America's Role in Haiti's Troubled History In his new book, TransAfrica founder Randall Robinson details the 2004 U.S.-backed coup that ousted Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He refutes the Bush administration's claim that Aristide willingly stepped aside, instead suggesting that the democratically elected leader was kidnapped.
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America's Role in Haiti's Troubled History

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America's Role in Haiti's Troubled History

America's Role in Haiti's Troubled History

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I'm Farai Chideya and this is NEWS & NOTES.

In February of 2004, anti-government forces overthrew Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. As rebels approach the capitol, a U.S. military escort arrived to help Aristide leave the country. They delivered him to the Central African Republic, a destination of Aristide's choosing according to American authorities soon after the U.S. released a statement written in Creole that said Aristide had resigned his presidency and fled Haiti fearing for his life. But Aristide disagreed. He claimed he was forced to resign by U.S. forces, kidnapped and taken to Africa without his consent.

In response, a small delegation from the U.S. and Jamaica chartered a flight to the Central African Republic to demand Aristide's return to the Caribbean.

Activist Randall Robinson helped organized that trip, and he's written about it in his new book in "An Unbroken Agony."

Randall Robinson, welcome.

Mr. RANDALL ROBINSON (Founder, TransAfrica; Author, "An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, From Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President"): Thank you. Very nice to be here.

CHIDEYA: Well, when CBS' "Nightline" asked Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega why Aristide was taken to the Central African Republic, he answered, that's where he'd like to be taken. Do you believe that?

Mr. ROBINSON: No. That is very far from the truth. First of all, the rebels did not overthrow the government. At the time, the closest they would ever get to the capitol was the point at which they enter the country from the Dominican Republic. They were diversion. The abduction was planned and carried out fully, wholly by the United States.

CHIDEYA: What do you think - before we move on - that the record is now, you obviously, in this book, detail an account that the U.S. government would not agree with. Where do you think most people, if they know it all about how these events transpired, do you think they agree with you or the U.S. government?

Mr. ROBINSON: Well, the - I don't think people have the facts and I don't think people have been told the facts. I think that Secretary Powell lied. I think that Secretary Rumsfeld lied. In operatic ways they lied - huge, sweeping stories.

The fact is - and I detailed this in the book - I called the Aristides at home early on the day on Saturday, February the 28th, and talked to the president. We were planning ,and he was planning to be interviewed on Sunday in the capitol, at the palace, by Tavis Smiley, who was flying down with the group including Tom Joyner and Cornel West. The interview was to be followed by an interview with George Stephanopoulos. And so the president had no plan to leave the country.

And so he knew where the rebels were. They had no chance with 200 people to overrun a capitol of a million people that were sympathetic to the democracy. Aristide was overwhelmingly popular in the country. And the U.S. explanation makes absolutely no sense.

When we got to the Central African Republic upon meeting with President Bozize, it became even clearer that the Aristides have been abducted. He was holding them against their will as a favor to France and to the United States. And before he could release them, he had to clear it with France and the United States, and he said as much.

CHIDEYA: Haiti's history is a history of revolution and colonialism. Give us just a sketch of how you feel the West has reacted - France and the U.S. - to that history and to that legacy.

Mr. ROBINSON: Disgracefully. Haiti was the richest colony in the French global empire. In 1791 in August, when 40,000 of the 465,000 slaves revolted, ex-slaves defeated the armies of France, Great Britain, Spain, in line the best that Europe could send against them.

Well, this frightened Thomas Jefferson who said that Tucson should be reduced to starvation. It frightened George Washington who thought there would be a contagion of inspiration that would affect slave plantations in the United States. It jolted Western Europe because of their situation with the Atlantic slave trade.

And so it was a major event in the hemisphere. When in January 1804, these ex-slaves declared Haiti an independent republic. France imposed reparations in 1825, the first time in history a losing country had ever imposed reparations on the winning country. But by then, Haiti had no army and France did and they threatened to reinvade. And the United States and France and the European powers have abused Haiti from 1804 until the present.

To some degree, angry about the revolution that destroyed Napoleon's chances for empire, rebuked by a group of ex-slaves. They had never forgotten nor forgiven that. But to another degree, there's an enormous American sympathy with the elites in Haiti - the white elites and mulatto elites in Haiti.

I don't know of any country in the world, after the reformation of South Africa, where there is a more perfect correspondence between money, wealth and poverty and skin color than you will find in Haiti. One percent of the population owns 50 percent of the country's wealth. And the large majority of Haitians get by on less than a dollar a day.

Aristide came to power from the peasant community, a brilliant but poor man with a commitment to relieve the poverty that gripped the vast majority of Haiti's people. And he said that I'm going tot raise the minimum wage from a dollar to $2 a day. That enraged the elites. And anytime in the Haiti's history, Frederick Douglas talks about that very same subject. Any time that the blacks and Haiti pushed for a better lot in a way that would reduce the privilege of the elites, the United States has been sympathetic to the elites.

And so what we have in Haiti is a conflict of race and class, and the United States has consistently put itself on the wrong moral side of this divide. And so that is the case with Aristide on all of these questions with Bill Clinton and with George Bush on questions of structural adjustment and how it would benefit the elites and how it would hurt the poor. They were on the wrong side of the issue.

Seventy percent of the people in Haiti are poor farmers who get by on an income of $225 a year. Virtually, everything that the Clinton administration and the Bush administration did hurt the poor people. And they quashed President Aristide because he was sympathetic to their lot and lied to cover it up.

A cursory investigation would reveal and prove what I have presented as what actually happened. And I know this because I was directly and centrally involved in the story.

CHIDEYA: Randall Robinson, thank you so much.

Mr. ROBINSON: Thank you for having me.

CHIDEYA: Randall Robinson is founder and past president of TransAfrica, an organization established to advocate for Africa and the Caribbean. His latest book recounts the saga of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Haiti's tumultuous history. It's called "An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, From Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President."

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