Several thousand demonstrators clashed with supporters of Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide this weekend as they marched through the streets of the capital Port-au-Prince. We speak with Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) about what role the U.S. is playing in the current events in the country. [includes transcript]
In Haiti, anti-government gangs and militias are working with opposition groups and former army officers in an effort to overthrow the government of Jean Bertrand Aristide. There is concern that Washington is once again working behind the scenes to foment a coup.
For weeks, Haiti has seen armed gangs attacking government forces and supporters in various towns and cities across the country. Pro-government supporters have been defending Aristide. There have been a series of armed battles that have resulted in at least 40 deaths. Haiti has no army and has a dwindling police force numbering only a few thousand.
On Sunday, several thousand demonstrators clashed with Aristide supporters as they marched through the streets of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Police used tear gas to keep the two sides apart.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yvon Neptune told the BBC that the government planned to launch an attack to regain control of Gonaives, the fourth-largest city in Haiti. Anti-government gangs are thought to control about 11 towns and cities across the country.
- * Rep. Maxine Waters*, Democratic Congresswoman from California serving in her seventh term. She is the Chief Deputy Whip of the Democratic Party and serves as Co-Chair of the House Democratic Steering Committee. She is the former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. She recently returned from Haiti.
AMY GOODMAN: We are joined on the telephone right now by congress member Maxine Waters who is from Los Angeles serving in her seventh term. She is Chief Deputy Whip of the Democratic Party. Co-chair of the House Democratic Steering Committee and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. She has just returned from Haiti. Welcome to Democracy Now!
MAXINE WATERS: Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. What is your assessment of what’s happening?
MAXINE WATERS: Well, I think the introduction that you just made is basically correct. We have somewhat of a crisis there, where you have this opposition that is supported, I believe, by Mr. Noriega in the state department, and others who have always had their hands in the politics of Haiti. Who are trying to oust the president. And these so-called peaceful marches are not peaceful. They are creating the violence, and Aristide is being blamed for the violence that’s being created by— bye Andy Apaid and the so-called committee group of 184. Gonaives is an important place in Haiti and it has been under the control of these thugs that have been supported by F.R.A.P. And also some of the opposition that claims not to be violent. And the president is going to have to do something about it. He cannot just allow these thugs and the opposition to take over these cities and towns. He has been very patient. He has asked them to put down their guns. He has asked the opposition to come to the table. They have refused, despite the fact that everybody has gotten behind the Caricom Proposal as a way to bring people to the table, but Andy Apaid and the group of 184 refuse to negotiate. So, the president has no choice but to try and stabilize Gonaives and some of these areas, and to get the thugs out, and to try to get the United States to stop this backing of these thugs and this opposition. He needs some help. The police department force is down to about 3,000 or more, and that’s a country of over 8 million, about 8 million people. So, the United States, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, O.E.S., people should sit down and honestly try and be of assistance to Haiti. It’s a very unfortunate situation.
AMY GOODMAN: What evidence do you have that the U.S. Government is supporting the anti-Aristide forces?
MAXINE WATERS: Well, I guess a few days ago there was an article that appeared in "The New York Times" with a so-called anonymous — someone in the State Department having, you know, sent a trial balloon up saying that something was going to have to be done in Haiti, and it was possible that the State Department could support the ouster. Well, not only did you see that kind of a statement coming out of the State Department, I noticed that each of the releases that they had done over the past several weeks kept suggesting that everything that was going on, all of the problems were the fault of the president, and they were literally giving out misinformation. Well, Mr. Noriega, of course, was the chief of staff to Senator Jesse Helms, who was basically a Haiti — well, hated Haiti, and they have always worked against Haiti, and Mr. Noriega, is now in charge of that policy. And I think it’s because of him — I really believe it’s because of him that these statements keep coming out of the State Department, and I think that Colin Powell was focused on Afghanistan and Iraq, and I have been communicating with him recently, and I have asked him to pay more attention. I have talked to him about Andy Apaid, who is leading the group of 184. And the Latest statement from him that came out of the state department was much more balanced. I am hopeful that he will move Noriega out of the way so that we can get behind the Caricom proposal and try to make sense out of it and give help. It appears that that’s the direction that Colin Powell is moving in.
AMY GOODMAN: We know the history of the United States in the previous coup in Haiti. Aristide forced out for three years, 1991 to 1994. It turned out that the leader of the paramilitary death squad, the F.R.A.P.P, Emmanuel Constance was on the payroll of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and as President Clinton was saying we have to go off the murderers and the rapists and thugs in Haiti, justifying why the U.S. was moving in. It turned out on his own government’s payroll was the leader that he was talking about. And now he walks free in the United States, most likely here in New York in Queens.
MAXINE WATERS: Yes, that is true. He is on the streets of New York. And that sad history is a history that we in America have within ashamed of. Not only have we supported dictators in Haiti, Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier. The C.I.A. has always had a hand. And we’ve had people like Constance on the payroll. I really believe that despite the fact that we worked very, very hard to get President Clinton involved in Haiti, and supporting the return of President Aristide to Haiti, as someone said yesterday, the job was not finished. What we did was simply put him back there, but we have allowed the embargo against Haiti to literally choke that country, not only has he not gotten the support from the State Department, the World Bank, removed itself, basically, from Haiti. It took us years to get the I.D.B. to pay attention, and to appropriate the dollars that had supported for Haiti, and still that money has not gotten to the government. They’re still waiting on certain conditions to be met. So, president Clinton, even though he certainly did do the right thing, we should have stayed longer. In support of Haiti. We should have given more support to the training, and development and expansion of the police force, and so, the job was just half done. They’re at great risk now.
AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Maxine Waters, I was wondering if you would stay on the line with us as we head even further south from Haiti to Venezuela, looking to see if there are any connections when it comes to U.S. Policy towards these two countries.