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2011-03-22

Long Night’s Journey into Day: Democracy Now!’s Exclusive Interview with Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide

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Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his family returned to Haiti last week for the first time since a 2004 U.S.-backed coup forced him out of office. A 2005 U.S. State Department cable recently released by the online whistleblowing website WikiLeaks recounts how U.S. and French diplomats threatened to block several Caribbean countries and South Africa’s seating on the U.N. Security Council, unless South Africa kept Aristide in exile. This time, President Obama called South African President Jacob Zuma to tell him not to fly the Aristides home to Haiti. South Africa refused to comply. In a Democracy Now! broadcast exclusive, Amy Goodman was there on Aristide’s flight from exile. Today, part two of her conversation on the flight with Aristide as the plane approached Haiti. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his family flew back to Haiti last week after seven years in exile. In a Democracy Now! exclusive, I was on the plane from South Africa through Dakar, Senegal, to the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. Aristide was forced out of office in a U.S.-backed coup in 2004 — February 29th, 2004, to be exact — in the early morning hours when the number two man in the U.S. embassy came to the Aristides’ home in Tabarre in Haiti, and he and his wife were hustled off onto a white plane with an American flag with U.S. military and security and flown off to the Central African Republic, eventually settling in South Africa after they tried to return to this hemisphere with the Bush administration threatening that they were not to return to the Western hemisphere. The U.S. ambassador in Haiti at the time, Foley, saying they were not to come within 150 miles of Haiti, so they went to South Africa.

Once President Aristide was gone, the U.S. made every effort to ensure he would not return to Haiti. A 2005 U.S. State Department cable recently released by the WikiLeaks recounts how U.S. and French diplomats threatened to block several Caribbean countries’ and South Africa’s seating on the U.N. Security Council unless South African President Thabo Mbeki, at the time, kept Aristide in exile in South Africa. The leaked cables also revealed how the French plotted to obstruct Aristide’s return flight from South Africa.

Well, this time, President Obama called South African President Zuma last week to personally tell him not to fly the Aristides home to Haiti. South Africa refused to bow to pressure.

Today we bring you the second part of our global broadcast exclusive interview with former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide as we flew over the Atlantic, approaching his country, Haiti.

AMY GOODMAN: Your country was the first black republic in the world, Haiti. It was born of a slave uprising. The U.S. has had a troubled relationship for decades after the republic of Haiti was established, because they were afraid it would inspire slaves in the United States. They didn’t want to recognize Haiti. Can you talk about that relationship and Haiti’s history?

JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: The U.S. waited for 58 years before recognizing our independence. It’s a long time. But I also realize that many Americans understood what was going on, and Americans who understood are good friends of Haiti. They may not have power to change what is bad to make it good, but at least they disagree with what is bad.

The only thing that Haiti is asking for is to have a relationship with whoever you are, whatever the country, rooted in mutual respect. That’s Haiti, a country where the people respect others and want to be respected. Once we have that relationship rooted in mutual respect, many things will be different. That’s what we are looking for; that’s what we always wanted. We don’t want the others to respect us, and just that. No, we are committed to respect them while we want them to respect us — mutual respect, that’s all. If the relationship between the U.S. and Haiti can be rooted in mutual respect, Americans will benefit, Haitians will benefit, the future generation on both sides will have a better environment. That’s all.

AMY GOODMAN: Haiti was the first black republic in the world. In the United States, the first African American president was elected, President Barack Obama. Do you have anything you’d like to say to him?

JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: I think in the future we will see what can be said. For the moment, we say what is linked to my return.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you ever think this day would come in these seven years?

JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: I always knew that it would come. You never can destroy the collective will of the Haitian people. You can crush them for a while, but not forever. Look at what happened. Seven years ago, look what happened. But the Haitian people never give up. Peacefully, they continue to ask for the return of their collective dignity. Democratic principles must be respected. That’s the will of the people. They never give up. Without weapons, without economic power, with the good will, good faith convictions, democratic principles, they continue to work for that day. This is hope. This is collective hope. This is collective dignity.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s remarkable is really the whole movement, that grows like a wave, that swept you into the office of the president, Lavalas, with more than 90 percent of the people voting, was very much in response to what — to the Duvalier years, from Papa Doc to Baby Doc Duvalier, the repression, the brutality, the corruption. And so, to have him return and now to have you return is a very, to say the least, unusual circumstance.

JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: I understand that when you believe in what you are doing, when what you are doing is rooted in conviction, and when these convictions are rooted in equality, values, human values such as freedom, freedom for all, you are strong, and even stronger than people would think. That’s the Haitian people.

Let’s just remember that Haitians have a country which cannot produce food enough for 10 million people, actually. Agriculture represented 27 percent of our GDP. When — even before I was born in 1953, at that time, 1950, they said eight percent of the Haitian people were living in the cities. Now we have 35 percent of all living in the cities. So, instead of having agriculture in the countryside, where people producing could feed themselves and protect their dignity, we have the opposite: people living in cities, where they don’t find work with dignity, and misery is becoming more and more worse.

My point is, this economic disaster didn’t destroy the human values of the Haitian people, neither their dreams — not foolish dream, but dream of freedom for all, justice for all, food for all, education for all, health for all. Those are like a model, driving the Haitian people, moving forward despite of catastrophes, political catastrophes. But fortunately, the people know what is good for them. Earlier, I said you only need to include them and not exclude them. Once the people are included in the collective process, their voice will be heard, and dramatic good changes will happen.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you return now to Haiti, not as president, but as a resident —

JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: Exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: — of Haiti.

JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: A simple citizen. Happy to be simple citizen, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Yet, for decades, for more than 20 years, you have been a leading political figure, a leader in the country. So, what do you say to the people in Haiti who are looking to your leadership in that way?

JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: Before being a president, years ago, I was serving the people as the priest. Becoming a president, I always said, I have to continue serving. There is no dichotomy between serving a people as a priest or serving the people as a president. Now, as a simple citizen, I will continue to serve, putting myself at their service. That’s what I always wanted, and it’s happening. So I enjoy, I enjoy.

AMY GOODMAN: Your mother and your father, who were they?

JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: My dad passed away when I was only three months old. And my mom is actually 89, ready to go back to Haiti, because she’s living in Florida with her daughter, who is my sister. So, I guess she’s excited, because she will be able to see me before she dies. That’s what she often said: "I want to see you before I die." Now, she will see me. But she should not die now.

AMY GOODMAN: And your safety in Haiti and the safety of your family, how do you — what do you need to feel safe there?

JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: People may not understand me when I say I feel bad to address the issue of my security without addressing the issue of the security of the Haitian people. But those who understand what I mean, by seeing the conditions of living in Haiti, they will understand. That means, yes, I care about my security, I care about the security of my children, so we have to be careful to not expose ourselves when it’s not necessary, to not take the risk when we should protect the children, when they are children. But at the same time, if I have full security and I enjoy it and I feel comfortable, while people don’t have food, I will be disturbed, and I have to be disturbed, because the majority of the Haitian people are living with one — less than one dollar a day. That means every day they are facing a kind of life where we cannot see any kind of safety. Living with less than one dollar a day, that means — it’s terrible.

Sometimes some people may hear about being hungry, but they don’t understand that, because they always have food. Once you understand what does that mean for a father of the family or a mother, who have children and who cannot put the bread on the table — they leave the house, go out to look for bread, and they came back — or come back without a piece of bread, it’s a tragedy. And that tragedy, it’s not far away from us. It’s on a daily basis among us, within millions of people. So, safety for me, it’s important, I know it, but at the same time, I link it to the safety of the Haitian people.

AMY GOODMAN: And forgive me for referring to the United States over and over, but as an American reporter, seeing the relationship with Haiti, I think it’s very important to understand a Haitian perspective on the United States. In 1991, you were ousted in a U.S.-backed coup. In 2004, the same. Yet, in both cases, you have now returned. The first time, you returned as president after three years. Now you’re returning after seven, but not without the United States putting up a mighty fight. The former State Department spokesperson sent out a tweet that said, "Haiti must look forward, not back," because he didn’t want you to return. And President Obama called President Zuma to not have you come back, to not fly you back into Haiti. Yet, in every case, you have prevailed.

JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: I never saw my return the first time and the second time as a kind of victory of someone. But I think truth is always fighting against lying. Light is always fighting against darkness. When you embrace truth and you want to avoid lies, you are moving the right way, and you feel that you are happy because you are on the good side, the side of the truth, the side of light. We don’t have a problem if someone one day doesn’t see light or truth. The problem is, if you decide to stay in darkness, lying, then that makes a huge difference. This, too, could happen. It means darkness. It means lying.

The return is happening. Twice, it means truth, light. Those who knew that a people couldn’t vote for a president and then crush, denying their rights, those who fought for the return based on these democratic principles are the people who can help others who embrace lies or darkness, not as a way to say, "We are good, you are bad." No, "You didn’t see the light. You can see it. That’s fine. Let’s embrace light. Let’s embrace truth. And together, let’s move to make the world a better place," because once the world is rooted in truth, in light, millions and millions of people will see good things happening in their own life, because we have too many people lying, too many people embracing darkness.

AMY GOODMAN: Some newspapers in the United States have said two despots returning: Jean-Claude Duvalier and Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: This is lying. This is darkness. That’s what I was saying. And some people, when they lie, they are paid to lie. You cannot prevent them to lie, because they want to lie, and they are paid to lie. Unfortunately, many others who enjoy embracing the truth, they know the difference between light and darkness.

AMY GOODMAN: When you first became president, you called for an increase in the minimum wage.

JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Many wondered if that was part of why you were ousted for three years by —

JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: It was part of it. It was part of it, if you allow me to say. It was part of it, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Why?

JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: Because some people want to impose neocolonialism. And by neocolonialism, they want Haitians to work for nothing or pennies. And when the people elect a president, a government, to accompany them in a democratic way, to make changes in their life, then they oppose that. And it’s not only in Haiti where we have people opposing the rights of workers. And I do believe we did it because it was right. We should not have modern slavery. We should replace democracy by neocolonialism. So, I am happy that we tried to do what we were supposed to do, rooted in principle, democratic principle.

AMY GOODMAN: President Clinton apologized to Haiti, saying the U.S. had followed the wrong route when it came to dumping rice, for example, wiping out the farmers of Haiti and imposing U.S. rice on the country.

JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: Well, it was wrong, that policy. Now, if there is an apology, we must see the opposite of what was done.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see that happening, the opposite?

JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: I will be watching closer to make an assessment.

AMY GOODMAN: Your final comment, as I see we’re coming ever closer to Port-au-Prince, as I see we’re coming ever closer to your country, Haiti?

JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: Love for the people. Love for Haiti. This is the way out, through love.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you very much, Mr. President.

JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: Thank you. And thank you for making it twice.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, speaking on board the plane that would bring him and his family back to Haiti from South Africa after seven years in exile. You can read the transcript, watch and listen to it online at democracynow.org, the full interview at our website. When we come back, we turn to the former first lady, Mildred Aristide.

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