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Exclusive: Aristide and His Bodyguard Describe the U.S. Role In His Ouster

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In a broadcast exclusive, Democracy Now! Aristide goes on camera for the first time to charge the U.S. kidnapped him and overthrew his government. We also broadcast the first interview of his bodyguard Franz Gabriel.

In a moment we will hear Aristide’s detailed description of what transpired the night of the 28th/29th of February when he says he was kidnapped by the US and removed from Haiti.

Before we hear from Aristide, we wanted to go back to those days and listen to how the Bush administration was spinning the ouster.

On March 1, Democracy Now! broke the story that Aristide was directly accusing the US of overthrowing him in a coup, kidnapping him and taking him by force to the Central African Republic. That day US official after US official was asked about Aristide’s charge. Let’s listen to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell and White House Secretary Scott McClellan.

  • Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
  • Secretary of State Colin Powell
  • White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan

In my talks with President Aristide on board the plane Monday, I asked him if he had resigned— as the Bush administration continues to allege.

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: No, I didn’t resign. What some people call “resignation” is a “new coup d’etat,” or “modern kidnapping.”

Because the circumstances under which Aristide was removed from Haiti continue to be a source of great international controversy, we felt we needed to get as comprehensive a version of events as possible from President Aristide. I asked him why he calls his removal from Haiti a coup and a kidnapping.

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: …. they broke the constitutional order by using force to have me out of the country…

AMY GOODMAN: How did it happen?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: I will not go to details. Maybe next time. But as I said, they used force. When you have militaries coming from abroad surrounding your house, taking control of the airport, surrounding the national palace, being in the streets, and take you from your house to put you in the plane where you have to spend 20 hours without knowing where they were going to go with you, without talking about details which I already did somehow in other occasions. It was using force to take an elected president out of his country.

AMY GOODMAN: And was that the U.S. military that took you out?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: There were U.S. military and I suspect it could be also completed with the presence of all the militaries from other countries.

AMY GOODMAN: When they came to your house in the early morning of February 29 was it U.S. military that came?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: There were diplomats, there were U.S. military, there were U.S. people.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did they tell you?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: Well, as I said, I prefer not go into details right now because I already talk about it in details on other occasions. And it’s also opportunities for me to help the people focusing on the results of that kidnapping. They still continue to kill Haitians in Haiti; and Haitians continue to flee Haiti by boa. People and others have to go to hiding, others courageously went to the streets to demonstrate in a peaceful way, asking for my return and when we know what happened to those they killed, we have concerns about what may happen to those who peacefully demonstrate for my return.

AMY GOODMAN: The Bush administration said that when you — after you got on the plane, when you were leaving, you spoke with CARICOM leaders. Is this true?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: They lied. I never had any opportunity from February 28 at night, when this started, to the minute I arrived in CAR. I never had any conversation with anyone from CARICOM within that framework of time.

AMY GOODMAN: How many U.S. military were on the plane with you?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: I cannot know how many were there but I know it’s the plane with 55 seats. Among them we had 19 American agents from Steele Foundation, which is a U. S. company providing security to the President, the First Lady, V. I. P. people, based on an agreement which was signed between the government of Haiti and that U. S. company called the Steele Foundation. So, they put those 19 American agents in that plane and there were five by my side. There were two Haitian ladies, wives of two American agents plus a baby 1 year and a half. The rest they were American militaries.

AMY GOODMAN: Were they dressed in military uniform?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: They were not only dressed in — with their uniform, it was like if they were going to war for the first period of time — on the ground, when we went to the plane. After the plane took off, that’s the way they were. Then they changed, moving from the uniform to other kind of clothes.

AMY GOODMAN: Civilian clothes?


AMY GOODMAN: And did they go with you all the way to the Central African Republic?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: They did, without telling me where they were taking me, without telling me how long it would take us to be there. And the most cynical happened with that baby 1 year and a half old, it was when they — when the father wanted to get out with him, this is what I heard, they told him no. So, that little baby had to spend all this time sitting in a military plane, arriving in CAR, he and his father had to go back with the same plane. So, only God knows the kind of suffering he went through.

AMY GOODMAN: Did these people ever get off the plane in the Central African Republic with all the military and security —

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: I cannot tell you because once I got out of the plane, I was well received by five members — five ministers of the government of President Joseph Bozize. So, being with them at that time, I don’t know how they managed after I left.

AMY GOODMAN: Did the Steele Foundation bring in reinforcements when the situation got more dangerous?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: No, because Saturday night when they came to me. They told me A. ) U. S. officials ordered them to leave and to leave immediately. B. ) The 25 American agents that were supposed to welcome the day after, February 29, to reinforce their team, couldn’t leave the U. S. to join them in Haiti. So that was a very strong message to them and to us.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you repeat that, what were the regulations?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: Please? I don’t get the question?

AMY GOODMAN: Could you repeat that, what happened with the Steele foundation employees? What you just said about the reinforcements?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: I said that Saturday 29—, 28 at night when they came to me, they told me that, A. ) they ordered them to leave and immediately. B.) the day after, February 29, they were supposed to welcome another team of 25 American agents to reinforce them on the ground and U.S. officials prevented those 25 to leave the United States to go to Haiti to join them.

AMY GOODMAN: And that’s what the Steele Foundation told you?


AMY GOODMAN: Did they say why the U.S. said that?

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: Well, I didn’t go through the details with them. But it was obvious in my mind that was part of the global plan. The global plan was to kidnap me, coup d’etat, of course that presented one piece of the picture.

I also had a chance to speak with another person who witnessed firsthand the events of that night. He is Franz Gabriel, Aristide’s personal bodyguard and security aide. I spoke with him in a wing of the presidential palace near where the Aristides were being held and where they were meeting with the delegation that came to escort them back to the Caribbean. Gabriel provided further details on the role of the United States in Arisitide’s removal, in particular the role of the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Haiti, Luis Moreno. Peter Eisner of the Washington Post was also in the room. During the interview, Gabriel’s mobile telephone rang many times. I began by asking Franz Gabriel to describe his last night in Haiti.

FRANZ GABRIEL: Well I was at the house at 5:00 a.m., when I saw some U.S. personnel from the Embassy, of which I recognized Mr. Moreno. They came in to tell the president that they were going to organize a press conference at the embassy, and told him to be ready to accompany them. The president called Mildred, and we bored the vehicles to go to the Embassy, we rode to the Embassy. As we were heading towards the Embassy, passing the airport, we ended up making a right inside the airport, and that’s when I realized that we were not going to the Embassy. PETER EISNER: [inaudible] also thought he was going to a press conference at the embassy?

FRANZ GABRIEL: Yes. That’s what Mr. Moreno had invited him to do. And as we were at end of the runway threshold, we saw a plane pull in, and just parked there. And then we saw some military personnel.

AMY GOODMAN: What was the press conference supposed to be about?

FRANZ GABRIEL: The press conference was probably going to be about his leaving of power.

AMY GOODMAN: Whether he would leave power?

FRANZ GABRIEL: Whether he would leave power, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: So what happened when you saw the plane, what happened next?

FRANZ GABRIEL: Well, I saw deployment of U.S. Marines everywhere. And that’s when I realized that, you know, it was something serious. I saw a white plane with a U.S. flag at the tail of the aircraft, and it looked strange because it was no markings on it. And as the plane stopped, they had us board — everybody boarded the plane. And all the Steele Foundation agents that were in contract with the government to give the president security, boarded the plane also.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you with the Steele Foundation?

FRANZ GABRIEL: No, I’m not with Steele, I was with President Aristide. And they all boarded the plane. They sat us down and didn’t tell us where we were going. And then they closed the door. Didn’t even want us to pull the shades up. We just sat there and waited. They started down and then we just — they close up the gate of the plane, and then we took off.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you know where you were going?

FRANZ GABRIEL: No, we never knew where we were going.

AMY GOODMAN: And how long —

FRANZ GABRIEL: When we landed in Antigua, this is what they told us, we landed in Antigua. And in Antigua, we — they told us that there is a possibility that we might be going to South Africa. But the person that was relating the information, was relating it to one of the Steele Foundation agents. And I overheard it when he said it. As we were sitting down, they started take our names down. And they asked the Steele Foundation people where, you know, where they were going.

PETER EISNER: Who is “they?”

FRANZ GABRIEL: The guys that were part of the coup on the airplane.

PETER EISNER: They didn’t identify themselves?

FRANZ GABRIEL: Well, they boarded the plane dressed as military. As soon as they boarded the plane, they changed clothes. They were, you know, they had baseball hats and regular civilian clothes. They no longer appeared as military.

AMY GOODMAN: And they were who? Who were these people that changed their clothes?

FRANZ GABRIEL: Well, they boarded the plane. You know, they were dressed in full military gear.

AMY GOODMAN: U.S. Military?


AMY GOODMAN: And so you left Antigua, overhearing that you might be going to South Africa, but not knowing.

FRANZ GABRIEL: Yes. I left Antigua thinking that we might be going to South Africa because that’s what they said. As we were on the plane, we landed in an island called Asuncion Island, and that’s when they told us that South Africa would not accept us, and that they didn’t know where we were going because they didn’t have a country that would accept us. So, therefore…

AMY GOODMAN: Had the president applied to these countries?

FRANZ GABRIEL: The president didn’t even know where he was going…

You are listening to Franz Gabriel, President Aristide’s personal bodyguard. Peter Eisner of the Washington Post — the only other journalist on the plane with the delegation–asked Gabriel whether President Aristide agreed to resign the night of his departure from Haiti. He asked about reports that Aristide handed a resignation letter to the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Haiti, Luis Moreno. Gabriel says he saw no such exchange and that it didn’t happen in front of him. Aristide has maintained that he did write a message in Creole that the US says was his letter of resignation but that it was mistranslated in English to make it appear as if he resigned.

AMY GOODMAN: The president calls it a kidnapping. Do you agree with him?

FRANZ GABRIEL: I would say so. I would say that it is a kidnapping.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you have — you talked about the U.S. presence at the airport taking him to the airport. What were the other evidences of U.S. involvement?

FRANZ GABRIEL: Well, a plane that shows up at quarter to sixin the morning, out of nowhere, you know the tower is not even open, there’s a big flag in the middle of the fence, a big U.S. flag over the fence. A big plane, you know, coming in at quarter to six in the morning, shows that you know, there’s some kind of involvement.

AMY GOODMAN: How many U.S. military left with you on the plane?


AMY GOODMAN: How many security?


AMY GOODMAN: Are they all U.S.?


AMY GOODMAN: So, there were 38 with security and military?

FRANZ GABRIEL: Mm-hmm. And there’s some Steele guys had their wives with them. And a baby that was probably a year old.

AMY GOODMAN: So they figured this out very fast, to get to the airplane and get their families to the airport. How did they get their families to the airport?

FRANZ GABRIEL: Well, it happened very fast because somehow — between the U.S. Embassy, and some of the Steel guys, there was some communication.

AMY GOODMAN: So they knew before the President, that the President was being taken to the airport?

FRANZ GABRIEL: Yes. That is the only thing I can…

AMY GOODMAN: And what happened to everyone? Did they all come here?

FRANZ GABRIEL: They all came here and left.

Aristide’s bodyguard Franz Gabriel speaking in the presidential palace in Bangui. On the flight back from the CAR, President Aristide spoke about what he says was a US-orchestrated coup and kidnapping, I asked Aristide why he believes the US wanted him gone.

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: If you ask the US the question, they would answer you. I can have opinions, but I will not answer for them. For instance, we are the first black independent country in the world. We just celebrated 200 years of independence last January 1st. Despite of that, we still have 1.5 doctors for each 11,000 Haitians. And, of course, I understood we had to invest in education. We had to invest in health care. Despite of an economic embargo they imposed upon us, I did my best, and we founded a university, whose faculty of medicine already had 247 medical students. Once the marines arrived in Haiti, they put those 247 medical students out, they seized the classroom, the campus; and that’s where you find soldiers, where you should have medical students. So, it’s to say, if I look at the picture, which is horrible, I can think once you want to invest in education, in health care, those who want to invest in killing democracy, in bloodshed, they don’t accept you as an elected president. We had 32 coup d’etats, plus the last one, 33, in our 200 years of independence. Our goal was to move not from coup d’etat to coup d’etat anymore, but from elections to elections. Free, fair and democratic elections. That wasn’t their goal. They went back to coup d’etat.

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