Info: Randall Robinson discusses his new book, “An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, From Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President,” on former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the revolution that led to his current exile.
Uncorrected transcript provided by Morningside Partners.
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BRIAN LAMB, HOST, Q&A: Randall Robinson, you have a quote that a friend of yours said to you in your book on Haiti.
�Randall, you�ve got to let go of this Haiti thing. I mean, you�ve got to – just got to let go.� Where was that?
RANDALL ROBINSON, AUTHOR AND ACTIVIST: We had Harvard black law students alumni – Harvard black alumni had a program there. And I honored, and I was asked to speak. And a lot of my remarks were about Haiti.
This fellow was – he�s a very successful lawyer in Chicago, perhaps more of a businessman than a lawyer – nice fellow. I like him a great deal.
But he doesn�t know anything about Haiti or the large significance of it and the significance of what he does not know. And, of course, that�s been cleverly engineered, as well.
And somehow I had irritated him, and he couldn�t contain it. And I had raked over something that bothered him.
He said, �You�ve just got to let this thing go.�
And it bothered me a great deal, that he would say something like that. And it largely was kind of a fruit of ignorance, that I think cripples so many Americans about a situation we all ought to know a great deal more about.
LAMB: I�ll get back to this book in a moment. But you wrote a book called �Quitting America.� At the time, talked a lot about leaving this country and going to St. Kitts.
What�s the impact been on you? When did you do it? And do you still have any connection to the United States at all?
ROBINSON: Yes, I have some. My mother and family are here. My mother is 93. I come back to see her. My sisters are here in Washington. I come back from time to time to see them.
My wife is from St. Kitts, and so, it�s a very comfortable move. We�d been going there for 20 years before we decided to move there.
It�s terribly different from this kind of society. It�s exquisitely beautiful, stunningly so.
It is a culture that is not at all commodified, so it is very unlike this one. It�s not narcissistic like this one is.
It�s left off some world maps. There are only 35,000 people there.
But it has – it affords a kind of intimacy with people you rush past in a big place. And so, it�s been very good for me, and I love it.
It allows, I think, people who are of a spiritual type to learn how to simply be, and to become self-examining and to relate in a more humane way to other people. And so, it�s been wonderful for me.
LAMB: What was the impact of that book that you wrote? Which was, as you know, people would characterize it as being angry. But you say, I read somewhere in an interview, that you personally are not angry, that you are happy.
ROBINSON: I�m extremely happy. People who disagree with me have observed often that a lot of my books are angry. Somehow, what people disagree with becomes a rant to them.
I�m not angry, but I suppose, in a certain way, I�m angry about a certain experience. Were I not angry, I�d be a lunatic.
Sometimes anger is appropriate. It�s the appropriate response to things that are done that are cruel and wrongful.
But it�s not the kind of anger that boils my insides and makes me less balanced or thoughtful a person. No, not at all. I wouldn�t think so.
LAMB: Let�s add up a couple of quick things for, say, someone who had never heard of you. How many years with TransAfrica, that you founded?
ROBINSON: Twenty-five years.
LAMB: What was the purpose of TransAfrica?
ROBINSON: TransAfrica was to galvanize African-American support for American policy towards Africa and the Caribbean that were constructive policies, and opposition to policies that were not. And that�s what I did for 25 years.
LAMB: When did you quit?
ROBINSON: Six years ago, when we left. And I simply wanted to take some time to write.
I�ll be 66 years old tomorrow. And so, time passes. I wanted to think about things, and I wanted to live in a different place.
I also wanted to have an experience that was unmarked by the burden of race. It is a preoccupation of African Americans in an era where mainstream America doesn�t like to talk about things that are unpleasant to it.
It doesn�t like to talk about the 700,000 Iraqis that have died in this war. It doesn�t like to talk about what has happened to Native Americans.
It doesn�t like to talk about the prison industrial complex, and how this is a derivative of slavery. One out of eight prisoners in the world is an African American. And what that means for the future of African Americans – it doesn�t like to talk about things like that.
And it�s a wrenching thing to live in a country that really, in ways that are important and central, is not a welcoming space for you.
Well, in St. Kitts, you don�t think about these things all the time.
We also wanted our daughter, I think, to have a happy adolescence. She had always been a very good student, but you only have one adolescence, and it ought to be pleasant.
And it is a very difficult thing for young black men and women in private schools in the nation�s capital. You may get a good education, but you may not be so happy when you�re getting it.
And so, she went to high school in St. Kitts.
LAMB: Why may you not be so happy?
ROBINSON: One, there is, in a society with a history like America�s, that does not want to talk about slavery and the continuing consequences of it, does not want to talk about continuing discrimination, does not want to talk about the things that bother various elements of America�s populace.
And so, having a social experience in that kind of space is not always comfortable and easy.
I do think the school she went to went out of its way to make its black students comfortable. But it wasn�t our culture.
One shouldn�t have to make oneself over into something else. We ought to all celebrate each other�s culture. We should celebrate each other�s histories. We should know as much about Africa and its antiquity as we know about Greece and its antiquity, for the mutual benefit of all of us. But we don�t do that.
We should know as much about the sort of circular, spiritual philosophy of Native Americans and the naturalness of it, and the role of wood flute music and the way they see the world. We should know as much about that as we do Western religions.
We should know as much about African religions as we do about our established religions.
But we don�t care about anything but those things that have to do with the American mainstream and their relationship to those places that they came from.
That�s a stinging, constant, unbroken rebuke to everybody else who lives in this space.
And so, the experience that my daughter has had, as a bicultural or bi-national young woman, has been a wonderful experience for her.
And she had a wonderful education in a public school, poor with facilities, rigorous in its work ethic, and she has done well. And now she�s ready for college. And so, we made the right decision.
LAMB: What�s the racial mix in St. Kitts?
ROBINSON: Oh, it�s virtually all black.
LAMB: What does it feel like, for someone who grew up in a – I know you didn�t meet a black person – I mean, a white person – until you were, what, in college?
ROBINSON: I was in the Harvard Law School. I never sat in a classroom next to a white until I was 26 years old at Harvard.
I met whites when I went into the Army, when I was – I was drafted when I was 22. So, that�s when I met – that�s how rigid segregation was �
LAMB: So, what�s it like living in a virtually all-black society for you now?
ROBINSON: It�s good, because you don�t walk around with the heavy weight of race on you all the time. You think about all sorts of other things.
One shouldn�t have to think about this thing. One shouldn�t have to be that defensive. One shouldn�t have to have sort of pre-prepared, reflex-governed responses to things that happen – you know, buttons that are punched, that make you respond in a certain kind of way, because these are defense mechanisms.
These things wear you out. They sap your talent and destroy your energies.
And they warp people into other things. And the society just massively ignores that these things are going on – not just towards blacks. That is our problem, largely, in the world, in a way.
We are inclined to ask what happens, but are very disinclined to ask why.
We saw a poll the other day. Two-thirds of the American people believe that what we are doing in the world, this sort of transmission of our cultural attitudes, is a good thing.
And when countries were polled, including many countries that are allies of ours, exactly the reverse was true.
Now, if we are loathed in the world, you would think we would be disposed to ask why. What is it that we�re doing that causes people to loathe us?
LAMB: What do you think it is?
ROBINSON: Well, it has something to do with this kind of smothering narcissism that I was talking about, a kind of arrogance.
One can�t count the times that Americans say that we are the best country in the world.
What a marvelously stupid thing to say. Of all the countries in the world, everybody thinks that the country is pretty good.
Why do we have to believe that we�re the best? What does that – what does that mean? And why do we have to assert it all of the time? And what does it mean to other people who consume it?
American products go around the world, information products go around the world. So, you�re observed by people in every corner of the world. And we teach them not to like us, gratuitously.
Somehow we never can turn it around. What if we were occupied?
What if people from another place, who spoke a language different from ours, had a faith different from ours, had a culture different from ours, occupied us? What would we feel?
Why can�t we do that? Why can�t we do the transference? I don�t understand it.
LAMB: Let me go back to your book. And the name of it is �An Unbroken Agony.�
Anybody going to read this book about Haiti, in your opinion? And why?
ROBINSON: Oh, I think �
LAMB: And how hard was it to sell it to Civitas Basic Books?
ROBINSON: Quite easy. I think that it will be read by a large number of people outside the United States. I think it will be read by a large number of African Americans, and obviously, a large number of Haitian Americans, and perhaps even a large number – a surprisingly large number – of white Americans.
My friend who made the remark that disturbed me at the Harvard function, obviously doesn�t know that the Haitian revolution is the first and only successful slave revolution in the Americas. And it signaled the end of slavery throughout the Americas.
An army of ex-slaves, led by Toussaint Louverture, an ex-slave himself, and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, defeated armies of France, Spain and Britain in a 12.5-year war.
Four hundred and sixty-five thousand slaves in Haiti at that time. It was the most productive, profitable French colony in the world – 465,000 slaves. Almost immediately, 40,000 of them joined the revolution. A hundred and fifty thousand died in a war that lasted 12.5 years.
Napoleon ordered that all blacks over the age of 12 be exterminated.
Thomas Jefferson said that Toussaint should be reduced to starvation. George Washington lamented this impulse of the slaves, and hoped it would not be infectious.
The United States recognized the new France after their revolution. Not only did not recognize the first free nation in the Americas – because the United States was not free; 13 percent of its people were slaves – but did not recognize Haiti, and imposed sanctions on it, a global embargo, until the Emancipation Proclamation over 60 years later.
France imposed sanctions on the new Haiti, $21 billion, till 1915, 111 years after their successful revolution. Haiti was paying out 80 percent of its public resources to do debt service, and to meet that service on loans that they were forced to arrange from American and French banks, to pay these reparations to France – the only case in history where a successful nation was caused to pay reparations to a losing nation.
And so, there has been this uninterrupted, unbroken tide of revenge from the Western community against Haiti for their successful revolution. But it is that revolution that freed us all – freed South America. Haiti provided arms to Simon Bolivar, a printing press – all of that.
That revolution, the most important revolution in the history of this hemisphere, was pulled off by ex-slaves in Haiti. Toussaint Louverture should be a household name in the United States, especially for African Americans. No one�s ever heard of him.
I think the book will resonate with people, because it�s such a spectacular story.
But that is not the spine of the story. The spine of the story is something else that we don�t know, that�s much more recent, that American special forces soldiers abducted the democratically elected president of Haiti, from his home, with his Haitian-American wife, and took them off, against their will, to the Central African Republic.
LAMB: There�s a picture here of you with Jean-Bertrand Aristide. When was this taken?
ROBINSON: That was taken two years ago, when I went to interview him in exile, in South Africa.
He went from – when he was taken to the Central African Republic, Maxine Waters led a delegation I participated in, with Sharon Hay-Webster, member of the parliament of Jamaica, who was taking a letter from her prime minister, P.J. Patterson, granting asylum to Aristide in Jamaica, and Ira Kurzban, counsel from Miami, with some press people, to go to the Central African Republic to seek the release of Aristide.
He was released to us. We took him to Jamaica. The U.S. pressured, saying that he has to get out of Jamaica.
Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell – perhaps I should go back to the beginning of the story of how the coup occurred.
LAMB: Let me ask you, though. He was elected president of Haiti in what two times?
ROBINSON: Well, he was elected in 1990. Then the first coup occurred in �91. And that coup was carried off by forces that were armed and trained by the United States.
Then he was restored in 1994. He finished that term, and then he stepped down and Preval was elected in the year 2000.
LAMB: Why was he restored in �94? Who restored him?
ROBINSON: The United States did, largely, because the refugees that had been coming out of Haiti during the period between. You see, during the military period after the first coup, some 4,000 to 5,000 people were killed by the Haitian military that was armed and trained by the United States.
And the refugees were coming out to Florida and to other places. And President Clinton was turning them back, knowing that they were being killed once they went back to Haiti, turned back to the hands of the people who had chased them out of the country.
And so, we had to do something. And we thought that the best thing to do was to restore Aristide to power. And, of course, when that happened, the refugee tide stopped.
Before Aristide was in power, great refugees fleeing oppression in Haiti. During Aristide�s terms, no refugees.
And so, Clinton needed the state of Florida for his re-election. Florida didn�t want Haitian refugees. Guantanamo was filling up. There were no places else for them to go, and Clinton thought the wisest political course would be to restore democracy, and that�s how he came back to Haiti the first �
LAMB: How many elections have there been in Haiti in history?
ROBINSON: His was the first verifiably democratic election.
LAMB: In �90.
ROBINSON: In �90.
LAMB: When was he verifiably elected again?
ROBINSON: In the year 2000. He got 90 percent of the vote. And his party, the national and local elections got 75 percent of the vote.
LAMB: Where is he today?
ROBINSON: He�s in South Africa today.
LAMB: Haiti has how many people?
ROBINSON: Eight million.
LAMB: How long has it been at that level?
ROBINSON: Oh, for a long time.
LAMB: How many Haitians are in the United States, either here as citizens or �
ROBINSON: I don�t know what that number is. But obviously, hundreds of thousands.
LAMB: When was it a French colony? And when was that given �
ROBINSON: It was a French colony until the revolution that culminated in the dispatch of the French in 1804. January 1804, Haiti was declared a free and independent republic, and France was sent packing.
And so, it is for that, that the Western community has been so abusively cruel to Haiti for the last 200 years.
LAMB: When did the coup – what was the date of the coup?
ROBINSON: It was 3:30, or so, a.m., on the 29th of February, 2004.
Let me tell you what my direct role in it – and my wife�s direct role in it.
We were – my wife had worked on the Hill, and then she went to work for Haiti. She had worked on Haiti issues on the Hill. And �
LAMB: For who?
ROBINSON: She worked for Ron Dellums, who was chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. And before that she had worked for Bill Gray, who had big interest in foreign affairs kinds of issues. And so, when she went to work for Haiti, she brought Ron Dellums onto the team, who by then had stepped down from the Congress.
On the night of the 28th, we all knew that these paramilitaries that had been armed and trained in the Dominican Republic, Haiti�s next-door neighbor, by American special forces, had crossed the border in early February. And instead of heading to Port-au-Prince – we didn�t know this at the time, but we later learned – they were headed north, not southwest towards Port-au-Prince, but north and way from Port-au-Prince.
And so, while it looked in the United States as if they were menacing Port-au-Prince and the democracy itself, really, the Aristides were in no imminent danger. The paramilitaries never reached closer than 100 kilometers of Port-au-Prince.
And so, the government was never in any jeopardy of being overthrown by the people we saw on our televisions, burning cities and tearing up the countryside. These were the people who had been armed by the United States.
LAMB: Why would the United States arm those people? And were they called rebels, also?
ROBINSON: Yes. They were called rebels, also. For several reasons.
Number one, I think this – it�s the old anger about what happened. And it�s the shadow of Jefferson and Washington. France�s humiliation – that is a part of it. That has been the tradition.
This does not start with Aristide. One can go back and read the speeches of Frederick Douglass – I have one in the book – in the late 1800s, to see that America was doing then what it did to Aristide.
If you read C.L.R James, the great Trinidadian writer, you see the same thing. You see Langston Hughes commenting on what Haiti was like.
Haiti is a society that is very much like South Africa. It�s not widely known, but it�s very reminiscent of what one felt under apartheid in South Africa.
You have whites who are enormously rich in a situation where one percent of the population controls 50 percent of the wealth. And then you have mulattos who are well off. And then you have blacks who are defined as a category of citizenship as peasants.
And, of course, democracy means, since blacks are the overwhelming majority there, that they would elect someone who would be concerned about their interests.
You have this enormous disparity in wealth, with whites and mulattos largely very, very well off, and blacks terribly poor.
This is the way it was during slavery. And France, immediately afterwards, moved to assist whites and mulattos in Haiti.
After the revolution, of some 700,000 Haitian black school children, only 1,000 had an opportunity to go to school. Even the Vatican ostracized Haiti after the revolution.
So, this has been the tradition from then until now.
LAMB: Why would France even care, once it was no longer a French colony, about the future of Haiti?
What was in it for France?
ROBINSON: I don�t know that anything was in, except anger.
LAMB: All these years later, they�re still �
ROBINSON: All these years later, there is a connection between well-to-do Haitians – white and mulatto Haitians – and France. Those well-to-do Haitians see themselves as more French than Haitian. They disparage the president.
Haiti is perhaps the most pervasively, culturally African place in the hemisphere. They have proverbs in Haiti that are African. Their Creole is redolently African. I mean, it has the flavor. The serious religion that America, again, likes to poke fun at. Voodoo is African.
And so, there is that clash of cultures in Haiti, and the way it falls out along the lines of wealth and poverty.
And so, France still very much cares about that – strongly. So much so, that France was part of this plot.
And so, when we saw all this on our televisions, I tried to reach, on the night of the 28th �
LAMB: 2004, February.
ROBINSON: � 2004, February – I tried to reach the Aristides at home.
The phone was answered by an American voice that I knew did not belong to the house – a male voice.
And I said, �Is the president there?� �No.�
�Is Mrs. Aristide there?�
�No.� And hung the phone up.
We had been working against a backdrop on all of this that was happening around the country, with Tavis Smiley. Tavis was going down to interview the president on Sunday, the 29th. And we were putting in place the last details. George Stephanopoulos was doing an interview, as well.
And not long after I got off the phone with the voice that didn�t belong to the house, Tavis called. And he said, �The trip is off.�
And Hazel, my wife, said, �Oh, my God. Nothing�s happened to him, has it?�
And he said, well, �No, I just got a call from Ron Dellums. And Ron said that he had just gotten a call from Secretary of State Colin Powell.�
And the secretary wanted Ron to convey to the president that Guy Philippe, the leader of the rebels, was coming to Port-au-Prince the next day, Sunday, to kill the president. And he wanted the president to know that the United States would do nothing to protect him.
The president knew at this time that the rebels were nowhere near Port-au-Prince, because his helicopter pilot had flown reconnaissance to the north and saw them bivouacked in Gonaive, about 100 miles north.
LAMB: Let me ask you about that helicopter pilot. He plays a role in the future.
LAMB: Did he – was he in the American military?
ROBINSON: He was. He was a sergeant in the American military, before going back to Haiti.
LAMB: And he ends up going with you �
ROBINSON: He ends up �
LAMB: � with the president.
ROBINSON: When the president was abducted, he went with him. And so, that night, at 3:30 or so in the morning, about 12 white Suburbans from the American embassy lined up in front of the wall, in front of the president�s home.
The American special forces took up places around the wall.
LAMB: How many?
ROBINSON: Thirty. All bearded. Franz Gabriel recognized them as special forces, because they were bearded. He was bearded, too, at the time. And he said that these red tracer dots were crisscrossing in the yard.
And then into the yard came another Chevy Suburban with one special forces person. And Louis Moreno of the American embassy, who walked into the house and said to the Aristides in the presence of Franz Gabriel, that �I was here when you came back in �94, and now I�m here to announce to you that you have to go.�
The president was taken from his home, put in the Chevy Suburban, taken to the airport and boarded on a large, jumbo aircraft, with no markings save an American flag on the vertical section of the tail assembly.
In the front of the plane were the Americans, then the president and then Steele Foundation guards. These were American security people who were supposed to be protecting the president.
Shades were drawn. The president was not told where he was being taken. They made their first stop in Antigua.
LAMB: How far is that flying?
ROBINSON: Antigua is west – no, east of, rather. Haiti is in the western Caribbean. Antigua is in the eastern Caribbean, not far from St. Kitts. We fly to Antigua in 10 minutes, so it�s very close to us.
And so, they were on the ground in Antigua with the shades drawn for some five hours. The Aristides asked, �Where are we�?
And they said, �We cannot tell you that.�
Mrs. Aristide attempted to raise the window shade, and she was told to put it down. She was not allowed to do that.
Later, Secretary Rumsfeld would say that, how could Aristide say he had been abducted. He was in Antigua and met with CARICOM, and he could have told them then, if he was being abducted.
Aristide met with nobody in Antigua.
LAMB: CARICOM is �
ROBINSON: The community of Caribbean states.
He met with nobody in Antigua. He didn�t even know he was in Antigua.
And then they took off again and stopped at the Ascension Island in the South Atlantic.
LAMB: That�s �
ROBINSON: That�s a refueling island �
LAMB: How long a flight? Was that a �
ROBINSON: Oh, it�s a long flight. I would guess we�re talking 10, 12 hours on that leg of it.
And so, friends of mine at the airport, airport officials in Antigua, sent me the customs declarations for entry and departure from the country. And that�s in the book, as well.
And at one point on the departure declaration, you see the U.S. saying down here that there 50 on board the plane, which is what Franz Gabriel said that was the total on the plane. And then that�s struck in the thing, corrected by the Americans, presumably, to say that no one was on the plane.
But in any case, the Aristides did not know where they were being taken until they were about to land in the Central African Republic.
LAMB: And that would be how far from Ascension Island?
ROBINSON: Oh, that�s not terribly far. I would guess that would be a three-, four-hour flight.
LAMB: So, it�s three o�clock in the morning. And what time did they get to the �
ROBINSON: They arrive the next day, early in the morning.
No American gets off the plane. They�re just dispatched, like parcels.
LAMB: How many people are with the president and his wife?
ROBINSON: Just the three – the president, his wife and Franz Gabriel.
Now, this is very unusual, because the U.S. tried to convince the public that the Aristides left voluntarily.
Now, in this, in the past, when the Duvaliers left, or the son, Jean-Claude left, or when those who succeeded him left, because they had been chased out, their departures were handled by the Americans, who made sure that they had a great many cameras and news people, and all of that, at the airport to document that.
LAMB: This was Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier.
ROBINSON: No, Papa Doc died. But Jean-Claude Duvalier, who became the head of state when his father died, with American support, at the age of 19, and those who succeeded him – all were chased out. But they were chased out and taken care of by the United States.
In the case of Cedras, his house was rented by American authorities in Haiti. And they were allowed to go to a nearby place, like Panama.
There wasn�t a Caribbean country that would not have welcomed the Aristides, but they were all threatened by the United States.
P.J. Patterson told us in a conference call �
LAMB: Who was P.J. Patterson?
ROBINSON: He was the prime minister of Jamaica – that Condoleezza Rice threatened him on the telephone, saying that, �If anything happens to a single American soldier in Haiti, I will hold you responsible.�
And this is because they knew that Aristide had such a tremendous following in Haiti.
LAMB: You have some very strong things to say in some of your interviews – and I can�t remember if I saw it also in the book – about Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Why?
ROBINSON: They behaved disgracefully.
ROBINSON: Well, first of all, he said that we�re not going to allow thugs to overthrow the government of Haiti. He played a central part in the abduction of the president. And he covered it up with a tissue of lies.
He knew what happened. He was a part of it. And his call to Ron Dellums, and Ron�s call to us – or my wife�s call to Ron – so that what Ron said to Tavis Smiley, he said again to my wife, in reporting what Colin Powell had said to him.
Colin Powell said, tell him that he will be killed on Sunday by Guy Philippe. And the United States will do nothing to protect him.
Powell had to know that Guy Philippe was nowhere near Port-au-Prince. He said that so that the president would be inclined to flee. The president did not.
Only then did it become apparent that the United States would have to carry out the abduction that they did.
And when the Caribbean countries demanded at the end of this an investigation at the U.N. level, the U.S. and France again pressured them, letting them know that any request that they made for an investigation would be vetoed by the United States and France at the Security Council level.
LAMB: You say in your book, a fellow named Stanley Lucas played a role in all of this. Who is he?
ROBINSON: Stanley Lucas is a child of Duvalierist parentage.
LAMB: He�s not from Haiti?
ROBINSON: From Haiti. Black, wealthy, conservative. The role that the Duvaliers played, the (INAUDIBLE) of Haiti is that, unlike South Africa, the South Africans made quite a boast of white supremacy. They made no bones about it.
And that, in part, was the undoing. I think they riled the world and roiled the forces of opposition when they did that.
Haiti – the wealthy in Haiti have been a great deal more clever. Whites in Haiti have hidden behind this sort of black veil of black governance. I mean, we�ll have black presidents, and we will give them carte blanche to do whatever it is they have to do to keep the poor in their place.
And we do that, as long as they give us carte blanche to turn this entire place into a cash cow.
Aristide got in trouble, because he really thought he was elected to serve the poor. And the first – one of the first moves he made was to remove the word �peasant� from birth certificates. That angered the wealthy and the privileged.
And then he raised the minimum wage to $2 a day. That was unheard of, you see.
And so, the Duvalierists have long kept the poor down. Aristide disbanded the army. He said, we don�t need an army. And he said that, for the first time, the wealthy have to pay more than negligible taxes. They have to pay for public utilities. And we need a more equitable distribution of wealth in our country.
LAMB: Give us just a minute of your involvement with South African apartheid. I mean, I know it�s hard. But, I mean, so that the audience, who may not know the story �
ROBINSON: Well, we – in the �80s, of course, carried on demonstrations at the South African embassy. We facilitated the arrest of some 5,000 people at the embassy over a period of a year. And that sort of drove the sanctions campaign through the Congress, and over the veto of Ronald Reagan.
And so, the Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 was passed. And that provoked similar legislation in countries around the world, and had a great impact on what was ultimately to being the downfall of the apartheid system.
LAMB: How long did you starve yourself?
ROBINSON: On Haiti?
LAMB: No – yes, on that other �
ROBINSON: Twenty-eight days.
LAMB: And what year was that?
ROBINSON: And that was – that was – what was that? I think that was �94. I think it was �94.
That was when Aristide was in exile in the United States. It was before he was returned.
And large numbers of refugees were coming out of the country, and President Clinton was turning them back to a sure death.
And so, I undertook the hunger strike to say that these refugees ought to be screened, like all refugees. If you were fleeing with a well-founded fear of persecution, international law requires that you be screened, and that legitimate political refugees, that have a well-founded fear for their lives, are to be given safe haven.
President Clinton was not doing that. The United States was not doing that.
We were welcoming Cubans willy-nilly, without any screening, without question. We were turning Haitians back with the same kind of completeness which was an abuse of human rights on the part of the Clinton administration.
And so, the hunger strike was to underscore that. And it ended when the president sent Sandy Berger to see me, saying that the United States would start to screen refugees, if I would end the hunger strike. I had been hospitalized by that time.
LAMB: The people that don�t like you and don�t agree with you would – and I�ve read it – would say, oh, you�re a big supporter of Fidel Castro�s, and always have been. And there are lots of other things said about you and why you support all of this.
What would you say to those folks? What�s your real motivation here?
ROBINSON: My real motivation is, and always has been, to support governments that I think are responsive to the interests of the poorest among them, people who have no big voice of their own, people who are suffering from a poverty of education and opportunity. Those who stand up for those people, I am sympathetic to.
I don�t know what it means for those who say I�m a big supporter of Fidel Castro. I like a lot of things that have happened in Cuba. Cuba has one of the best health care systems in the world, and according to world ratings, on par with the United States. I think that�s something of a significant accomplishment for a country that�s been under an embargo from the United States for all these years.
I went to hospitals in Cuba where they had no syringes, they had no gloves, they had no – because of the American embargo. The children were dying, because they couldn�t get simple surgery, because Cuba didn�t have access to the kind of equipment that the United States had blocked.
I thought some of what we were doing to Cuba was mean. I don�t see how you can embargo a country like Cuba and embrace a dictatorship like Pakistan, or trade with, happily, what amounts to a dictatorship like China�s.
And so, the fraud is in the public presentation we make to describe a lot of people – those America embraces, and those America opposes. I�m not suggesting that Fidel Castro is any kind of perfect leader. I think it very difficult to be that anyhow, when you�re under such smothering pressure from the United States.
But I do think that there are vast numbers of poor in Cuba who are better off than they were under Batista. And certainly, black Cubans are immensely better off than they were under Batista. We embraced Batista, and he did terrible things.
LAMB: Why does someone who has a Harvard law degree, who, I assume – I don�t have any idea – lives comfortably in St. Kitts currently, and been successful for 25 years running TransAfrica – why do you care about the poor?
ROBINSON: I was poor. Not as poor as the people we are talking about. But my mother and father were teachers, but they were poor. And we were segregated, and we were badly treated. And the sting of it has never left me.
And so, I think, too – and I hate to generalize – but in many situations, the poor have managed to survive with a great deal more of their humanity than the rich have. There�s something I�d like to see, and something I find sympathetic.
There�s no uglier quality in the world than greed, abusiveness, the abuse of power.
What right have we to invade and overthrow other countries? What right have we to tell a democratically elected president – of Haiti or anyplace else – it�s time for him to leave?
What right have we to trample upon other people�s constitutions, when the current American administration, from all appearances, has no respect for its own? And then you clothe it in some kind of pretentious, false virtue.
Americans find these things difficult to see through, I think, because we are a terribly ignorant society about global affairs and other cultures and other peoples and other ways of doing things and seeing life, because we have to believe we�re the best.
LAMB: Why is President Aristide in South Africa?
ROBINSON: Because he, I don�t think – he certainly can�t be there indefinitely. And I know he would like to go home.
But the rebels that we armed are still free in Haiti.
LAMB: Who is president now?
ROBINSON: The president is Rene Preval.
LAMB: How did he get to be president?
ROBINSON: He won an election. As a matter of fact, the election that he won – after the interim government came and was installed by the United States, of course, the United States had to arrange some kind of election. And we knew that any election that was arranged would produce somebody whose views were compatible with President Aristide�s.
But, you see, he�s still under a great deal of pressure. The same forces that were there then are there now. His supreme court was changed entirely by the interim government, in violation of the constitution.
The guy that we installed threw out half of the supreme court and installed his own people. And so, they don�t have control of that part of their system.
LAMB: We�re running out of time, and there�s one little story I want you to tell that is in your book. And I�ll get the picture here.
But it�s about this picture right here. And it�s about a reporter from the �New York Times� who – well, you tell the story.
ROBINSON: Yes. The reporter from the �New York Times� went to the bicentennial, which occurred scarcely two months before the coup. It was held on the national palace grounds.
And there was a crowd there, including my wife, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a number of people from the United States – a crowd there that could be easily estimated to be upwards of a half-million people.
They swelled beyond the gates and the streets and beyond, that just clogged and jammed with people.
And what�s the reporter�s name for the �New York Times�? It�s �
LAMB: I wrote it down, and I�ll have to find it, yes.
ROBINSON: Lydia Polgreen.
LAMB: Lydia P-O-L-G-R-E-E-N.
ROBINSON: Yes. Said that the crowd at the bicentennial was small, but enthusiastic.
There were more than a half-million people there.
LAMB: But you ran into her at �
ROBINSON: Yes, when we were leaving – when we were leaving Miami with the plane to go and attempt the rescue of the Aristides, she ran in breathless up to me and said that she wanted to go.
LAMB: And you had a �Washington Post� reporter on your plane.
ROBINSON: No, no. I have talked to Kevin Merida �
LAMB: Oh, that�s �
ROBINSON: Yes, see, I did have a �Washington Post� – Kevin arranged that. He was on the plane. And Amy Goodman was on the plane.
And I told her she couldn�t go. And she said, �But I�m with the �New York Times�.�
And I said, �But you can�t go.� Because �
LAMB: But you were surprised that when she showed up, she was black.
ROBINSON: I was surprised that she was black. And silly me, how naive can I be. As if, after Powell and Condoleezza Rice, we were fully capable of being totally unsympathetic to the condition of our own people, if our careers seemed to require it.
LAMB: I hate to do this, but we are out of time.
We�ve been talking about a book called �An Unbroken Agony.�
Randall Robinson lives now in St. Kitts, has for the last six years.
This is Haiti from revolution to the kidnapping of a president.
Thank you very much for coming on.
ROBINSON: Thank you. Nice to see you again, Brian.