[News] Haiti's Lawyer: U.S. Is Arming Anti-Aristide Paramilitaries

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Wed Feb 25 13:00:00 EST 2004



Haiti's Lawyer: U.S. Is Arming Anti-Aristide Paramilitaries

Wednesday, February 25th, 2004
http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=04/02/25/1613200

As opponents of Haitian President Aristide reject a U.S.-brokered peace 
plan, we speak with Ira Kurzban who has served as General Counsel for the 
government of Haiti since 1991. [includes transcript]


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The situation in the small island nation of Haiti appears to be heading 
toward a breaking point. The groups opposed to the government of 
Jean-Bertrand Aristide have rejected a US-brokered plan that many viewed as 
favorable to Aristide's opponents. The groups say they will settle for only 
one outcome--the complete removal of Aristide from power. Yesterday, the 
man who was believed to be the compromise appointment as Haiti's Prime 
Minister threw his support behind the opposition groups in calling for 
Aristide to step down.

Aristide on Tuesday called for help from the international community and 
warned of a rising death toll and a new exodus of "boat people" from the 
country.

What is perhaps more significant than the opposition groups rejection of 
the plan are the armed commandos and gangs that are now in control of half 
the country and are threatening to move on the capital Port-au-Prince very 
soon. There are very real fears that the democratically-elected Aristide 
could be overthrown in a violent coup d'etat. As we have reported regularly 
on the program, many of the leaders of these paramilitary gangs have had 
direct ties to the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and other US 
government agencies. They were men at the forefront of the murders, rapes 
and tortures that marked the 1991-94 coup against Aristide.

    * Ira Kurzban, a Miami based lawyer. Since 1991, he has served as 
General Counsel for the government of Haiti.

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TRANSCRIPT

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AMY GOODMAN: We're going to start with Ira Kurzban, a Miami based lawyer. 
Since 1991, he served as General Counsel for the government of Haiti. 
Welcome to Democracy Now!.

IRA KURZBAN: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: It's good to have you with us. What is your assessment of 
what's happening in Haiti right now?

IRA KURZBAN: Well, I think this is clearly a military operation, and it's a 
military coup. We have analyzed the kinds of weapons that these people have 
brought from the Dominican Republic, who they are, how they're organized, 
and they're organized, really, as a military commando strike force that's 
going from city to city. They're very well organized, and they're armed to 
the teeth with the kinds of weapons, Amy, that really, no one has ever seen 
in Haiti, except when Haiti had an army. This notion that somehow, you 
know, this is kind of a rag-tag group of people who had armed that they got 
originally from Aristide, which is kind of what's playing in the press 
generally, is just totally untrue. When we have looked at the weapons that 
they have, they have m-16's, m-60's. They now have armor piercing weapons 
they have rocket propelled launchers. They have weapons to shoot down the 
one helicopter that the government has. They have acted as a pretty 
tight-knit commando unit, and they're led by, as I think you were pointing 
out in the introduction -- they're led by people who were former associates 
of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Jodel Chamblin was the trigger man for 
FRAPH during the military coup, when FRAPH -- when FRAPH was written was a 
creation of the Defense Intelligence Agency of the United States. There's 
enough indications from our point of view, at least from my point of view, 
that the United States certainly knew what was coming about two weeks 
before this military operation started. The United States made contingency 
plans for Guantanamo.

The U.S. Ambassador in Port-au-Prince began the process of warning American 
citizens and asking them to register. This was a week before any of this, 
and two weeks before any of this happened. So, there was a clear feeling 
that something was going to happen, and what really happened is the 
combination of Jean Tatun who is a person that the press has rarely 
reported about in Gonaives, who was a former FRAPH person who we tried and 
convicted for gross violations of human rights and murder in Raboteau, and 
behind what's going on in Gonaives. He had strong connections with 
Chamblain, the ex-head of FRAPH, and Guy Philippe, a former member of the 
Haitian armed forces and who has attempted previous coups, not only against 
Aristide, but the Preval government. These people came through the 
Dominican border after the United States had provided 20,000 m-16's to the 
Dominican army. They came through the border, that is Philippe and 
Chamblain with a really small army of about 20 or 30 highly trained 
military people with these m-16's and m-60's and all of this other 
equipment that came through the Dominican border with -- in several trucks 
with very, very heavy equipment. And quite frankly, I believe that the 
United States clearly knew about it before, and that given the fact of the 
history of these people, we are probably very, very deeply involved, and I 
think congress needs to seriously look at what the investment of the 
Defense Intelligence Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency has been in 
this operation. Because it is a military operation. It's not a rag-tag 
group of liberators, as has often been put in the press in the last week or 
two. The second part of it is that it's clear that as a result of a number 
of stories that have come out in the last two day that the so-called 
peaceful opposition has been working very, very closely with these people. 
Guy Philippe was associated press yesterday saying with a big smile on his 
face that he has not been officially in contact with the opposition, but 
that he has received money and support from the Haitian business community. 
Well, the Haitian business community are the people who are behind what's 
called the group of 184. Those are the people who were so-called peaceful 
opposition. It's clear to us that they're stalling tactics in the last week 
have been designed to develop a fate accompli on the ground. I think that's 
what we're seeing right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Ira Kurzban, you're saying that you believe that the U.S. Is 
arming the opposition and did it through sending weapons to Dominican 
Republic, which were then given over to the opposition and came across the 
border?

IRA KURZBAN: That's right. I don't think that there's any question about 
the fact that the weapons that they have did not come from Haiti. They 
clearly came over the Dominican border when Philippe and Chamblain entered 
Haiti about two weeks ago.

AMY GOODMAN: Hadnt Guy Philippe been arrested in the Dominican Republic at 
one time?

IRA KURZBAN: Yes. Guy Philippe was heavily involved in drug dealing in 
Cap-Haitien and was involved in a coup against Preval. And the reason I 
point that out is because a lot of the press reports are saying this is all 
about Aristide and so forth. It has nothing really to do with Aristide. 
This is a military operation designed to bring back the Haitian army. And I 
think that the Defenses Intelligence Agency has always wanted to push to 
have the army reconstituted. So Philippe was involved in a coup in the year 
2000 against President Preval and the thrust of that then just as the 
thrust of it now is, we want to bring back the Haitian Army. So under the 
cover of this is all about Aristide and how undemocratic he has been and so 
forth, it really an operation to bring back the army. When he tried the 
coup in 2000 he was fired from the police and fled to the Dominican 
Republic and the Haitian government has made many efforts to extradite him 
and to put him on trial. As a result of not only that effort but what 
happened on December 17 where one of his cohorts readily admitted that 
Philippe and his cohorts were involved in a coup to take the National 
Palace. They have tried this two or three times in different ways. There 
was an effort in July of 2001 to capture the police stations in Haiti, and 
that was unsuccessful. There was another effort on December 17 to take the 
National Palace, and that was unsuccessful. And obviously, they have 
regrouped. They have obtained these kinds of very, very heavy weapons. And 
are coming across the border. Yes, I -- to be perfectly clear, Amy, I 
believe that this is a group that is armed by, trained by, and employed by 
the intelligence services of the United States. I think that the congress 
really needs to take a very careful look at this now.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Ira Kurzban, who since 1991 has been a lawyer 
for the Haitian government, a Miami-based attorney. We have to break and 
we'll come back in a minute.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, the war and peace report. I'm Amy 
Goodman as we talk about the very dire situation in Haiti right now. On the 
line with us is Ira Kurzban, an attorney for the Haitian government. Do you 
expect to see Port-au-Prince fall to the opposition forces, heavily armed 
in the next few days? Is Aristide expecting this? Is Aristide expecting to 
be forced out again?

IRA KURZBAN: The president went on national TV in Haiti and also spoke with 
the international community yesterday saying what's really going on about 
this military coup and asking for international assistance. I mean, the 
Haitians who are in Port-au-Prince and the police who have acted very, very 
valiantly against very difficult odds and the palace security are all 
prepared to fight, and I think they will fight. I don't think that you are 
going to see the situation that you have seen in some other places where 
they -- this military operation has been able to roll into the cities 
because of their disproportionate fire power. And one thing I think that 
needs to be made clear, Amy, in this is when the press reports that these 
people easily went into the city because there's so much opposition to 
Aristide, I think it's really doing a disservice to the American public 
because what's happening is people are trying to fight back with machetes 
and rocks and bottles, and they're facing m-60's which are the weapon that 
Rambo had in the movie. I mean, these are huge, powerful weapons against 
people who are trying to stand up for democracy and of course, you know, 
they are -- they have not been able to stop this well-armed and 
well-trained group of commandos. And I think the situation, though, in 
Port-au-Prince is very different. There are many, many police now in 
Port-au-Prince. There are security forces in Port-au-Prince. I think 
they're prepared to fight. I think they will fight. I think the president, 
and really being a statesman, is trying to stay to the world, we need to 
stop this. You know, this is the 21st century. Haiti should be moving 
forward. We should be moving forward toward peace. We should resolve this 
in a peaceful way. There's going to be a lot of bloodshed and with 
bloodshed, there's also going to be boat people who are going to be fleeing 
the country in the next six months or a year. If these guys do take over, 
they're bad actors. These are people who were killers and even as the 
Secretary of State acknowledged, thugs and criminals who have a very, very 
bad human rights history in Haiti.

AMY GOODMAN: Roger Noriega led the delegation to Haiti to broker the peace 
plan, the former aide to Jesse Helms. What do you think his role in this 
is, Ira Kurzban?

IRA KURZBAN: I think Noriega has been an Aristide hater for over a decade. 
I would like to think that he was really trying to broker a sincere 
agreement, but when I saw what happened, and I was there on Saturday before 
the President almost immediately agreed after an hour or two discussion to 
the peace plan where it would clearly result in his having to share power 
with people who have been his bitter enemies for a long time and then the 
opposition said we needed several more days, and you know, Noriega and the 
others were willing to give it to them, my reaction was they're just giving 
them more time so they can take over more that the military wing of the 
opposition can take over more ground in Haiti and create a fate accompli 
and indeed, as soon as they said, we need an extra day, I predicted, 
unfortunately, and correctly, that they would go into Cap Haitian and 
indeed the next morning they did. The thing that's peculiar and I don't 
think Americans understand this, the leader of the opposition, Andy Uphed, 
and the head is an American citizen. He is not a Haitian citizen, because 
Haiti does not recognize dual nationality. One must choose either their 
Haitian citizenship or their U.S. citizenship. He has never renounced his 
U.S. Citizenship. We have the leader of the opposition, who Mr. Noriega is 
negotiating with, who Secretary Powell calls and who tells Secretary 
Powell, you know, we need a couple more daysand Secretary Powell says 
that's fine. I mean, there's some kind of theater of the absurd going on 
with this opposition where it's led by an American citizen, where they're 
just clearly stalling for time until they can get more ground covered in 
Haiti through their military wing, and the United States and Noriega with a 
wink and nod as kind of letting them do that. Now they have said no. 
Presumably if the U.S. is serious, about what Secretary Powell said in 
preserving democracy and allowing President Aristide to fulfill his term, 
he agreed to the peace plan. They have not. The next step clearly is to 
send in some kind of U.N. Peacekeeping force immediately.

AMY GOODMAN: It's interesting that you said that Secretary of State Colin 
Powell called them, what did you say, criminals and thugs.

IRA KURZBAN: Thugs.

AMY GOODMAN: Because when President Clinton announced that the U.S. Was 
going to be moving in, to challenge the coupe of 1991, 194, he talked about 
them as murderers and rapists and criminals, meanwhile, Emmanuel Constance, 
the head of the FRAPH at the time was on the payroll of the Defense 
Intelligence Agency. This is when James Woolsey was the head of the C.I.A. 
On the one hand, you have president attacking them and on the other hand, 
you have the people leading the coup on the U.S. Payroll.

IRA KURZBAN: I think that there is -- as I said before, I believe that 
congress should certainly look at, and investigate what the role of the 
defense intelligence agency and the C.I.A. Is here. You know, I personally 
believe that they are involved, given the history, given the nature of the 
weapons that these people have, and given that their major demand is the 
return of the Haitian army, even more than anything -- any other demand 
they have made in the last two weeks, and given these long-standing ties. 
So, yeah, I -- it's true that the Secretary has said what he said, and we 
hope that he is sincere in saying that. And we hope that he is going to act 
on now, and that the administration is going to act on it. The President of 
Haiti facing a military coup, has now said, we need international 
assistance. He said it to the world yesterday. And the question is, will 
the world act or will they allow a democracy to be destroyed. No one has 
ever contested that President Aristide's election was not a full, fair 
election and no one has ever said that Aristide would not have been elected 
in the year 2000 because of his overwhelming popularity. The question is 
will the international community stand by and allow a democracy in this 
hemisphere be terminated by a brutal military coup of persons who have a 
very, very sordid history and gross violations of human rights.

AMY GOODMAN: Ira Kurzban, lawyer for the Haitian Government.

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