Actor, Activist Danny Glover: Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide “Mystified” at US Resistance to His Return
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Actor, activist and TransAfrica Forum chair Danny Glover joins us just after returning from South Africa, where he met with the ousted former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Glover reports Aristide wants to come back to his country five years after his ouster in a US-backed coup, but the Obama administration hasn’t dropped the US stance of blocking Aristide’s return to the Western hemisphere. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined in the firehouse studio here—or rather, our new printing press studios, by actor and activist Danny Glover. He’s the chair of the TransAfrica Forum. Danny has just returned from a trip to South Africa, where he met with ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
DANNY GLOVER: Thank you very much, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: When did you see him?
DANNY GLOVER: I saw the President, President Aristide, Wednesday, last Wednesday—last Tuesday, excuse me, just a week ago. I was on a delegation to—on a delegation to South Africa with a number of trade unionists, and we arranged to have a meeting with him, among other meetings that we had there in South Africa, he and his wife Mildred.
AMY GOODMAN: Where are they living now?
DANNY GLOVER: They’re in Port—excuse me, I wanted to say Port-au-Prince, but they—
AMY GOODMAN: That may be where they want to be.
DANNY GLOVER: They want to be. They want to be in Port-au-Prince, but they’re in Pretoria right now. Aristide is teaching at the university there. And his wife is working, has a job working, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: You have long been active on the issue of Haiti. What did President Aristide say?
DANNY GLOVER: Well, the first thing, that he certainly thanked those members of the delegation for their concern about Haiti. I was there with George Gresham, who is the president of 1199, and there are more than 30,000 Haitians in his union. And they had donated a significant amount of money to the relief effort. He thanked—certainly was thankful for the attention drawn to that. He was aware of all the information, all of the mishaps and everything else. But I think his concern was that he is not there with his people, suffering and going through the suffering. He certainly was anxious about that, of finding some role that he can play, some role that he can play, not only in the healing process that needs to be taking place, but also the reconstruction of Haiti, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back for a moment to the news conference that President Aristide had. It was two days after the earthquake.
DANNY GLOVER: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: He held this news conference in South Africa, standing with his wife and former First Lady Mildred Aristide. President Aristide said he wants to return to Haiti.
JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: As we all know, many people remain buried under tons of rubble and debris, waiting to be rescued. When we think of their suffering, we feel deeply and profoundly that we should be there, in Haiti, with them, trying our best to prevent death. As far as we are concerned, we are ready to leave today, tomorrow, at any time, to join the people of Haiti, to share in their suffering, help rebuild the country, moving from misery to poverty with dignity.
The spirit of Ubuntu, that once led Haiti to emerge as the first independent black nation in 1804, helped Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador attain liberty, and inspired our forefathers to shed their blood for the United States’ independence, cannot die. Today, this spirit of solidarity must and will empower all of us to rebuild Haiti.
AMY GOODMAN: President Aristide in South Africa, right after the earthquake. Danny Glover, what did he tell you now? Why isn’t he returning to Haiti?
DANNY GLOVER: Well, he’s mystified by that. You know, there’s been several calls for him to return. His party still—the Lavalas is still the largest party, that’s not participating, that’s not active in the electoral process. And yet, he’s dismayed by that, the fact that both—it seems as if the South African government and the United States are complicit in his not returning to the hemisphere. Now, that’s certainly—
AMY GOODMAN: What is he saying the South African government?
DANNY GLOVER: Well, he said the South African government—he didn’t say this. But I’m saying, it seems to be a tacit complicity between—to not to have him return in any capacity to the hemisphere. That’s been the case all along. So he’s essentially waiting by, waiting for some word of the possibility of him returning.
AMY GOODMAN: Is he feeling like the South African government wouldn’t let him go back?
DANNY GLOVER: Well, I think the South Africa government has been very helpful. He certainly passed on a message through us to President Zuma to thank him for his support and thank him for the work that he has done and also thank him for the relief effort that South Africa. But he seems—it seems to be there’s a stalemate right now as to why he can’t return in some capacity. Wouldn’t it be—wouldn’t it be, I think, appropriate for him to be there at this particular moment, as the Haitians go through this suffering, but also to be—in some capacity, work with the reconstruction of Haiti, as well? You know, we know that at some point there has to be some unifying force. The government has been devastated by this. The government also only receives a small portion of the aid money that goes there. Less than a cent, that it goes there.
AMY GOODMAN: Of every dollar?
DANNY GLOVER: Of every dollar.
AMY GOODMAN: Less than a cent.
DANNY GLOVER: Less than a cent of every dollar. So there has to be some sort of way, and he desires some sort of way to play a role in the future of Haiti. Now, I think there is a place for him. That’s not for me to say, of course, or not for those who are here who want to advocate that, but I’m sure the Haitian people would welcome his return.
AMY GOODMAN: I actually asked a number of people. I mean, using the model of President Obama standing with George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, a sort of unified front, that this isn’t a partisan issue, helping Haiti, the idea of a unified front in Haiti, President René Préval, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in this time of need.
DANNY GLOVER: Absolutely. And, of course, I mean, we see George Bush and Bill Clinton, former presidents, who have been the key orchestrators of the undermining of Haitian sovereignty and democracy, standing—standing right there to supposedly play some sort of role.
But I think it’s very key that there’s a plan for Haiti. And we have to begin to—as progressives and people who are concerned about Haiti and have been concerned about Haiti, we have to begin to build some sort of consensus, a movement around the Haiti that the Haitians envision. The plan is not what the Haitians envision. Of course, it’s never been what the Haitians envision, from the outset of its independence. But we must be there to support what their plan is. And certainly, their plan is a plan in which there’s reconstruction where Haitians participate in that.
We’re not past the immediate crisis. There’s no doubt about that. People are still without food, without water, without—you have the rains coming. You have the potential of hurricanes coming. All those things. Real soon. We’re not past that. It’s important for us to kind of continue, to begin to lobby, to pressure Congress, to—and John Conyers has been very good, and members of the Black Caucus are very good. Maxine Waters has been very good—to pressure them to make sure that the Haitians’ voice is in the process, this building process. Not only that, but those needs, those needs that are met, the immediate needs, medical needs, etc., are dealt with. You know, we do not want the militarization of Haiti. We do not see a Haitian as a protectorate where it relinquishes its own sovereignty. The important thing is that Haitians be a part of this whole process. And certainly, my opinion—and I’m saying my opinion—President Aristide, or should one say Father Aristide, however you want to put it, has a central role and a key role to play in that process.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to President Aristide in 2004. And this may indicate why he is not coming back to Haiti. And it’s the US role in what happened. Aristide has not returned to Haiti since he was ousted, February 2004—it was February 29th—in what he calls a modern-day kidnapping in the service of a coup d’état backed by the United States. He was flown in a US military jet with US security to the Central African Republic. Two weeks later, a small delegation, led by US Congress member Maxine Waters and TransAfrica founder Randall Robinson, flew to the Central African Republic to try to escort the Aristides back to the Caribbean. I went with them to cover the story and was on the flight back with the Aristides. I had an extended interview with President Aristide on the plane as we flew over Africa and the Atlantic. I asked him about being forced out of office and the US allegations that he simply resigned.
AMY GOODMAN: President Aristide, did you resign?
PRESIDENT JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: No, I didn’t resign. What some people call resignation is a new coup d’état or a modern kidnapping.
AMY GOODMAN: And why do you call it a coup, a kidnapping?
PRESIDENT JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: Because they broke the constitutional order by using force to have me out of the country the way it happened.
AMY GOODMAN: How did it happen?
PRESIDENT 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: That was President Aristide. That was on the flight back in a plane in March of 2004. And you can see the whole interview at democracynow.org. Danny Glover, he says he was the victim of a modern-day kidnapping, a coup in service of the—that was backed by the United States.
DANNY GLOVER: France and Canada, yes. Yes, I think it’s pretty evident. All the information that’s come out in the last five years now, almost nearly five years, suggests that it was a coup. It certainly—when we talk about President Aristide, whatever his distractors may say, whatever people may say, he attempted to bring some sort of continuum of democracy to Haiti. It was the first time in Haiti’s history that you moved from Aristide to President Préval to back to Aristide, the first time there has been some sort of continuity in this democracy in its history. But as always, as we’ve noted—and perhaps one of the things that will come out of this whole thing is that we’ll learn the lesson, and we’ll learn more about really what has happened to Haiti. Maybe people will ask the right questions now about this history, the extraordinary history of the Haitian people, and ask those questions in a way in which they understand the complicit role the United States has played since Thomas Jefferson—since Thomas Jefferson—in undermining Haitian sovereignty, how Europe, Germany, France continue to undermine its—continue to undermine its sovereign. So I think there’s a chance, there’s an opportunity, for a different kind of discussion about Haiti. What’s key in that discussion, an understanding this extraordinary people, extraordinary resiliency and extraordinary will, you know, and resistance to being dominated, that this lies in the heart of the Haitian people and that that will, in itself, will allow us to kind of imagine the possibility that Haiti can—that can exist in Haiti.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go now to an excerpt of a documentary that, actually, my colleague here at Democracy Now!, co-host Juan Gonzalez, wrote the screenplay, if you will, or rather the script for, because it is not—it is a documentary. To put history of Haiti in context, we’re going to go to Haiti: Killing the Dream, that was produced by Hart and Dana Perry of Crowing Rooster Productions. This is just an excerpt. I think it demonstrates what you are laying out. Thank you so much, Danny Glover.
OSSIE DAVIS: Haiti is located on the western part of the island, Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. The French turned it into their most profitable slave colony. But in 1791, the slaves revolted. By 1804, the slave armies defeated Napoleon’s legions, making Haiti the first independent black republic in the world. Fearing the example would spread, the United States refused to recognize Haiti, beginning an uneasy relationship between a country founded by slaves and one founded by slave owners. At the turn of the century, America’s view of Haiti was summed up by Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, who said, “Dear me, think of it? Niggers speaking French.”
RAMSEY CLARK: You know, more than two years before we entered World War I, we decided we had to control Haiti.
NEWSREEL: Here’s Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 1915, chief city of an island nation torn by internal troubles. Behind these scenes of peace and semi-tropic tranquility, there’s uneasiness and unrest.
OSSIE DAVIS: The US government wanted to control the strategic windward passage between Haiti and Cuba, the major shipping route to the Panama Canal and the Pacific. So, they created a pretext to justify a military intervention.
NEWSREEL: And then in 1915, United States Marines land in Haiti to battle Haitian bandits threatening destruction of American properties, and native bandits quickly head for the hills. This puts immediate end to troubles in populated areas, but Marines prepare to drive into interior and rout the insurgents out.
RAMSEY CLARK: The arrogance with which we went about it, when you think of a young Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as an Assistant Secretary of the Navy, bragging—I can see him there bobbing on the deck now. And he’s writing the constitution for the free people of Haiti. There can’t be a more imperialist mentality than that. These people are too dumb to write their own constitution; I have to do it for them.
NEWSREEL: Haiti’s own Dartiguenave is elected provisional president, and the riot-ridden republic begins to function as a nation once again. Here are troops of the Palace Guard, but United States Marines are ever-present.
NOAM CHOMSKY: It was a murderous, bloody intervention which destroyed the constitutional systems, reinstated slavery. The Marines stayed there for twenty years. What they left behind them was a military force, a national guard, which essentially took over and has been running—and ran it under one or another dictatorship since.
OSSIE DAVIS: In 1957, the United States propped up the regime of Haiti’s most feared president, François Duvalier. Known as Papa Doc, he was a country doctor who became a despot. To ensure he would not be overthrown by the army like his predecessors, Papa Doc built up his own vigilante militia, the infamous Tontons Macoutes. Volunteers for the Macoutes were paid by having free license to steal and extort from the people they tortured, raped and murdered. Toward the end of his life, Duvalier cemented his ties to Washington and arranged for his son, Jean-Claude, to succeed him. After Papa Doc’s death in 1971, nineteen-year-old Baby Doc took over as president for life. Baby Doc plundered the national treasury and, with army support, turned Haiti into a major drug trans-shipment stop.
In 1986, a popular uprising ended the three decades of Duvalier dictatorship. Baby Doc was flown into exile aboard a US government jet, taking a vast fortune and leaving behind a devastated, but relieved, country. After years of living in fear, the Haitian people exploded, taking revenge on the most abusive Tontons Macoutes in the Dechoukaj, or uprooting of the Duvalier oppression. Some Macoutes who committed capital crimes suffered the popular justice called “Père Lebrun,” or necklacing: a tire filled with gasoline was placed around their bodies and burned.
HOWARD FRENCH: The transitional government that was named after Duvalier, Jean-Claude Duvalier, fell was an army-led government, the CNG. And the army hasn’t shown little willingness to stay out of political affairs since then. There have been seven or eight coups since 1986, and the army has been involved in every one of them.
OSSIE DAVIS: They sing, “Nothing has changed. Things are still the same. The soldiers have become Macoutes and are breaking heads.”
Despite signs of deepening army entrenchment, the country tried to hold elections in 1987. They were destroyed by the military and the Macoutes, who slaughtered voters as they tried to cast their first ballots. At the same time, a young Catholic priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, began drawing attention for his outspoken criticism of the army and foreign domination of the country. Inspired by the Latin American Church’s liberation theology, Aristide was dedicated to helping the poor. He worked for years with orphans in the vast shantytown La Saline, where he was affectionately called Titide.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of the 1992 documentary Haiti: Killing the Dream, narrated by Ossie Davis. It was written by Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez.