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2005-04-21

Haiti’s Aristide Calls For His Restoration to Power

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We hear excerpts from a rare public appearance by ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. We also talk to Rep. Maxine Waters and Kate Orlovsky, student director at the Hastings Human Rights Project for Haiti. The group has just filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Haiti’s former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune. [includes rush transcript]

Ousted Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide held a rare press conference Tuesday in South Africa where he is living in exile. He maintained that he is still the elected president of Haiti despite being ousted 13 months ago in what he calls a modern-day kidnapping in the service of a coup d’etat backed by the United States. During the press conference, Aristide addressed the continued violence and repression in Haiti.

  • Jean-Bertrand Aristide, ousted president of Haiti speaking at a news conference in South Africa on April 19, 2005

Meanwhile, law students at the University of California, Hastings, along with Haitian and U.S. attorneys, have filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Haiti’s former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune. Neptune was jailed in June 2004 and has yet to see a judge in his case.

We are joined on line now by one of the students who filed the petition, Kate Orlovsky. She is the Student Director of the Hastings Human Rights Project for Haiti. And in our Washington DC studio, we have Democratic Congressmember Maxine Waters of California.

  • Kate Orlovsky, Student Director at the Hastings Human Rights Project for Haiti.
  • 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 Caribbean.

Transcript

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

JUAN GONZALEZ: Ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide held a rare press conference Tuesday in South Africa where is he living in exile. He maintained that he is still the elected president of Haiti, despite being ousted 13 months ago in what he calls a modern day kidnapping in the service of a coup d’etat backed by the United States. During the press conference, Aristide addressed the continued violence and repression in Haiti.

JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: Today in 2005, who can expect free, fair and democratic elections in Haiti with thousands of Lavalas in jail, exile and hiding? To repair the tragic mistake of the February 2004 kidnapping and coup d’etat and reverse the disastrous events that it unleashed, the following steps must be taken. One, thousands of Lavalas who are in jail and in exile must be free to return home. Two, the repression that has already killed over 10,000 people must end immediately. Three, then there must be national dialogue. Four, free, fair and democratic elections must be organized in an environment where the huge majority of Haitian people is neither excluded nor repressed as they have been up until today. The continued peaceful demonstrations calling for my return and the restoration of constitutional order must be heard. Racism should not maintain a black holocaust in Haiti, where African descendants proclaimed their independence 200 years ago. What an historic paradigm for all nations.

AMY GOODMAN: Ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, speaking in a rare news conference Tuesday in South Africa, where he is in exile. Meanwhile, law students at the University of California, Hastings, along with Haitian and U.S. attorneys, have filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Haiti’s former prime minister, Yvon Neptune. Neptune was jailed in June 2004 and has yet to see a judge in his case. We’re now joined by one of the students who filed that petition, Kate Orlovsky. She is the student director of the Hastings Human Rights Project for Haiti. And in our Washington, D.C. studio, we are joined by democratic Congress member Maxine Waters of California. And we welcome you both to Democracy Now! We want to begin —

REP. MAXINE WATERS: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Good to have you with us. Congress member Waters, what is the significance of this news conference that President Aristide has held?

REP. MAXINE WATERS: First of all, I am so pleased to have had President Aristide hold this press conference. It shows that he is still focused on his homeland, that he believes in free and fair elections. He is calling for the return of those Haitians in exile. He is basically laying out the kind environment that must exist in order for — to have democracy in Haiti.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Congress member, I’d like to ask you, in terms of — the Bush administration had said, before the coup against President Aristide, had said that Haiti was in virtual chaos, yet we have seen actually since the coup increases in killings and political murders and jailings. What’s your reaction to the aftermath now over the last year?

REP. MAXINE WATERS: Well, first of all, this administration does not care about Haiti. That coup d’etat was plotted and planned with Noriega, from this administration, and Andy Apaid, who heads a Group of 184, and people who have a interest, monetary interests in Haiti, that want to protect cheap labor, the ability to run those factories again for little or no money paid to the Haitians there, to ship those goods here and across Europe for profits. And so, this administration not only has not cared, it has been proven that President Aristide, despite the fact he did not get the assistance from the international community that was promised, was doing a pretty darn good job of holding that country together. Since he has been gone, it has been nothing but chaos and mayhem and murder, the killing of Lavalas members. It is absolutely chaotic in Haiti since they drove him out of office.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined on the phone by Kate Orlovsky of the Hastings Human Rights Project for Haiti at the University of California, Hastings. Can you talk about what you have filed with the international body, Commission on Human Rights?

KATE ORLOVSKY: Sure. What we have filed is a commission on behalf of Mr. Neptune that charges the interim government of Haiti with violations of the Haitian Constitution and the American Convention on Human Rights, specifically the violation of his right to humane treatment and his right to personal liberty and his right to a fair trial. And because only states can bring cases before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, this petition asks the Commission to bring the case on behalf of Mr. Neptune, and it also makes an urgent request for provisional measures based on grave threats to his life.

AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Waters, you visited Yvon Neptune in the national penitentiary just a few weeks ago, the former Prime Minister of Haiti. Can you talk about his condition?

REP. MAXINE WATERS: Yes. I was very, very concerned after visiting with him. He was weak. He spoke barely above a whisper. He was very thin, and I thought he was sinking into depression. I was afraid that should he remain in that penitentiary, he would certainly die, and I think that’s what this interim government wanted to happen. And I was very pleased that I was able to bring attention to his condition, and he was moved to the hospital where now he has a chance of living. I’m just delighted about this lawsuit that is being filed by these students. I think this is very much needed, and it may go a long way toward not only continuing to help save his life, but perhaps freeing him; but of course, if he is freed, his life will be in danger. This government must take responsibility for helping to normalize Haiti, to helping to get rid of the violence in Haiti. The U.N. must take responsibility. The United States, Canada, and France, all who supported the coup d’etat must take responsibility to normalize Haiti, to get rid of this violence, and to open the way to fair and free elections.

AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Waters, we’d like to ask you to stay with us. We have to go to break for 60 seconds.

REP. MAXINE WATERS: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Waters, in the studio in Washington, recently visited the former Prime Minister of Haiti, Yvon Neptune, in prison in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking about the latest situation in Haiti with Congress member Maxine Waters of California who has championed this issue for over the last year since the Aristides were ousted from power on February 29, 2004. President Aristide, saying from the place that he was flown off to, the Central African Republic by — with the U.S. military and security, saying he was the victim of a modern kidnapping in the service of a coup d’etat backed by the United States. We’re also joined on the line by Kate Orlovsky of the Hastings Human Rights Project for Haiti, a student who has filed a petition on behalf of the ousted Prime Minister, Yvon Neptune, who’s in prison in Haiti right now, has been there since June 2004. Congress member Waters, has Yvon Neptune ever seen a judge?

REP. MAXINE WATERS: No. As a matter of fact, he’s not been formally charged. These trumped up charges by the Minister of Justice and Latortue, the puppet leader of Haiti, are just that, they’re trumped up charges with no — no basis for him being jailed. No facts. They simply accuse him of having been in a location where, following his having been there, after he left, supposedly some killings took place. Even that, whether or not people were killed, is in question. So, no, he’s not been able to have an attorney. Nor has he been formally charged. It’s just an absolute outrage.

JUAN GONZALEZ: What about the role of the United Nations in Haiti, the peacekeepers that are in there, and the possibility for any kind of elections that would be fair and democratic occurring in the country under these conditions?

REP. MAXINE WATERS: Well, I think that the U.N. troops are just now beginning to exercise some authority. I think that the mission was unclear, that they did not have clear direction. For most of the time that they’ve been there, they’ve had a hands-off policy mostly on the violence that was going on. Recently, they’ve started to exercise more authority, and I’m very pleased that they helped to provide some security for me when I went there, along with the ambassador who helped to provide security for me to get to the penitentiary. But we’ve got to be clear about what their charge is and what their mission is. They’ve got to be directed by the U.N.; but certainly, this country is not ready for any elections at this point and will not be for a long time to come. So, I am not at all enthusiastic about the so-called planning that is going on, planning in the absence of a clear-cut plan to make sure that the violence is gotten rid of just doesn’t make any sense to me.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back for a minute to our guest on the telephone from University of California, Hastings. Why you got involved with this? Why this group of students from U.C. Hastings are involved?

KATE ORLOVSKY: Well, the reason that we got involved, first of all, there are a number of students who wanted to gain practical experience in international human rights, and second, we have as a school a relationship with Haiti. There are a number of us who have just returned from Haiti. We went there in March on a totally different matter, but to participate in an academic conference with a law school there, and Hastings has had this relationship with this law school in Haiti for about five years now. And so, there is a personal connection there with the students and with the professors, and a lot of us feel very strongly about the country and about what happens there. And then the third thing that really made this possible was the support of Brian Concannon and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, and Brian is a human rights attorney who I think you’re probably familiar with, and the Institute for Justice and Democracy is doing some of the best work along with the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux in Port-Au-Prince on behalf of political prisoners in Haiti. So, Brian was willing to work with us, and he has been — We absolutely could not have done this without him and without the support of our professors. So they’ve all made it possible for us.

AMY GOODMAN: Last question for Congress member Waters: What are you doing about this in Congress? Is the Congressional Black Caucus involved at all?

MAXINE WATERS: Well, we always have been involved at every point of trying to make sure that we disseminate information about what is going on. The most difficult problem has been, we don’t get good press reports out of Haiti; and so trying to keep the members of Congress informed, the American public informed, has been a very difficult challenge and a very difficult chore. I continue to stay in touch with the ambassador there. I write letters to the State Department now to Condoleezza Rice. I kind of stay on the case, and I keep them reminded at all times that I’m watching, I’m working, I’m looking. I stay connected with CARICOM. I stay connected with President Aristide and people like Brian Concannon, and we hold meetings from time to time here in Congress. And we try to make sure that the truth is told. So, we continue to work in every way that we possibly can to try and bring real democracy to Haiti —

AMY GOODMAN: Congress —

MAXINE WATERS: — and to try and get — Yes?

AMY GOODMAN: I just wanted to thank you very much for being with us.

MAXINE WATERS: You’re welcome.

AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Maxine Waters speaking to us from Washington, D.C., and Kate Orlovsky of the Hastings Human Rights Project for Haiti in California. We wanted to turn for a moment, Juan, to a piece you did in the New York Daily News, to a local issue that involves Haitian students in New York. Can you tell us what happened just a few week ago?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. Well, I reported last week that about a month ago at a public school in Queens, New York, there was an incident that has really outraged the very large Haitian community here in New York in that in a public school, you know, a normal fight broke out between a couple of Haitian students who were in a bilingual class, and there was an incredible reaction by a local assistant principle there, who basically tried to punish all 13 Haitian children in this class by having them sit on the floor of the school cafeteria during lunchtime in front of all of the other students, eat their chicken and rice lunch with their fingers, not allowing them to have any utensils, and then told them, "They treat you like animals in Haiti, and that’s how I’m going to treat you here." According to several of the students who were basically stunned, and several broke out crying, asking just to be able to get utensils to eat their food, and the parents then went to the principal, who attempted apparently, according to them, to cover the whole incident up. And it’s created quite a furor now as parents throughout Queens and the Haitian leaders throughout the city are demanding that the school’s chancellor fire both the principal, who tried to cover up the situation, and the assistant principal, who actually instituted this bizarre punishment of these children. And it’s touched a nerve in the Haitian community because so many have felt over the years that their children are not being properly dealt with in the public schools. So, it remains to be seen exactly how the chancellor will deal with the situation.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, today, there is another protest that is going to be held in front of P.S. 34 from 2:00 to 4:00, and we’ll let people know what happens as a result of this story.

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