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Haiti: The Kidnapping of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide

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Issue: 49 Section: Accounts Geography: Latin America Haiti Topics: Aristide, coup d'etat

October 23, 2007

Haiti: The Kidnapping of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide

New book chronicles events surrounding Aristide's removal from Haiti

by Darren Ell, Randall Robinson

Since Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was abducted by US forces in 2004, Haitians have continually demanded his return to Haiti from exile in South Africa, like during this demonstration in Cite Soleil in February 2007. ©2007 Photo: Wadner Pierre

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.

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This is absolutely

This is absolutely devastating...George Bush is probably the worst president in american history.His approval ratings is basically pathetic, he makes pretend the U.S. constitution doesnt exist. But there is no armed revolt in Washington, no military coup, nothing. Congress is even afraid to challange him. But its okay for him to go to other countries and kidnapp their presidents.

because they are a civilized

because they are a civilized and this is developed country. put in your thick heads that we haitians have to stop blaming others for our actions.

Corrections and Comments by Stanley Lucas

For the Record … Corrections and Comments by Stanley Lucas On Randall Robinson's July 22, 2007 C-SPAN Interview

Randall Robinson has written a book about Haiti's history, Unbroken Agony, which was published this year. On July 22, 2007, he gave an interview to C-SPAN http://www.q-and-a.org/Transcript/?ProgramID=1137covering his perspectives on a variety of issues, including recent events in Haiti. The following are some corrections and comments on the interview intended to clarify several of his misleading statements.

1. Mr. Robinson omitted mentioning that his wife, Hazel Ross-Robinson, not only has an extensive background working on Capitol Hill, but left the Hill to go to work for Aristide earning millions of dollars as a lobbyist defending Aristide's interests in Washington, DC http://www.haitipolicy.org/Lobbying7.htm

2. Mr. Robinson failed to mention if there is a connection between his book and the $30 million that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez pledged to actor and Aristide supporter Danny Glover to produce a movie about the Haitian independence and its impact on Latin America. The thrust of Robinson's book is essentially an effort to gloss over Aristide's abysmal record of drug trafficking, human rights violations, election rigging and corruption by positioning Aristide's story as an extension of the Haitian independence movement. The absurdity of comparing this man to the founding fathers of Haiti is evident and an insult to the Haitian people. There is a concern among Haitians that their history is subject to being sold out to the highest bidder – and therefore can be manipulated, specifically by the Aristide supporters. Comparing Jean-Bertrand Aristide to Toussaint Louverture would be like comparing Martin Luther King to O.J. Simpson. It's appalling.

3. Overall, it is disappointing to hear Mr. Robinson characterize everything in terms of race. Haiti is 99% black and proud to be the world's first black republic. However, the independence was not just about race. Haiti's founding fathers saw beyond race to the universal values of freedom and equality. Haitians fought alongside Simon Bolivar in his quest to liberate the Latin American countries. They fought alongside Americans in the Revolutionary War http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5173752062581162877&q=president+clinton+haiti&total=6&start=0&num=10&so=0&type=search&plindex=0 It was not about Latinos or Americans. For Haitians, it was about freedom and liberation. It is true, however, that outsiders may have considered us a threat because of our cause and because of our race, but that did not have an impact on our purpose. There is a further concern among Haitians that the collective memory of the Haitian independence movement could be tainted by these assertions. President Rene Preval requested that Danny Glover shoot the movie in Haiti and include Haitian historians and movie producers in the project to ensure that the only successful black revolution on earth is portrayed faithfully and accurately.

4. Mr. Robinson does not know me or my family. My father was a businessman and spent his career with the US Agency of International Development (USAID), where he retired. My mother is a businesswomen in her own right and never worked in Haiti. Neither were involved in politics. To state that my parents were supporters of Duvalier is an outright fabrication.

5. Randall Robinson and Ron Daniels were not in Savannah Georgia. Neither was Danny Glover. The unveiling of Haitian Monument in Savannah (see pictures @ www.solutionshaiti.blogspot.com ) to Honor a Platoon of Haitan Soldiers who fought for American Independence at the Siege of Savannah Georgia in 1779 was an opportunity for them to show that they cared about Haiti. This was a unique opportunity to showcase Haitian culture and highlight a truly positive aspect of the US-Haiti relationship. The political leaders of Savannah really extended themselves to make this monument come to fruition -- as did the people of the Haitian American Historical Society. However, when they could have used a little star power or support from black leaders -- neither were there. This reinforces the fact that they really only are interested in selling Haiti's history to the highest bidder.

Stanley Lucas

I totally agree with you

I totally agree with you stanley. i enjoy hearing facts.
thank you,

A reply to Stanley Lucas' comments

Mr. Lucas’ comments appear to be cut and pasted from a July 2007 entry from his personal blog, in which he criticizes statements made by Mr. Robinson during a C-SPAN interview. I will leave the attacks on Mr. Robinson to the author himself. However, it is worth mentioning that Stanley Lucas has been linked to the activities of the IRI (International Republican Institute) in Haiti during the period of the coup d’état of 2004. This places Mr. Lucas in the camp of one of the most important organizations that undermined Haitian democracy in 2004. The coup d’état ushered in two years of US and Canadian-backed terror which, according to the study done by the British medical journal, The Lancet, left over 8000 people dead in Port-au-Prince alone. Haiti’s leading human rights lawyer, Mario Joseph, stated to me in interview that this number had to be doubled to accurately reflect what the IRI’s grim achievements reflected throughout the country. The Lancet study also pointed out that 35,000 Haitian women were sexually assaulted in Port-au-Prince as a result of the coup. Again, Mario Joseph doubles the number for all of Haiti. Equivalent numbers in a country the size of the United States would be half a million murders and 2.5 million rapes in a two year period. Mr. Lucas apparently supports this scale of mass trauma, or at least finds it unworthy of mention amidst his expressions of love for Haiti. Finally, Mr. Lucas’ unsubstantiated claims about Aristide’s alleged crimes (drug trafficking, human rights violation, election rigging) have been debunked so often that it is getting boring, but I’ll include a link anyway.

I am not a republican but, i

I am not a republican but, i appreciate what the US, Canada & France Did to take that evil man out of my country. aristide loves to play innocent. aristide was not kidnaped; stop the nonsense. he is a catholic priest who got married and had children, i don't respect him he is a killer, thief, drug dealer, communist, dictator and anything that's wrong. i lived in haiti when aristide was president the first and the second term, so i know what i am talking about. all you haitians people who live here, you have no say because you don't know what your talking about?

Missing the Point

I think Mr. Lucas and PureHaitian are missing the very important point raised by Mr. Robinson's book. There are, of course legitimate reasons for them to disagree with the policies of the Aristide administration. I disagree with the policies of President Bush in my country. I work against those policies with the tools available in a democratic system: I supported congressional candidates who would oppose the polices, I write, call and visit my representatives in Washington, I support organizations that seek to limit or end President Bush's power through constitutional means, including impeachment.

But I would not advocate or support a foreign country, even one I liked, coming into the US and kidnapping my President. Any benefit in terms of improved government policies would be greatly outweighed by the killings that would be necessary to accomplish the overthrow (as happened in Haiti in 2004), and the instability that would result.

This position seems so obvious as to be barely worth mentioning with respect to the US or Canada. But for some reason people who would not even contemplate forced regime change in North America find it a perfectly acceptable means of realizing their short term goals in Haiti. Haiti will never have stability, and consequently economic development, until Haitian elites and their supporters in Canada in the U.S. stop applying this double standard.

Addressing Stanley Lucas

If your father spent his career with USAID, (read here CIA), why are you even part of this conversation?

Get a life or do like Robinson, write an idiot book to entertain the mass of Haitians with access to the web and nothing else to do but read about "Aristide's kidnapping"????


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