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2005-11-23

Congressmember Waters Contradicts Col. Wilkerson on U.S. Role in Haiti: "It Was a Coup D’Etat, it Was a Forceful Removal of Aristide"

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On Tuesday’s Democracy Now!, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson–Colin Powell’s chief of staff from 2002 to 2005–defended the US role in Haiti during the overthrow of democratically-elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide. We speak with Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. [includes rush transcript]

Tuesday on Democracy Now! we interviewed Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, he served as chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005. In an hour-long conversation we discussed the invasion of Iraq, pre-war intelligence and much more. We also talked about Haiti.

During his time as Powell’s Number Two man in the State Department, the democratically elected president of Haiti, Jean Bertrand Aristide was ousted. On February 29, 2004, Aristide was flown out of Haiti on a US government plane to the Central African Republic.

I asked Colonel Wilkerson to describe what happened the day Aristide was forced out of the country.

  • Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, interviewed on Democracy Now!, November 22, 2005.

In the interview, Wilkerson defends the U.S. role in Haiti during Aristide’s overthrow and says Aristide’s "will to power is excessive, even obsessive." We speak with two guests:

  • Rep. Maxine Waters, Democratic Congresswoman from California. She was part of the delegation of US and Jamaican lawmakers that flew to the Central African Republican in March 2004 to return President Aristide to the Carribbean.
  • Brian Concannon, director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.

More Democracy Now Haiti Coverage

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: I asked Colonel Wilkerson to describe what happened the day Aristide was forced out of his country.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: But this was a situation fraught with all kinds of chaos, and Secretary Powell and the United States government and our ambassador in Haiti, in particular, did a marvelous job, I think, under the circumstances, of preventing what could have been widespread bloodshed and getting Aristide out of the country.

One testimony to that was the fact that even though on the surface we had had all of these rancorous relations, supposedly, with France, much on the part of Secretary Rumsfeld’s having stiffed the French on almost everything they wanted to do in the way of military liaison and so forth, the French were willing to come in and help us with the situation in Haiti and to provide troops for stabilizing that situation, because they, too, understood how desperate the situation was.

AMY GOODMAN: But this —

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: So I disagree completely with the characterization that TransAfrica put on this situation.

AMY GOODMAN: This all happened after the Aristides left. Why not bring in these forces before? We were only talking about a couple of hundred thugs that were moving in on the capital?

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Aristide was the focal point. Aristide was the person who needed to be removed from Haiti, and even he understood that. In the conversation he had with our ambassador, he understood that. He knew that he was the lightning rod, and that if he didn’t remove himself from the island, there was going to be a lot of bloodshed.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, of course, he would contest every point.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Of course, he would.

AMY GOODMAN: I went to the Central African Republic, and he told the story of basically what he described as being forced out of Haiti at the time, that you had this small group — I mean, these were not a large number of people — small group, known killers, people like Jodel Chamblain, who was found guilty of murder in absentia for the murder of the Justice Minister, Guy Malary, in 1993; Antoine Izmery. These were people who were known — certainly Colin Powell also knew them — had been back during the first coup, had been there negotiating with those involved in the coup. This was not the overall sentiment of the Haitian people, and he said it was the U.S. that pressed him to leave, that pushed him out, that put him onto this plane with U.S. military and security. He had no idea where was going until he was dumped in the Central African Republic.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: I can’t imagine a man like Aristide, whose will to power is excessive, even obsessive, saying anything differently. Colin Powell, as you said, did know the situation in Haiti, probably as well as anyone in America. Colin Powell made the decision based on our ambassador in Haiti’s very clear presentation of the circumstances, and the President made the decision ultimately, and it was a good decision, and I would stand by that decision.

Haiti is a situation that picks at all our hearts all the time. Haiti is right next to being a failed state. And because of its proximity to the United States, we know what that failure means. And Haiti is not apparently capable of coming out of that situation. It’s a situation that, as I said, drags at all our hearts, but in this particular instance, I think a good decision was made, a decision that prevented further bloodshed that would have been widespread had it not been made.

AMY GOODMAN: Why say that the president, Aristide, had an obsession with power? This was a man who was the democratically elected president of Haiti, certainly got a higher percentage of the vote than President Bush got in this country.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Please, don’t refer to the percentage of vote as equatable to democracy, as equatable to the kinds of institutions we have reflecting democracy in America. Hitler was elected by popular vote.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson. He served as Colin Powell’s chief of staff when he was Secretary of State. It was interesting to end on this point of the comparison to Hitler. I just went to see a new documentary called Aristide and the Endless Revolution, a film by Nicolas Rossier, and he interviewed Gerard Latortue, the unelected prime minister of Haiti. And this is what he had to say.

GERARD LATORTUE: To tell you the truth, for me, President Aristide is already the past. I don’t want to return to that, but nevertheless, he still exercises some power over his partisans. And maybe he will continue to exercise it, as Hitler still exercises influence over many extremists in the world today.

AMY GOODMAN: Gerard Latortue, the unelected prime minister. Elections are supposed to be held December 27th. Brian Concannon is with us from Boston. He’s Director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. And Congress member Maxine Waters joins us on the line from California. Brian Concannon, on the facts of what Colonel Wilkerson had to say.

BRIAN CONCANNON: Well, I think he did get some of it right. I think — when he said that Colin Powell was working for reconciliation, I think that part-time that was right. On February 12th, Colin Powell actually said to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that, quote, "The policy of this administration is not regime change. President Aristide is the elected president of Haiti." Five days later, he said that we cannot buy into a proposition that would lead to the forcing out the elected president to be replaced by thugs who are inflicting terror on the Haitian people. Now, 11 days after that, on February 28th, all of a sudden, Secretary Powell, who had been talking about supporting democracy, all of a sudden, he says it’s time for Aristide to go. And Aristide was, in fact, bundled off on an airplane to the Central African Republic.

Now, what happened in those 11 days between Colin Powell saying he respected democracy and President Aristide being pushed on the plane by the State Department? They didn’t recount the votes. President Aristide wasn’t unelected. The thugs did not stop their terrorizing of the Haitian population. What happened was that the hard-liners in the administration decided to pull the trigger on Haiti’s regime change. And this had been something they had been planning for several years. And when they decided it was time to pull the trigger, Secretary Powell obediently pulled the trigger.

AMY GOODMAN: Colonel Wilkerson made the point that Aristide was afraid at the time, and I raised the issue of Aristide’s personal security provided by the Steele Foundation, San Francisco, and them telling us that they weren’t allowed to send in the last reinforcements, not allowed by the U.S. government. What about the U.S. military in Haiti, Brian?

BRIAN CONCANNON: The U.S. military had come down. There were — a whole contingent of Marines had come in a few days before that. It was after President Aristide had asked for mutual support to defend the democracy that was under siege, and instead of sending troops to help the democracy, the troops were sent to secure the U.S. embassy and to be there in case they were needed, not to preserve democracy, but to help usher democracy out. And, in fact, when U.S. embassy personnel went to Aristide’s house, and part of the reason why he probably was afraid, his house was guarded by former American soldiers, the U.S. embassy people went over with a contingent of 50 soldiers telling him he had to leave.

And one of the reasons why he had to leave was because there was a rebellion that had taken over much of Haiti, again by people trained and equipped by the U.S., who were killing police officers, who were killing innocent civilians and were letting all of the prisoners out. And so, of course, President Aristide was afraid under the situation. I think it’s interesting that Colonel Wilkerson stressed the courage of the U.S. ambassador. It’s hard to see where the courage is in going in with 50 people to — 50 soldiers to someone’s residence that’s guarded by more former American soldiers and telling him to leave.

AMY GOODMAN: We are also joined by Congress member Maxine Waters. On March 1, it was Monday morning after the February 29th that the Aristides were forced out of Haiti, you broke the story on Democracy Now!, when you called to say you had just spoken to the Aristides in the Central African Republic. And you were the one who said that President Aristide said that he was the victim of a modern kidnapping in the service of a coup d’etat backed by the United States. Now, Colonel Wilkerson says this isn’t true, he changed his story, he wanted to go. Your response, Congress member Waters?

REP. MAXINE WATERS: I think Brian Concannon, you know, has given a correct version of it. Don’t forget, the Congressional Black Caucus had been up to the White House and had asked the President to intervene, to keep Jodel Chamblain and Guy Philippe and those thugs from moving in to kill Aristide. Don’t forget, Aristide didn’t have an army. He was dependent on the private protection from the Steele Corporation, and they were not about to engage in battle with any United States Marines. So, he was left without any protection whatsoever. The United States could have easily put down and pushed back Guy Philippe and Chamblain and those guys. They told us that they were looking for a political solution, and they refused to intervene, because they wanted Aristide to be at risk and at danger and to be able to force him out, because he didn’t have much choice. He didn’t have any way of defending himself. So, it was a coup d’etat, and it was a forceful removal of President Aristide.

And let me just say at that meeting that we had with President Bush, Colin Powell certainly was not in charge. Condoleezza Rice was in charge. As a matter of fact, Condoleezza Rice sat at the spot that the person who is going to be the facilitator for the President sat in that day at the table, and Colin Powell was sitting in at the end, you know, kind of at the table. She took charge, and at the point that the chief of staff tried to keep the President out of the meeting, it was Condoleezza Rice who saw that we would have none of that, and she went and got the President, but the President said exactly what the policy was, that they would not intervene, that they were looking for a political solution. So, the hard-liners had decided that, in fact, they were going to have a regime change, and they facilitated the regime change in the way that they handled it.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to President Aristide’s own words. I went on the plane that Congress member Maxine Waters and the founder of TransAfrica, Randall Robinson, organized to go to the Central African Republic to return the Aristides to this hemisphere and had a chance to ask Aristide himself about what he believed happened. This is just a clip on that plane back from the Central African Republic, back to Jamaica, where he went to consider his next move.

PRESIDENT JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: No. I didn’t resign. What some people called resignation is a new coup d’etat or a modern kidnapping.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Aristide on the plane, saying, 'No, I did not resign, and that this was a coup.' Were you surprised, Congress member Waters, about Wilkerson’s — in hearing what Wilkerson had to say and the comparison with Hitler?

REP. MAXINE WATERS: Well, whenever someone uses that kind of comparison, you know, and uses it lightly, I don’t pay much attention to that. I think that’s what you resort to when you don’t know what else to say and when you are, you know, trying to support whatever position you have taken. No matter what he says, they were not truly engaged in Haiti. As a matter of fact, I believe that Colin Powell didn’t pay a lot of attention to Haiti, that he, at the point that we talked about the possible undoing of the democracy, he knew that that would be wrong, and I think he said and felt the right thing at the time, but I think that it was way past Colin Powell for several reasons. Number one, in describing that meeting that I just described to you, it was obvious to me that Colin Powell was not truly in charge of that policy. Noriega was basically influencing —

AMY GOODMAN: Roger Noriega.

REP. MAXINE WATERS: Roger, yes, Noriega was basically influencing what was going on with that situation, and the hard-liners believed him, and even prior — probably prior to Powell even knowing that a coup d’etat or regime change was truly in the works, the decision was made, and it was done.

AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Waters, I want to just end with Brian Concannon on what’s going to happen next, elections put off three times, latest set for December 27th. Your prediction and the situation now?

BRIAN CONCANNON: My prediction is that you’re not going to have a very good process. It’s been a flawed process so far. Under the constitution, the government had 90 days to run an election, if you count the current government as being legitimate. They had 90 days. We’re now onto 21 months, and they still haven’t had elections. What they’re planning on doing now is saying we’re going to have elections on December 27th, the first round, and by February 7th, we’re going to count the votes from the first election, decide about any problems with it, run a second election, count the votes from that and inaugurate a new president, all in five weeks, when in 21 months they haven’t even been able to effectively register people, they haven’t been able to get the ballots or the voting cards distributed. Obviously, this is a fiasco. What —

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.

REP. MAXINE WATERS: — many are concerned about, this is going to be a justification for putting in anybody the United States wants.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to end it there. Brian Concannon, Director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, and Congress member Maxine Waters, speaking from California.

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