President in Exile
At approximately 7:20 am EST on Monday, Democracy Now! managed to reach exiled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide by cell phone in the Central African Republic. His comments represent the most extensive English-language interview Aristide has given since he was removed from office and his country.
Shortly after, the country's foreign minister held a press conference in Bangui. Armed men threatened journalists in the room, warning them not to record the minister's remarks. Mildred Aristide, the Haitian First Lady, was brought into the room, but was not permitted to speak. The CAR foreign minister told the journalists that President Aristide would hold a news conference within 72 hours. Hours later, Aristide was allowed to address journalists.
In his interview on Democracy Now!, Aristide asserted that he is the legitimate president of Haiti and that he wants to return to the country as soon as possible. He details his last moments in Haiti, describing what he called his "kidnapping" and the coup d'etat against him. He responds to Vice President Dick Cheney's comment that Aristide had "worn out his welcome" in Haiti.
Amy Goodman: I am Amy Goodman from the radio/TV program Democracy Now! around the United States. We would like to know why you left Haiti.
President Aristide: Thank you. First of all, I didn't leave Haiti because I wanted to leave Haiti. They forced me to leave Haiti. It was a kidnapping, which they call coup d'etat or [inaudible] ...forced resignation for me. It wasn't a resignation. It was a kidnapping and under the cover of coup d'etat.
It was a kidnapping under the cover of coup d'etat?
Who forced you out of the country?
I saw U.S. officials with Ambassador Foley.
Mr. Moreno, [inaudible...] at the U.S. Embassy in Haiti I saw American soldiers. I saw former soldiers who are linked to drug dealers like Guy Philippe and to killers already convicted, Chamblain. They all did the kidnapping using Haitian puppets like Guy Philippe, [inaudible], and Chamblain, already convicted, and basically, this night, I didn't see Haitians, I saw Americans.
So, you say that they kidnapped you from the country. Secretary of State Powell said that that is ridiculous. Donald Rumsfeld said that is nonsense. Your response?
Well, I understand they try to justify what they cannot justify. Their own ambassador, Ambassador Foley said we were going to talk to the media, to the press, and I can talk to the Haitian people calling for peace like I did one night before. And unfortunately, once they put me in their car, from my residence, a couple of days later, they put me in their planes full with military, because they already had all of the control of the Haitian airport in Port-au-Prince. And during the night, they surrounded my house, and the National Palace, and we had some of them in the streets. I don't know how many are -- were there. So it's clearly something they planned and they did. Now, if someone wants to justify what I think they cannot justify and that's -- my goal is to tell the truth. This is what now I'm telling you -- the truth.
President Aristide, did you resign the Presidency?
No, I did not resign. I exchanged words through conversations, we exchanged notes. I gave a written note before I went to the press at the time. And instead of taking me where they said they were taking me in front of the Haitian press, the foreign press, to talk to the people, to explain what is going on, to call for peace. They used that note as a letter of resignation, and I say, they are lying.
When you went into the car from your house, did you understand you were going to the airport and being flown out?
Not at all. Because this is not what they told me. This was our best way to avoid bloodshed. We talked with them somehow in a nice, diplomatic way to avoid bloodshed, we played the best we could in a respectful way, in a legal and diplomatic way. Because they that told me that they were going to have bloodshed. Thousands of people were going to be killed, including myself. As I said, it was not for me, because I never cared about me, my life, my security. First of all, I care about the security and lives of other people. I was elected to protect the life of every single citizen. So, that night I did my best to avoid bloodshed and when they took me, putting me in their plane, that was their plan. My strategy was then all I could [do] to avoid bloodshed.
Are you being held in the Central African Republic against your will?
Actually, against my will, exactly. Let me tell you, this past twenty hours on the American plane with American soldiers, including nineteen American agents who had an agreement with the Haitian government to provide security to us. They were also in that plane, maybe, to keep the truth in the plane, instead of having one of them telling the truth out of the plane. Because one of them had a baby, one year and a half in the plane -- he was an American guy -- and they wouldn't give him a chance to get out of the plane with the baby. My wife, the first lady, who was born in the United States, her father and mother were Haitians, with me. She didn't have the right to even move the shade and look out through the windows. Which means, they violated their own law. Until twenty minutes before I arrived here, I knew where they request going to land, which means clearly, clear violation of international law. Unfortunately, they did that, but fortunately, I pay tribute to the government of Central Africa for the way they welcomed us. It was gracious, human, good, and until now, this is the time kind of relationship which we are developing together. I thank them for that once again.
What do you want to happen now?
I always call for peace. Those who realize their kidnapping cannot bring peace to the violence in my country. CARICOM, which means all of the heads of the Caribbean countries, call for peace and restoration of Constitutional order. In some way we heard the voice of Americans -- American Senators, American members, U.S. members, members of the U.S. parliament. They're all -- they're all U.S. citizens and the Haitians are actually calling for peace for the restoration of Constitutional order. This is what I also call for. Allow me to give you a very simple example. Peace means for us, in this time, education and investment in health care. In my country, after 200 years of independence -- we are the first black independent country in the world -- but we still have only 1.5 Haitian doctors for its 11,000 Haitians. We created a university, we founded a university with the faculty of medicine that has 247 students. Once U.S. soldiers arrived in Haiti after the kidnapping, what did they do? They closed the faculty of medicine and they are now in the classrooms. This is what they call peace. This is the opposite of peace. Peace means investing in human beings, investing in health care, respect for human rights, not violations for human rights, no violations for the rights of those who voted for an elected President, and this is what it means. It means that, for humans in the world, today this is their day, [inaudible] men in the world, all together, we can all work hard to restore peace and constitutional order to Haiti.
This is president Jean-Bertrand Aristide speaking from the Central African Republic. Did you want to return as President to Haiti now?
If it's possible now, yes, now. Whenever it's possible, I am ready because this is what my people voted for.
Are you being held -- do you see yourself as being held as a prisoner in the Central African Republic?
Here I say it again, the people and government and the President, President Bozize, they are gracious, the way they treat us. I just paid public tribute to them, and if you have citizens of Central Africa listening to me, allow me to tell them [inaudible], which means thank you very much, because their country is a country called zo-quo-zu, in the language which means every human being is a human being. All that is to say, we I am grateful to them. But when you living in a house or in a palace that is their palace, which is a good sign of respect for us, and we are living in their conditions, although it's still good because of the way they welcome us, we also feel that we should be in Haiti with the Haitian people doing our best to keep investing in education, health care, building a state of law. Slowly, but surely, building up that state of law.
President Aristide, at least five people were killed in Haiti on Sunday. Opposition leaders say it was pro-Aristide forces that opened fire. Also including journalists -- a Spanish journalist based in New York was shot dead. Another was also shot. Your response?
First of all, I wasn't there, and I don't have many pieces of this information to comment, but the respect that I have for the truth, I will make some comments but I say it again, I wasn't there. I don't have yet any information so, I cannot go too far in my way to analyze the situation. I do believe because for the past years, each time drug dealers like Guy Philippe, people already convicted like Chamblain kill people, we heard exactly what I just heard. They blame the non-violent people and they blame the poor. When are poor, they are violated in their eyes, like the way they did. When you are already convicted, you are not violating human rights. So, I think or I suspect they are lying when they talk like that, accusing my followers.
What message do you think the United States is sending the people of Haiti and the rest of the world in their actions with you?
I think the citizens of the United States supporting democracy in Haiti, the Haitian people, and Haitians in Washington, Brooklyn and Milano, in Boston and elsewhere, calling for my return to Haiti and the constitutional order, I think all the citizens of the United States [inaudible] are a sending a very strong, critical signal to all of the countries in the world willing to work in a peaceful way for democracy. But those who [inaudible] me are sending a very wrong signal because if we don't reach the result of democratic elections and then we cannot be elected and then you do that here and elsewhere, the signal you are sending is "No to democracy," while you are talking about democracy. So, that's why I wish they would connect -- they did realize that they are wrong and they have a new approach, which will be protecting the rights of humans in the world. Because in the world, what do we mean, meaning peace. What do we mean, meaning democracy. What do we mean, we need to invest in human beings. Therefore, to go back, we should not send wrong signals as they did. They went to Iraq. We see how is the situation in Iraq. They went to Haiti. We see how is the situation in Haiti. Pretending they are imposing democracy with people killing people. Why don't they change their approach to let democracy and the constitutional order flourish slowly, but surely. After imposing a criminal embargo on us -- being, from the cultural point of view, very rich; from a historic point of view, very rich; but from an economic point of view, very poor because we are the poorest country in the western hemisphere -- after imposing their economic embargo upon us, because the people wanted one man, one vote, so equality among us. Then they use drug dealers, they use people who are already convicted, pretending to lead the rebellion, while they went to Haiti killing people in Gonaives, killing people in Cap Haitien and killing people in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere. And now they continue in the face of the entire world, blessing impunity supporting those killers. My god, I have said it's really ugly that image they project in the face of the world. Now it's time for them to change, to respect them but we will also respect the truth. That's why respectfully, we are telling them the truth. I said, when someone is wrong, the wrong way to behave is to continue to be wrong. The right way to behave is a move from wrong to being right. Now, it's time to move from being wrong on their side to become right by supporting the constitutional order.
President Aristide, Vice President Dick Cheney said you wore out your welcome in Haiti. It's time for you to go. He also said -- can I get your response to that?
How can someone, after the kind of elections they had, now talk like that regarding Haiti where you had fair, democratic elections regarding the elected president. I think someone can have power, but that does not mean, we cannot see the truth and say the truth. I respect the rights of every single citizen in the world to talk, and we have to be tolerant because this is also about democracy. That's why I have respect for him, I respect the way his way to talk, but at the same time I have respect for my people and for the truth. I say it, and I say it again, the Haitian people are a non-violent people. They voted for democracy. They will continue to fight in a peaceful way for democracy, and I will continue to be faithful to them doing the same. The peaceful approach, fighting peacefully for the restoration of the constitutional order.
Do you still consider yourself President of Haiti?
Yes, because the people voted for me. They are still fighting in a peaceful way for their elected President. I cannot betray them. That's why I do my best to respect their will.
Well, how would you describe the situation in Haiti today? U.S. and French forces and Canadian troops are in Haiti. It is something you called for before you left, to support you, and to protect the -- and to protect you there, then?
Yes. I called for them before they forced me to leave the country. Now, unfortunately, they are in Haiti. They don't have the elected President with them to move with the constitutional order. But despite of that, I wish the United Nations in Haiti through peacekeepers can help keeping peace in the country, protecting all the Haitians, every single Haitian, because the life of every single man or woman is sacred. You have to respect that. So, I wish they will protect the lives and the rights of every single citizen by the time we continue to work hard, peacefully to restore democracy in Haiti.
Vice President Cheney said, 'I have dealt with Aristide before when I was Secretary of Defense. We had a crisis involving Haiti. He left of his own free will. He signed a resignation letter on his way out. He left with his security detail on an aircraft we provided, not a military aircraft, but civilian charter. Now, I suppose he's trying to revise history. But the fact of matter was, he'd worn out his welcome with the Haitian people. He was democratically elected, but he never governed as a democrat. He was corrupt, and he was in charge of many of the thugs that were committing crimes in Port-au-Prince. The suggestion that somehow the United States arrested him or forcibly put him on an aircraft to get him to leave, that's simply not true. I'm happy he's gone. I think the Haitian people are better off for it. I think now they'll have an opportunity to elect a new government, and that's as it should be.'
Well, as I said before, he has the right to talk, and I respect his right, as I have the right to say the truth, and I will be saying the truth. I disagree with him, and I will continue to believe that the Haitian people will continue to fight in a peaceful way to restore democracy, and when the day will come to have elections, of course, they will have the ability to vote. Unfortunately, they didn't want a coup d'etat, and they never wanted the Haitian people to keep moving from election to election. They preferred the Haitian people to move from coup d'etat, to coup d'etat. We celebrated 200 years of independence. We had a [inaudible] coup d'etat. We know, usually, who can choose to be behind the coup d'etat. So, now that we just had a kidnapping which they call a resignation, which others call coup d'etat, it's clear that some people will be do their best to justify, but they may not be able to justify, and I will continue to be on the side of the truth, on the side of the human rights, on the side of all of those who knew about what happened, and stand firm with the Haitian people. The heads of the Caribbean countries stand firm for the restoration of the constitutional order, for peace. We have senators in the United States, members of the U.S. House, citizens in the States standing firm for peace, for democracy, for constitutional order, and I join them.
Why do you think that the United States government does not want you to be the president of Haiti?
Maybe, if you could just [name] one single example, it can tell the world a lot. I know I have already told you that, but I will go through it again. In 200 years of independence, making Haiti the first black independent country of the world, we still have 1.5 Haitian doctors for each 11,000 Haitians. Then we have a university who the faculty of medicine had 237 students. [inaudible], they are now in that faculty of medicine, they closed it. And the students are out, and this is not what they decided to do. If, have a government or a President willing to invest in health care, apparently they don't want that. If you have a president or government willing to invest in education, maybe they don't want that. I will continue to believe that we must invest in human beings. We must invest in education and health care. This is what will bring peace. Because peace is not an empty word. It has to be full. Investing in education and health care, bring the real peace to the country, and what they call peace is not the real peace. It is violence. It is kidnapping. What we call peace through education is telling the world that we are right.
President Aristide in your news conference, did you say that your country is now in the midst of an unacceptable occupation?
It's an occupation, and the last example I just gave says it is an occupation. How you can imagine that you come to me, you want to be in peace, and you close my university and you send out 247 students of medicine in the country where you don't have hospitals and you don't have enough doctors. God, this is an occupation. When you protect killers, when you protect drug dealers like Guy Philippe, like Chamblain, when you protect the citizens of the United States in violating the law of the United States, Mr. Andy Apaid is a citizen of the United States, violating the Neutral Act, the way with this act will destroying our Democracy, and once we do that, then this is an occupation.
Is true that -- did you say that your security force around -- that protected you in Haiti, from the Steele Foundation -- that they were told by the U.S. government they could not send in reinforcements?
Yes. As a matter of fact they blocked them, to stop providing security, and 25 [inaudible] did come the day after, they were prevented to come. So it was a clear strategy did to move their way according to their plan. Now, time is gone. Unfortunately I need to stop because they just asked me to leave.
Do you think that you will ever see Haiti again as President?
I will. I will once the Haitian people and the international community continue to work hard. It's not impossible.
What do you think people can do in the United States?
I think they can continue to mobilize human resources to help bring peace for Haiti -- democracy for Haiti. This is what the Haitian people want: peace and democracy.
Will you be leaving the Central African Republic? Do you want to leave?
No, no, no, no. They are not asking me to leave the country, they are asking me to end the...
I understand. I understand. I understand, but do you want to leave the country? Do you want to return immediately to Haiti?
If I can go today, I would go today. If it's tomorrow, tomorrow. Whenever time comes, I will say yes, because my people, they elected me.
What is stopping you from returning today?
Because it means to clear the way, and that's what we are doing now.
Thank you very much for joining us, President Aristide.
Thank you so much for you and wishing that we can meet again in Haiti.