Tuesday, March 16, 2004 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | PREVIOUS: U.S. Warns Aristide: Stay Out of Hemisphere
2004-03-16

President Aristide In His Own Words: DN!’s Exclusive Interview, Pt. 1

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Brian Concannon, Works for the Bureau des Avocats Internacionaux, (International Lawyers Office in Haiti, where he has spent the last several years prosecuting crimes committed during the 1991-1994 coup. Among the cases he has prosecuted are those stemming from the 1994 Raboteau massacre in a pro-democracy neighborhood in Gonaives.

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Highlights from Amy Goodman’s exclusive televised interview with Haitian President Aristide while he flew back to the Caribbean. Part 2 will air on Wednesday’s Democracy Now!

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE ON RETURNING TO THE CARIBBEAN:

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: CARICOM, on behalf of the people of the region, expressed solidarity with the Haitian people, when the coup, which I call a kidnapping, happened last February 28th, 29th. This opportunity gives me a good chance say "Thank you" to the chairman of CARICOM, Prime Minister Patterson, to the heads, to all our brothers and sisters of the Caribbean family.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think this means to the people of Haiti, your return to the Caribbean?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: Obviously they know how connected we are because they’re suffering. It is my suffering. When they feel I will be closer, I’m convinced they’ll feel better. Although they know being far doesn’t mean a way to not be connected to them.

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE ON WHETHER HE RESIGNED

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: No, I didn’t resign. What some people call "resignation" is a "new coup d’etat," or "modern kidnapping."

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE ON WHY THE U.S. WANTED HIM OUT OF OFFICE

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: If you ask the US the question, they would answer you. I can have opinions, but I will not answer for them. For instance, we are the first black independent country in the world. We just celebrated 200 years of independence last January 1st. Despite of that, we still have 1.5 doctors for each 11,000 Haitians. And, of course, I understood we had to invest in education. We had to invest in health care. Despite of an economic embargo they imposed upon us, I did my best, and we founded a university, whose faculty of medicine already had 247 medical students. Once the marines arrived in Haiti, they put those 247 medical students out, they seized the classroom, the campus; and that’s where you find soldiers, where you should have medical students. So, it’s to say, if I look at the picture, which is horrible, I can think once you want to invest in education, in health care, those who want to invest in killing democracy, in bloodshed, they don’t accept you as an elected president. We had 32 coup d’etats, plus the last one, 33, in our 200 years of independence. Our goal was to move not from coup d’etat to coup d’etat anymore, but from elections to elections. Free, fair and democratic elections. That wasn’t their goal. They went back to coup d’etat.

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE ON THE HAITIAN COUP:

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: …. they broke the constitutional order by using force to have me out of the country…

AMY GOODMAN: How did it happen?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: I will not go to details. Maybe next time. But as I said, they used force. When you have militaries coming from abroad surrounding your house, taking control of the airport, surrounding the national palace, being in the streets, and take you from your house to put you in the plane where you have to spend 20 hours without knowing where they were going to go with you, without talking about details which I already did somehow in other occasions. It was using force to take an elected president out of his country.

AMY GOODMAN: And was that the U.S. military that took you out?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: There were U.S. military and I suspect it could be also completed with the presence of all the militaries from other countries.

AMY GOODMAN: When they came to your house in the early morning of February 29 was it U.S. military that came?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: There were diplomats, there were U.S. military, there were U.S. people.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did they tell you?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: Well, as I said, I prefer not go into details right now because I already talk about it in details on other occasions. And it’s also opportunities for me to help the people focusing on the results of that kidnapping. They still continue to kill Haitians in Haiti; and Haitians continue to flee Haiti by boa. People and others have to go to hiding, others courageously went to the streets to demonstrate in a peaceful way, asking for my return and when we know what happened to those they killed, we have concerns about what may happen to those who peacefully demonstrate for my return.

AMY GOODMAN: The Bush administration said that when you — after you got on the plane, when you were leaving, you spoke with CARICOM leaders. Is this true?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: They lied. I never had any opportunity from February 28 at night, when this started, to the minute I arrived in CAR. I never had any conversation with anyone from CARICOM within that framework of time.

AMY GOODMAN: How many U.S. military were on the plane with you?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: I cannot know how many were there but I know it’s the plane with 55 seats. Among them we had 19 American agents from Steele Foundation, which is a U. S. company providing security to the President, the First Lady, V. I. P. people, based on an agreement which was signed between the government of Haiti and that U. S. company called the Steele Foundation. So, they put those 19 American agents in that plane and there were five by my side. There were two Haitian ladies, wives of two American agents plus a baby 1 year and a half. The rest they were American militaries.

AMY GOODMAN: Were they dressed in military uniform?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: They were not only dressed in — with their uniform, it was like if they were going to war for the first period of time — on the ground, when we went to the plane. After the plane took off, that’s the way they were. Then they changed, moving from the uniform to other kind of clothes.

AMY GOODMAN: Civilian clothes?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And did they go with you all the way to the Central African Republic?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: They did, without telling me where they were taking me, without telling me how long it would take us to be there. And the most cynical happened with that baby 1 year and a half old, it was when they — when the father wanted to get out with him, this is what I heard, they told him no. So, that little baby had to spend all this time sitting in a military plane, arriving in CAR, he and his father had to go back with the same plane. So, only God knows the kind of suffering he went through.

AMY GOODMAN: Did these people ever get off the plane in the Central African Republic with all the military and security —

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: I cannot tell you because once I got out of the plane, I was well received by five members — five ministers of the government of President Joseph Bozize. So, being with them at that time, I don’t know how they managed after I left.

AMY GOODMAN: Did the Steele Foundation bring in reinforcements when the situation got more dangerous?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: No, because Saturday night when they came to me. They told me A. ) U. S. officials ordered them to leave and to leave immediately. B. ) The 25 American agents that were supposed to welcome the day after, February 29, to reinforce their team, couldn’t leave the U. S. to join them in Haiti. So that was a very strong message to them and to us.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you repeat that, what were the regulations?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: Please? I don’t get the question?

AMY GOODMAN: Could you repeat that, what happened with the Steele foundation employees? What you just said about the reinforcements?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: I said that Saturday 29—, 28 at night when they came to me, they told me that, A. ) they ordered them to leave and immediately. B.) the day after, February 29, they were supposed to welcome another team of 25 American agents to reinforce them on the ground and U.S. officials prevented those 25 to leave the United States to go to Haiti to join them.

AMY GOODMAN: And that’s what the Steele Foundation told you?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: Exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: Did they say why the U.S. said that?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: Well, I didn’t go through the details with them. But it was obvious in my mind that was part of the global plan. The global plan was to kidnap me, coup d’etat, of course that presented one piece of the picture.

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