Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his family were flown on Friday by the South African government back to their home in Haiti after seven years in exile. Just before their journey, President Obama called South African President Jacob Zuma to try to prevent the trip. But the South African government said it would not bow to pressure, so the Aristides boarded the flight in Johannesburg on Thursday night. Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman was the only reporter to join them on the journey. This is part one of our global broadcast exclusive conversation with Aristide as he flew over the Atlantic Ocean approaching Haiti. “If we decide to go back, when we had an army of 7,000 soldiers controlling 40 percent of the national budget, that would mean we are headed back to misery instead of doing something to move from that misery to poverty with dignity,” Aristide says. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his family were flown by the South African government back to their home in Haiti after seven years in exile. Earlier last week, just before their journey, President Obama called South African President Zuma to try to prevent the trip. The South African government said they would not bow to pressure. And so, the Aristides boarded the flight in Johannesburg that the South African government provided, and on Thursday night they left for Haiti.
In this Democracy Now! exclusive, I was there on the journey through Dakar, Senegal, to refuel, the only reporter on that flight. Today we bring you the first part of our global broadcast exclusive conversation with the former Haitian president as we flew over the Atlantic approaching Haiti.
AMY GOODMAN: President Aristide, it’s an historic day for you, as we are about to land in Port-au-Prince. You are ending seven days of exile — seven years of exile in South Africa. What are your thoughts as we come closer to your country?
JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: I’m sure that the Haitian people are celebrating an historic day, an historic day for themselves, which includes myself. They always said, "Dignity, dignity, dignity." This day brings dignity to them, to the country. When we remember the conditions of our forefathers when they were brought from Africa to Haiti, which was slavery, so no freedom, and they fought to have freedom. Today, the celebration of dignity is also a reflection of freedom, freedom in the mind and the heart, before we have freedom all over the world.
AMY GOODMAN: The significance of the bridging of these two countries, Haiti and South Africa? You met with President Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, while you were there?
JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: We met several times. And the first time we met was when he came out of prison, before the elections took place in 1994 [inaudible] in the U.S., and then I went to South Africa for his inauguration. From that day to today, he remains a great man, not only for South Africa, for Africa and African descendants, but for everybody — a man of dignity who fought for freedom.
AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now! was in Haiti the last year, and I was also there in 1995, when you returned to Haiti after the first coup, and remember hearing the news that you were going to dissolve the military. There’s discussion now of restoring the military. What are your thoughts about that?
JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: Well, I can, as I said, from my position as a simple citizen, investing in education, continue to talk about human rights. If you are a police, you respect the rights of the people, and the people respect your rights, as well, because you are a human being. With a police force, respecting the rights of the Haitian people, ones who are moving, slowly but surely, from misery to dignity — to poverty with dignity — that was a very slow move, from misery to poverty with dignity. But if we decide to go back, when we had an army of 7,000 soldiers controlling 40 percent of the national budget, that would mean we are headed back to misery instead of doing something to move from that misery to poverty with dignity. When we remember how many people were killed by the then-army, do we want to go back to have the same, moving from the same to worse, when we know that the victims are still suffering — the fathers, mothers, friends [inaudible] who were killed — and they still don’t have justice? When we teach, when we educate, we focus on human rights, the rights of every single citizen, and we also avoid structures which can violate human rights instead of protecting human rights. The future of Haiti must be linked to the respect of the rights of every single citizen.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re coming back after seven years of exile that came out of a coup in 2004. I was on the plane with you when the delegation came to the Central African Republic to return you back to the Western hemisphere. At the time, you described it as a U.S.-backed coup, that you were kidnapped. Can you talk about what happened then, what led to your being ousted and in exile from your country?
JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: I think the past seven years gave an opportunity to everyone to see the truth, and it became obvious what happened, and everyone who wants to know can see the truth. Those who refuse to see it, I cannot oblige them to see it. When you make a mistake, it’s a mistake. If you decide to continue making the same mistake, then it’s worse. A mistake was made, that was that coup. People who want to make it better must understand that illiterate people are not dumb, the Haitian people are not dumb. The majority of us can be illiterate, but they are bright people. They understand. And we have so many people around the world who also understood what happened. They may not have power to change it, but they know.
And what we need now is to put hands together — Haitians, true friends of Haitians all over the world — to help Haiti moving from where we are, because where we are seven years after the coup is much more worse than what we had before the coup. So, time is telling us that it was a mistake. We must recognize it, and we must transcend to put hands together and to change life. That’s a must.
AMY GOODMAN: You said everyone knew what happened. Tell us what happened.
JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: Maybe one day I will talk about it, but if you don’t mind, if you allow me, today I would prefer to concentrate and to focus on the positive. The positive is your presence, the presence of the members of the delegations, like Ira Kurzban, who started fighting for the Haitian people years ago; Danny Glover and others. Those who cannot make it, like Representative Maxine Waters, like Randall Robinson and so many others, they want to keep moving forward with the Haitian people. And that positivity can be reflected through their commitment to help Haitians. And Haitians are the first saying, "We are not begging for cents. We are just trying to do our best with dignity and welcoming friends who want to accompany us." So, today, it’s a great day, because this is a day of hope, where we know we should not let people kill our collective hope. And we know that with dignity, peace, solidarity, we will move from this great day to a better one.
AMY GOODMAN: That was former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, on board the plane for his historic return to Haiti. We were about an hour out of Port-au-Prince flying over the Atlantic. To see the full documentation of our trip, you can go to the website democracynow.org. Tomorrow we will play part two of our interview with Jean-Bertrand Aristide. If you’d like to get a copy of the show, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. Special thanks to K.K. Kean.
In breaking news, I want to report, the Libyan government has released four detained New York Times journalists six days after they were captured.