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2004-03-16

U.S. Warns Aristide: Stay Out of Hemisphere

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Rep. Maxine Waters, Randall Robinson, lawyer Ira Kurzban, and Jamaican envoy Sharon Hay-Webster talk with Democracy Now! about the return of Aristide and the reaction from the U.S. and Haiti.

President Aristide’s arrival in Jamaica has sparked a major controversy in the Caribbean. The US-installed Prime Minister of Haiti, Gerard Latortue, has recalled Haiti’s ambassador to Jamaica. He has accused Jamaican Prime Minister PJ Patterson of committing what he called an unfriendly act. He has also announced that he is freezing Haiti’s participation in CARICOM, the 15-member organization of Caribbean nations. CARICOM has called for an independent investigation into the circumstances of Aristide’s removal from Haiti.

Meanwhile, senior officials of the Bush administration have expressed their opposition to Aristide being in the Western Hemisphere. James Foley, the US Ambassador to Haiti, said Jamaica was taking on a "risk and a responsibility" in welcoming Aristide. He said "His coming within 150 miles from Haiti is promoting violence."

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press "We think it’s a bad idea. We believe that President Aristide, in a sense, forfeited his ability to lead his people, because he did not govern democratically."

On Sunday, before Aristide began his return back to the Caribbean, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on CNN "The hope is that he will not come back into the hemisphere and complicate [the] situation."

Onboard the plane yesterday, I got a chance to get reaction to the U.S. position from the delegation that escorted Aristide to Jamaica. I talked to TransAfrica founder Randall Robinson, Rep. Maxine Waters, Jamaican Member of Parliament and CARICOM representative Sharon Hay-Webster and Aristide’s lawyer, Ira Kurzban. We begin with Randall Robinson.

RANDALL ROBINSON:Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld should be ashamed of themselves. President Aristide is the democratically elected President, the last time by 92% majority of Haiti, and he has come home to the Caribbean where he belongs. He is the President, democratically elected of the democracy that they overthrew. America ought to be ashamed of itself. And we’re proud of the role we’ve played in bringing him home to his region where he belongs and where we hope he will stay.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, James Foley, saying that P.J. Patterson has taken a great risk and responsibility in accepting Aristide in Jamaica and, that President Aristide should not be within a 150 miles of [inaudible].

RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, Prime Minister Patterson has done a great thing. And what Mr. Foley says sounds like a threat to me. It is emblematic of the kind of arrogance with which America imposes its policy on the region and on the world. It’s a disgrace. And we, as Americans, must fight against that. It is intolerable what they have done in Haiti. And what they are doing in many other parts of the world. And there is no question that this President was fairly elected twice and the last time by a huge majority. And to suggest that he is not to come back to the region, to which he belongs, is totally unacceptable.

REP. MAXINE WATERS: It is inconceivable that this administration has helped to foster a coup against Haiti and helped to oust a democratically-elected president and then have the audacity to say that he can never reside in his own region.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Maxine Waters.

REP. MAXINE WATERS: His neighboring country has offered him the opportunity to be there temporarily is just the arrogance of this kind of position that is upsetting to so many Americans.

This was a democratically-elected President. He was not the cause of violence in Haiti. As a matter of fact, we begged Colin Powell and our own government to help stabilize Haiti when the so-called rebels, those people who have been a part of the death squads in Haiti previously had come into the country and were now threatening to cause violence. We asked them to help stabilize Haiti and they refused to do it. This President didn’t cause any violence and there is no reason to believe that he will cause any in the future. I think it’s outrageous for Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell or Mr. Foley to be making those kinds of statements.

We have to set the record straight. Many Americans still don’t know exactly what took place in Haiti. As a matter of fact, for Mr. Foley to tell a duly elected Prime Minister of a country what he should and should not be doing is absolutely outrageous. Mr. Foley was not elected by anybody. And I think he should confine his comments to managing his own job.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you surprised by Colin Powell making these statements, given that you’ve been communicating with him?

REP. MAXINE WATERS: Well, certainly Colin Powell knew that Jamaica was going to receive President Aristide. He did say at one point that he would not have chosen anywhere in the Caribbean or Jamaica, but he knew that he was going to Jamaica and he assisted us in working with the government of CA. by letting them know that the United States did not have a hold on him. So, this comes as no surprise to him. And I don’t know what all of this talk is about this morning.

IRA KURZBAN: This is Ira Kurzban. The statements issued by Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, Ambassador Foley should be shocking to every American. A core value of our society is the right of people to travel freely and, in fact, there seems to be some obvious contradiction in terms of what they’re saying because these are the same people who complain about the fact that people can’t travel freely from Cuba or can’t travel freely to and from other countries.

So, this is the kind of double speak, the kind of hypocrisy, the kind of mendacity that we have seen by this administration repeatedly.

President Aristide has a right to travel freely to any country that will invite him, and Jamaica has been gracious enough to invite him to stay temporarily. The United States has no business commenting on that, let alone trying to threaten leaders of other countries for doing so.

And what’s even worse, of course, here, is that we’re responsible for a coup in Haiti and it is time that the truth came out about that, and that people like Ms. Rice and Mr. Powell own up to what the United States has done. To now make it worse by trying to send the President into exile, like the French did to other leaders, shows how far we’ve regressed as a nation and as an administration.

Finally, and probably the worst aspect of this, is Secretary Powell keeps saying how unpopular President Aristide is. Well, what is this administration afraid of? If President Aristide is as unpopular as they say he is in Haiti, then why are they afraid of having him a hundred miles from Haiti?

Again, it’s a kind of double speak, the kinds of lies that Powell and Rice and the others with weapons of mass destruction and everything else that they’ve repeated to the American people. And I think people finally needed to wake up and realize what it is they’re doing. They can’t, on one hand, say how unpopular President Aristide is and then say they’re afraid to have him 100 miles away from Haiti because he is going to cause trouble.

It strikes at a core value of our society, which is the right for all people to travel freely. All Americans believe that. And certainly President Aristide has the right to accept an invitation wherever he is given, whether it is 10 miles away from Haiti, whether it is 100 miles or whether it’s in Haiti itself.

And the reality is that if they cared enough about the situation, they would make sure that there is a democratically elected leader reinstated in his country because President Aristide won the last election by 92% of the vote. He won his first election by 67% of the vote. And the people who the United States has now appointed to run Haiti are people who have never been elected to any public office.

SHARON HAY-WEBSTER: The Prime Minister (inaudible) President of CARICOM responded to a request from President Aristide. He consulted with his colleagues who are also leaders within the region. And they agreed to host him here in Jamaica.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharon Hay-Webster, Jamaican member of Parliament.

SHARON HAY-WEBSTER: I don’t know any other leader who has been ousted from the country and not been allowed to return to the country, much less as having our own family members come back to the region. I think the fact that we’ve heard these responses speaks to the level of success that we’ve had [inaudible] of this mission.

AMY GOODMAN: What about this issue of serious risk and responsibility that Prime Minister —

SHARON HAY-WEBSTER: I believe all appropriate considerations have been taken. Prime Minister Patterson has served as minister of foreign affairs. He has been Prime Minister for over 10 years. He has a wealth of considerable experience and leadership and I don’t believe that he has any reason to second guess this decision having been taken and this has been bolstered by the other members of CARICOM. This is not a lone or a personal decision, and I think it is an excellent one.

AMY GOODMAN: And the idea that the 150-mile radius could cause unrest in Haiti?

SHARON HAY-WEBSTER: In that case, then, it proves that Aristide has far more support than the media and those who are now speaking have been willing to give him credit for.

AMY GOODMAN: The letter that you delivered to the President of the Central African Republic, what does it say and [inaudible].

SHARON HAY-WEBSTER: It is from Prime Minister Patterson, chairman of CARICOM. It advised Mr. (inaudible) that I was his special emissary and that I had come as an emissary from CARICOM to take Mr. Aristide home to the Caribbean. And thanked him for his courtesies and asked him to extend the necessary courtesies and allow us to take him home with us, and that is what we’re about to do. We’re two hours away from home and we’re very happy to be doing that, especially in respect with the fact that it has been a tremendous symbol that we saved. In terms of [inaudible] between the black diaspora in the western hemisphere, and mother Africa.

AMY GOODMAN: And the feeling in Jamaica about Jean-Bertrand Aristide?

SHARON HAY-WEBSTER: There is mixed reaction. There are those who are supportive and there are those who are not. It’s a democratic country.

REP. MAXINE WATERS: If Ambassador Foley is concerned about violence, or disruption, he should look right in Haiti where they have supported —

AMY GOODMAN: Congresswoman Maxine Waters.

REP. MAXINE WATERS: Supported the so-called rebels who are in Haiti. If he is concerned about violence, why did he and our government, the Bush government do nothing to stop Mr. Jodel Chamblain. Why have they done nothing to stop the people who are obviously perpetrating the violence in Haiti? And in addition, if they are worried about somebody creating some violence, why did they allow Comstant who is known to have killed thousands of Haitians on the C.I.A. payroll to reside up in New Jersey in the United States? I think this is an absolutely ridiculous statement on his part.

RANDALL ROBINSON: The United States took President Aristide against his will to the Central African Republic. Without his consent, without his knowledge, and placed him in a country that has no diplomatic relations with the community of Africa, because it came to power in a coup, has no diplomatic relations with the United States, and it is as remote from the Caribbean as any country in Africa or indeed in the world. So that he would be hard to reach there.

We brought him home, because the Caribbean is where he belongs. Twice elected democratically, the last time by a 94% majority, in an election that the United States has now overthrown, taken him far away with the idea that he would be kept there against his will.

It was clear last night, before the President agreed to release Mr. Aristide to us to take back to the Caribbean, that he would only do so after he had been cleared to do so by France and the United States. He was being held there against his will, not by the Central African Republic, but by the United States and France. It is a vivid disgrace that America would be involved in something so shoddy as this whole enterprise.

And now, to threaten Jamaica, as if to say that it is prepared to do to Jamaica what it did to Haiti is simply detestable.

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