On June 20, Canadian journalist Naomi Klein conducted an extensive interview with ousted Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide for a forthcoming book. The interview took place in Pretoria, South Africa, where President Aristide is living in exile. For the first time, President Aristide spoke on record about the role played by Canada in his February 2004 ouster and the tumultuous period since.
The interview comes following last week’s Montreal International Conference on Haiti, where a protester, Yves Engler, splashed the hands of Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew with red paint on June 17. While Aristide was clear that he did not condone such an action, he did tell Ms. Klein that due to its support for the February 2004 coup that overthrew him and subsequent training of the Haitian National Police, “some people in the Canadian government and the Canadian army have Haitian blood on their hands.”
For his part, Minister Pettigrew continues to deny the widespread reports of killings of innocent demonstrators carried out by Canadian-trained Haitian police.
Haiti Action Montreal obtained a copy of the interview from Naomi Klein. The following is an edited excerpt:
Naomi Klein: Pierre Pettigrew just hosted a summit on the “transition” and some Haitian solidarity activists did an action where they put some red paint on [Foreign Minister Pierre] Pettigrewâe(TM)s hands to symbolize that Canada has blood on its hands in Haiti. Does Canada have blood on its hands in Haiti?
President Jean Bertrand Aristide: Some people in the Canadian government yes, they have Haitian blood on their handsâe¦ But not Canada as all the people of Canada or as one countryâe¦ I try to make a clear distinction between the Canadian people who didnâe(TM)t decide to have their government going to Haitiâe¦ seeing Pettigrew and the others with the Haitian blood on their hands.
Klein: Whose blood is on the hands of the Canadian government?
Aristide: I met with Prime Minister Martin in Mexico [at the Special Summit of the Americas in Monterrey, January 2004]âe¦ I have to say that the conversation with Prime Minister Martin at that time was a good one. I did not realize that he was so ready to follow the Americansâe(TM) agenda but the fact is he did exactly the opposite of what I observed him saying in Mexico at that time.
The coup, or the kidnapping, was led by the United States, France and Canada. These three countries were on the front lines by sending their soldiers to Haiti before February 29 [2004, when Aristide was overthrown], by having their soldiers either at the airport or at my residence or around the palace or in the capital to make sure that they succeeded in kidnapping me, leading [to the] the coup.
[Aristide then discussed the actions of the Canada-trained Haitian National Police:]
âe¦Up to today, they continue to open fire on the Haitian people demonstrating asking for my return — like last May 18, more than 500,000 people were in the streets of Port-au-Prince asking for my return. They didn’t open fire on them at that time and they saw what the Haitian people could do — that’s why they keep opening fire on them, to prevent them from having millions of people demonstrating all over the country to ask for my return. So they still kill the Haitian people through those thugs. When members of the United Nations don’t open fire on the people, they have their thugs doing the job for them — through the police, former military, convicted drug dealers. That’s why, unfortunately, we have to say yes, some people in the Canadian government and the Canadian army have Haitian blood on their hands.
Klein: What was your reaction when you heard about the protest against Pettigrew?
Aristide: I don’t encourage people to go against any government in Canada or to go against the de facto government in Haiti. I encourage them to resist in a peaceful way while they are asking for my return.
Since July 2004, Canada has provided training for the Haitian National Police (HNP). At the same June 17 press conference where he was splashed with red paint, Minister Pettigrew was asked about the accusations that the HNP have been shooting unarmed demonstrators in Haiti. This was his response, according to the transcript of video footage obtained by Haiti Action Montreal:
Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew: Well you’re talking about allegations that we do not accept. We have here the very chief of MINUSTAH [the UN mission in Haiti], we have here the minister from the transitional government. And you can pretend all kinds of things but what I can tell you is that I’m very proud, very proud of the Canadian police contribution in the MINUSTAH led by Mr. [Juan Gabriel] Valdez. I think the Haitian police is doing its very best in extremely difficult circumstances, and obviously, obviously, Canada would never condone any activity by which [unclear] would not respect the rule of law. Of anyone.
Q: So just to follow up, do you deny the reports in the international press?
Pettigrew: Well, if you are referring to the study —
Q: In the Associated Press, in Reuters — do you deny those reports, where journalists have had eyewitness accounts that they have witnessed Haitian police killing unarmed protesters. I just want to clarifyâe¦
Pettigrew: If they did, I have not heard of that. If you are talking about the Miami University study that is pretending all kinds of things that might have been taken by some of the members of the press, I absolutely think that it is propaganda which is absolutely not interesting. What interests me is the future of Haiti, it is the future of Haitians, it is the progress of democracy, and the progress of the rule of law.
The press reports in question include the following:
- Miami Herald, March 1 2005: “Haitian police opened fire on peaceful protesters Monday, killing two, wounding others and scattering an estimated 2,000 people marching through the capital to mark the first anniversary of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s ouster. The late-morning disturbance, witnessed by U.N. peacekeepers and foreign journalists alike, lends critics of the new government a powerful piece of evidence to back their allegations that police are persecuting Aristide supporters. ‘I’m not aware of any shots [fired] at the police,’ said Brazilian Navy Cmdr. Carlos Chagas Braga, second in command of the peacekeepers. ‘Everything was going peacefully. . . . We don’t know why they came to disband the demonstration.’”
“Peacekeepers, whose orders are to support the police, stood by as the attack occurred. The police quickly disappeared, leaving the bodies on the street. ‘When things like this happen we are in a bad situation,’ Chagas added. ‘We are supposed to support the Haitian National Police. We cannot fire at them.’”
- Associated Press, March 24 2005: “Police opened fire Thursday during a street march in Haiti’s capital to demand the return of ousted resident Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Witnesses said at least one person was killedâe¦. Several gunshots rang out as the demonstrators approached the local police station, sending demonstrators fleeing. Protesters said the shots were fired by an anti-Aristide street gang. The gunfire apoparently didn’t injure shooting [sic]. But a short while later, police began shooting as a group of protesters reached a main avenue leading to the international airport, killing one man, witnesses said. Associated Press reporters saw police firing into the air and toward protesters.”
- Associated Press, April 27 2005: “Police fired on protesters demanding the release of detainees loyal to Haiti’s ousted president Wednesday, killing at least five demonstrators, U.N. officials and witnesses said. Witnesses said Haitian police arrived as the demonstrators neared the headquarters of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the capital of Port-au-Prince and fired shots to disperse the crowd. U.N. mission spokesman Damian Onses-Cardona confirmed that police opened fire on demonstrators but had no further information. U.N. civilian police spokesman Dan Moskaluk said peacekeepers found five bodiesâe¦. The incident marked the third time in three months that Haitian police have fatally opened fire on demonstrators in Port-au-Prince.”
- Reuters, June 5 2005: “As many as 25 people were killed in police raids on Friday and Saturday in the slums of Haiti’s capital after the government said it would get tougher on gangs, morgue workers and witnesses said. Clerks at the morgue in the General Hospital said they had taken in 17 bodies on Saturday and three bodies on Friday after the raids in Bel-Air and other Port-au-Prince slums, centers of support for ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. A Reuters journalist also saw five other bodies in two different areas of Bel-Air. Residents said the dead were shot by police and accused police of setting slum homes on fire.”
“âe¦ ‘The police arrived, they started shooting. There were other people shooting too, but they managed to flee,’ said Ronald Macillon, a Bel-Air resident. ‘The police killed a lot of people and set several homes on fire,’ Macillon said. Several other witnesses gave similar accounts. A spokesman for U.N. troops in Bel-Air, Col. Carlos Barcelos, told Reuters the Brazilian contingent based in that slum did not take part directly in the raids, but put up checkpoints and secured the outside perimeter. The Central Director for the Administrative Police, Renan Etienne, told Reuters he could not say how many people were killed or comment on allegations police set homes on fire, as he had not yet received police reports.”
- University of Miami School of Law Centre for Human Rights, “Haiti Human Rights Investigation: November 11-21, 2004”