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2004-03-05

Caribbean Nations Call For UN Investigation on Ouster of Aristide In Haiti

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Kevin Pina, An independent journalist and filmmaker who has spent the past 4 and a half years living and working in Haiti. He joins us from the Haitian capital Port au-Prince.

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South Africa has also expressed concerns. The country’s foreign affairs minister said if the U.S. did kidnap Aristide it will "have serious consequences and ramifications for the respect of the rule of law and democracy the world over." [includes transcript]

Just days before Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was removed as Haiti’s leader and forced out of the country, he had signed what was being billed as a US-backed peace plan between his government and the opposition. The proposal was initially put forth by the 15-nation Caribbean Community, CARICOM. Even though the plan was widely viewed as favorable to his opponents, Aristide signed the agreement that would have greatly reduced his powers and given the post of Prime Minister to a figure acceptable to the opposition.

The groups and organizations opposed to Aristide delayed responding to the proposal, as the paramilitary forces led by Guy Philippe, Jodel Chamblain and Jean Tatoune continued to grab more territory in Haiti. Ultimately, the opposition rejected the plan, saying they would only accept Aristide’s removal from power.

This week, the CARICOM nations called for a United Nations investigation into the circumstances of Aristide’s departure from office and from Haiti. They were joined yesterday by South Africa. In a statement, the South African Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma expressed concern at allegations Aristide was forced to leave the country. The foreign minister said if it is true, it will "have serious consequences and ramifications for the respect of the rule of law and democracy the world over."

To get a perspective on how the removal from Aristide is playing in the region around Haiti, we go to Kingston, Jamaica.

  • John Maxwell, a veteran Jamaican journalist. He has covered Caribbean affairs for more than 40 years. He is currently a columnist for The Jamaica Observer. He joins us on the phone from Kingston.

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, the war and peace report. I’m Amy Goodman. Just days before Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was removed as Haiti’s leader, forced out of the country, he had signed what was being billed as a US-backed peace plan between his government and the opposition. The proposal was initially put forth by the 15-nation Caribbean community, Caricom. Even though the plan was widely viewed as favorable to his opponents, Aristide signed the agreement that would have greatly reduced his powers and given the post of prime minister to a figure acceptable to the opposition. The groups and organizations opposed to Aristide delayed responding to the proposal as the paramilitary forces led by Gilles Philippe, Jodel Chamblain and Jean Tatun continued to grab more territory in Haiti. Ultimately, the opposition rejected the plan, saying they would only accept Aristide’s removal from power. This week the Caricom nations called for a United Nations investigation into the circumstances of President Aristide’s departure from office and from Haiti. They were joined yesterday by South Africa. In a statement, the South African foreign affairs minister expressed concern at allegations Aristide was forced to leave the country. The foreign minister said if it is true, it will have serious consequences and ramifications for the respect of the rule of law and democracy the world over. To get a perspective on how the removal from Aristide is playing — the removal of Aristide is playing in the region around Haiti, we go to Kingston, Jamaica, to John Maxwell, a veteran Jamaican journalist who has covered Caribbean affairs for more than 40 years, columnist for the Jamaica Observer. Welcome to Democracy Now!.

JOHN MAXWELL: Thank you, Amy. More than 50 years.

AMY GOODMAN: (laughing) Well, it’s good to have you with us, after your half century of work. Can you talk about the Caricom demand for a UN Investigation into the ouster of Jean-Bertrand Aristide?

JOHN MAXWELL: Basically, the prime minister just didn’t buy the story which is being told by the US Administration. They said that the various members of the group had been speaking to, including particularly the Prime Minister, Patterson, of Jamaica. In speaking with Aristide, you know, for hours on and off on Saturday, and had absolutely no inclinations from him that he had intended to go anywhere. And so they think what happened is extremely suspicious. And I imagine that they are very much aware that if it can happen to Aristide, it can also happen to them or any other small country. And so, they want the United Nations or a body appointed by perhaps the General Assembly of the United Nations, I don’t know whether that could be the International Criminal Court or the International Courts of the Hague, to investigate what happened so that the whole thing can be put on the table and whoever is responsible for whatever is identified. Then, if possible, I suppose, punished. One of the things that they wanted is the return to democracy, which from the way I read that, it means they want Aristide reinstated because they believe that he was improperly removed from office.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the significance of South Africa joining with the CARICOM nations and calling for the investigation?

JOHN MAXWELL: It’s very significant because South Africa is the most powerful black country on earth. (inaudible) represents the South African view that Haiti is a beacon for the black world in that it was the first country of slaves — it’s the only country where the slaves abolished slavery, and it took the time to finance people like Bolivar who went on to liberate South America, and they were consciously selling the idea of liberty and freedom or helping people to obtain their freedom during the early years. And that this is something, you know, which should be saluted and protected. Also, people think that Americans went into Haiti once in 1950’s, and that’s it, but there’s a book by Mary Renda which is called, "Taking Haiti," and there are other documents to which — which show that the Americans went into Haiti at least ten times before 1900, you know, trying to fix things the way they wanted it. The fact is that between 1860 when the Americans recognized Haiti, and 1999 — 1994 when Aristide was removed — replaced in power, the Americans have never, ever been out of control of what’s been going on in Haiti. So, you know, what South Africa is looking for, like the rest of us, is to achieve a kind of autonomy for the Haitians.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to John Maxwell, columnist with the Jamaica Observer. Go ahead.

JOHN MAXWELL: We believe that what happened in Haiti is a symptom of the profound disrespect that the Bush administration has for black people, particularly, and for small countries also. This is not the first time. In an article I wrote earlier this year called, "Imagine, Niggers Speaking French," that’s a direct quote from the American Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan, that is who the Haitian people were. The people who went in for the first occupation treated Haiti in such a way, they called everybody niggers. They said that they were just helpless — happy go lucky characters who couldn’t do anything. The fact is that in the previous 100 years, the Haitians had been able to serve as — had a viable country going despite the harassment of the United States and France, and they were no more or no less able to control their own affairs and do their own thing than any other country in the world. In fact, some English writers and some Americans, you know, looked at Haiti as an example of how well blacks could govern themselves. One writer, I can’t remember his name at the moment, an Englishman said that Haiti provided an example which should shame some of the Angelo colonies and ex-colonies in the hemisphere. So, you know, what we are talking about is you give a dog a bad name and then you can beat him. This is what has happened to Haiti. And people here are very upset about it. The ordinary population of Jamaica is extremely upset about it. People — Jamaicans in the United States are writing letters to newspapers here approving of what the CARICOM has done and urging support for Haiti. People are very upset because this, you know, seems to them to be the utmost in prejudice, and discrimination, and American exceptionalism. You know, when you look at the people who were in charge in Haiti a couple of days ago, these are terrorists. The Americans are trying to get the Jamaican government and the governments all over the world to pass anti-terrorism legislation, you know, which would, for instance, in the case of Jamaica, those guys that you just spoke about who were arrested at this game for wearing, "US out of Iraq" t-shirts. We suspect that if people did something like that down here under the new anti-terrorist act they would likely be arrested and jailed without any problem — you know, without any recourse. What happened to Aristide is more or less what happened to the people in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, except that he was a little bit too important to disappear without a trace. But the whole disrespect for human rights that is displayed by the United States in its foreign relations is something that concerns us here and makes people very angry indeed.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, John Maxwell, I want to thank you very much for being with us. We will certainly continue to follow the story, and see how the United Nations responds to the CARICOM of the 15-member Caribbean community joined by South Africa’s call for an investigation into the circumstances of the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from Haiti.

JOHN MAXWELL: I would like to congratulate you for breaking the story about Aristide. You know, about his kidnapping, because that’s a criminal offense, and if it weren’t for you, I don’t know when we would have gotten that story out. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, thank you, and folks can go to our website at democracynow.org to hear all of our special coverage on Haiti. This is Democracy Now!.

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