Aristide Claims U.S. Ousted Him

US Marines on patrol, Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, 3-1-04
As U.S. troops patrolled Haiti in the wake of his ouster, former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Tuesday claimed he was driven from office by the United States, a claim the State Department denied.

Aristide, currently in the Central African Republic, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Monday that he was "forced to leave" Haiti by U.S. military forces. He added that they would "start shooting and be killing" if he refused, but it was unclear if he was referring to rebels or U.S. agents.

American officials dismissed Aristide's claim. Secretary of State Colin Powell called the allegations "absolutely baseless, absurd." U.S. officials acknowledged privately, however, that Aristide was told that if he remained in Haiti, U.S. forces would not protect him from the rebels who wanted to arrest him and put him on trial for corruption and murder.

Aristide abruptly left Haiti early Sunday and was flown aboard a contracted U.S.-government plane to the impoverished Central African Republic.

After he left, thousands converged on the plaza outside the National Palace, shouting "Liberty!" and "Aristide is gone!"

Aristide left after 100 people died in a three-week rebellion that had reached the outskirts of the capital. It was the culmination of years of unrest after a flawed legislative election that Aristide's party won. The election dispute prompted the U.S. and other countries to block aid to impoverished Haiti.

The day before Aristide fled, the United States blamed him for the crisis and strongly hinted he should go. The Miami Herald reports the U.S. blocked a private firm from sending additional bodyguards to protect Aristide.

Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., says the pressure put on Aristide to resign seemed to indicate that the Bush administration had sided with "the opposition and the coup people." He worried that further violence could erupt if Haitians believe the United States was behind Aristide's ouster.

The U.S. has a long history of intervention in Haiti. From 1915 to 1934, the U.S. military occupied Haiti to protect U.S. business interests. The New York Times reports that in the 1980s and early 1990s, the CIA had members of the Haitian military and political groups on its payroll; those groups were linked to death squads.

Meanwhile, U.S. Marines and French troops secured key sites around the capital on Monday, and rebels rolled into the capital to cheering crowds as Haiti's bloody uprising moved from the streets to the political arena.

U.S. plans for a quiet, orderly transition appeared threatened, despite the arrival of hundreds of American, French and Canadian soldiers as an interim peacekeeping force.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld estimated that between 1,500 and 2,000 U.S. troops would go to Haiti for a "relatively short period." They would participate in an interim force, which could include as many as 5,000 troops from several countries, that would stay until replaced by a U.N. peacekeeping force.

Rebels who had promised to lay down their arms if their main demand — Aristide's resignation — was met, instead swaggered into the capital, hinting they were here to stay. They said they would just tolerate police and international peacekeepers, while enforcing their own kind of justice.

One young rebel standing outside the meeting freely told a reporter he had shot looters Sunday and predicted militant members of Aristide's Lavalas party would be executed.

"I shot some looters yesterday. They have to be shot," said the rebel, who goes by the nom-de-guerre "Faustin."

"There are some very minimal numbers of Lavalas who cannot be saved," said the fighter.

Callers flooded talk radio programs with appeals for rebel help from people in neighborhoods still dominated by the pro-Aristide gangs that had terrorized the city.

Scattered looting continued, police cleared the city of barricades, but gunfire continued to crackle in some neighborhoods and bound, executed bodies showed up in the streets.

In the capital, there were reports of reprisal killings of Aristide supporters who had been accused of terrorizing people during his rule.

There were no clashes between the rebel force and the U.S. and French troops, who were establishing security at diplomatic missions and other sites.

But the prospect of peacekeepers — the other arm of U.S. strategy — appeared reduced to a minimal expression, with Marine Col. Dave Berger announcing that his 200 troops would not disarm rebels or the pro-Aristide militants and they would not police the city.

Amnesty International called Monday for international peacekeepers to arrest rebel leaders Louis-Jodel Chamblain, a former death squad leader convicted of murders while he was in exile, and Jean Pierre Baptiste, also known as Jean Tatoune, who escaped from jail after being sentenced to two life sentences in the 1994 massacre of 15 Aristide supporters.

The civilian opposition raised concerns about an orderly transition when some of its leaders showed a near adoration for the rebels and contempt for an international transition plan. The opposition has previously denied any links to the rebels.

Civilian opposition leaders met with rebels for hours at a Port-au-Prince hotel Monday. The opposition, angered by poverty, corruption and crime, had pushed for Aristide to leave for the good of Haiti's 8 million people — but had distanced themselves from the rebels.

Industrialist Charles Henry Baker, a member of the broad-based opposition coalition that includes business associations and civic groups, said he welcomed an offer by the rebels to help maintain order amid reports of continued looting in the capital.

Powell said he did not want some rebel leaders to take any role in a new government.

"Some of these individuals we would not want to see re-enter civil society in Haiti because of their past records, and this is something we will have to work through," Powell said.

The Washington Post reports the Bush administration is trying to revive a power-sharing plan drawn up by Caribbean leaders. Aristide had accepted the plan, but his opponents refused to accept it, since it would have left him in power.