- Jean-Bertrand Aristide
former president of Haiti.
- Danny Glover
actor, activist and TransAfrica Forum chair.
- James Early
director of Cultural Heritage Policy for the Smithsonian Institution and former chair of the Institute for Policy Studies.
- Ira Kurzban
Miami-based attorney for former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
- Frantz Gabriel
former bodyguard for then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
In this broadcast exclusive, Democracy Now! follows former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide flight’s out from South Africa and his historic return to Haiti after seven years of exile. Aristide returned two days before a delayed presidential runoff election was held on Sunday between pop star Michel Martelly and former First Lady Mirlande Manigat. Special thanks to Hany Massoud, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Nicole Salazar, K.K. Kean and Kim Ives. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: On Sunday, Haiti held a delayed presidential runoff election between the pop star Michel Martelly and the former First Lady Mirlande Manigat. Final results are expected April 16th.
Two days before the election, on Friday, Haiti saw the historic return of the former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, after seven years in exile in South Africa. Democracy Now! was there every step of the way.
We begin with Democracy Now!'s Sharif Abdel Kouddous on the ground in Haiti when Aristide's plane landed.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: It’s March 18th, and today is the day President Aristide is returning to Haiti after seven years in exile. On our way to the airport here, there were banners that said, "Bon retour, Prezidan Titide." That’s "Welcome back, President Aristide." We’re waiting in line. He’s just flown in from South Africa on a plane with our own Amy Goodman, Danny Glover, and his wife and children.
We’re walking right now to get on a bus, which is going to take us to the landing strip that Aristide’s plane is going to land on.
It looks like the plane of Jean-Bertrand Aristide has landed in Haiti. It’s been seven years since he’s been here. He was taken in what he called "a modern-day kidnapping in the service of a coup d’état backed by the United States" in 2004. He is now back, again in defiance of the United States.
Aristide’s plane has landed. The press broke through the barrier and has come waiting at the foot of the plane right now. We’re waiting for Jean-Bertrand Aristide to come out of the plane.
AMY GOODMAN: Hi. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re here in Port-au-Prince. The President has landed. We are here in the plane. James Early of the Smithsonian and Danny Glover are the first to step outside. Thank you. And here comes Danny.
How are you feeling today, Danny?
DANNY GLOVER: Amazing. It’s already quite exciting.
AMY GOODMAN: Danny Glover just said he is feeling "amazing." Ira Kurzban, your thoughts as we deplane in Haiti?
IRA KURZBAN: Well, I promised myself this would happen seven years ago, and we’re very happy about it.
AMY GOODMAN: There is a mass crowd here. The Aristides are about to deplane. There’s flowers waiting for them. [inaudible] I’ll be standing with the Aristides. I’m standing with the Aristides. It’s mass chaos. Mildred Aristide and the children. Mildred is crying. President Aristide is coming to the nose of the plane. President Aristide is being jostled, as all the cameras are here. President Aristide is coming into the diplomatic area. It is a crush of cameras.
JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: In 1804, the Haitian revolution marked the end of slavery.
AMY GOODMAN: He addresses the crowd.
JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: Today, may the Haitian people mark the end of exile and coup d’état, while peacefully we must move from social exclusion to social inclusion. Once again, thanks from the bottom of our hearts.
AMY GOODMAN: Aristide goes on to speak in Spanish. He addresses the crowd in several languages. When he speaks in English and says, "Exclusion is the problem, inclusion is the solution," he doesn’t directly reference his party, Fanmi Lavalas, which was excluded from the election. But when addressing Haitians in Creole, he’s more explicit.
JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: [translated] You are right. If we don’t salvage our dignity, our dignity will be gone. Yes, you are right, because the problem is exclusion, and the solution is inclusion. The exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas is the exclusion of the majority. The exclusion of the majority means that you are cutting off exactly the branch that we are all sitting on. The problem is exclusion; the solution is inclusion of all Haitians without discrimination, because everybody is a person. Haiti, Haiti, the further I am from you, the less I breathe. Haiti, I love you, and I will love you always. Always.
AMY GOODMAN: After the speech, President Aristide moves inside the airport to thank the delegation that helped bring him home. Democracy Now! had the exclusive coverage of the flight. We stopped in Dakar, Senegal. And to see the Aristides’ joy as they looked out on their country, on Haiti, was something that is hard to put into words.
After seven years in exile, the Aristides have returned, twice ousted in a U.S.-backed coup — in 1991, ousted for three years, then came back as president; now, in 2004, ousted again in a U.S. backed coup. The U.S. flew him to the Central African Republic. But then, a delegation led by Congressmember Maxine Waters and the TransAfrica founder, Randall Robinson — I covered this delegation — we flew to C.A.R., the Central African Republic, they got the Aristides, and they brought them back to this hemisphere, to Jamaica, but they couldn’t come back into Haiti, and ended up in exile in South Africa for seven years. Now, the President returns, not as president of Haiti, but as resident.
James Early of the Smithsonian is one of the people who accompanied President Aristide home on this delegation. In fact, he had just been with him three weeks before in South Africa.
JAMES EARLY: I feel extraordinarily happy for a citizen of Haiti who has been placed in exile, and I feel extraordinarily happy for the citizens of Haiti, who have expressed their admiration and pride and confidence in him. He really is a social individual. This really is not about him alone. It’s about what he represents.
And I’m very disappointed that the government of the United States has used such diplomatic currency against this individual. It’s just absurd. It has not worked. It discredits us of being sincere in the international arena and really limits our ability to show our virtues. So, I’m happy, but as a citizen from the United States, I’m a little saddened by the views expressed by our government, which has not contributed, in my view, to an environment of peace and open debate among people.
So, this is, in many ways, less about support for former President Aristide as an individual as it is about a citizen’s right in his or her country and the rights of his or her fellow citizens to say, "We love and admire you, and we want you amongst us."
AMY GOODMAN: President Obama called South African President Zuma last week, urging him not to fly the Aristides back to Haiti, but the South African government said they would not cave to pressure. A South African government representative accompanied the Aristides on their trip from Johannesburg to Port-au-Prince.
And your thoughts as you arrived in Haiti?
SOUTH AFRICAN REPRESENTATIVE: I also feel so overwhelmed seeing the welcome, the reception that Mr. Aristide received. I’m so proud of South Africa having hosted him all these years and brought him back healthy.
AMY GOODMAN: The family is now stepping out: Mildred Aristide, Christine and Michaelle — they’re 12 and 14. We’ll go with them.
OK, there — everyone’s jumping on the car as the Aristides leave. We’re going to try to get in this car here. Can we get in the car? We’re with the delegation. We are now in the van following the Aristides heading home to Tabarre, which they haven’t seen in seven years, in seven years of exile. And there are thousands of people who are running, jogging alongside the vans. They are trying to look in. They are joyous. They are singing. They are chanting.
Kim Ives is with us here in the van. Kim is with the newspaper Haiti Liberté. Kim, what are some of the things that they’re saying?
KIM IVES: Some of them are saying, "L’accueil, c’est l’accueil," "Home sweet home," "Bon retour," "Welcome back, Aristide," "Good welcome," "Aristide, ou important pour nous_," "You are important for us." We see all sorts of different signs expressing love: "Aristide, we love you," "Aristide, we’ve been waiting for you," "Finally," "Jour va, jour vient," "The days have been going by." It’s so many signs, so many signs of love.
AMY GOODMAN: There is a crush of people who have accompanied the Aristides from the airport in Port-au-Prince to their home in Tabarre, tens of thousands of people, T-shirts that say "Aristide," signs that say, "Bon retour," "Good return," "Cité Soleil, we support you," "Pétionville, we support you." Now they are — this is the historic home of the Aristides, which they were forced out of in the coup on February 29th, 2004.
The crush of people when we got to Tabarre was astounding. I mean, from the airport, tens of thousands of people were running and jumping, holding placards and signs. We got into the Aristides’ house through a side window, but — though friends are inside, there are so many people who have come out to greet the Aristides. It has been going on for hours. Just after we got in, at the front door, there was a huge clamor. And it was the Aristides coming in, but they could barely get in. They were being pulled through, first the children, then Mildred Aristide, then President Aristide himself.
Tabarre is the place where the Aristides lived until February 29, 2004, when the U.S.-backed coup took place. It was guaranteed their house wouldn’t be destroyed. In fact, it was sacked, it was ravaged. And the medical school that President Aristide established and took so much pride in, well, it was turned into a U.S. military barracks. And the students were then sent to Cuba to get a medical education. Some of them came here to greet President Aristide today.
DR. DUBIQUE KOBEL: My name is Dr. Dubique Kobel.
AMY GOODMAN: And did you train at the medical school, at President Aristide’s medical school?
DR. DUBIQUE KOBEL: Yes, we started medical school at the Foundation Aristide University at 2001. After 2004, we go at Cuba to finish, to finish medical school. And now we are there in Haiti to help Haitian people.
AMY GOODMAN: Two thousand four, what happened to the medical school after the coup?
DR. DUBIQUE KOBEL: In 2004, military take the medical school and put base, military base, in the medical school.
AMY GOODMAN: Which military? United States?
DR. DUBIQUE KOBEL: United States military. After Aristide left, they take the medical — the university and to put a military base in the university.
AMY GOODMAN: Over in the next room, I spot a close friend of the Aristides who’s been deeply involved in their history.
Well, Frantz Gabriel, we meet again. The first time was in the Central African Republic —
FRANTZ GABRIEL: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: — where the Aristides were sent in the coup in 2004. And then, after the earthquake, we saw you at the airport. Talk about the significance of this day. You were with them — you went with them to the Central African Republic.
FRANTZ GABRIEL: I did. That was immediately after the kidnapping.
AMY GOODMAN: Who kidnapped?
FRANTZ GABRIEL: We were kidnapped right out of this house. It was early in the morning, and they took us in a unmarked aircraft all the way to —
AMY GOODMAN: Who took you?
FRANTZ GABRIEL: The military, the U.S. military. Yeah. They took —
AMY GOODMAN: From the U.S. embassy here. Luis Moreno?
FRANTZ GABRIEL: Luis Moreno was the political attaché, and he was — actually he was the one that penetrated — I mean, knocked out the door, and then we opened up. And he said to the President, he said, "President Aristide, you know, 10 years ago I was here to welcome you when you came back from exile. I’m sorry that I’m the one that has to accompany you today." And that’s how we left the house, and we ended up at the airport in a big white plane with no registration number and a big American flag. And then, you know, we took off, and then, you know, like, we ended up in Central Africa after a few stops.
AMY GOODMAN: The State Department, the White House, Obama talked to President Zuma of South Africa, said not to bring them back to Haiti. But President Zuma defied that request and said that they would not bow to pressure. The White House, the State Department has said that President Aristide left willingly on February 29th, 2004.
FRANTZ GABRIEL: No. I’m a witness of that, and it was not willingly that the President left, because all the people that came in to accompany the President were all military. Having been in the U.S. military myself, I know what a GI looks like, and I know what a special force looks like also. So, I was here, and I knew that, you know, these guys were part of a force, Special Ops, they call them. You have the Delta Force, you know, which is Special Operations. They have the Green Berets, Special Operations. Those guys, you know, they could be assimilated to either one, either the Delta or the Green Berets. And what attracted my attention was the fact that when we boarded the aircraft, everybody changed their uniform into civilian clothes. And that’s when I knew that it was a special operation.
AMY GOODMAN: So the Aristides did not leave willingly?
FRANTZ GABRIEL: Oh, absolutely not. Someone who leaves willingly leaves with suitcases, you know, and prepare for the trips. President Aristide left with his — with just the clothes on his back.
AMY GOODMAN: President Aristide spent the afternoon upstairs greeting old friends and welcoming new visitors. Democracy Now!’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous and I went up to say goodbye. Sharif had just come from Egypt. We asked Aristide about the Egyptian revolution.
When we saw the people today, the thousands — was it tens of thousands? — of people from the airport to here, do you think we’re seeing something like that? Or was that equivalent, when you were first elected in 1990 and ’91, like Tahrir? Was that the Egypt uprising before the Egypt uprising?
JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: In fact, what I saw today reminded me of what we had in 1990 when we were campaigning and after the elections. That’s exactly the same love expressed by the people. And someone earlier said that she saw a tsunami of love today. And I borrow this image to express what I saw, better having love than the opposite. And we will continue swimming in the love of the people, sharing love with the people, loving them. And as they are so bright, if you are faking, pretending that you love them and using beautiful words, they will smell it, they will get it. But if it’s sincere, they will also get it. And that’s the sincerity of love which we saw today.
What is happening in Egypt or what started in Tunisia, Egypt and in the Arab world, we saw it here in 1986, when the people realized that they had to stand up and make a difference in changing their lives. And it happened in 1986. And I was very delighted to see it in the Arab world, where democracy prevailed, and must prevail, for some countries. And for all the countries, it’s not yet that, but it’s a must for all those who are dreaming of a better life.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you surprised to see the response today?
JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: No, no, no. No, I wasn’t surprised. It was amazing to see the way they continue to express their love, but it wasn’t a surprise.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, it was something to see you burst through the door, from the embrace of I don’t know how many thousands of people.
JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: And I understood them, because they suffer so much and for so long. Seeing that moment becoming a reality, it wasn’t only me getting through the door of the house; it was millions of people getting through someone. That’s why it couldn’t be easy. And I understood it. Powerful, powerful, as an experience, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: So, where do you go from here?
JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: I will continue to pay attention, to observe, to learn from them, and serve them by learning from them.
AMY GOODMAN: Jean-Bertrand Aristide at his home in Haiti for the first time in seven years. Special thanks to Hany Massoud, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Nicole Salazar, K.K. Kean and Kim Ives. Coming up after break, our world broadcast exclusive with Jean-Bertrand Aristide on the plane en route to Haiti. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.