One year ago today, the democratically-elected government of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in what he called a modern-day kidnapping in the service of a coup d’etat backed by the United States. We go back and take a look at the events surrounding the coup and we look at the chaos and bloodshed that have gripped the country over the past year. [includes rush transcript]
Today marks the one-year anniversary of the coup in Haiti that overthrew the democratically-elected government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. On February 29, Arisitide was flown to the Central African Republic on a US government plane in what he called a "modern-day kidnapping."
Two weeks later, he defied Washington and returned to the Caribbean accompanied by a delegation of U.S. and Jamaican lawmakers. Aristide was eventually granted asylum in South Africa, where he now lives.
Aristide was ousted by many of the same forces involved in the coup against him over a decade earlier. In 1991, less than a year after becoming the first democratically-elected leader in Haiti’s history, Aristide was overthrown by paramilitary death squads working closely with U.S. intelligence agencies. After a few years in exile, Aristide returned to Haiti in 1994 in a US military plane to serve the remaining few months left in his term.
In 2000, Aristide won the presidential election a second time. Once again, a few years after being elected, Aristide was overthrown a second time. Much of the funding and support for the opposition once again came from the United States, through an organization called the International Republican Institute.
One year later, Haiti has descended into chaos. As many as 400 people have been killed since September alone. Armed gangs roam the cities and political oppression is rampant. Just last week, an armed gang broke into the city’s main prison and released more than 500 prisoners–95 percent of whom have been neither tried nor sentenced. In the country’s poorest areas, rape has increasingly common as a tactic of political violence.
A recent human rights investigation by the Miami University’s school of law writes: "Haiti’s people churn inside a hurricane of violence. Gunfire crackles, once bustling streets are abandoned to cadavers, and whole neighborhoods are cut off from the outside world. Nightmarish fear now accompanies Haiti’s poorest in their struggle to survive in destitution. Gangs, police, irregular soldiers, and even UN peacekeepers bring fear. There has been no investment in dialogue to end the violence."
- Brian Concannon, director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. He formerly worked at the International Lawyers Office in Haiti, where he has spent the last several years prosecuting crimes committed during the 1991-1994 coup.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now on the phone by Brian Concannon, director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Later, we will hear the words of President Aristide himself, the interview we did with him, as we flew with him back across the Atlantic from the Central African Republic last year, when the delegation brought him back to this hemisphere. But first, we go to Brian Concannon. Welcome to Democracy Now!
BRIAN CONCANNON: Thank you, Amy. It’s good to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk about the latest news out of Haiti?
BRIAN CONCANNON: Well, the latest news is there was some preliminary demonstrations in the last few days. Haitians, despite the repression that you so accurately described, Haitians are almost inconceivably continuing to demonstrate, and mostly non-violently. There’s been a few demonstrations in the last week, and they have met with predictable police violence. There’s been somewhere between 15 and 25 people have been killed by police violence. We’re expecting a lot more demonstrations today, because today’s the closest possible to the anniversary of the coup. The coup happened on a leap year last year, on February 29. But today is the day most people are commemorating, and we’re expecting, unfortunately, a very violent police response. There’s been a lit bit of a violent police response to that. There’s been a little bit of a violent police response. Unfortunately, these days we can now say 15 people killed in a week is a low level response, because it’s going to be much worse today, and it’s been much worse on other days.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what happened this past weekend, about the prison breakout of prisoners?
BRIAN CONCANNON: Yes. The prison breakout, a lot of people have been calling it the immaculate evasion, because there was only about six people who did the attack, and it was a full compliment of prison guards in the prison, some with automatic weapons, and there’s a police station a few blocks away. Despite of all of that, no one responded to the attack. There was absolutely no resistance. 500 people, which is quite a lot of people to move out of a prison, moved out with no response. It’s pretty clear that — it’s not clear exactly who organized the break, it is pretty clear that the prison system is completely dysfunctional. And this is on top of a massacre on December 1 where dozens of people were executed by prison guards, and that has never been investigated. So, it’s obvious as you said that Haiti has spiralled into chaos, and there really — the government really doesn’t have much control over the situation. But one of the interesting things, and one of the signs of hope of this is that several of the political prisoners who escaped, they actually turned themselves in, and despite knowing that they were returning themselves to very difficult conditions, and despite knowing that the Haitian government doesn’t obey the law itself, that they feel free to hold people despite judge’s release orders, despite all that, the political prisoners said, no we believe in the law even if the government doesn’t, and we are going to turn ourselves in and to insist on justice.
AMY GOODMAN: Brian Concannon, in this year since Aristide has been ousted, now living in South Africa, we’re going to go to President Aristide as well as his security guard, his body guard talking about what happened on that night of February 28, February 29 when he says the number two man in the U.S. Embassy came to him and tells the story from there, very much implicating the U.S. government. Can you talk about the relationship between the U.S. government and those who fomented the coup?
BRIAN CONCANNON: They’re very strong. Just the government itself, the U.S. is currently the largest patron and has always been the largest patron of the interim government. There are U.S. advisers everywhere. Every ministry, especially throughout the security apparatus, you have a lot of U.S. advisers. And they’re pretty much running the show, and they’re telling the government what to do, and the government is doing it. Back to some of the people who did the attacks, the leader of the attack was a guy named Guy Philippe, who had been sent to a special U.S. training program in Ecuador at the end of the last coup d’etat in Haiti, the 1991 to 1994 dictatorship. He was the U.S. man in the Haitian police force for several years. He was finally outed after he had been implicated in drug dealing, extra-judicial executions and finally planning a coup d’etat, but when he fled from Haiti, he fled to the Dominican Republic and he was allowed to train pretty openly, there’s many reports saying with U.S. weapons. And he was able to build his force to do this attack. Other people, for instance there was Jodel Chamblain, who was a major leader of the insurgency, and he was the right hand man of Emmanuel Constant. The two of them ran FRAPH, a paramilitary organization that was funded by and founded at the urging of the Central Intelligence Agency.
AMY GOODMAN: Brian Concannon, can you talk further about the lawsuit against Emmanuel Constant that three women have brought, using that issue of rape being used as a tool of political violence and repression?
BRIAN CONCANNON: Sure. Emmanuel Constant was — first, he was convicted in a case that we helped with, the Raboteau Massacre case in Haitian court. He was convicted of murder, but because he has been able to hide in the United States since 1995, he was beyond the reach of the Haitian law. Fortunately, the Center for Justice and Accountability in San Francisco and the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York have filed a lawsuit against Emmanuel Constant on behalf of three victims of sexual assault by FRAPH. And it’s under the law called the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows non-American citizens to sue other non-American citizens, even if the event took place outside of the United States. We have seen those in U.S. courts. There’s been cases against dictators like Ferdinand Marcos, like Prosper Avril, a Haitian dictator, and there — it’s a way of using U.S. courts to get people that are hiding in the United States. The case was filed back in January of this year, and it’s finally an attempt to make Emmanuel Constant at least pay a little bit for his crimes.
AMY GOODMAN: Brian Concannon, I want to thank you very much for being with us, director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, speaking to us from Oregon.