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Aristide says U.S. deposed him in ‘coup d’etat’

On behalf of Jed Kurzban

White House calls allegation ‘nonsense’

Tuesday, March 2, 2004 Posted: 11:37 AM EST (1637 GMT)

(CNN) — Ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide says he was forced out of Haiti in a “real coup d’etat” led by the United States, in what he called a “modern way to have a modern kidnapping.”

“I was told that to avoid bloodshed I’d better leave,” he said in an interview on CNN on Monday.

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.

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.

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