Aristide says U.S. deposed him in 'coup d'etat'
White House calls allegation 'nonsense'
Monday, March 1, 2004 Posted: 10:13 PM EST (0313 GMT)
(CNN) -- Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide said Monday he was forced to leave Haiti in a "coup d'etat" by the United States.
"I was told that to avoid bloodshed I'd better leave," he said in an interview on CNN.
Earlier, the Bush administration vigorously denied that Aristide was kidnapped by U.S. troops, which is what two U.S. members of Congress said the deposed Haitian president told them in telephone calls.
"That's nonsense," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. "I've seen some of the reports [and they] do nothing to help the Haitians move forward to a better, more prosperous future."
One day after Aristide left the country and one month after a rebellion began in northern Haiti, heavily armed Haitian rebels drove into Port-au-Prince Monday, moving into the headquarters of the national police while U.S. Marines took up positions across the street at the presidential palace. (Full story) (Aristide's home looted) (City streets)
McClellan said the United States took steps to protect Aristide and his family as they left Haiti, but denied that U.S. forces took him from his home to the airport.
"The military presence we had at the time was at the embassy," McClellan said. "[Aristide] went with his own personal security."
But Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York, and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California, said Aristide told them a very different story.
Waters said Mildred Aristide, the ex-president's wife, called the congresswoman at her home at 6:30 a.m. (9:30 a.m. ET) Monday, and told her "the coup d'etat has been completed," and then handed the phone to her husband.
Waters said that Aristide told her the chief of staff of the U.S. Embassy in Haiti came to his home, told him that he would be killed "and a lot of Haitians would be killed" if he did not leave and said he "has to go now."
Secretary of State Colin Powell said the allegations were baseless and that Aristide left Haiti in the company of his own security detail.
In a terse description of the timeline, Powell said that Aristide telephoned U.S. Ambassador to Haiti James Foley on Saturday evening to ask for advice and decided resigning would be the best course of action.
"He wanted to speak with his wife, which he did, he came back to us and said it was his decision based on what his security people were telling him," Powell said. "We made arrangements for his departure, he wrote a letter of resignation, a leased plane was brought in and he departed."
"He was not kidnapped," the secretary said. "We did not force him onto the airplane. He went on the airplane willingly and that's the truth."
Aristide's first choice country refused him
Powell said that the first country Aristide requested to go to refused him, "and we went through an hour and half of negotiations to find alternatives."
The secretary said about 15 members of Aristide's security detachment accompanied him, but Rangel and Waters said Aristide claimed to have only his wife, his brother and two security members.
"That's what happened, notwithstanding any cell phone reports to the contrary," Powell said.
The kidnapping claim is "absolutely false," concurred Parfait Mbaye, the communications minister for the Central African Republic, where Aristide's party was taken.
The minister told CNN that Aristide had been granted permission to land in the country after Aristide himself -- as well as the U.S. and French governments -- requested it.
Rangel said Aristide told him he was "disappointed that the international community had let him down."
Aristide also said "that he was kidnapped, that he resigned under pressure, that he had not negotiated with these countries or with the United States," Rangel told CNN. "As a matter of fact, he was very apprehensive for his life."
"The way I see it is they came to his house, uninvited," Waters said. "They had not only the force of the embassy but the Marines with them. They made it clear that he had to go now or he would be killed."
"It was very clear to him ... that the Americans had been responsible for helping to carry out the coup d'etat," she said.
Waters said she "tends to doubt the State Department" because she has "been lied to over and over again."
"Why are these so-called rebels who are really criminals and thugs riding up and down the streets of Port-au-Prince in their old military dress," she asked. "I have a lot of questions of my own government at this point. President Aristide said it was a coup."
Waters accused Undersecretary of State for Latin America Roger Noriega -- whom she called "a Haiti hater" -- of being behind the troubles there.
Noriega was a senior aide to former Sen. Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina, who as chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee was a backer of longtime Haitian dictator Jean Claude Duvalier and an opponent of Aristide.
Duvalier became Haiti's "president for life" at age 19 after the death of his father, but was forced out because of economic and political instability in 1986. The new rebels, Waters said, "are all old Duvalier people."
Powell said that "it might have been better for members of Congress who have heard these stories to ask us about the stories before going public with them so we don't make a difficult situation that much more difficult."
He called Aristide "a man who was democratically elected, but he did not democratically govern or govern well," he said. "Now we are there to give the Haitian people another chance."
Randall Robinson, an African-American activist, told CNN he received a similar phone call from Aristide. And the ex-president's attorney, Ira Kurzban, said that if it is true Aristide was abducted, it would be "a gross violation of human rights."
"It is the worst kind of 19th century gunboat diplomacy," he said. "If this is President Bush's order, the Congress needs to investigate and determine if it's an impeachable offense."
Kurzban said that Aristide did not resign, and suggested that the statement he allegedly signed was either fake or signed under duress.
He also said that Aristide's wife is an American citizen.
But Rangel, Robinson, Waters and Kurzban were not the first to question Aristide's departure.
In a statement released Sunday, Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson said that "we are bound to question whether his resignation was truly voluntary, as it comes after the capture of sections of Haiti by armed insurgents and the failure of the international community to provide the requisite support."
"The removal of President Aristide in these circumstances sets a dangerous precedent for democratically elected governments anywhere and everywhere, as it promotes the removal of duly elected persons from office by the power of rebel forces," said Patterson, who is chairman of the Caribbean Community (Caricom).
Patterson denied that Caricom "was a party to a plan or was in consultation or had subscribed to the removal of President Aristide from office, as a prior condition."
Patterson called for a meeting of the Caricom heads of state in Jamaica on Tuesday
Thousands of Aristide Supporters Pour Into Streets
Fri Mar 5, 2004 02:04 PM ET
By Ibon Villelabeitia and Jim Loney
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) - Thousands of outraged supporters of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide poured out of Haiti's slums and into the streets on Friday, marching on the U.S. Embassy to denounce the "occupation" of their homeland and demand Aristide's return.
Hurling slurs at U.S. Marines and calling President Bush a "terrorist," a crowd estimated at more than 10,000 materialized in the capital, seething with anger at Aristide's flight to Africa five days ago after a bloody rebellion and U.S. pressure.
"Bush terrorist! Bush terrorist!," chanted the crowd, many of them waving Haitian flags and wearing T-shirts bearing photos of Aristide, as they passed a contingent of battle-equipped U.S. Marines guarding the embassy.
Hundreds held up their hands with five fingers extended, shouting "Aristide five years," the rallying cry of his supporters who wanted him to finish his five-year term in office. U.S. troops watched impassively from the rooftop.
The massive protest came as U.S. and French troops joined Haitian police on patrol in the teeming capital. U.S. military vehicles mounted with machine guns and missile launchers rumbled through the streets, sending a message to rebels and Aristide militants to lay down their arms.
Supporters of Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest whose fiery oratory from the pulpit helped galvanize a popular revolt that dislodged the Duvalier family dictatorship in the 1980s, had been relatively quiet this week, shocked by the ouster of Haiti's first freely elected president.
They had stayed largely in Cite Soleil, La Saline and the other slums of Port-au-Prince as the armed rebels who helped push Aristide from office roamed the streets, hunting for "chimeres," the most militant of Aristide's supporters.
But as the rebels withdrew from the city following a pledge from their leader, former police chief Guy Philippe, to lay down their arms, Aristide partisans vowed to demonstrate daily for the return of their president.
They blamed Haiti's wealthy elite, Bush and French President Jacques Chirac for what they called the "foreign occupation" of Haiti.
"The bourgeoisie joined with the international community to occupy Haiti and get rid of President Aristide," one demonstrator screamed. "The bourgeoisie never did anything for us, the masses. Now they took away our president."
"If Aristide doesn't come back, life will be hell here."
Five days after Aristide was ousted by a bloody rebellion, a new tripartite council made up of people chosen by the government, Aristide's political foes and foreign nations went to work.
Aristide's Minister of Haitians Living Abroad, Leslie Voltaire, was named by the government. The political opposition Democratic Platform picked Paul Denis, a former senator, and the international community chose Adama Guindo, the United Nations resident coordinator.
The council will select a seven member "Council of Wise Men" within a week to pick a new prime minister and begin the process of establishing a new government.
Haiti's legislature has been largely defunct since early January. Only a few senators have time left in their terms.
Haitian and foreign officials have been struggling with the process of installing interim president Boniface Alexandre, who according to the constitution must be ratified by the legislature. It was still uncertain on Friday when a formal swearing in would be held at the palace.
U.S., French, Chilean and Canadian troops in Haiti numbered about 2,000, according to the commanders of the multinational force approved by the United Nations to restore order after days of looting and shooting following Aristide's flight into exile in the Central African Republic on Sunday.
More than 100 people died in the armed revolt that began on Feb. 5 when an anti-Aristide gang took over the northwestern city of Gonaives.
Aristide said from his African exile that he was kidnapped. The U.S. government has denied the allegation but residents of Aristide strongholds believe it.
In the pro-Aristide Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Bellair, where glass and debris litters the streets and the stench of sewage hangs in the air, residents said foreign troops should help protect them from gunmen that raid the area nightly.
They say rebels have been conducting reprisal raids.
"At 6 p.m. we all have to go and find a hole to hide," said Hubert Louis, 31, referring to the nightly curfew. "If the foreign troops want to show they want to support the people, they should protect us from the soldiers who are chasing us." (Additional reporting by Joseph Guyler Delva)