Nigeria yesterday agreed to a request by Caricom to grant President Aristide temporary asylum one week after his historic return to the Caribbean in defiance of the Bush administration. We speak with Randall Robinson who was part of the delegation that accompanied President Aristide from the Central African Republic to Jamaica. [includes rush transcript]
One week after his historic return to the Caribbean, President Aristide is once again facing possible expulsion from the Western Hemisphere. Aristide said he was taken by force from Haiti to the Central African Republic in what he calls a US-orchestrated coup.
Yesterday, Nigeria agreed to a request by the 15-nation Caribbean community (Caricom) leaders to grant Aristide temporary asylum. It has not been confirmed what prompted the request by Caricom, but one thing is certain: Aristide’s return to the Caribbean was a trip the Bush administration clearly did not want to happen. In very public statements, the most senior US officials said bluntly that they did not want Aristide in the Western Hemisphere.
The US-installed Prime Minister of Haiti, Gerard Latortue, recalled Haiti’s ambassador to Jamaica, in protest of that country’s welcoming of Aristide. Latortue also halted Haiti’s participation in Caricom. Caricom has called for an independent investigation into the circumstances of Aristide’s removal from Haiti.
At least three Caricom leaders yesterday signalled their unwillingness to sit with Latortue unless he repudiated his recent attacks on the Community and distances himself from the armed gangs who helped overthrow Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Latortue yesterday hailed the leaders of the gangs as "freedom fighters."
At this time, President Aristide his Haitian-American wife Mildred remain in Jamaica with their two young daughters, in defiance of the United States.
- Randall Robinson, a close friend of the Aristides. Last week he was part of the delegation that accompanied President Aristide from the Central African Republic to Jamaica. He is also the founder of TransAfrica and the author of several books. He joins us on the line from his home in St. Kitts in the Caribbean.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Randall Robinson.
RANDALL ROBINSON: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us the latest news? Yesterday it came across the wires a report that Nigeria agreed to let Aristide to spend a few weeks there before moving to another destination, the 15-nation CARICOM Caribbean community reportedly asking Nigeria to allow Aristide to stay there. What is happening?
RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, I learned yesterday from news sources that Nigeria had been pressured by the United States to grant President Aristide temporary asylum. And further learned from sources in the State Department that the Bush Administration had pointedly threatened Jamaica to — to make the application to Nigeria for Mr. Aristide. As you know, Jamaica had earlier said when we arrived with Mr. Aristide five days or so ago, that he would be allowed to stay in Jamaica eight to 10 weeks to make his final transition to a more permanent asylum in another country. And five days later, we understand that Nigeria has been pressed to accept President Aristide and, of course, we then learned the background to the story, this all on both sides is the result of intense American pressure and in the case of Jamaica, even threats issued by the Bush Administration to — to exis what it amounts to, Mr. Aristide from Jamaica to Nigeria. I think it illustrates two things. One, I think it further demonstrates, although it’s clear enough what happened in the first place, that the U.S. did carry out a coup, did abduct Mr. Aristide and carry him off without his consent or knowledge to the Central African Republic.
We learned in the Central African Republic that President Bozizi who told thus directly had to clear any decision to release Mr. Aristide to us to carry back to Jamaica. He had to clear that decision with the United States and France before he could do that. He may have been the guard, but clearly the United States and France were the wardens for Mr. Aristide’s virtual imprisonment in the Central African Republic and we bring him back and then the Bush Administration starts all over again to have him removed from the Caribbean all together. This time in an attempt to remove him to Nigeria. I think it proves two things. It proves that the United States was directly implicated in the coup, directly implicated in Mr. Aristide’s abduction to the Central African Republic and it proves further that they fear that Mr. Aristide has enormous public support in Haiti. Were they not so afraid of that, they would have no great interest, no sense of urgency about making sure that he was well outside the Caribbean. This we have done to a democratically elected leader, and it certainly shows that no democracy can be given birth in Haiti until we all reckon with what happened there, that we have removed a democratically elected leader who still enjoys enormous support and were a new election held today, Mr. Aristide would be overwhelmingly elected again. There can be no question about that and the administration accept this is argument in its energy to take all kinds of clandestine, unsavory measures to see that Mr. Aristide is banished from his native region. A shameless thing for the American administration to do in the way that we have sided with the thugs in Haiti and the way that we have treated the leader that the Haitian people have elected overwhelminglytwice.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Randall Robinson, founder of Transafrica, who went to the Central African Republic to escort the Aristides back to the Caribbean. It seems that the State Department was taken by surprise by that act, Randall Robinson.
RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, I suppose they were. It was unprecedented. I don’t know that anything like that had ever been done before. They abducted him, took him away in the middle of the night in a plane with the shades drawn, refused to tell him where he was on the — in immediate refueling stops and refused to tell him where he was going and never sought his consent and then announced when the plane was approaching, the Central African Republic, that that’s where he was going and deposited them in a country that has recognized virtually nowhere the African union doesn’t recognize it because it came to [inaudible]. Even the United States does not recognize it and warns on its State Department website that Americans are not to go there because it’s a dangerous tension-filled place that could be, you know, taken over by other forces at any moment. This is the place, cut off from the world, in an airport where we saw not another plane, one flight I think from Paris a week , remote, cut off. This is the place that the United States abducted President Aristide to and made him virtually the prisoner of a military regime until we got there and brought him back to Jamaica, which bravely, I think rage youly, I think Prime Minister Patterson has distinguished himself and making a place for president Aristide in Jamaica and he has met for that with threats by this administration directly from the White House. It is a disgraceful thing for the United States to be doing to a country that was only attempting to practice democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you know who in the Bush Administration is applying this pressure right now?
RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, I’ve been asked not to say that. I was given — I was told who it was by my sources at the state department, but I was asked not to comment on that.
AMY GOODMAN: And why now? You’re in St. Kitts, where you live. But what about the significance of this week?
RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, I think that the administration — it is no accident that they wanted him out of Jamaica this week, by mid week, for a specific reason. CARICOM community is holding its intercessional meeting here in St. Kitts later this week and Latortue, who had broken relations with Jamaica after Jamaica agreed to host President Aristide, of course, was warned by his handler, his American handlers that that was a mistake and that he should have those relations restored. Indeed, the idea was from his side to bring him to this meeting and to have him recognized as a legitimate to CARICOM heads of state, unelected though he is and will remain. And the idea was to clear out President Aristide from the region before the meeting began and before the unelected president of Haiti was to arrive. Shame on America that it tried to manage all of this and to get it done, threatening on both sides of the Atlantic ocean. A real merciless bully America has acquitted itself awfully once again. At least the Bush Administration.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about Gerard Latortue landing on the soccer field in Genevieve in a U.S. Black helicopter, escorted by a second black hawk and twin rotor chinook and meeting with the so-called rebel leader there is?
RANDALL ROBINSON: It is the picture of what has happened. That they have joined as they have been for a long time a new president from Boca Raton, unelected, installed, unknown to anyone, something of a buffoon, installed as a puppet by the Americans in league with the thugs armed by America who overflew the democracy of Aristide at America’s instruction and with American sufferance. These people had in their hands some of the 20,000 m-16’s that the U.S. had provided to the Dominican Republic for border use. These people who went to ground when democracy was restored in Haiti went to ground just across the border in the Dominican Republic and waited for the moment and for obviously the signal from the United States, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, indeed the President himself. All people, of course, eliminate any effort to stay their hand, to get them not only out of the region, but even back away from the border. The only person we’ve tried to banish from the region is the democratically elected president of the country who was toppled by people bearing American arms and doing America’s bidding. And that’s what you saw in Gonaives, the public meeting of the three forces here, the United States, the thugs, and the new unelected American installed president of Haiti.
AMY GOODMAN: Randall Robinson, what are your plans now with the CARICOM community coming to St. Kitts? Unclear exactly what is going to happen right now. The BBC reporting high level Nigerian officials saying they’re getting tremendous pressure from the United States for Aristide to go there.
RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, I — I certainly hope and am confident that that will not happen because this has been exposed. It is my impression that President Aristide does not want to go to Nigeria. It is my impression that the initiative was not Nigeria’s, that they were pressured into it. It is my impression that the initiative was not CARICOM 's or Jamaica's because they were threatened by the United States. I think that this — this notion will collapse of its own weight and it should and it should upon the idiots in the State Department and the White House who tried to implement such a fool hearty, callous plan.
AMY GOODMAN: Randall Robinson, thank you for joining us. He is the founder of TransAfrica, he is the author of the book "Quitting America" where the intercessional meeting of CARICOM is taking place this week. U.S. Representatives will be there?
RANDALL ROBINSON: Yes. I’m not quite sure, but I expect members of the congressional black caucus to be here for it. I’m not sure who they are going to be yet, that hasn’t been determined.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think President Aristide will return to Haiti?
RANDALL ROBINSON: I can’t hear you very well. Did you ask if I thought he would return to Haiti?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
RANDALL ROBINSON: I certainly hope so. And it is important to understand this is not because of any loyalty that I have to President Aristide. Indeed he is a long-time friend. I think he is one of the finest human beings I’ve ever had the privilege to know. But that is not the issue. The issue is democracy. You cannot sustain or look towards a democratic future erected from the ashes of a democracy that an external power has destroyed. You simply can’t forget the context story and move on. He has a year and a half left in his term. The election that brought him to this term, he won by 94% and by all accounts, fairly. Both occasions. And as evidence of how popular he is, the United States has gone to such great and foolish lengths to banish him from the region. You simply cannot start again without reckoning with that, the Llavalas people still overwhelmingly support President Aristide and they comprise the overwhelming majority of the Haitian people. We have to come to terms with that. That is democracy and the Bush Administration apparently doesn’t like it in Haiti anymore than they liked it in Florida.
AMY GOODMAN: Randall Robinson, thank you for joining us. This is Democracy Now!