TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEWS ON HAITI: THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES
Broadcast on WBAI, 99.5 FM every Saturday from 3 – 4 p.m.
Hosts: Margareth Dominique, Kim Ives and Roger Leduc
Engineer: Marquez Osson
Contributor: Karine Jean-Pierre
(Back programs can be heard online by visiting our archives at www.wbai.org/archives. Scroll down to select Haiti: The Struggle Continues on Saturday afternoon.)
PROGRAM OF SEPTEMBER 30, 2006
1) From Port-au-Prince, an interview with Patrick Elie, former head of Haiti’s Anti-Narcotics Unit, on the September 30, 1991 coup d’état
2) From Port-au-Prince, an interview with Josué Renaud of the New England Human Rights Coalition for Haiti, and Yves Engler of the Canada Haiti Action Network (CHAN) about demonstrations and a conference on justice in Haiti.
Interview with Patrick Elie on the September 30, 1991 coup d’état
Kim Ives: Fifteen years ago today, the Haitian Armed Forces under the leadership of General Raoul Cédras and Colonel Michel François carried out a bloody coup d’état in Haiti against the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Over the next three years, more than 5000 Haitians would die at the hands of the Army and paramilitary death squads.
President Aristide barely escaped with his life into exile, first in Venezuela and then in Washington. Many other officials of his government sought exile in embassies. One of the last officials to escape Haiti after the September 30, 1991 coup was Patrick Elie, the head of Haiti’s Anti-Narcotics Unit and later the secretary of state for the Interior and National Defense. A long-time democracy activist, Elie today is a founding member of the Citizens Watchdog Center, and joins us from Port-au-Prince. Patrick Elie, are you there?
Patrick Elie: Yes, I am
Kim Ives: Good afternoon.
Patrick Elie: Good afternoon.
Kim Ives: Thank you for coming on the show. Patrick Elie, can you take us back to Haiti 15 years ago today? What was happening, and what were you experiencing?
Patrick Elie: Well, you know, it was at the same time something that was quite predictable – we could see it coming – and yet it still was a surprise in the sense that, even though the Haitian Army had a long history of turning against the Haitian people, but I was and we were taken a back by the violence meted out by the Haitian Army on the poor people of Haiti and of Port-au-Prince in particular.
When I say it was predictable… Even though President Aristide had been quite forthcoming toward the Army by giving them a chance to, in a way, reconcile with the Haitian people, and he had made all kind of efforts in that direction, we could see that something was in the making, especially given the activities of Michel François a couple of weeks prior to the coup.
But what I remember the most is a feeling of anger and of powerlessness because, as you might recall, President Aristide was elected. He did not take power by force and all the people had to defend themselves and to defend their choice was the ballot and then their hands, a couple of stones and sticks. And they were facing an army with battle rifles, assault rifles and armored personnel carriers, and an army that was willing to shoot and kill. And really there was nothing that they could do to stop that machine of death.
President Aristide tried as much as he could, even, you know, trying to have the people make a show of force on the day that he came back from the UN, a day that he was scheduled to be assassinated. If you remember, he did not come right from the airport to the Palace, but went through Cité Soleil and the popular neighborhoods in order to rouse a crowed that then took him to the Palace….
Kim Ives: That’s when he was coming back from the United Nations…
Patrick Elie: … from the UN, yes, where he had given a speech. Before the coup started, I had been given assurances that there was not going to be a coup. General Cédras himself had told President Aristide – of course lying through his teeth – that everything was under control.
But, I was at the time in contact with a number of popular neighborhoods. When they started reporting to me that the Army was not shooting in the air but actually killing people, and they were describing the scenes to me almost in real time, then I realized that we were in for something horrible. On that very same night and the following day, when the people, I heard, came to the rescue of President Aristide who was at the time in his residence in Tabarre and also came to kind of re-enact Jan. 7  when the masses successfully blocked the coup by Roger Lafontant, well, this time the Army was ready, and there was a really terrible massacre, and we will never know really how many people were killed…
Kim Ives: And Roger Lafontant was the former head of Tonton Macoutes, the paramilitary force of the Duvalier regime.
Patrick Elie: Yes, and he was also killed that very same day while in jail..
Kim Ives: …during the coup.
Margareth Dominique: Patrick Elie, besides the Haitian Army, who else was responsible for fomenting the coup?
Patrick Elie: You had the usual suspects – mainly the US administration through the CIA and of course part of the Haitian monied elite, which financed the coup and helped the military and the death-squads survive some of the sanctions that were applied by the OAS.
The reason why I can affirm that the CIA was actually involved in the preparation of the coup is that, first of all, no coup ever takes place in Haiti without the blessing of the US – either the DIA or the CIA – but also at the time because of my position as the head of the Anti-Narcotics program. I had contact with the CIA station chief in Haiti and the questions he was posing to me regarding the security of the new government were the exact issues that were raised the very same day of the coup by the military that pulled that coup. And subsequently, I must say, I was encouraged by this CIA station chief who was giving me very false information regarding the firepower of the Army and their stock….
Kim Ives: What was his name?
Patrick Elie: His name was Donald Perry. He was in fact pushing for us to actually try and wage an armed struggle. They wanted to prove to the world that what had taken place was not a military coup against a freely elected government, but in fact, you know, an army reacting against a movement that was an armed movement. I came very close to falling for that trap, but I was very fortunate to speak to President Aristide, and he told me in no uncertain terms that I should not get involved in any adventure of that sort.
Kim Ives: Patrick Elie, why do you think they carried out the coup when they did? Why September 30, 1991?
Patrick Elie: Well, you know, when you get toward October in Haiti, that is when school resumes, it is always a difficult time for most Haitians, and it is also when you have to pay all kind of taxes. So tensions are usually high during that period and I think it was chosen for that.
Also I think that had President Aristide, had he been given enough time, his government would have gotten stronger. So it was a matter of making a better preparations than the one that was made on Jan. 7, which was an improvised affair, and this time the Army was ready.
Kim Ives: We are speaking with Patrick Elie the former head of Haiti’s Anti-Narcotics Unit and presently a founding member of the Citizen’s Watchdog Center in Port-au-Prince.
Roger Leduc: My name is Roger. Patrick Elie, you mentioned yourself that there were indications that the coup was coming against President Aristide. In New York and the Diaspora generally, especially in Montreal, rumors were persistent and rampant for weeks that there was going to be a coup d’état. Having the benefit of hindsight right now, let’s use it. What do you think could have been done to avoid and fight against the impending coup d’état?
Patrick Elie: That is a question that I must have asked myself about a thousand times when I was in exile and even now. And I truly believe that the coup could not have been stopped, because it was not a matter of the policies that the Government was following. Because all it was doing was executing the mandate that the Haitian people had given it. It was a decision taken, I believe, the very same day that President Aristide won the election. Except that it had to be prepared because really President Aristide’s victory came as a surprise for those who usually try to control Haitian politics. He declared very late in the process, and swept the election, and there was nothing ready for that so, it took seven months to actually cook up a response. But given the nature of that response and given the fact that Lavalas, although in a way a revolutionary movement, did not have access to power following, let’s say, an armed struggle, so it had truly no way to stand up to the kind of firepower that the Army was using.
So in that sense, the coup could not be stopped. As we’ve seen after that, the struggle of the Haitian people and the total inadequacy of the solution that the military tried to impose actually undid the coup partly. I must insist partly, because the momentum that we had was broken and of course you know that when President Aristide came back he came back almost as a prisoner.
Roger Leduc: I’m going to put the question in another way. Could we say that there was a combination of two factors? One military factor, whereby the Army and the Macoutes had learned to take the streets before the masses could take the streets to avoid what happened in the Roger Lafontant incident, so it wouldn’t repeat itself. And also, maybe there could have been a political misreading from President Aristide and his entourage about who their real enemies were inside the Army, so they had confidence in somebody like Cédras and others when they shouldn’t have?
Patrick Elie: People have surmised that had – what’s his name – [General Hérard] Abraham, been left as the head of the Army, the coup would not have happened. I am not at all sure about that.
It is true that it would have been best if the Army top brass had been coming from two different classes [of the military academy]. As it happened, by retiring the generals on the day of his inauguration, President Aristide ended up with chiefs of staff that were all from the same [graduating] class in the military academy and [ they] were more able to militarily conspire. But, you know, this is only in hindsight, and I am not at all that sure that this would have prevented the coup.
A major player in that coup, as you know, was Michel Francois, who at that time was a major and who had been involved in the coup of Roger Lafontant. We were scheduled to have him transferred or fired, but at that time, it was too late.
Kim Ives: Patrick Elie, could you describe a little bit for our listeners the repression that occurred in Haiti during those three years of the coup, as well as the resistance to the coup?
Patrick Elie: The repression, you know, I lived only through the first few months of it, because I left Haiti the next February or March.
Kim Ives: February or March of 1992.
Patrick Elie: Yes, 1992. And I can tell you that while I was there the repression was ferocious. Every day we’d have the raids, especially in the popular neighborhoods like Cité Soleil, Bel-Air, La Saline, and people were getting massacred, thrown in jail; a bit very similar to what has happened the last two years after the second coup, that of February 29th, 2004.
From the get -go, people would not take it lying down. There were some attempts at limited armed struggle, but because there were no weapons, people were using rocks in the popular neighborhoods, trying to ambush Army patrols. But mostly, it was pacific resistance of the people, who would organize sometimes impromptu demonstrations, and, all in all, making known to the world that they did not accept the coup, and they were not going to stand for it. Of course, a tremendous contribution in that resistance was given by the Haitian diaspora who, as you know, was really united in their rejection of the coup and in reaching out to the American public opinion and world public opinion. And that was part of the resistance also.
Margareth Dominique: Patrick, I’d like to go back to your comment about the resistance in 1991 being pacific. I want for you to sort of compare and contrast the resistance back then to the resistance today, following the 2004 coup d’etat, and also the level of repression between the two coups. Can you please sort of compare and contrast them for our audience?
Patrick Elie: On the quality of the resistance, I think that, first of all, you have the people, especially in the popular neighborhoods, people who are battle scarred but also battle hardened. And in terms of quality of resistance, I’d say the resistance today is more determined, as it was after the first coup. And also, something else came in the picture: armed self-defense. People learned that when they come to cancel their votes, then they are going to try and cancel their lives. And the young people standing up to that second coup are very often the young brothers and sometimes the sons of the militants that were killed during the first coup, who saw their mothers raped, saw their house torched, and they would not accept it anymore. So they organized to defend their neighborhoods in a more efficient way than they could do it back then.
As for the level of repression, I can testify more about this coup, because as I said, after a couple of months, I went into exile after the first coup, because I was being actively hunted. The level of repression in my opinion has been higher this time. Just as the resistance has been, I’d say, harder, so has the repression. And I am not at all surprised by the Lancet study who put the number of victims, in terms of murders, of outright killings, at more than 8,000 in the 22 months of [de facto Prime Minister Gérard] Latortue.
Kim Ives: And we have been speaking with Patrick Elie, the former head of Haiti’s Anti Narcotics Unit and later Secretary of State for Interior and National Defense, about the coup of Sept. 30, 1991, 15 years ago today. Patrick, we would like to thank you for the time you spent with us this afternoon and we look forward to talking to you more about not only about the aftermath of 1991 coup but also what the situation is for Haiti today, and the struggle for justice. We want to thank you for joining us, and we hope to talk to you soon again.
Patrick Elie: Thank you for the invitation. I think the diaspora should get on the case of this attempt of rebuilding the Army. A lot of false arguments are being given by the same people who destabilized President Aristide. And I think in the diaspora, one should be aware of that and stand up against that campaign.
Interview with Josué Renaud of the New England Human Rights Coalition for Haiti, and Yves Engler of the Canada Haiti Action Network (CHAN) about demonstrations and a conference on justice in Haiti.
Margareth Dominique: Today, demonstrators are marching through Port-au-Prince to mark the 15th anniversary of the September 30th, 1991 coup d’état in Haiti. The Lavalas Base organizations, the September 30th Foundation, the National Popular Party and the Down With Satan Coalition called a march from St. Jean Bosco, Aristide’s old church, through the capital.
On Thursday and Friday, the New England Human Rights Coalition for Haiti organized a conference in the northern city of Cap Ha tien entitled “Civil Responsibility & Human Rights,” at which some 500 students gathered to discuss the question of justice in Haiti today.
Joining us by phone from Port-au-Prince are Josué Renaud, a leader of the New England Human Rights Coalition for Haiti, which is based in Boston, Massachusetts, and Yves Engler, an activist based in Montreal with the Canada Haiti Action Network or CHAN, who also attended the conference in Cap Ha tien.
We welcome both of you to the show.
Josué, let’s begin with you. Tell us how the mobilization is today in Port-au-Prince. How many people came out and what are they saying?
Josué Renaud: Unfortunately, I am sorry, I cannot talk about the demonstration because I just came back from Cap-Ha tien, so I cannot really talk about the demonstration. I just came to Port-au-Prince.
Margareth Dominique: Okay, can you tell us about the conference in Cap Ha tien?
Josué Renaud: Yes that was a two day conference in Cap Ha tien with 500 students, and we had a wonderful forum, and I think Yves Engler is entitled to talk about the conference. Yves, can you say something about it? Hello, Yves?
Yves Engler: Yes, there was a conference yesterday and Thursday. I think there was about 400 mostly university students who listened to a whole number of speakers speak on a number of different topics regarding human rights and civil society participation in building a functioning democracy in Haiti
Kim Ives: Yves, have you seen anything of the demonstrations today on the anniversary of the coup.
Yves Engler: Unfortunately, we also didn’t get to the demonstration in time. I heard it started from St. Jean Bosco but due to the plane leaving a little later than we hoped and not arriving on time, we missed the demonstration. We just went to So Ann’s, Annette Auguste’s house, and someone talked to Pierre Antoine who said it was a success but I didn’t actually hear how many people were there and what took place exactly.
Kim Ives: That would be Pierre Antoine Lovinsky of the September 30th Foundation, one of the march organizers.
Roger Leduc: Josué Renaud or Yves Engler, either one of you can answer this question. There are definitely signs that the Haitian government of René Préval and [Jacques Edouard] Alexis is under siege. The whole question of insecurity in Haiti is just a mask for class struggle, it’s like a pretext to repress the [the people]. Do you have a sense that the students, or whoever was at the conference, understand the gravity of the situation?
Josué Renaud: I think that the way people perceive the situation in Haiti… I don’t see any functioning government in Haiti. There are people who are there but they just do exactly what the international community asks them to do. Let me give you an example of indecency. How come, with regards to arms, you have the U.S. embassy asking people to come and give their guns and then they will get paid or they will, if they know anyone who has a gun, call the U.S. embassy? That, to me, is a shame and the [Haitian] government should be ashamed also. I think the U.S. and Canada, those people are in charge. No question about it.
Roger Leduc: Josué, a few days ago, they had the burial of [former Colonel] Guy François, a putschist from the first coup d’état, according to all rumors, and in the church, I could see all of the prime suspects of the coup d’état, all of the big dignitaries from the Army standing right there. And I hear nobody from the press, from the government, or from the Parliament talking about arresting those people for crimes, or asking them to get their gangs to return their weapons. What’s going on in Haiti?
Josué Renaud: Let me tell you, they are talking about Sanba Boukman, a decent man, someone who never used violence or talked about violence. This is someone I respect. The fact that he always talks about peace… And today, the press, and the human rights organizations like NCHR in Port-au-Prince, they are talking about Sanba Boukman.
But the main problem of Haiti is those people who orchestrated violence in Haiti, those people who encourage violence in Haiti, and those are people who are people who are trying to manipulate the situation in Haiti. And then they try to talk about Sanba Boukman in terms of someone who is encouraging violence. I think that is wrong, and I think that the New England Human Rights [Coalition on Haiti] supports and I think brings their solidarity to Sanba Boukman.
Kim Ives: Yves Engler, you traveled from Canada to Haiti for the conference and today’s demonstration. What is your assessment of the Canadian government’s postures towards justice in Haiti today?
Yves Engler: I’m sorry, I missed the last part of that question…
Kim Ives: How would you characterize the Canadian government’s posture towards the people’s demand for justice in Haiti after the coup?
Yves Engler: I still missed the second half of the question but I think that regarding Canadian policy, I just had an interesting… I just sort of bumped into as I was walking up the street earlier this morning, I bumped into the head of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) for Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. That [agency] is the equivalent of USAID in the U.S., and I had an opportunity to question the new head of CIDA, question him about Canada’s role in funding, for instance, a group formerly known as NCHR, now called the RNDDH, who are behind this campaign against Sanba Boukman and who were behind the imprisonment of Yvon Neptune and my impression just from talking to these Canadian government officials was just that they are in total denial of what is actually taking place.
Like in one instance I referred to a woman named Danielle Magloire, who was a member of the Council of Wise People who was receiving a significant amount of money from the Canadian government, and I basically laid out how she is essentially a neo-fascist. But what’s interesting is that… and I think that [unclear] to see this at the conference was, the majority of the media here in Haiti is pushing a very hard right agenda. So my impression with many of the people who I spoke to at the conference is that they actually believe what they hear on the radio – these are people, these are students, university students – they are not the poorest of the poor, so they are somewhat of the intellectual class. And I think it’s important… one of the things that I actually learned was to see how effective the right-wing elite media is here, at least with sectors of the intellectual class and also obviously with Canadian government officials, who themselves were repeating these lies that were put across the Haitian right-wing media.
Obviously the larger Canadian policy that is important is that Canada helped to overthrow Haiti’s elected government, organized the meeting where the coup was planned 13 months before and since has, or had, supported significantly the de facto government as they waged their massive campaign of political repression. And today, you have the Canadian government say, on one hand, they say they support the elected government of Préval but on the other hand they are doing a lot of things to undermine that government’s possibility to move forward with the agenda that the government was elected to implement.
Margareth Dominique: We are speaking with Josué Renaud and Yves Engler about a conference in Cap Ha tien, Haiti on civil responsibility and human rights. My question is to Josué. You mentioned that there is no government in Haiti acting but only the occupying forces and the former Tonton Macoutes. Do you see the Préval government as being just a puppet?
Josué Renaud: I would, I would say that. How could, if you have a government, legitimate government, it cannot take any decision…
Yves Engler: [interrupts, unable to hear well] Sorry, if that was a question for me, I don’t think that for the most part, the situation, the facts on the ground, have not changed…
Margareth Dominique: Ah, ah, one at a time…
Yves Engler: …there are still 9,000 U.N. forces here in Haiti. The Interim Cooperation Framework, which is basically a neo-liberal plan, is still in effect and all loans of that aid are dependent upon the Haitian government’s fulfilling the Interim Cooperation Framework.
The head of the police [Mario] Andresol is basically a guy… The Canadian government, the Canadian police incorporated hundreds of former military into all of the important positions within the Haitian police. The media is still in the hands, the vast majority of the media at least, are still in the hands of the hard right, the economy is in the hands of a select few, and now instead of Latortue’s face in the prime minister’s place, you have Jacques Edouard Alexis, or René Préval as president. So I don’t think you have the slightest influence….
Kim Ives: Yves, Yves, thank you…
Yves Engler: … in the position of prime minister or president.
Margareth Dominique: Ok Yves, that’s all we have time for today. And thank you Josué. Perhaps next week, you can help us to answer the role of the Préval government in the oppression and repression in Haiti.