in this hemisphere and that we cannot stand idly by and watch and hope that someone else will do what is clearly our responsibility.
MAXINE WATERS: So they can fax and email and call.
JOHN CONYERS: Exactly
MAXINE WATERS: ? call Colin Powell and the president. We’ve got to get the voices up there letting them know that people know what is going on. We want to save this impending bloodbath. We want to stop it.
JOHN CONYERS: And, we are using this telephone number as an office for everyone who wants to be up on where we are and what we are doing. And if I may give it to you now, I will.
AMY GOODMAN: Yes. Go ahead.
JOHN CONYERS: 202- 225-5126. And we want to tell people and give them an hourly report. Thank goodness for the Amy Goodman’s of the world, if there are any others, in media that will bring this, — the truth, eyewitness report, riveting–about how we in the caucus and in the congress are determined not to let these 8 million people have their government ravaged by the negative forces in that country.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Congressmembers John Conyers as well as Maxine Waters, and Michael Ratner, president for the Center of Constitutional Rights, we want to thank you for joining us and I also want to let the stations know around the country that we will continue to keep listeners updated throughout the weekend. Check the KU updates as we continue to monitor Haiti in crisis. Produced by Jeremy Scahill. A very special thanks to Mike DiFilipo. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.