Robinson on Haiti's Tortured Past, Troubling Present
By Theola Labbé, a Washington
Post Metro reporter of Haitian descent
Thursday, October 18, 2007; Page C03
AN UNBROKEN AGONY
Haiti, From Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President
By Randall Robinson
Basic Civitas 280 pp. $26
Randall Robinson, the founder of the social justice organization TransAfrica,
has never shied from expressing his views. In "Quitting America"
(2004), he declared that the United States had nothing to offer him
and other native-born blacks -- a realization that drove him to move
with his family to the Caribbean nation of St. Kitts and Nevis. In "The
Debt" (2000), he argued in favor of reparations to African Americans
for the legacy of slavery. In his latest work, Robinson offers a passionate
retelling of the history of Haiti and the circumstances surrounding
the rise and fall of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Using history,
eyewitness accounts and his own role as a monitor for parliamentary
elections, Robinson has created a worthy account, in his trademark incensed
style, of how American and European policies have harmed, rather than
The book opens with Haiti's beginning as an island inhabited by 8 million
Taino Indians when Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492. Three decades
later, only 200 Tainos remained. Three hundred years later, freed slave
Toussaint L'Ouverture transformed fellow ex-slaves into soldiers and
led "the only successful slave revolt ever mounted in the Americas."
Robinson calls it "the most stunning victory won for the black
world in a thousand years."
While much has been written about the slave revolt, Robinson's contribution
is his focus on the revolt's reverberations throughout the rest of the
Americas in an era when slavery permeated the political and social landscape.
Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, whose ideas were precursors
to future foreign policy, were dismayed by how the slave rebellion was
progressing and reached out to French political leaders to express their
displeasure at seeing "such a spirit of revolution among the blacks."
Following the successful slave revolt, however, Haiti saw years of instability,
with rulers replaced in coups d'etat and military generals appointing
themselves leaders. The United States occupied the country for nearly
20 years at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1957, the authoritarian
Francois Duvalier was elected president. Known as "Papa Doc,"
he would be succeeded by his son, nicknamed "Baby Doc."
The election in 1990 of Aristide, a poor, populist priest, as Haiti's
president was a watershed moment. Aristide energized millions of poor
black Haitians, who for the first time felt that the government might
represent them rather than the interests of a coterie of wealthy Haitian
families. After a coup attempt and three years in exile, Aristide was
elected again in 2000.
Robinson's prose is often fiery as he lays out his indictment of the
colonialists who created the country's fractured economic and social
landscape. Haiti's successful slave revolt will always be an affront
to Western countries, he believes, but should be an inspiration to Africans
and African Americans. "Haitians have a culture that slaves once
bled to defend. . . . For this, Haitians are reviled by a white world
that the rest of us broken souls have long since succumbed to imitate,"
But Robinson is most appalled at the way Aristide and his wife (he resigned
from the priesthood in 1994) were removed from the country in 2004.
By far the most gripping and enlightening sections of the book are ones
in which Robinson, relying on interviews with Aristide's helicopter
pilot, Frantz Gabriel, describes how U.S. troops whisked Aristide out
of the country. Gabriel arrived at the president's house at 3:30 a.m.
on Feb. 29, after getting a call from security guard who sensed that
something strange was happening and told him to come.
When he got there, he found the president alone, but soon U.S. officials
pulled into the driveway. One walked into the living room and told Aristide,
"I'm the one that has to announce to you that you've got to go."
The Aristides were driven to the airport in a convoy of 10 white Suburbans;
they boarded a plane and, after some uncertainty as to where they would
be taken, were flown to the Central African Republic. Robinson spoke
to Aristide nearly daily after the forced exit and traveled to Africa
along with Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) to find out what had happened.
In recounting these events, Robinson often takes on a crusading tone,
using words such as "abduction" and "kidnapping"
to describe Aristide's departure. These are more than opinions to Robinson;
they are his truth, but with his urgent tone, he risks alienating the
kind of reader he may want to edify, someone ignorant of Haiti's unusual
history as a rebel slave colony.
Nevertheless, with his strong eye for detail, Robinson manages to illuminate
a tragedy that the rest of the world experienced only through news reports
and photographs -- if it paid attention at all. Describing his visit
with Waters to the Aristides in exile, he writes, "At the bottom
of the stairway, we saw the president and Mrs. Aristide standing side
by side in shadow waiting for us. Their faces wore small, guarded smiles.
Tired and emotionally drained, they appeared, nonetheless, composed
Three years later, unanswered questions still haunt Robinson. Why has
no one in the U.S. media investigated Aristide's claims that he was
wrongfully removed and forced to resign? Why was he spirited out of
his country and never told where he would be taken? Robinson has written
this book because he wants to invite more people to search for the answers.
Randall Robinson on "An Unbroken
Agony: Haiti, From Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President"
| Monday, July
23rd, 2007 | Democracy
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TransAfrica Founder Randall Robinson chronicles the 2004 U.S.-backed
coup that ousted Haiti's democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand
Aristide. Robinson challenges the Bush administration's claim that the
Aristides voluntarily left Haiti and recalls his trip to the Central
African Republic to bring the Aristides back to the Caribbean. He also
reveals new details on the U.S.-backed coup militants armed and trained
in neighboring Dominican Republic, including the accused drug smuggler
Guy Philippe. As the Aristides remain in exile, Randall Robinson joins
us in the Firehouse studio for the hour to talk about the coup, the
history of Haiti and the state of affairs there since the 2004 coup.
[includes rush transcript] Over 10,000 people marched in the Haitian
capital of Port-au-Prince last Sunday. They were calling for the return
of the exiled president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. It was his fifty-fourth
birthday. A number of people spoke, we begin with the folksinger Annette
Auguste, popularly known as "So An."
* Annette Auguste
On February 29th, 2004, the democratically elected president of Haiti,
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was removed from office by the United States
and flown to the Central African Republic. Two weeks later, in defiance
of the United States, a delegation led by California Congressmember
Maxine Waters and TransAfrica founder Randall Robinson chartered a plane
and headed off to Central African Republic themselves to bring President
Aristide and his wife back to the Caribbean. I accompanied them on that
trip. After hours of negotiating with the dictator in the capital Bangui
they freed the Aristides. As we flew back over the Atlantic, President
Aristide said that he had been kidnapped in a US-backed coup d'etat.
* Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide
Its now more than three years later. The Aristides remain in exile in
South Africa and Randall Robinson has just written a book called "An
Unbroken Agony: Haiti, From Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President."
He flew in from the Carribean island of St. Kitts last night and joins
us in our firehouse studio today.
* Randall Robinson, author of "An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, From Revolution
to the Kidnapping of a President." He is founder and past president
of TransAfrica and the author of the bestsellers "The Debt",
"The Reckoning", and "Defending the Spirit." His
website is RandallRobinson.com.
AMY GOODMAN: 10,000 people marched in the Haitian capital of
Port Au-Prince last Sunday. They were calling for the return of the
exiled president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. It was his fifty-fourth birthday.
This is Haitian folksinger and Lavalas leader Annette Auguste, more
well known as “So An,” speaking at the rally.
ANNETTE AUGUSTE: [translated] It is a nice way to say
happy birthday to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who is in exile
in South Africa today. There are people watching the final between Brazil
and Argentina. Still, it is good to see so many of the population who
took to the streets for a good cause. I always say that since December
of 1991. nothing has changed for the population.
LOUIS GERARD GILLES: [translated] Today’s rally shows
that the majority of the Haitian people are asking for the return of
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. If there is a state of right existing
in Haiti today, it is just for the government of President Rene Preval
to do the right thing. It is unjust to have this politician in exile.
DEMONSTRATOR: [translated] President Aristide will come back,
and when he does, we will all cry for victory, because the real hope
is with President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, not with Preval.
AMY GOODMAN: On February 29th, 2004, three years ago,
the democratically elected president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide,
was removed from office by the United States and flown to the Central
African Republic. Two weeks later, in defiance of the United States,
a delegation led by California Congressmember Maxine Waters and TransAfrica
founder Randall Robinson chartered a plane and headed off to the Central
African Republic themselves to bring President Aristide and his wife
Mildred back to the Caribbean. I accompanied them on that trip.
After hours of negotiating with the dictator in the capital Bangui,
they freed the Aristides. As we flew back over the Atlantic President
Aristide said he had been kidnapped in a US-backed coup d'etat.
JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: I will not go into details,
maybe next time. But as I said, they used force. When you have militaries
coming from abroad, surrounding your house, taking control of the airport,
surrounding the national palace, being in the streets, and taking you
from your house to put you in a plane where you have to spend twenty
hours without knowing where they were going to go with you, without
talking about details, which I already did somehow on other occasions,
it was using force to take an elected president out of his country.
AMY GOODMAN: And was that US military that took you
JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: There were US military, and
I suspect it could be also completed with the presence of other militaries
from other countries.
AMY GOODMAN: When they came to your house, in the early
morning of February 29th, was it US military that came?
JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: There were diplomats. There
were US military. There were US people.
AMY GOODMAN: The Bush administration said that when you --
after you got on the plane, when you were leaving, you spoke with CARICOM
leaders. Is this true?
JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: They lied. I never had any
opportunity from February 28 at night, when they started, to the minute
I arrived in car, I never had any conversation with anyone from CARICOM
within that frame of time.
AMY GOODMAN: How many US military were on the plane
JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: I cannot know how many were
there, but I know it’s the plane with fifty-five seats. Among
them we had nineteen American agents […] The rest, they were American
AMY GOODMAN: Were they dressed in military uniform?
JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: They were not only dressed
in -- with their uniform, it was like if they were going to war. For
the first period of time on the ground, when we went to the plane, after
the plane took off, that's the way they were. Then they changed, moving
from the uniform to other kind of clothes.
AMY GOODMAN: Civilian clothing?
JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: Yes
AMY GOODMAN: And did they go with you all the way to
the Central African Republic?
JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: They did, without telling me
where they were taking me, without telling me how long it would take
us to be there.
AMY GOODMAN: Exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide
in a plane heading back to the Caribbean. Then it was to Jamaica. It’s
now more than three years later.
The Aristides remain in exile in South Africa. And Randall Robinson
has just written a book called An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, From Revolution
to the Kidnapping of a President. He flew in from the Caribbean island
of St. Kitts last night and joins us in our firehouse studio today.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Randall Robinson.
RANDALL ROBINSON: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, it’s been three years since
you and Congressmember Maxine Waters, Sharon Hay-Webster, the member
of parliament from Jamaica, led that delegation on this small plane
to the Central African Republic, actually won the release of the Aristides
and brought them to Jamaica. Talk about that, as you watched President
Aristide three years ago in the plane that you were in, as well, what
you have learned since?
RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, we talked to -- I talked to
a number of witnesses, eyewitnesses to the abduction itself, witnesses
in Antigua who saw the plane on the ground, airport officials, and,
of course, witnesses to the whole operation and things that have gone
on in Haiti.
AMY GOODMAN: Why don't you flesh out that entire experience
that President Aristide was just talking about, as you understand it
today? What happened February 29, 2004?
RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, Franz Gabriel was the president’s
helicopter pilot. Franz Gabriel was a sergeant in the US military and
a Haitian citizen who had gone home to serve in the government and to
helicopter the president around. At about 3:00 on the morning of the
29th, he was called by one of the Haitian security people at the president's
home in Tabar and told that something wrong was developing in the president's
I had placed a call to the president earlier that evening on the 28th,
and a voice that didn’t belong to the house answered the phone.
It was an American voice, a male American voice. And I said, “May
I speak to President Aristide?” “He’s not here.”
“May I speak to Madame Aristide?” His American-born wife,
Mildred Trouillot Aristide. And, “She’s not here.”
“When will they be?” And I’m cut off. I became concerned.
I had never heard a strange voice answer their private phones before.
We had -- my wife Hazel had worked to arrange a visit of Tavis Smiley
to Haiti on the 29th. He was to interview the president downtown in
central Port-au-Prince at the palace about this turmoil that was unfolding
in the north of the country. The rebels, armed by the United States,
had entered the country early in February, moved north and away from
the capital and never showed, never demonstrated any inclination to
attack Port-au-Prince. And so, we were concerned in the United States,
because most of us didn’t know that they posed no threat to the
democratic government, and so Tavis was going there to interview the
president, and George Stephanopoulos was to interview him, as well.
And so, after I was unable to reach the president, Tavis Smiley called
me, or called my wife, because my wife was the one who was organizing
his visit. He said, “The visit’s off.” And my wife
said, “Oh, no! Has something happened to them?” And Tavis
said, “No. I just got a call from Secretary of State Colin Powell.
And Secretary of State Powell said to me that” --
AMY GOODMAN: This is Tavis?
RANDALL ROBINSON: Tavis, no -- well, yes, no. Tavis
said that he got a call from Ron Dellums. And Ron Dellums also worked
with my wife on the Haiti team. And Ron Dellums reported to Tavis that
he had just gotten a call from Secretary of State Colin Powell and that
the secretary said that Guy Philippe, the leader of the paramilitaries,
the American-armed and -trained paramilitaries, was coming to Port-au-Prince
on Sunday to kill the president. “And I want you, Ron Dellums,
to let the president know that this is going to happen, and let him
know that the United States will do nothing to protect him.” And
so, Tavis said, of course, the trip is off.
And then my wife called Ron Dellums, and Ron said, “Yes, I’ve
just heard from the secretary, and Guy Philippe is in Port-au-Prince
and will kill Aristide tomorrow, according to Secretary of State Powell,”
who had to have known that Guy Philippe was nowhere near Port-au-Prince.
President Aristide, of course, knew, because he had gotten reports from
Franz Gabriel. The idea was to frighten Aristide into abdicating his
office and fleeing the country on a plane provided by the United States.
And Aristide refused.
Later that morning, about thirty American Special Forces troops in full
combat gear, in twelve or thirteen white Chevy Suburbans of the American
embassy, surrounded the Aristide home, took positions on the wall around
the home. And you could see the red tracer pattern crisscrossing, crosshatching
in the yard of the home. And into the yard came one Chevy Suburban with
one of the Special Forces people fully armed, who was attending Luis
Moreno of the American embassy, who walked into the house and told the
president, “I was here when you came back in ’94, and I’m
here tonight to tell you it’s time for you to leave.”
They removed the president -- Moreno and the American Special Forces
-- from his home, took them to the airport -- the president, Mrs. Aristide
and Franz Gabriel -- took them from their home, boarded them on this
large wide-bodied aircraft with no markings, no tail number, only the
sort of large flag, American flag, on the vertical tail assembly, and
flew off, making their first refueling stop in the eastern Caribbean
Friends of ours at the airport in Antigua, airport officials, were not
allowed to board the plane, as is the custom for customs purposes. All
of the windows were drawn. The plane sat on the tarmac for five hours
or so. Secretary Rumsfeld said that when President Aristide was in Antigua,
he had met with members of the Caribbean leadership community. President
Aristide, as he said on the tapes -- quite right, and this is borne
out by witnesses in Antigua -- couldn’t have known where he was.
He was not allowed to see out of the plane, and no one on the outside
was allowed access to anyone who was on the plane.
And as I’ve published in the book -- I’ve published copies
of the American customs declarations -- and one of the declarations
has been altered from fifty present on the plane to no people on the
plane by the Americans who submitted the customs declarations to the
And then they flew off to the Ascension Island. And only when they were
approaching the Central African Republic were the Aristides told where
they were. And after they landed, no American official deplaned, no
soldiers, no one else. The Aristides were simply put off the plane,
as if they were parcels, along with Franz Gabriel. They weren’t
even told or treated or given any medication for the sometimes lethal
malaria strand that affects the Central African Republic and were kept
there in a small room for two weeks until our delegation arrived to
try and negotiate their release.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ll find out what happened after. This
is Randall Robinson. He’s just written a book called An Unbroken
Agony: Haiti, From Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President. Stay
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Randall Robinson. He has
just flown up from St. Kitts in the Caribbean where he has lived for
the past six years. He has written a new book. It’s called An
Unbroken Agony: Haiti, From Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President.
Randall Robinson is founder and past president of TransAfrica, also
author of The Debt, The Reckoning, and Defending the Spirit. Randall
Robinson, you just described that day, February 29, into March 1, as
the Aristides were taken by the US military and security from their
home in Haiti to the Central African Republic. Why CAR, the Central
RANDALL ROBINSON: Any number of Caribbean countries
would have welcomed the Aristides, but the United States wanted to get
him out of the hemisphere, as far away from Haiti as they possibly could.
And they wanted to send him to a country over which either the United
States or France had great sway.
The Central African Republic is de facto still a colony of France. And
it was under military dictatorship at the time that President Aristide
was taken there. And so, when we arrived, we saw cheek-by-jaw to the
airport was a French military establishment. It was no common civilian-use
airport. There were no planes. It was a very frightening affair. Troops
were all about. Obviously, the president was very nervous about threats
to his one-year-old military coup. And so, that’s how he was sent
there, and that’s how the country was chosen.
And President Bozize made plain to us that he had done this at the request
of the United States. Prime Minister Patterson of Jamaica demonstrated
enormous courage in giving to his parliamentarian Sharon Hay-Webster,
who went with us, a letter saying that he would welcome to -- providing
temporary refuge, asylum to President Aristide in Jamaica. And it was
with the presentation of that letter that we were able to prevail, but
not before President Bozize had to call France and the United States
to seek permission to release the Aristides to us. It was clear that
the United States was in control and that President Bozize was doing
this at the request of the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: We were reporting back to Pacifica and
to Reuters, following these hours of negotiations. As you negotiated
with the president, went to the presidential palace, the decision was
being made, are the Aristides going to be released. But the US had an
unusual situation here. They said that the Aristides had chosen to go
there, were free to leave. And yet, here you were negotiating, not with
them, but with the dictator for their release.
RANDALL ROBINSON: Oh, it was absolutely clear that they weren’t
free to go anywhere. And Bozize made that clear. The Aristides had never
been to that country before, knew no one in that country and certainly
wouldn’t have gone to a country that was a virtual colony of France,
because France was implicated in the coup with the United States. I
think Secretary Powell confesses much of his role in a recent statement
that he made. He said on April the 18th, says -- “If there are
people who don’t want American troops there, should they be there?”
was the question. “It depends. They’re there because they
serve our interest, American troops, and they also hopefully serve the
interest of the country. In the case of Haiti, Haiti is an example where
we were not invited in, but there was a civil war.” There was
no civil war, and the secretary knew that.
AMY GOODMAN: On March 1, 2004, Democracy Now! broke the story,
because you, Randall Robinson, and Congressmember Maxine Waters called
us right after President Aristide called you, saying he was trapped
in the Central African Republic. We broke the story that Aristide was
directly accusing the United States of overthrowing him in a coup, kidnapping
him and taking him and his wife Mildred by force to the Central African
Republic. So that day, after we broadcast your and the Congressmember
Maxine Waters’s descriptions of that scratchy phone call that
the President Aristide had made to you from the CAR, our transcripts
went online. Reporters took those transcripts and questioned US officials
both at the Pentagon and the White House about Aristide’s accusations.
Then Secretaries of Defense and State Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell
DONALD RUMSFELD: The idea that someone was abducted is just
totally inconsistent with everything I heard or saw or am aware of.
So I think that, that -- I do not believe he is saying what you say
-- are saying he is saying.
COLIN POWELL: He was not kidnapped. We did not force him onto the airplane.
He went onto the airplane willingly. And that’s the truth.
AMY GOODMAN: “And thats the truth,” says then-Secretary
of State Colin Powell. Your response, Randall Robinson?
RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, several things. Number one, a cursory
investigation would demonstrate the factual accuracy of what I have
described here. The Caribbean countries asked for an investigation,
and they were told by the United States that were they to press for
an investigation at the UN Security Council level, that either France
or the United States, or both, would veto such a resolution. And so,
the US was prepared to block any investigation into what they had done
Of course, the president didn’t go on the plane voluntarily. All
of the previous coups that have occurred in Haiti of dictators that
were there with the support of the United States, when they were chased
out of the country, all of the cameras were there to record that. Then
they were taken to nearby places like Panama to live comfortably, the
US even renting the house of Cedras in Haiti, taking care of these American
client dictators. When Aristide left the country, there was no camera,
not one, not one reporter at the airport. And I -- you did what no other
American journalist, save Eisner of the Washington Post, was willing
to do. The New York Times suggested in their description that President
Aristide left Haiti and went to South Africa, never even reported that
they were taken to the Central African Republic.
AMY GOODMAN: You also point out in An Unbroken Agony
the video clips that the media was showing after Aristide left. I mean,
here you had -- they were not at the airport, yet they did show video
of President Aristide shaking hands with dignitaries, I think, at the
RANDALL ROBINSON: He was making his way along a long
line of government ministers in daytime clips, making his way along
a line, leaving the country. And that was represented to the American
public to be film of his departure from the country. He left the country
at 4:00 a.m., boarding a plane at the airport with absolutely nobody
AMY GOODMAN: Randall Robinson, I interviewed Colin Powell’s
former chief of staff, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, on Haiti, about Haiti,
November 2005. He defended the US role in the removal of President Aristide
AMY GOODMAN: He said it was the US that pressed him
to leave, that pushed him out, that put him onto this plane with US
military and security. He had no idea where he was going until he was
dumped in the Central African Republic.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: I can’t imagine a man like Aristide,
whose will to power is excessive, even obsessive, saying anything differently.
Colin Powell, as you said, did know the situation in Haiti, probably
as well as anyone in America. Colin Powell made the decision based on
our ambassador in Haiti's very clear presentation of the circumstances,
and the President made the decision ultimately, and it was a good decision,
and I would stand by that decision.
Haiti is a situation that picks at all our hearts all the time. Haiti
is right next to being a failed state. And because of its proximity
to the United States, we know what that failure means. And Haiti is
not apparently capable of coming out of that situation. It's a situation
that, as I said, drags at all our hearts, but in this particular instance,
I think a good decision was made, a decision that prevented further
bloodshed that would have been widespread had it not been made.
AMY GOODMAN: Why say that the president, Aristide,
had an obsession with power? This was a man who was the democratically
elected president of Haiti, certainly got a higher percentage of the
vote than President Bush got in this country.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Please, don't refer to the
percentage of vote as equatable to democracy, as equatable to the kinds
of institutions we have reflecting democracy in America. Hitler was
elected by popular vote.
AMY GOODMAN: I spoke to the head of the Steele Foundation.
That was the American foundation that provided the security for the
people around President Aristide, who was not allowed to send in reinforcements.
Again, since we're talking about such a small group of people who are
moving in on the capital, the Steele Foundation felt he could be secured,
but the US government stopped Aristide's own security from being able
to come in.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Aristide felt like he couldn't
be secured. That's the only -- I was privy to the cables that came in
from our ambassador. I was privy to some of the information that the
secretary let me know about what was happening down there in terms of
telephone calls and so forth. Aristide made the decision deep into the
night that his life was in danger and that the bloodshed that would
occur would probably fall at his feet, and so Aristide made a mutual
decision with our ambassador to leave the country.
AMY GOODMAN: Why would --
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Despite what he says now,
that's what the record reflects.
AMY GOODMAN: Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, the former
chief of staff of the former secretary of state, Colin Powell. Randall
RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, here are the facts. No one
disputes that the United States provided weapons, uniforms, steel pots,
recoil-less rifles, rocket-powered grenades, all of that, to some 200
paramilitary forces that were trained in the Dominican Republic. The
US armed and trained them. No one disputes that they crossed the border,
went north, away from the capital, and stopped at Gonaive, at least
a hundred kilometers north of Port-au-Prince, which was where they were
spotted, verifiably, on the evening of the 28th and the morning of the
29th. They never came near Port-au-Prince. No one in Haiti would dispute
that they ever posed a threat to the government. No 200 armed men could
overrun a city of a million people that were hostile to them and supportive
of the president.
The president won two elections, the last with 90% of the vote. If he
were in Haiti today and he ran again, he would win overwhelmingly again.
The United States provided money through the International Republican
Institute to form a false opposition to Aristide in the country. The
rich and the elites, who were threatened because he raised the minimum
wage from $1 to $2 a day, threatened because he had proposed to banish
the use of the word “peasants” on the birth certificate
of poor black Haitians, threatened by a man who was loved by his people
because he wanted to protect the interests of the poorest among them.
And the United States overthrew that democracy. And it is so simply
provable. The smallest investigation would prove what the United States
has done in this case.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Randall Robinson
on An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, From Revolution to the Kidnapping of a
President. When we come back, we’ll talk about what the US continues
to do in Haiti. We’ll also talk about France’s role. And
we’ll talk about Randall Robinson not living anymore in this country,
as he put it in a previous book, “quitting America.” Stay
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest for the hour, Randall Robinson,
just up from St. Kitts, where he has been living for the last six years.
He has just published a new book called An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, From
Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President.
Let’s talk history for a minute, something the US press doesn’t
give us very much of. To understand the US role today in Haiti, can
you go back in time to how Haiti was founded in 1804?
RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, Haiti was the largest piece of France's global
empire. It was its great profit center, that slave colony with 465,000
enslaved Africans working there, many of whom had been soldiers in African
armies before they were brought to Haiti. And in August of 1789 -- or
1791, rather, 40,000 of those slaves revolted and started a war that
lasted twelve-and-a-half years under the leadership of an ex-slave and
a military genius named Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean-Jacques
Dessalines. And this army of ex-slaves defeated two French armies, first
the French army before the completion of their revolution and then another
army dispatched by Napoleon under the leadership of his brother-in-law,
and then the armies of England and Spain. 150,000 blacks died in that
twelve-and-a-half-year war. And in January of 19 -- 1804, rather, they
declared Haiti the first free republic in the Americas, because the
United States was then a country that held slaves.
During the revolution, Thomas Jefferson said he would like to reduce
Toussaint to starvation. George Washington lamented and vilified that
revolution. The US imposed an embargo, recognized a new French government,
but did not recognize the new Haitian free government and imposed a
comprehensive economic embargo on Haiti until the Emancipation Proclamation.
In fact, France imposed reparations on Haiti in 1825, and the interest
that Haiti had to pay in loans that were American and French loans to
service this debt to France, absorbed virtually 80% of Haiti's available
budget 111 years after the completion of their revolution until 1915.
It was only in 1947 that Haiti was able to pay off its debt.
AMY GOODMAN: The debt that was incurred as a result
of France not having access to the enslaved people of Haiti.
RANDALL ROBINSON: The Haitians had to pay France for no longer having
the privilege of owning Haitian slaves. That revolution provoked the
end of slavery in the Americas. And so, that’s why it is so important
that all African people, people generally in the Americas, because Haiti
funded and fought in South American revolutions. That’s why Haiti
is so honored in places like Venezuela by people like Simon Bolivar.
Haiti was central to all of this. And we’re in Haiti’s debt.
But it is for that --
AMY GOODMAN: Simon Bolivar came to Haiti.
RANDALL ROBINSON: Haiti, and was given arms and was
given men, was given a printing press, because the Haitians believed
that anybody who was enslaved anywhere had a home and a refuge in Haiti.
Anybody seeking freedom had a sympathetic ear in Haiti. But because
of that, the United States and France and the other Western governments,
even the Vatican, made them pay for so terribly long. It’s as
if the anger of it never abated. I mean, you can hear Frederick Douglass
talking about it in the late 1800s, about this thing in the American
AMY GOODMAN: The US government didn’t recognize
Haiti for decades, the Congress, going back to Thomas Jefferson, afraid
that the slave uprising would inspire US slaves.
RANDALL ROBINSON: Would inspire US slaves to revolt against
him in Virginia, and George Washington, and on and on and on. And so,
they opposed everything that was being done in Haiti that won their
AMY GOODMAN: The US government invaded Haiti in 1915 under
RANDALL ROBINSON: Woodrow Wilson invaded Haiti in 1915.
And when a Haitian, Peralte, Charlemagne Peralte, organized the Cacos
soldiers, these farmers, to fight against this American occupation,
the Americans killed him and nailed him to a cross, crucifixion-style,
and stood him up, his corpse, in a public place in Haiti to demonstrate
to Haitians what would be the price of any defense against the American
invasion. The US has played a terrible role in Haiti.
AMY GOODMAN: So even as the US and France were at loggerheads
after the US invasion of Iraq, because France opposed the invasion --
that was 2003 -- in 2004, they were working together --
RANDALL ROBINSON: Working very much together.
AMY GOODMAN: -- in pushing out, forcing out Aristide
and bringing him to the Central African Republic.
RANDALL ROBINSON: As a matter of fact, in 2003, late
2003, Aristide organized a reparations conference, and the result of
which was a request to France that it repair Haiti by repaying Haiti
the $21 billion in current money that Haiti had paid in reparations
unjustly to France. Dominique de Villepin responded by sending his sister.
AMY GOODMAN: The foreign minister of France.
RANDALL ROBINSON: The foreign minister of France sending
his sister to Haiti to tell Aristide that it was time for him to leave.
And that’s how we have -- the Western world, France and particularly
the United States -- have meddled in Haitian affairs. After the abduction
of the president, Bush spoke with Chirac on the phone, congratulating
each other about how smoothly the abduction of the president had been
carried off by both countries.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Randall Robinson.
Let’s talk about today. Rene Preval was elected president after
the US installed the Gerard Latortue after Aristide was forced out.
What about today in Haiti? We see this protest of thousands last week
on Aristide’s fifty-fourth birthday, calling for the exiled president
to return. He’s in South Africa. What’s happening today?
RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, many of the people who were
trained by the United States to pretend over the president are still
very much in place. They have not been apprehended. The business class
that contributed money to the rebels, to the first coup they contributed
money to people who would shoot into any crowd of demonstrators. This
time around, they contributed money, we’re now hearing from Guy
Philippe, to him, to do what he did. And so, you have this collaboration
between white, mulatto, wealthy elites in Haiti with the United States
and Western Europe to repress the large black majority. That continues.
Some 4,000 people have been killed by the international forces in Haiti
since then. The supreme court has been replaced, in large part, by the
interim government that was installed by the United States. So Preval’s
government has no control over the judiciary. We don’t have an
AMY GOODMAN: Randall, you talked about how when President
Aristide was president, before he was forced out, he was supposed to
be getting hundreds of millions of dollars from the Inter-American Development
Bank, I think it was, for health issues.
RANDALL ROBINSON: The loan had been fully approved.
It was for $146 million. It was for health issues, for literacy, for
things associated with social programs, roads and some infrastructure
projects. The United States blocked that loan. And so, on the one hand,
it starved the economy of Haiti. On the other hand, it trained the opposition.
On another hand, it armed the paramilitaries. And in the last analysis,
American forces invaded and abducted the president.
AMY GOODMAN: Today, apparently last week, there was
an attempt to arrest Guy Philippe, Guy Philippe, who was the US-supported
-- in fact, you said in your book that he was trained in Ecuador.
RANDALL ROBINSON: He was, plucked by the CIA for special
training by the United States when he was a police captain in the Del
Mar district of Port-au-Prince.
AMY GOODMAN: So one of the coup leaders, along with
Jodel Chamblain, the number two man in FRAP --
RANDALL ROBINSON: One of the coup leaders.
AMY GOODMAN: -- paramilitary death squad.
RANDALL ROBINSON: -- is now running from the DEA, apparently.
He says, through his deputy, that that’s the case, because he
is prepared to use information about how the elites in Haiti gave him
money to destabilize the government.
AMY GOODMAN: But he wasn’t arrested, Guy Philippe.
RANDALL ROBINSON: No, he hasn’t been arrested
yet, so far as we know.
AMY GOODMAN: They didn’t get him.
RANDALL ROBINSON: No.
AMY GOODMAN: The US role, how well known is it in Haiti
RANDALL ROBINSON: Oh, I think it’s very well known in
Haiti by Haitians. If it were so well known by Americans, our democracy
would work better. The problem is with our democracy. It wasn’t
ever with theirs. The problem is what our undemocratic or the behavior,
undemocratic behavior, of our government means for struggling democracies
across the world. We feel that we, by divine right, can go in and overthrow
governments willy-nilly, when they are living under leadership of their
own clear choice. It’s a shameful chapter for Americans and particularly
for this administration.
AMY GOODMAN: Randall Robinson, you “quit”
America, as you put it, wrote the book Quitting America. You live in
St. Kitts right now in the Caribbean. What is it like to look at the
United States from that perspective? You lived here for years, headed
TransAfrica for a quarter of a century, spearheaded the movement to
stop the support of Apartheid South Africa. You fasted almost to death,
twenty-seven days, to protest President Clinton’s handling of
the Haitian refugees in the first coup against Aristide.
RANDALL ROBINSON: I can give you an illustrative example.
When Vieques was in the news and the American use of that area as a
bombing range, and the people then becoming very upset because of high
cancer rates and that sort of thing, a member of the American Congress
spoke to the prime minister of St. Kitts about -- with a straight face
-- about the possibility of using -- the Americans making use -- of
the island nation of St. Kitts as a bombing range.
This is the thing -- one of the kinds of things that we do, and how
we see the rest of the world. And I think it, in large part, is why
we have come to be as a nation loathed so much. And so, when Americans
look at themselves, they see an America that is very different from
what the rest of the world gets to see.
AMY GOODMAN: Will you be returning to the United States
RANDALL ROBINSON: I don’t think so.
AMY GOODMAN: Why not?
RANDALL ROBINSON: Well, I love St. Kitts. I wanted
to live -- I’m sixty-six years old. I wanted to live some of my
life out from under the weight of racism, the weight of a sort of cauterized
public empathy, or the lack thereof.
I’m not sure anymore that entire cultures cannot be sociopathic,
where they refuse to see what they do to other people in other places.
It wore me out. I wanted to see a different place, and we wanted our
daughter to have her adolescence and her high school in a different
place. And it is the country of my wife, and so we are quite at home.
It is a small, intimate, wonderful democracy and very pretty to look
AMY GOODMAN: Randall Robinson, I want to thank you very much
for joining us today. Randall Robinson is the founder and former president
of TransAfrica, moved to St. Kitts in the Caribbean six years ago, has
written a number of books, including The Debt, The Reckoning, Quitting
America, Defending the Spirit. His latest is An Unbroken Agony: Haiti,
From Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President.
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