Maxine Waters: Time to get tough       Feb 2004


Congresswoman Maxine Waters

"Time for United States to get tough with Andre Apaid and the opposition in Haiti. Haiti's opposition will just have to participate in elections like every other opposition in every other country."

From: The Haiti Bulletin, What You Need to Know About the Region's Youngest Democracy, February 2004

Congresswoman Maxine Waters is Co-Chair of the House Democratic Steering Committee, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, and the House Committee on Financial Services. Following the 2000 U.S. presidential election fiasco, Congresswoman Waters was named Chair of the Democratic Caucus Special Committee on Electoral Reform. Prior to being elected to the United States Congress in 1990, Congresswoman Waters served in the California State Assembly for 14 years, where she rose to the powerful post of Democratic Caucus Chair. She has been a key leader in the presidential races of Edward Kennedy, Jesse Jackson, and Bill Clinton. She was a leader in the anti-apartheid movement in the United States, was a key figure in Congressional efforts to restore democracy to Haiti in 1994, and continues to be a no-holds barred voice for justice and democracy at home and abroad. In this interview she talks to Hazel Ross-Robinson about U.S. Haiti policy.

HRR: When last were you in Haiti, and what were your impressions?

CW: I was last in Haiti in January to be a part of the celebration of Haiti's Bicentennial. I was there for five days, and I got a pretty good picture of the situation. I believe that the opposition in Haiti is trying to foment a coup d'etat. They claim that they are staging peaceful protests, but that is not what they are actually doing. It is my impression that the opposition, led by Andy Apaid, is simply involved in a power grab. They want to place a council of their choosing in charge of the government and the country, instead of accepting the will of the people and respecting Haiti's democratically elected president. And they want to make sure that the governing council represents only their interests as members of Haiti's bourgeoisie. They want their group, "the elite", to totally control Haiti. The opposition's protests are becoming increasingly violent and the United States Government, my government, is not providing the required leadership. It is not meeting its responsibility to help de-escalate the crisis in Haiti. The situation there is serious.

HRR: January 1 was the 200th anniversary of the Haitian Revolution. Leading European and North American print and electronic journalists have been telling their readers and viewers that there "is nothing to celebrate in Haiti." Others outside of the media have been attempting to convince members of the African diaspora that unrest in Haiti makes this "not the time to celebrate the Haitian Revolution." Comments?

CW: I find any argument that discourages the commemoration - and indeed the celebration - of the Haitian Revolution to be absolutely mistaken. How can anyone expect a people who fought not only for their freedom, but for the freedom of us all not to be remembered, honored, and celebrated? And the Haitians did not only fight, they won! Most significantly did not defeat a minor, insignificant foe. They defeated Napoleon, France, at the peak of their military, economic, and political powers. As a result Haiti became a shining example that inspired, not only Africans throughout the Americas, but others throughout the central and south America to break free from Europe's stranglehold.

We must understand that this "nothing to celebrate" talk is consistent with the longstanding attitudes of those who never supported the Haitian people, and never wanted Haiti to be owned by Africans. It is consistent with those who have always had their hands deep in the Haitian economy, and who are determined to deny the Haitian people pride in themselves and pride in their spectacular history.

I am just so pleased that President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Prime Minister Christie of the Bahamas, the Foreign Minister of Benin, and all the other delegations from Suriname, Korea, Taiwan, and other countries came to Haiti to stand with President Aristide and the Haitian people on Janaury 1.

And I am very pleased that I was able to be with the Haitian people as they celebrated this phenomenal, unprecedented, and unsurpassed accomplishment by black people for black people.

The celebrations turned out beautifully - untruths told by the international media notwithstanding. I was a personal witness to the hundreds of thousands of Haitians who turned out to cheer and show their support for their president on January 1, but the international media was not truthful when they reported on what happened in Haiti that day.

I am just so proud that President Aristide refused to be intimidated by the opposition.
They had threatened to assassinate him, they said they would overthrow his government, they demanded that he back down and stay away, but he did what he had to do. And he and his people celebrated Haiti's glorious accomplishments and its magical, unsurpassed history. It was a wonderful occasion.

You know, the State Department had advised those planning to travel to Haiti around the time of the Bicentennial not to do so. I, for one, was told by State that it was too dangerous for me to go to Haiti. And just one week before the Bicentennial celebrations, a delegation of my congressional colleagues was packed and ready to travel to Haiti when they were discouraged by the U.S. Government from doing so. So they cancelled their trip. As you know, those of us who did go were absolutely astounded by what we saw. We had been told that there would be absolute tumult - of course there were some protests while we were there, but nothing like we had been told there would be. We had been led to believe that it would be difficult getting to our hotels, that driving through the streets would be difficult, that there would be road blocks, that we were getting into a terrifying situation. We got there and asked ourselves, "What were they talking about?"

HRR: Haiti's Group of 184, headed by Andre Apaid, is demanding that President Aristide step down. They say that their anti-Aristide demonstrations prove that Aristide should go. What is your reaction?

CW: Andre Apaid is absolutely outrageous. He is power hungry. He knows that Haiti has been undermined for years. He knows that Haiti has been denied important resources - to which they were absolutely entitled. And he is exploiting these weaknesses when he foments these protests. This is a naked power grab and we need to find out more about who this Andre Apaid is.

They tell me that he wants to be president of Haiti, but it is alleged that he is a U.S. citizen, by birth. That complicates things. I have been told that his family has been in Haiti for a number of years now and that he reportedly owns some 15 factories there. At any rate, we need to know more.

Where are the resources coming from to organize and publicize these demonstrations? Are funds coming from Europe? They say that powerful sources in the United States - including senators - have been providing funding.
Why is Andre Apaid continuing his ridiculous quest to remove Haiti's constitutionally elected president? Why is the opposition committed to tumult and havoc instead of agreeing to participate in the elections that President Aristide has been calling for?

HRR: I wanted to ask you about that. Aristide says that elections are the only way forward. The opposition refuses to go to the polls. What is the appropriate United States response to this impasse?

CW: This is one of the things that really bother me about the US role in Haiti. We do not publicly identify and expose the obstacles being placed in the path of democracy by the opposition in Haiti. The United States should be adamant in supporting democracy in Haiti. We should say to the opposition - "You have the right to protests, but you do not have the right to provoke the police and try to create crises. And you most certainly do not have the right to stay out of elections and then blame Aristide. You are the ones who have prevented the elections from going forward."

The United States should take the lead in ensuring that the world community of nations understands that it is because of the opposition that there have been no elections in Haiti.

HRR: The Jamaican media have quoted Prime Minister Patterson as saying that Caricom might consider imposing sanctions on President Aristide.

CW: I have undertaken a thorough review of Caricom's proposal. I think that Caricom is attempting to make it clear to all involved that they are going to be tough because there has to be a solution to the crisis in Haiti. I think that Caricom is sending a message to everybody that they mean business.

Caricom has also made it very clear that they expect the international community to meet its obligations to Haiti by providing the resources that will be required to implement the demands that they (the international community) are making of this government. That is very important. And then, of course, Caricom is standing firm on the importance of Haiti's constitutionally elected president completing his 5-year term as specified by the Haitian Constitution. The opposition is going to have to participate in elections like every other opposition party in every other country. So I saw the sanctions reference simply as a means of serving notice to everyone that Caricom wants and expects results.

HRR: Any other comments, insights, recommendations?

CW: Caricom is offering all sides the opportunity to de-escalate this crisis. The United States is now in the position where they must recognize that Caricom Heads of State are involved in this effort and they (the US) can not coddle the opposition holding out on elections any more.

Caricom's mediation efforts will expose the United States' position in all of this, and I pointed this out in my most recent conversations with the State Department, today. I stressed that simply by observing the way that the Government of Haiti has conducted itself during Caricom's mediation efforts, and contrasting this with the way that the opposition has conducted itself (refusing to even be in the same room as Aristide, rejecting any form of negotiations, rejecting elections, demanding Aristide's resignation, etc) makes it very clear where the problem is in Haiti.

The United States needs to get tough with Andre Apaid and the opposition.
They need to let him know that attempting to close down Haiti by urging banks and other institutions to close is no substitute for elections. The Haitian voter has to be allowed to speak. Demonstrations are no substitute for the ballot box. Aristide has embraced the Caricom proposal. Everybody else is supporting the Caricom proposal. Andre Apaid and his opposition are simply going to have to get in line. The United States is going to have to condemn what the opposition is doing. It is time for us to get tough.

HRR: Thank you.

"Time for United States to get tough with Andre Apaid and the opposition in Haiti."

The Haiti Bulletin, What You Need to Know About the Region's Youngest Democracy, February 2004