The US lawyer representing the government of Haiti charged today that the US government is directly involved in a military coup attempt against the country’s democratically elected President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Ira Kurzban, the Miami-based attorney who has served as General Counsel to the Haitian government since 1991, said that the paramilitaries fighting to overthrow Aristide are being backed by Washington.
“I believe that this is a group that is armed by, trained by, and employed by the intelligence services of the United States,” Kurzban told the national radio and TV program Democracy Now!. “This is clearly a military operation, and it’s a military coup.”
“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,” Kurzban said. ” The United States made contingency plans for Guantanamo.”
If a direct US connection is proven, it will mark the second time in just over a decade that Washington has been involved in a coup in Haiti.
Several of the paramilitary leaders now rampaging Haiti are men who were at the forefront of the US-backed campaign of terror during the 1991-94 coup against Aristide. Among the paramilitary figures now leading the current insurrection is Louis Jodel Chamblain, the former number 2 man in the FRAPH paramilitary death squad.
Chamblain was convicted and sentenced in absentia to hard-labor for life in trials for the April 23, 1994 massacre in the pro-democracy region of Raboteau and the September 11, 1993 assassination of democracy-activist Antoine IzmÃ©ry. Chamblain recently arrived in Gonaives with about 25 other commandos based in the Dominican Republic, where Chamblain has been living since 1994. They were well equipped with rifles, camouflage uniforms, and all-terrain vehicles.
Among the victims of FRAPH under Chamblain’s leadership was Haitian Justice Minister Guy Malary. He was ambushed and machine-gunned to death with his bodyguard and a driver on Oct. 14, 1993. According to an October 28, 1993 CIA Intelligence Memorandum obtained by the Center for Constitutional Rights “FRAPH members Jodel Chamblain, Emmanuel Constant, and Gabriel Douzable met with an unidentified military officer on the morning of 14 October to discuss plans to kill Malary.” Emmanuel “Toto” Constant, was the founder of FRAPH.
An October 1994 article by journalist Allan Nairn in The Nation magazine quoted Constant as saying that he was contacted by a US Military officer named Col. Patrick Collins, who served as defense attachÃ© at the United States Embassy in Port-au-Prince. Constant says Collins pressed him to set up a group to “balance the Aristide movement” and do “intelligence” work against it. Constant admitted that, at the time, he was working with CIA operatives in Haiti. Constant is now residing freely in the US. He is reportedly living in Queens, NY. At the time, James Woolsey was head of the CIA.
Another figure to recently reemerge is Guy Philippe, a former Haitian police chief who fled Haiti in October 2000 after authorities discovered him plotting a coup with a group of other police chiefs. All of the men were trained in Ecuador by US Special Forces during the 1991-1994 coup. Since that time, the Haitian government has accused Philippe of master-minding deadly attacks on the Police Academy and the National Palace in July and December 2001, as well as hit-and-run raids against police stations on Haiti’s Central Plateau over the following two years.
Kurzban also points to the presence of another FRAPH veteran, Jean Tatun. Along with Chamblain, Tatun was convicted of gross violations of human rights and murder in the Raboteau massacre.
“These people came through the Dominican border after the United States had provided 20,000 M-16′s to the Dominican army,” says Kurzban. “I believe that the United States clearly knew about it before, and that given the fact of the history of these people, [Washington is] probably very, very deeply involved, and I think Congress needs to seriously look at what the involvement 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.”
Kurzban says he has hired military analysts to review photos of the weapons being used by the paramilitary groups. He says that contrary to reports in the media that the armed groups are using weapons originally distributed by Aristide, the gangs are using highly sophisticated and powerful weapons; weapons that far out-gun Aristide’s 3,000 member National Police force.
“I don’t think that there’s any question about the fact that the weapons that they have did not come from Haiti,” says Kurzban. “They’re organized as a military commando strike force that’s going from city to city.”
Kurzban says that among the weapons being used by the paramilitaries are: M-16′s, M-60′s, armor piercing weapons and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. “They have weapons to shoot down the one helicopter that the government has,” he said. “They have acted as a pretty tight-knit commando unit.”
Chamblain and other paramilitary leaders have said they will march on the capital, Port-au-Prince within two weeks. The US has put forth a proposal, being referred to as a peace plan, that many viewed as favorable to Aristide’s opponents. Aristide accepted the plan, but the opposition rejected it. Washington’s point man on the crisis is Roger Noriega, Undersecretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs.
“I think Noriega has been an Aristide hater for over a decade,” says Kurzban, adding that he believes Noriega allowed the opposition to delay their response to the plan to allow the paramilitaries to capture more territory. “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,” Kurzban said. “Indeed, as soon as they said, ‘we need an extra day,’ I predicted, unfortunately, and correctly, that they would go into Cap Haitian (Haiti’s 2nd largest city) and indeed the next morning they did.”
The leader of the “opposition” is an American citizen named Andy Apaid. He was born in New York. Haitian law does not allow dual-nationality and he has not renounced his US citizenship. In a recent statement, Congressmember Maxine Waters blasted Apaid and his opposition front, saying she believes “Apaid is attempting to instigate a bloodbath in Haiti and then blame the government for the resulting disaster in the belief that the United States will aid the so-called protestors against President Aristide and his government.”
“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 days’ and Secretary Powell says ‘that’s fine,’” says Kurzban. “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, is kind of letting them do that.”
Kurzban says that because Aristide’s opponents rejected Washington’s plan, “the next step clearly is to send in some kind of UN peacekeeping force immediately.”
“The question is,” says Kurzban. “Will the international community stand by and allow a democracy in this hemisphere to be terminated by a brutal military coup of persons who have a very, very sordid history of gross violations of human rights?”
Democracy Now! (www.democracynow.org) is a nationally-syndicated radio and TV program broadcast on Pacifica Radio, NPR, community TV stations and Free Speech TV Channel 9415 of the DishNetwork. Mike Burke and Sharif Abdel Kouddous contributed to this report. [email protected].
– Jeremy Scahill