Aristide Back in Caribbean Heat
Aristide said he left in a car with the Americans, who said they could provide security. "But instead of moving from where we were at my house" to meet with news media, Aristide said, "we went straight to the plane," which he described as an unmarked white aircraft with an American flag.
Aristide said he was obliged to board the plane, and was followed by a number of U.S. troops in full combat gear, who changed into civilian clothes and baseball caps once they were aboard the plane. Also on board with him and his wife were 19 members of a private security company contracted by the United States to protect Aristide.
Aristide's account was supported by two witnesses present on the evening of Feb. 28 and the morning of Feb. 29. One was Franz Gabriel, a pilot and aide to Aristide; the other was an American security guard.
"I was at the house at 5 a.m. when Moreno came in to tell the president they were going to organize a press conference and be ready to accompany them," said Gabriel, who accompanied Aristide and his wife to Africa and to Jamaica. "We boarded to go to the embassy and we ended up at the airport. That's what Mr. Moreno wanted him to do."
The American security guard, speaking on condition he not be identified, described the U.S. security warning as a subterfuge to lure Aristide away. "That was just bogus. It's a story they fabricated," he said.
Some members of Congress, including Waters, have called for an investigation of the U.S. role in Aristide's ouster. Waters, interviewed during the flight to pick up Aristide, rejected Bush administration assertions that Aristide, a former slum priest, had caused recent strife in Haiti through questionable elections and a turn away from democracy.
"I worked with some of my friends trying to help the United States avoid this confrontation that took place in Haiti," she said. "You know the devastating understanding that my own government was involved in helping to foster the confrontation that eventually led to the coup d'etat has been quite overwhelming."
Aristide said that despite a freeze on funding from the United States and the European Community, which together blocked delivery of a $500 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank, he was able to promote social and educational projects.
He said he was particularly proud of a new medical school, the University of Tabare, which had 247 students. "The Marines are now using it as their base," Aristide said, charging that doctors who teach at the school had been intimidated into halting their classes. "The fact that it was created in the middle of an embargo shows our commitment to social funding," he said.
Aristide also charged that U.S. officials were fostering the resurgence of former death squad and army members. He said that the leaders of the insurgency had been wrongly portrayed as part of a democratic opposition, describing them as killers and drug dealers, and he charged that U.S. officials were supporting insurgent leaders Guy Philippe, a former army officer, and Jean-Francois Chamblain, a former leader of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), which operated as a death squad during the early 1990s. "They will kill those who support democracy," Aristide said.
Aristide said he has heard reports that members of his Lavalas party are in hiding, following killings of its members. Others, he said, are being forced into exile. "Some others are braving the killers to demonstrate," he said, adding that he had watched peaceful demonstrations in which Haitians walked up to television cameras and held up five fingers in a sign of support for Aristide, meaning that they want him to serve out his five-year term. "You have to be courageous to do that," Aristide said.
Aristide's opponents have blamed members of the ousted president's party for instigating the violence that has engulfed Haiti over the past two months.
Aristide came to prominence in the slums around Port-au-Prince in the 1980s, when as a priest he opposed the family dictatorship of Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, who controlled Haiti for 29 years with U.S. backing. Aristide charged that the new interim government would resurrect a strong, repressive military and prop up a light-skinned wealthy minority. "It is in essence, racist," Aristide asserted.
The vast majority of Haiti's population of 8 million are poor blacks, and Aristide said he thinks he still has strong support among them.
He said one of his ministers told him recently about a woman who was asked by a reporter which party she supported.
"She answered, 'I support Aristide. It is because of Aristide that you talk to me this way,' " with respect of her dignity, Aristide recounted. "I don't know her name, but the woman knows that I care. Despite the misery, she knows that I cannot feel good when she feels bad," Aristide said. Haitians "will always know I cannot forget their suffering. I will not lie to them."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company