Travis Smiley and Maxine Waters Interview

March 1, 2004

Tavis Smiley: Good evening. From Los Angeles, I'm Tavis Smiley.

Tonight, very serious charges arising from the chaos in Haiti. Did the U.S. forcibly abduct and remove from power Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide? And if so, as President Aristide is now alleging, does this amount to a U.S.- engineered coup of a man and a government that was democratically elected? We'll be joined by one of the only people who has spoken to directly to President Aristide over the past 48 hours, California Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters.

Tavis: Welcome back. I'm pleased to be joined by California Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Maxine Waters, one of only a couple of people, to my knowledge, who's actually had a chance to speak to the now dethroned, if you will, former president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Congresswoman, nice to see you.

Rep. Maxine Waters: Good to be here, Tavis.

Tavis: There's very serious allegations today. Let me start with a brief story 'cause I know you and I are aware of this, but for the purpose of our audience.

I was in Miami over the weekend, as you know, and on Sunday was headed on a private plane--scheduled to be on a private plane to go to Port-au-Prince to interview President Aristide at the National Palace. I get a call late Saturday night from a source inside of the State Department sending word to me not to go because it was going down on Sunday, that either the president was going to be assassinated on Sunday or he had a chance to go into exile. But I was told either way, you don't need to go 'cause you're not gonna have any cover. We are not going in--we being the U.S. military--and therefore, Tavis, you should not go in because you're not gonna have any cover.

So I obviously canceled my trip, talked to you and some other people to find out what you all knew. So I was grateful for the information, but disturbed by the fact that somebody knew that something was going down on Sunday. From your perspective, what did somebody know? Who was that somebody? When did they know whatever they knew? How do you see this story having gone down over the weekend?

Waters: Well, clearly, the United States government has been very much involved in orchestrating this coup d'etat. It's very hard for Americans to accept that their government could be involved in the ways that's unfolding as you hear this story. Not only did the diplomats from the embassy go to President Aristide's home, the Marines went there also. And Mr. Moreno, who is the chief of staff at the embassy, said to him, “You have to leave, and you have to leave now, or you will be killed. Guy Philippe and, uh, ex-military officers who have taken over the north are coming in, and the Marines are coming in, and a lot of people are gonna die, and you have to go now.’ And the president said, in his conversation to me, they forced him to go, that he was literally kidnapped, that he had no choice in the matter. And the coup d'etat took place, and the United States was right there facilitating it.

Tavis: Now, you know, Secretary Powell had a press conference earlier today and has denied everything that you basically have just said.

Waters: Yes.

Tavis: He had a press conference and basically said--I wanted to write this down to get it right--that the charge that Aristide was kidnapped is baseless--his word--that he wrote a letter of resignation; that it'd be better for members of Congress like you to ask about these stories before you come on TV runnin' your mouth talkin' to folk like me about this; that Aristide was accompanied by his own security personnel. As a matter of fact, let me ask Jonathan to put up on the screen the exact quote of what Secretary Powell in fact had to say about this particular matter. But what's your sense of Secretary Powell's comments that y´all respectfully are off-base about this?

Waters: Well, the first thing, I responded publicly to Secretary Powell and said if they had any respect for the members of the Congressional Black Caucus who've been working with him for the past 2 weeks, begging him to help get the international forces there to deal with the problems, stabilize Haiti… If he had any respect for us, he would've called us and told us that they had decided that they were going to take him out or encourage him to go, whatever they say they did when they went to his house. But he did not do that.

President Aristide called me directly. He called Congressman Rangel. He called Randall Robinson. He talked to us, and he used the words “kidnap,’ “coup d'etat,’ uh, going--’forced to go,’ “did not want to go.’ And we stand by our story. That's what he told us. And we have no reason but to believe the president.

Tavis: What do you make of the fact, speaking of Secretary Powell, he was testifying before a Senate committee a couple weeks ago, and under direct questioning made it very clear that the goal of the U.S. in Haiti was not regime change? Very clearly he said, “This is not about regime change,’ said Secretary Powell under questioning.

Now, here's my question: if you have the capacity, with ships offshore from Haiti, to go in on Saturday and you choose not to, but you wait to go in on Sunday and you rush in on Sunday after he has left the country voluntarily or involuntarily, doesn't that say that you really were about regime change and that you empowered the insurgents, you empowered the rebels to overthrow him, and the signal you gave them was, “We ain't comin' in’?

Waters: Well, I want to tell you, and I hate to have to say it, but Colin Powell is not in charge of this policy--even though he's the spokesperson coming out, talking about what happened or what did not take place. Mr. Noriega, who was the former chief of staff to Jesse Helms, who had been working against Haiti for years, is in charge of this policy, and I do believe that it's a policy of regime change.

And it is not only for Aristide and Haiti. It's for Mr. Chavez and Venezuela, and they're coming after Mr. Castro in Cuba. They wish to rid the Western Hemisphere of the bad boys who head nations that do not dance to our music and who do not--

Tavis: But how can you call Aristide a bad boy? I mean, let me be very clear--

Waters: That's what they think of him, yes.

Tavis: Aristide is a long way from perfect, but the fact of the matter is--so is our president, for that matter--but both have been democratically elected. So what does it say about whether or not the U.S. really in fact believes in democracy if we're going to undermine a democracy, to use your words?

Waters: Oh, absolutely. This has been going on for a long time in Haiti. Don't forget that when he was just 7 months in office, there was a coup d'etat--some of the same people who are involved now. Mr. Andy Apaid Jr., a Lebanese-born American born in New York, was involved in the last coup d'etat heading up the Group of 184 involved in this one. They threw him out after 7 months. They're back again because he's got 2 years left on his term. They don't want him to stay. They want to take control of government so they can control the elections, and they can put in place whomever they'd like to put in place.

Tavis: Why would the U.S. want Aristide out? I don't mean to be naive with this question, but it was the U.S., under President Clinton, who helped put Aristide back in power in Haiti. Why would the U.S. want Aristide out in the first place?

Waters: Well, Clinton put him back in because the Congressional Black Caucus and Randall Robinson at TransAfrica put so much pressure on this government to return this democratically elected president. If you can remember, Randall Robinson went into a hunger strike. I mean, he put his life on the line.

We all got arrested time and time again in front of the White House. We put a lot of pressure on, and he did respond to the Black Caucus, but he did not do the complete job. He left FRAPH, the old army, in place that was made up of some of the very people now who are being called rebels, who are up in Gonaives and in Cap Haitien. They're supposedly leading this revolution. We're talking about Guy Philippe and Mr. Jodel Chamblain. These were people who were involved with Cedras, who was the old military death squad people, who should've been--and they were--in exile. Somebody organized them and brought them back in. So the United States, we did put him back in, but we did not put any resources behind him. We took the money from the government, and we give it to government organizations, and so no money goes into the infrastructure, and some of those non-government organizations are being used to support the opposition.

Tavis: Was the withholding of the money--U.S. support--was the withholding of the money another example of undermining and under--

Waters: Oh, absolutely. Not only do we have an embargo against Haiti for funding not only from the United States, but from the World Bank, from the International Monetary Fund. He gets nothing. And in addition to that, we have an embargo against selling arms. The police department were graduating officers without guns. We don't sell them guns, we don't sell them tear gas, we don't sell them anything that would strengthen that police department.

Tavis: Should there be congressional investigation into this? Will you call for that?

Waters: Oh, yes, we are.

Tavis: And what should happen in Haiti at this point?

Waters: Well, first of all, we are calling for investigations. There is a hearing that had already been planned for the Western Hemisphere subcommittee on Wednesday where we'll start to get some of this information out. Mr. Delahunt, a member of Congress I talked to today, will be asking some very pointed questions, so we should continue with the investigations. I want to shine the light on Mr. Noriega and what he has been doing for quite some time. I want them to know who Mr. Apaid Jr. is, his connection to Peter Goss and to Mr. Noriega. So all of that we're gonna try and push and we're gonna try and do.

What should happen at this time? Well, they should not rewrite the constitution. They have a constitution, and right now they've put the Supreme Court justice in charge, as the constitution says, but they're also talking about rewriting it in ways I guess that will help them to do what it is they want to do. And we should stabilize it. The American forces should be very careful there.

But the first thing they should do is get rid of the old military guys, the thugs, the criminals who have killed thousands of Haitians with death squad actions. But what's interesting is Mr. Guy Philippe and them are saying they want the military reinstated. They want and they expect the American government because they have helped them to now put them back in power.

Tavis: About 20 seconds. On another subject right quick since we're in California. Tomorrow's the big primary, California's the big prize. Any predictions right quick?

Waters: Well, Maxine Waters is gonna win.

Tavis: Ha ha ha! Maxine Waters has no competition in her district. That's why.

Waters: Not for the primary, for the general I do.

Tavis: Is John Kerry the man for California?

Waters: Oh, absolutely. He's gonna win by at least 60%.

Tavis: Yeah. Nice to see you.

Waters: Good to see you also.

Tavis: We'll keep following this story.

Waters: You're welcome.

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