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Statement by Rep. Maxine Waters
on the Overthrow of the Democratically-
Elected Government of Haiti
March 4, 2004
Last Sunday, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the democratically-elected President of Haiti, was effectively overthrown by a group of heavily-armed thugs. Yesterday, Ambassador Roger Noriega, the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, the former chief of staff for Senator Jesse Helms and one of the principal architects of our flawed Haiti policy, testified before the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere of the House International Relations Committee on the situation in Haiti. Despite Ambassador Noriega's best efforts to avoid answering Members' questions, when I and other Members pressed him for answers, he confirmed what was already apparent; the United States conditioned the introduction of military forces to stabi
lize Haiti on the departure of President Aristide.
We asked Ambassador Noriega why the United States failed to protect President Aristide from the thugs that were trying to force him out of office. We asked Ambassador Noriega if he knew the violent, criminal histories of Guy Philippe and Louis Jodel Chamblain, who led the thugs into Port-au-Prince. We asked Ambassador Noriega if he knew who armed and trained these thugs. We asked Ambassador Noriega why the United States did nothing to disarm them until after President Aristide was forced to leave Haiti. We asked Ambassador Noriega how a group of heavily-armed thugs with criminal histories could overthrow a democratically-elected government.
Ambassador Noriega's testimony made it clear that our government's actions and its inaction encouraged the overthrow of President Aristide's government. At the very least, we were unwilling to take any steps to prevent the overthrow of the democratically-elected President of Haiti.
Ambassador Noriega's responses, while disturbing, were hardly surprising. Ambassador Noriega has pursued a policy of undermining President Aristide's government for many years. Ambassador Noriega has a long history of being aligned with the anti-Aristide business owners in Haiti and undermining the democratically-elected governments of Haiti. Ambassador Noriega has been working closely with the opposition in Haiti. The Ambassador's statements throughout the political crisis that led to President Aristide's removal have been extremely one-sided. The policies underlying them have been equally one-sided.
For several years, the United States blocked $145.9 million in development loans to Haiti by the Inter-American Development Bank. These loans were supposed to fund health, basic education, rural road development, potable water and sanitation programs, but the United States government prevented the money from ever going to Haiti until the Congressional Black Caucus interven
ed last year. Denying Haiti access to basic development assistance undermined the ability of the elected government of Haiti to serve the needs of its people and further impoverished a poor population.
The United States government also helped to organize and train the political opposition in Haiti. The International Republican Institute (IRI) has been providing the opposition training for political party development, communications strategies, public opinion polling, web site development and public outreach. IRI has a blatantly partisan approach. It trains opposition groups but flatly refuses to work with Lavalas party members or other supporters of President Aristide. IRI's Haiti Program is funded by American taxpayers through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). IRI is currently operating under a two-year grant from USAID obtained in late 2002.
While I was in Haiti, I met with leaders of the opposition, including Andre Apaid, the leader of the Group o
f 184. Unfortunately, Andre Apaid is not the democratic leader that the Administration would have us believe. Andre Apaid was a Duvalier-supporter, who allegedly holds an American passport and operates sweatshops in Haiti. Andre Apaid refused to accept the CARICOM proposal as the basis for negotiations to resolve the political crisis. He repeatedly rejected President Aristide's offer to negotiate, and he refused to participate in any negotiations whatsoever.
The opposition has accused President Aristide of drug trafficking and corruption. Yet when asked for documentation, they have not been able to produce anything more than rumors, innuendos and allegations. No one has ever identified any money allegedly stolen by President Aristide.
President Aristide has given the United States special authority to assist with drug interdiction efforts by allowing the United States to interdict drugs in Haitian waters. The government of Haiti does not have the resources needed to wage
a tough and consistent war against drugs, and the President of Haiti begged the United States for assistance to eliminate drug trafficking.
Many of the thugs that took over Haiti in the last few weeks are former members of the Haitian military or members of the feared death squad known as the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH). FRAPH members were responsible for numerous human rights violations during the three years following the coup d'etat in 1991. Guy Philippe, who yesterday declared himself the new chief of Haiti's military, is a former police chief and military officer, who was accused of a previous coup attempt in 2002. Louis Jodel Chamblain, was a leader of FRAPH and was convicted in abstentia for his role in a 1994 massacre. He has also been accused of drug trafficking.
When President Aristide disbanded the Haitian military following his return to Haiti in 1994, the former military officers were never disarmed. Many simply went over the bor
der into the Dominican Republic, taking their M-1 and M-14 weapons with them.
I am especially concerned by the possibility that the U.S. government may have armed and trained the former military officers and death squad leaders who carried out last Sunday's coup. In 2002, the United States supplied M-16's to the Dominican Republic, supposedly for use along the Haitian border, and stationed 900 U.S. troops alongside Dominican guards at the border. Many of the thugs that have taken over Haiti are now armed with M-16's. The U.S. government must investigate how these thugs were armed and explain how the M-16's got into their hands.
The United States has also maintained a ban on weapons sales to Haiti. This has left the Haitian police force ill-equipped to maintain law and order in the face of groups of armed thugs, former military officers and death squad members. The people of the city of St. Marc placed boxes, rocks and cars in the roads to protect themselves from the ap
proaching paramilitary groups. The Administration should explain why this ban on weapons sales was maintained against Haiti throughout President Aristide's term in office.
Once the thugs had completely surrounded Port-au-Prince, President Aristide was forced to leave Haiti. President Aristide called me on Monday morning and told me that Luis G. Moreno, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, came to his home in the wee hours of the morning with other diplomats and U.S. Marines. He said he was told to leave, and leave now, or he and many Haitians would be killed. He said he was kidnaped.
This certainly has the appearance of a coup.
I and other Members will pursue Congressional investigations in all of the pertinent committees to determine the truth about our government's role in the departure of President Aristide. The American people deserve to know how and why this Administration allowed a democratically-elected government to b
e overthrown by a group of heavily-armed thugs.