Was the State Dept. sidelined during the Haitian coup, just as they were in the lead-up to the Iraq war?

Last Week Amy Goodman interviewed Col. Lawrence Wilkerson about the Cheney/Rumsfeld cabal, pre-war intelligence, and torture. Things then got interesting when she turned to the subject of Haiti to ask what he, as chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, knew about the removal of President Aristide in February 29, 2004. It’s hard to tell if she sandbagged him; he begins by defending the administration in fairly predictable language, denouncing Aristide & his supporters, but when pressed on specifics, he resorts to a cheap rhetorical trick and compares Aristide to Hitler. He then goes on to deny knowing facts that someone that high in the State Department surely must have been aware of. The following day Amy invited Congesswoman Maxine Waters & Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti director Brian Concannon to respond.

Meanwhile, it was announced last Friday that elections (intended to legitimize the interim government installed after the coup) have been postponed for the fourth time now, until January 8, 2006, two years after Haiti’s elected President was escorted out of the country by American troops.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff of former Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005. Now, in this time, Colonel Wilkerson, not only did we see the invasion and occupation of Iraq, but we also saw the democratically elected president of Haiti ousted, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. And you were the chief of staff of Colin Powell at the time. Bill Fletcher of TransAfrica has said about Powell’s legacy, quote, “Why was he leading the charge, pushing President Aristide out the door? Why was he not instead using his office as a way of stabilizing the situation and bringing about peace?” What do you know of what happened February 29th, 2004, when the Aristides were forced out of the country?

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: I will have to tell you that I think Secretary Powell saved a great many lives on both sides, if there are two sides. There are more than two sides in Haiti. Secretary Powell was all for and was pushing hard for some sort of reconciliation, some sort of reconciliation where we could recognize the democratically elected government of Aristide and Aristide could himself step back from the brink, a brink that he had been largely responsible for creating, and things could improve in Haiti and the government that was in existence at that time could continue in office.

Once our ambassador, Ambassador Foley, who was one of the people who changed my opinion forever about the foreign service — our ambassador in Liberia did the same thing for me in Monrovia, such brave people. They’re braver than people I have even known sometimes in combat. And Ambassador Foley, at great risk to himself, personal risk, counseled President Aristide, talked with President Aristide, confronted him with the situation that Aristide was going to meet on the morn, so to speak, confronted him with the devastation that was likely to take place, and President Aristide, to his credit, made the decision to take Ambassador Foley’s offer and to leave the country.

I know he said a thousand things different from that in the subsequent weeks and months and years, but this was a situation fraught with all kinds of chaos, and Secretary Powell and the United States government and our ambassador in Haiti, in particular, did a marvelous job, I think, under the circumstances, of preventing what could have been widespread bloodshed and getting Aristide out of the country.

One testimony to that was the fact that even though on the surface we had had all of these rancorous relations, supposedly, with France, much on the part of Secretary Rumsfeld’s having stiffed the French on almost everything they wanted to do in the way of military liaison and so forth, the French were willing to come in and help us with the situation in Haiti and to provide troops for stabilizing that situation, because they, too, understood how desperate the situation was.

AMY GOODMAN: But this —

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: So I disagree completely with the characterization that TransAfrica put on this situation.

AMY GOODMAN: This all happened after the Aristides left. Why not bring in these forces before? We were only talking about a couple of hundred thugs that were moving in on the capital?

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Aristide was the focal point. Aristide was the person who needed to be removed from Haiti, and even he understood that. In the conversation he had with our ambassador, he understood that. He knew that he was the lightning rod, and that if he didn’t remove himself from the island, there was going to be a lot of bloodshed.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, of course, he would contest every point.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Of course, he would.

AMY GOODMAN: I went to the Central African Republic, and he told the story of basically what he described as being forced out of Haiti at the time, that you had this small group – I mean, these were not a large number of people – small group, known killers, people like Jodel Chamblain, who was found guilty of murder in absentia for the murder of the Justice Minister, Guy Malary, in 1993; Antoine Izmery. These were people who were known — certainly Colin Powell also knew them — had been back during the first coup, had been there negotiating with those involved in the coup. This was not the overall sentiment of the Haitian people, and he said it was the U.S. that pressed him to leave, that pushed him out, that put him onto this plane with U.S. military and security. He had no idea where 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.

Brian Concannon responded the next day:

BRIAN CONCANNON: Well, I think he did get some of it right. I think — when he said that Colin Powell was working for reconciliation, I think that part-time that was right. On February 12th, Colin Powell actually said to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that, quote, “The policy of this administration is not regime change. President Aristide is the elected president of Haiti.” Five days later, he said that we cannot buy into a proposition that would lead to the forcing out the elected president to be replaced by thugs who are inflicting terror on the Haitian people. Now, 11 days after that, on February 28th, all of a sudden, Secretary Powell, who had been talking about supporting democracy, all of a sudden, he says it’s time for Aristide to go. And Aristide was, in fact, bundled off on an airplane to the Central African Republic.

Now, what happened in those 11 days between Colin Powell saying he respected democracy and President Aristide being pushed on the plane by the State Department? They didn’t recount the votes. President Aristide wasn’t unelected. The thugs did not stop their terrorizing of the Haitian population. What happened was that the hard-liners in the administration decided to pull the trigger on Haiti’s regime change. And this had been something they had been planning for several years. And when they decided it was time to pull the trigger, Secretary Powell obediently pulled the trigger.

and Maxine Waters:

AMY GOODMAN: That was Aristide on the plane, saying, ‘No, I did not resign, and that this was a coup.’ Were you surprised, Congress member Waters, about Wilkerson’s — in hearing what Wilkerson had to say and the comparison with Hitler?

REP. MAXINE WATERS: Well, whenever someone uses that kind of comparison, you know, and uses it lightly, I don’t pay much attention to that. I think that’s what you resort to when you don’t know what else to say and when you are, you know, trying to support whatever position you have taken. No matter what he says, they were not truly engaged in Haiti. As a matter of fact, I believe that Colin Powell didn’t pay a lot of attention to Haiti, that he, at the point that we talked about the possible undoing of the democracy, he knew that that would be wrong, and I think he said and felt the right thing at the time, but I think that it was way past Colin Powell for several reasons. Number one, in describing that meeting that I just described to you, it was obvious to me that Colin Powell was not truly in charge of that policy. Noriega was basically influencing —

AMY GOODMAN: Roger Noriega.

REP. MAXINE WATERS: Roger, yes, Noriega was basically influencing what was going on with that situation, and the hard-liners believed him, and even prior – probably prior to Powell even knowing that a coup d’etat or regime change was truly in the works, the decision was made, and it was done.

Since Aristide had dissolved the army, which had been implicated in numerous human rights violations, his security was provided by a private US firm.

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 U.S. 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 come 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: Well, I don’t doubt he felt threatened, but he felt threatened, as Kenneth Kurtz said, who was the head of the Steele Foundation, on our program, that they were not allowed to bring in the security. Why wouldn’t the U.S. government allow the security to be brought in? This was the president of the country.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: That’s a question you should address to George Bush, because I’m unfamiliar with the circumstance you’re talking about. I know about all of the elements that were converging. I know about all of the different elements that Aristide had excited to converge. I don’t know this story about private security people, who were willing to come in at the last moment and guard Aristide. I heard some information to that effect after the situation occurred, but I am unable to comment on that with any accuracy, because I’m not familiar with exactly what you are talking about.

AMY GOODMAN: And Gerard Latortue, the person who was put in charge in Haiti and his connection to the United States, how he was chosen?

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: That’s a process that unfolded after Aristide was removed, and again, I don’t have any profound insights into that.

Now, if Wilkerson wasn’t aware that the US would not allow Steele to reinforce, and has no idea how Latortue was installed, what does that say about how in-the-loop the State Dept was in this regime change process? It sounds like a rehash of the administration’s Iraq dynamics. Besides Noriega, Waters points to Condi Rice as the one really running the show:

AMY GOODMAN: We are also joined by Congress member Maxine Waters. On March 1, it was Monday morning after the February 29th that the Aristides were forced out of Haiti, you broke the story on Democracy Now!, when you called to say you had just spoken to the Aristides in the Central African Republic. And you were the one who said that President Aristide said that he was the victim of a modern kidnapping in the service of a coup d’etat backed by the United States. Now, Colonel Wilkerson says this isn’t true, he changed his story, he wanted to go. Your response, Congress member Waters?

REP. MAXINE WATERS: I think Brian Concannon, you know, has given a correct version of it. Don’t forget, the Congressional Black Caucus had been up to the White House and had asked the President to intervene, to keep Jodel Chamblain and Guy Philippe and those thugs from moving in to kill Aristide. Don’t forget, Aristide didn’t have an army. He was dependent on the private protection from the Steele Corporation, and they were not about to engage in battle with any United States Marines. So, he was left without any protection whatsoever. The United States could have easily put down and pushed back Guy Philippe and Chamblain and those guys. They told us that they were looking for a political solution, and they refused to intervene, because they wanted Aristide to be at risk and at danger and to be able to force him out, because he didn’t have much choice. He didn’t have any way of defending himself. So, it was a coup d’etat, and it was a forceful removal of President Aristide.

And let me just say at that meeting that we had with President Bush, Colin Powell certainly was not in charge. Condoleezza Rice was in charge. As a matter of fact, Condoleezza Rice sat at the spot that the person who is going to be the facilitator for the President sat in that day at the table, and Colin Powell was sitting in at the end, you know, kind of at the table. She took charge, and at the point that the chief of staff tried to keep the President out of the meeting, it was Condoleezza Rice who saw that we would have none of that, and she went and got the President, but the President said exactly what the policy was, that they would not intervene, that they were looking for a political solution. So, the hard-liners had decided that, in fact, they were going to have a regime change, and they facilitated the regime change in the way that they handled it.

Finally, there’s a great analysis of the language of racism that is constantly invoked in the media when discussing Aristide, the populist Lavelas party, and the “gang theme.”

. . . by the evocation of its whole elaborate framework, its myths, it literary clichés, and faux social science, the glaring lack of explanation, of indeed actual reporting in the traditional genre, is entirely concealed. A hot, banana-growing place inhabited by black people left to their own devices (having violently, arrogantly thrown off their custodians and tutors before they could be taught to control and govern themselves like Christians) is simply like this, poor, dirty, precarious, menaced by violent ‘gangs’ with no particular motive for their violence other than the unfettered expression of their nature – for this is what ‘young black men’ do when they don’t make the NBA. This is how they behave on the shitpile their delusional Kings leave after embezzling all the money to dress up in feathers and dine with real royalty.

Nothing further need then be said about the unidentified ‘gangs’ of Haiti than that they are the cause of an uncontrollable mayhem and chaos. The edifice of racist ideology looming in the shadows of every report, fully present though only very subtly hinted at with a sprinkling of key words and the evocation of a few key images, creates an illusion of comprehension and coherence in reportage that is entirely incoherent, contradictory, nonsensical and fragmentary; there doesn’t seem to be any story missing, any information suspiciously withheld. Where they got their guns and ammunition – this is not a mystery, for these kinds of beings know how to get those things. It’s what they do. And its for “us” to argue among ourselves about whether we can best help them by the tough love of incarceration or the gentle patronage of charity and education.

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