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2004-03-11

In-Depth: The Full Story of Aristide’s Kidnapping

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Just back from the Central African Republic, Kim Ives, an editor of the Haitian newspaper Haiti-Progres, discusses the events surrounding President Aristide’s overthrow. Ives spoke with Aristide in his native Creole and was able to piece together what is probably the most comprehensive picture of what Aristide says happened to him and his wife the morning they were forced out of Haiti. [includes transcript]

A delegation of activists, journalists and lawyers from the US has just returned from the Central African Republic where they held a series of meetings with Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In fact, it was their presence in the CAR that ultimately forced the authorities there to allow Aristide to appear publicly and hold a press conference. Earlier this week, Democracy Now! did an extensive interview with Aristide, the most extensive English language interview since his removal from Haiti.

The delegation that returned to the US last night is holding a press conference today at the National Press Club. The group includes one of Aristide’s lawyers, Brian Concannon, as well as representatives of the Haiti Support Network and the International Action Center, who went to the CAR representing former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark. Kim Ives was also on the delegation. He is the Editor of the newspaper, Haiti-Progres. He had a chance to speak with Aristide in the Central African Republic in Aristide’s native Creole and was able to piece together what is probably the most comprehensive picture of what Aristide says happened to him and his wife the morning they were forced out of Haiti.

  • Kim Ives, editor of the Haitian newspaper, Haiti Progres.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Kim Ives joins us in the studio right now, an editor of Haiti Progres. Welcome to Democracy Now!

KIM IVES: Thank you, Amy, Juan.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what President Aristide told you and how it differs from what we have heard?

KIM IVES: I think the reports we’ve heard and, I think, the definitive account was in the "Washington Post", was that the U.S. intervened around 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. When Lewis Moreno, the U.S. Deputy Chief at the U.S. embassy came by —

JUAN GONZALEZ: 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. On what day?

KIM IVES: On the 29th. That is Sunday morning. As if he just came in to basically respond to Aristide’s call to get him out of there. Well, the "Washington Post" report is good in the respect that it makes clear there was a quid pro quo playing for a signature on a supposed resignation letter. It really minimizes the U.S. role. What President Aristide explained to us the was that the U.S. pressure really began 12 hours earlier. For half a day, he was locked in a battle with pressure, phone calls, and diplomats and military that had surrounded his home. They had come in and, as has been reported, the Steel Foundation, which was the unit — the company which has provided his close security, was essentially dismissed by the U.S. Armed Forces, their former employers. They were taken by helicopter to the airport while Aristide was told that if he did not resign and cede power, he would be left defenseless and would be killed.

JUAN GONZALEZ: To just go back — it is to get the facts, given all the confusion around this. In other words, on Saturday, his security were told — were dismissed and he was left without security on Saturday evening before the events that the government claims happened?

KIM IVES: Yes. That is the essence of the gun that was put to his head. They removed the security in the face of this band of, quote-unquote, rebels, which is most assuredly U.S. financed, headed by Guy Philippe, former U.S. Special Forces-trained Police Chief — trained in Ecuador under their guidance, and Jodal Chamblain, the C.I.A. supported death squad leader. We see that they were essentially saying: if you don’t cede to our demands, we will let these people come and kill you and, in addition, thousands of Haitians in Port-Au-Prince. They were essentially saying, they would unleash this rebel force on the city. Now how much damage this rebel force could have done is not a question because they’re not that big and the people had really dug in their heels. But, nonetheless, Aristide apparently felt enough pressure that he felt he had to bow to these demands.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now when he left his home, sometime around Sunday morning around 4:00 or 5:00 a.m., what happened then?

KIM IVES: Then he was taken in a cortege of U.S. military cars and with Moreno. He was taken to the airport.

AMY GOODMAN: Moreno being?

KIM IVES: The deputy chief of the u.s. Embassy.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Who has been in Haiti a long time. I remember him back in 1990-91, when he was actually the one who was certifying which Haitians could get political refugee status in the United States.

KIM IVES: Right. He was part of the vetting program of what was, in essence, an Operation Phoenix in Haiti.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And he’s had a long history. I interviewed him. He was in Peru during time of the shining path, he was in El Salvador. He’s been in a lot of hot spots around the world as a State Department employee.

KIM IVES: Right. He is a real technician of the empire. I think the essence was that the embassies of both the U.S. and France had asked Aristide, or had, I think, even drafted from one of the accounts that — from somebody else’s who spoke to Aristide told me — that they, in fact, drafted a resignation for him, which he refused to sign and that was a lot of the struggle during the night. In the end result, he drafted his own letter, which was couched and had a conditional clause in it and, to him, provided him the wiggle room to say that he had not, in fact, resigned, which is really a moot point because it’s clear it was forced no matter what you say. So, this was — since he was taken to the airport, he found his Steel Foundation core there and they were put on the plane. It was interesting. He explained to us that they felt it necessary to take these 19 Steel Foundation employees, including the 1-year-old child of one of them, one of the soldiers had had —- one of the security guards had had a child with a Haitian woman, they took them all to Africa because, according to Aristide, they feared that one of them might leak the news about their kidnapping. And so they took them all to Africa and then flew them back to the United States, which was an interesting -—

AMY GOODMAN: Kim Ives, I was stuck in your written description of what Aristide told you. You said that when he left his home that night, that he expected that he was going to a press conference?

KIM IVES: Right. That was part of it. It was tricky. Foley, James Foley, the U.S. Ambassador, had told him he would have an opportunity to address the international and Haitian press and, further more, that his home would not be looted. First, he did not get a chance to address the press. He was just bundled directly on to the plane. And secondly, almost immediately after he left, his home was looted and it was after it was looted that they posted a guard. So, this shows you — and not only his home was looted, but the Aristide Foundation, which houses a medical school, was also looted. And this was in the Democracy Now! interview. I think he talked about that, too. This is now where they are housing the soldiers of the U.S. In this medical school in a country which has 1.5 doctors per 11,000.

AMY GOODMAN: Kim Ives is our guest. He is an editor at Haiti Progres newspaper, a Haitian weekly. We’ll take a break and come back and speaking with Kim Ives. We’ll talk about what’s happened at ground zero, the lawsuit of residents against the E.P.A. and take two interesting perspectives on Martha Stewart. Stay with us.

AMY GOODMAN: Welcome back to Democracy Now!, the war and peace report. I’m Amy Goodman with Juan Gonzalez. Our guest, Kim Ives, part of a U.S. Delegation that went to the Central African Republic this week to try to see President Aristide. Before we go on and if you could answer your phone.

KIM IVES: Sorry about that.

AMY GOODMAN: If you can describe what happened when you got to the Central African Republic.

KIM IVES: Well, we went direct to the gate of the palace, because we couldn’t get through on the phones. This is part of the thing you have to understand. First, it takes two days to get to this country. You have to take several airlines and we got the one direct flight a week from Paris and even that is an ordeal. And, when we got there, we found a phone system, which is intermittent at best. This is all part of the isolation they put him in. They got him ensconced in the palace, supposedly for security. So, you have this ring of security around him. So we finally decided, well, let’s go to the palace, even though we knew it was a long shot. First of all, to approach the palace, you can’t even drive along the wall to it. You have to approach it down the street, driving about three blocks. I guess, so they can determine whether or not to fire on you. We got up to the gate and were met there, of course, by armed guards. The guy came out and said, well, I have to check if you can meet. He went in and came back out and said, no, the Defense — the Minister said no meetings on Sunday. And I said what minister? And he said, Defense Minister. I don’t know why he was calling a defense minister for a meeting with Aristide. And then we had proceeded to say, well, can Aristide come out and meet us? No. Can we send him a note? No. Can we leave him a telephone number to call us? No. So absolutely no contact with him was allowed. We went back to the hotel and then we learned, from other press who had been there, that this had caused a real brouhaha in the palace, that they had hastily called a press conference where they brought Mildred Aristide, President Aristide’s wife, out and even this was quite a comedy because they had told the press when they got there, there would be no pictures, no video, and no recording. The press by and large left. They had to call them back. Then they said ok, we’ll allow a recording.

AMY GOODMAN: Is it true that armed men came in and told all the photographers and video people to close their machines?

KIM IVES: That is correct. And, in essence, they stalked off in protest. Finally, the press conference went forward and Mildred Aristide was posed a question by the Reuters correspondent and she said, well, I take my leave from the Foreign Minister. In essence, asking him if she could respond and he just stared at her. She stared at him and there was no answer given. They persisted and they said does she have the right to speak? Can she talk? And eventually the Foreign Minister said no. We had a number of meetings with him and it was clear he did not view Aristide in a favorable light. That he was accepting the U.S. version that this was a fallen dictator, etc. This press conference went over like a lead balloon. So, then they had to hold another the next day and that’s where Aristide spoke. But even this press conference was, we could say, very constrained. Aristide spoke in French.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is the one that could be filmed.

KIM IVES: That one was filmed. The press was there in force. But immediately after he spoke in French, CNN said could you give the version in English, just so nothing is lost in translation, and he did. And immediately after that, the Foreign Minister intervened to say, I’m sorry, but there will be no more questions in English. So, he was essentially making the conditions of interview. Perhaps it was that they wanted to follow exactly what was being said or perhaps they wanted to limit its effect. But that was the essence of the press conference and they curtailed it to only about four or five questions after that.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now when you got to speak with Aristide directly, you mentioned in the article — the statement you’ve written, — the events leading up to the coup, and why it was particularly on this weekend, the 28th and the 29th that all of these events unfolded because the American public has largely been told that the U.S. government moved in to assist, to prevent a massacre or a chaos in Haiti. What are some of the events that have not come to light that you were able to glean from your discussions with President Aristide?

KIM IVES: Well, one of the things that Aristide told us was that, for him, one of the reasons they had to move that night, that Saturday night, was because the South Africans had sent a plane load of rifles and ammunition to support the police, who were basically outgunned by the rebel— , quote-unquote, rebel forces. We have to remember the rebel forces had new M-16’s and armor piercing ordinance, etc. And so the plane load was due to arrive Sunday. Furthermore, there was talk that the Venezuelans were going to send help. While we weren’t able to go into it, into the question of the Venezuelans with Aristide — and I should say that our discussions with him were somewhat constrained because a lieutenant colonel from the Communications Ministry was sitting right across the table from us as we spoke. So, although we spoke in Creole in an effort to circumvent his eavesdropping, it was still — there is enough common words in Creole and French to make that a little difficult.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you have been able to speak quietly in English the whole time?

KIM IVES: Hard to know. I think they might have spoken English. That was our assumption. So, we chose Creole to continue the discussions.

JUAN GONZALEZ: You also mentioned that there was some U.S. congress members that is were due to come down to The country as well.

KIM IVES: Yes. Maxine Waters had tried mightly to join the delegation. In the end, it wasn’t possible and we had to really scramble. I have to say it was a real ordeal trying to get this over there and we had real trouble from every logistical point of view in turning this out.

AMY GOODMAN: It is quite astounding to look at — listen to the comments of the Bush Administration officials. One of them, along the way, was that when he stopped — and was it Antigua as they were refueling, not knowing where they were going, ending up in the Central African Republic? — he was able to speak with Caricom leaders, now a statement has come out of the Caricom Community, 15 countries in the Caribbean, condemning the kidnapping, the ouster, and calling for a full investigation. Then they said that he had been denied amnesty, this is front page "New York Times," had been denied political exile, political exile in South Africa. So, that night I went over to meet the South African Ambassador to the United Nations and asked why they had or if, in fact, they have had denied him South African sanctuary and he said, no, he never applied and now we see this delegation coming.

KIM IVES: Right. And there is delegation coming. I think it’s difficult — a delicate problem for him because on the one hand, he doesn’t want to look for political asylum. He wants to go back immediately to Haiti and asking for political asylum as an acknowledgement that you will be out of the country for a while, on the one hand. And two, I think he recognizes the difficult political situation that a country like South Africa is facing. They took a lot of heat for the support in standing by Haiti during the bicentennial celebrations and there is an electoral season in South Africa. So, he’s quite aware that these dynamics are taking place. And I think that it is making some sort of consideration of that. So, I — the same is true for Central African Republic. He has not made a request for political asylum there. And so he is in some sort Of limbo in this respect.

AMY GOODMAN: Has Aristide — did he directly say to you I’m being held prisoner

KIM IVES: No, he did not. On the contrary. He had to keep insisting he was not being held prisoner, but the facts speak for themselves. You can see the difficulty just to get there, to phone there, to see him. The manifest hostility, or I should say, disapproval, of the Central African authorities, at least the ones we were dealing with primarily and the Foreign Ministry. Central Africa is itself a very —- it’s a coalition government of sorts that came into power through a coup. Itself is in not at high state of stability and -—

AMY GOODMAN: Dire poverty, also very dependent on the United States and France.

KIM IVES: Exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: Interesting how Iraq was a U.S.-British led force. This is a U.S.-French led operation. In fact, didn’t Aristide say he holds the French Ambassador to Haiti as well responsible for his kidnapping and wants to bring charges?

KIM IVES: Yes. The French were involved in all this pressure and, in fact, were in some ways leading the charge. And I think he also explained to us how he arrived in the Central African Republic was, a call — the official version is that the plane was in the air and nobody wanted him and they were looking for some place and the Central African Republic was the only place.

AMY GOODMAN: Voyage of the damned?

KIM IVES: Right. The reality was that some arrangements were made through Gabon, and President Bongo of Gabon, which is the leader of the Central African States–thats sort of the dean of those states. And so Bongo called the Central African Republic and said, essentially, listen, you’re going to take Aristide. This is what the Foreign Minister explained to us. So, this was done through the U.S., France, Gabon talking. No Haitian officials were involved. Nobody from Haiti was involved. This was a purely U.S.- French Operation.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, of course, France probably more than the United States had more to lose from Aristide continuing in the presidency since he was beginning to lay claim to reparations from France for the period of colonialism and slavery.

KIM IVES: This is precisely it. You had the restitution for $21.7 billion, which was on the table, and we saw a lot of rivalries were put aside to get Aristide out — between the ruling groups in Haiti or the comprador bourgeoisie and the big land owners, who generally are constantly squabbling throughout Haitian history for power, They put aside their differences to get togethe, which we see from Andy Aphead representing the bourgeoisie and Guy Philippe and Jodel Chamblain, And, we saw the France and the U.S. who have also been sort of vying, pushing aside their differences. So you saw this union, unity, come between rivals against Aristide because he represented the people and because he was a representative of the popular will in Haiti.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you account for the thousands of people who came out — the news reports were in support of the ouster of Aristide, calling for him to be returned so he could be tried?

KIM IVES: I always put into — I take with a huge grain of salt the reports I get from Haiti because when I’ve been there I’ve seen how they’ll transform a crowds of a couple of hundred into thousands.

AMY GOODMAN: Jodel Chamblain signing autographs and Guy Philippe being held up.

KIM IVES: Exactly. This has been, unfortunately, — a lot of mainstream press takes their leaded from the opposition press in Haiti, which is owned by the Haitian bourgeoisie, 70% to 90%. And, hence, the vision they give is often completely skewed and completely erroneous. Meanwhile, you’ll have massive demonstrations, a million people almost on February 7 out in support of Aristide. You don’t see a picture. You don’t hear words about that. So it’s a real — you have to take the reporting we get from Haiti with a real grain of salt.

JUAN GONZALEZ: It’s always — I generally look at where was the staging place for the demonstration? If it started in Haitianville, then you know that it represented the upper classes of Haiti.

KIM IVES: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: I saw an interesting report, I don’t know if it was an A.P. or Reuters wire report. Deep down, many paragraphs down, where it is always most interesting to look, usually at the end of a piece, was a quote of a pro-Aristide supporter. When asked why the pro-Aristide forces weren’t out last weekend, he said because the U.S. forces are protecting the anti-Aristide forces and we’re afraid.

KIM IVES: Right. And that is the thing. They’re constantly blaming the victim, putting the victims as the aggressors and vice versa.

AMY GOODMAN: The records of Jodel Chamblain. We’ve gone through it before, but very briefly, because the mainstream media so rarely mentions just who these coup leaders are. Just very briefly, Louis Jodel Chamblain, and Guy Philippe, John Tatoune who led the insurrection and then the new prime minister, LaTortue.

KIM IVES: Jodel Chamblain was the number two of the FRAPH death squad created at the suggestion of the C.I.A., funded by the C.I.A., responsible in large measure for the — for a majority of the 5,000 killed and disappeared in Haiti during the 1991 to 1994 coup d’etat. Guy Philippe, U.S.-trained police chief. He had been a soldier, was taken to Ecuador during the coup where he was trained by U.S. Special Forces, was brought back with a group of 11 others. They were called the Ecuadorians. They were by and large police chiefs. They attempted a coup under the Preval administration. It was discovered, which is again proof that this just isn’t about Aristide, it is about democracy. They were take to the Dominican Republic despite repeated extradition requests. He was never returned. He’s also been accused of drug dealing in Panama and Ecuador. John Tatoune came up from the underclass of Gonaives and was also a FRAPH head involved in the 1994 Raboteau massacre. Again, here is a guy who you heard so many press reports about, Omnio Mitane is a terrible chieftain of violence and yet Tatune, he’s presented as almost a hero.

AMY GOODMAN: We only have a minute. But the prime minister now being brought — a chosen prime minister, LaTortue, brought from Florida, among the first things he is said to have to restore: the Haitian military.

KIM IVES: Right. And this was the former Foreign Minister of Leslie Manica of a neo-devaluerist sector. He is some sort of Neo-devaluerist Technician. I think, we can expect him to work hand and glove with the U.S. And, he was Leslie Manica, just to remind listeners, was the president who was installed by the military in 1998 after the election massacre of 1987.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Kim Ives, an editor of Haiti-Progres, just came back from the Central African Republic where he met with Aristide and spoke with him in his native Creole. Today at noon and the National Press Club, he and the delegation who went are holding a press conference. This is Democracy Now!

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