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In a new book, author Randall Robinson has presented new evidence in the debate about the events surrounding the February 2004 removal of elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, from Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President, raises critical questions about the role of the United States in the overthrow of Haiti's elected government.
A key piece of evidence presented in the book is the statement Robinson took from Aristide's helicopter pilot, Frantz Gabriel, in 2005. Other than President Aristide, his wife, and Haitian security personnel at the President's home, Gabriel was the only eyewitness to Aristide's abduction on the morning of February 29th, 2004.
Canada's ambassador to Haiti, Claude Boucher, has stated publicly that there was no coup d'état in Haiti and that the Haitian President left of his own accord.
Colin Powell, who was US Secretary of State at the time of Aristide's removal, has made similar denials. According to the CBC, Powell called "allegations of a coup d'etat and kidnapping 'baseless and absurd,' saying Aristide asked for American assistance to leave Haiti."
"He came back to us and said it was his decision, based on what the security people were also telling him about the deteriorating situation, that he should leave," Powell told the press.
What follows is the full text of Gabriel's testimony, taken in South Africa while in exile with Mr. and Mrs. Aristide. -- Darren Ell
Reproduced with the author's permission.
I got to the house at 3:30 A.M. on Sunday morning. The gate is usually opened by a member of the CAT team (Haitian Counter Ambush Team). That morning it was opened by the Steele people [private security firm protecting Aristide]. This never happened before. (I later thought that the Steele people had gotten a call to play the game, to play along.)
The gate closed behind me. I parked in my usual space in the parking lot on the right between the two walls. I left the M3 on the seat of my car. I walked through the second gate and into the command post. No one said anything to me. I then walked through the office and then into the president's living room.
The president was standing alone in the room dressed in a suit with a white shirt and a dark tie. The First Lady was somewhere else. She was not in the living room.
I then asked, "Is there a problem, Mr. President?"
The president said, "There has been a lot of pressure coming from all different directions."
I said, "What do you mean, sir?"
He said, "The way things are looking – I am under intense pressure."
The phone rang and the president went to answer it. I heard him talk. No American forces were there at that time. While he was on the phone, I said to myself that I should go out and see what was going on in the yard where Haitian security and the Steele people were.
As I walked out [the front door], pulling up to the walk to the front door was a big white Suburban with diplomatic plates. I was standing by the steps to the door. [Luis] Moreno got out of the Suburban with two American soldiers. I turned and went back into the living room to be closer to the president. The president was putting the phone down.
Moreno said, "Mr. President, I'm from the U.S. Embassy. Ten years ago, I was there when you came in. I was there to greet you. It's too bad that ten years later, I'm the one that has to announce to you that you've got to go."
I looked at the president and then at Moreno. By then the First Lady had come downstairs. The president went into the dining room to speak with her. They came out together. The First Lady was carrying a small bag. She was wearing a suit.
Outside there were twenty to thirty American soldiers on the walls that surrounded the house. They had lasers on their guns that made red dots. The red dots filled the yard. They were crisscrossing and coming from all directions.
The two soldiers with Moreno were Special Forces. I knew this because they had beards. They carried M16's and wore full battle dress with steel helmets and bulletproof vests. They were white and said nothing.
We got into the Suburban. The president sat in the second row by the window. The First lady sat in the middle and Moreno sat by the sliding door. The two solders sat up front with one of them driving. I sat in the back row.
We went through the main gate and made the right toward the airport. Outside the gate, we were joined by a convoy of ten U.S. embassy vehicles. There were all white Suburbans. We made a right into the airport in the direction of the general aviation area. There were two hangers there. The old Huey helicopter was there. There was s white Airbus there. It had a huge American flag on the tail. There was no tail number and no other markings.
Moreno opened the door and got out of the Suburban. He said to the president and the First Lady, "Okay, let's go."
That's all he said. He didn't say anything to me. He stood at the foot of the plane and sort of motioned to the president, the First Lady, and me to board the plane. The three of us went up the stairs into the plane. The two American soldiers who were in the Suburban boarded the plane and changed into civilian clothes (polo shirts and sneakers) while the door was still open.
Moreno never boarded the plane. The [American] ambassador was not there.
All this happened very quickly. Everything was timed so well. The Suburban came into the yard at about 4:00 A.M. We got to the plane at about 4:30 A.M. The Suburban went right to the bottom of the stairs. We sat in the Suburban about five minutes before Moreno opened the door and said, "Okay, let's go."
The plane looked like it would seat about 365 people. All the window shades were pulled down. Behind the first seating section was a big operations centre with telephone, a fax machine, and a computer. The machines were on one side of the plane and there were seats on the other side.
The president and the First lady were told to sit in the front section. I sat ten rows behind a bulkhead that was behind the American soldiers who were behind the operations centre. I could not see the president and the First lady from where I was sitting, but I went to talk to them several times. He was quiet. She was crying silently. I said to myself, This is incredible. This is a kidnapping. They just came and kidnapped the president in his home and took him away. I'm in the middle of a fucking kidnapping. This is the first thing that hit my mind.
There were about thirty American soldiers on the plane. They came from the house in the ten Suburbans. They all had beards. They boarded the plane with their gear and then changed into civilian clothes. One of them, who seems to be in charge, said to me, "Are you going back with us?" like he thinks I am one of his men. Maybe it was just because of my beard.
The American soldiers sat on the plane between me and the president and the First Lady. All the way in the back behind me were the Steele men with their wives and children. They were all wearing casual clothes. The pilots wore regular pilot's uniforms. We waited on the plane about thirty minutes before we took off.
There were five black people on the plane. Besides the president, the First Lady, and me, there was a Haitian woman who was with one of the Steele men. They had a baby. After we landed the first time, I asked somebody where we were but nobody would tell me. Everybody was quiet. I heard the fuel nozzle attach. Once in a while the baby would cry. After the baby was fed, everything was quiet again. They offered the president and the First lady some sandwiches, but they did not take them.
We were on the ground for five hours. The guys who spoke to me before, who seemed to be in charge, said to everyone over the PA system, "So far we don't have an official invitation yet for President Aristide. It seems like nobody wants him." The guy was on the phone the whole time behind the president who was sitting face forward. His staff was also on the phone. Some of the phones were black and some were red. They were using the fax and the laptops also.
We flew for a long time after we took off again. We landed again and waited on the ground for fuel. We didn't know where we were. When we were approaching the Central African Republic, the guy who was in charge asked me, "What are you gonna do? Are you going back with us?" I told him that I was staying with the president. Then he said, "You are going to a French military prison." This is what he said to me. I said, "I don't care. I'm going where the president goes." Then he said, "You will be greeted by a French colonel on your arrival."
No Americans got off the plane. Nobody. Only the three of us. Only the Central African Republic minister of foreign affairs came on the plane. We left the airport before the plane took off. Before that, we went into a small terminal. It was in the morning. We sat in the terminal for thirty minutes. The minister allowed journalists to ask him questions, but he was in no mood to talk. Then they drove us to President Bozize's palace. The president was out of town. They took us to two rooms in a side section of the palace. It was three days before President Bozize returned from out of town.
More information about Randall Robinson and his book can be found at www.randallrobinson.com.
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.