An interview with Ira Kurzban
An interview with Ira
February 29, democratically elected President of Haiti Jean Bertrand Aristide
resigned from his post apparently yielding to a popular rebellion.
interview with Ira Kurzban, President Aristide’s lawyer in the United States,
was broadcast Tuesday,
by Francisco Aruca, director and host of Radio Progreso Alternativa, in his
program Babel’s Guide. In the interview, Mr. Kurzban tells a different story.
Because of its importance we reproduce an edited version of said interview.
Francisco Aruca (FA):
Ira Kurzban, whom we have previously interviewed for our program in relation to
Haiti, was President Jean Bertrand Aristide’s lawyer in the United States. That
also means that he is one of the few people in Miami who had constant and direct
access to Haiti
and to President Aristide while these events were unfolding in Haiti, while all
this violence was taking place, until finally the President had to leave. As a
matter of fact, he is probably the only person in Miami who spoke to President
Aristide over the phone a few hours before Aristide left Haiti.
this interview we wanted to find out and convey to you via a very exceptional
eye witness what had been going on in Haiti, a presentation that would make us
understand what happened in that country.
this moment the top news in relation to President Aristide and Haiti is the
statement made by Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D. CA), which has been reported
by the media, that she received a call from President Aristide from the Republic
of Central African in which he says he had been kidnapped. He mentions an
American diplomat with a Spanish last name, Mr. Moreno, as having come on Sunday
morning, March 29, to his office accompanied by Marines and telling him: “If you
don’t leave now you are going to be killed, all the people here are going to be
killed, because the rebels will come into the Presidential Palace.”
seems to me that what is important, due to the privileged position that you had,
is that we go back to the time before what might now considered a coup with
American assistance. And the obvious first question is, Ira, how did this
rebellion develop? We even have a column by Jim DeFede in The Miami Herald
implying that some M16 rifles that had been sold to the
somehow may have ended up in the hands of these individuals, who also may have
come from the Dominican Republic. How did this rebellion really start?
Let me be clear that this is not a rebellion. This was a coup d’etat. It was a
coup d’etat directed by, operated by, and equipped by the United States
intelligence services, after the US intelligence services weeded a group of
people trained in the Dominican Republic. Some believe that some in this group
were Dominicans, because people said that they didn’t speak Creole and they only
You are saying some of those original 300 men that were reported by the media
may have been Dominicans?
Ira: No, they
weren’t 300. There were about forty people that crossed the Dominican border
with weapons, including M16s, M60s, rocket propelled grenade launchers and other
equipment. They had newly issued uniforms, flak jackets, ammunition stacked in
a professional way and they came across the border for the sole purpose of doing
a job for the U.S. intelligence services, and that job was to have the end game
that we saw unfold in the last couple of days in Port au Prince.
back this up with facts, because people might think this is another conspiracy
theory. There are three leading people in this coup, the first was a fellow
named Jean Tatoune, whom unfortunately the corporate press in America never
wrote about. Jean Tatoune was convicted of gross violations of human rights and
murder and he was convicted to a sentence of life imprisonment for his part in
what was called the Raboteau massacre in 1994 during the military coup, when
FRAPH (Revolutionary Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti) and other
paramilitary organizations roamed freely through Haiti. He was a member of
FRAPH and had a background in the army. He is the person behind the scenes in
Gonaive, where the first so-called rebellion started. He brought in a number of
weapons that were later used and he was the one who organized people into some
kinds of units to overtake the city.
soon as they took over Gonaive, within two weeks, thirty or forty people crossed
the Dominican border, well equipped, well armed with arms never seen in Haiti,
and that certainly the Haitian government couldn’t buy anywhere. This commando
unit marches into Gonaive and joins forces with Jean Tatoune. And who are the
leaders? The first person is Jodel Chamblain. In 1994, Chamblain, along with
somebody named Emmanuel Constant, at the direction of a Defense Intelligence
Agency (DIA) officer named Collins at the American embassy, formed FRAPH.
Constant was the face, the person who went out and talked to the public, but
Chamblain, the guy who appeared in Gonaive in February, was the executioner. He
is the guy who during the military coup in 1993 and 1994 goes out and pulls
Lavalas Party supporters from their homes, executes them and dumps their bodies
in the streets or in a place of mass graves.
years later when Constant was living in the United States and faced deportation
back to Haiti, after Aristide had been returned, he went on 60 Minutes
and the national press and said that he had been with the CIA, because he was so
afraid of going back. The CIA immediately rushed to shut him up, they offered
him the right to stay in the U.S. and he’s been in the United States ever since,
although he had the final order of deportation.
Chamblain was his co conspirator and partner in that, and therefore Chamblain
was also an asset of the CIA. Along with them comes Guy Phillipe, the third
person in this triumvirate, who was a former military officer in the Haitian
army. They then go from city to city, with these heavy weapons and attacked
police stations who only have .38 (caliber) revolvers, because the Haitian
government is under an embargo for three years by the Bush administration, which
was designed for one purpose: to strangle the economy and bring the government
to its knees. In fact, not only did the U.S. government have an economic
embargo against the Haitian government, but they also had a weapons embargo so
the government was powerless to buy any weapons. Certainly not like the ones the
After President Aristide returned to power he dissolved the army, but the police
was not well equipped. What you are saying is that it was not his intention to
leave the police badly equipped and defenseless, but that the Bush
administration prevented him from getting weapons for the police?
IRA: Well, they
prevented him in two ways. First they developed three years ago a full scale
economic embargo, and they did this by going to the Inter American Development
Bank (IDB) and telling them to stop already approved loans, something that never
has been done in the history of the IDB. They stopped funds for water and many
other projects; they stopped the World Bank from giving out any more funds to
Haiti; in fact, the World Bank closed its office in
the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
did the same thing with the European Union and other European countries. There
was a full scale economic blockade against the Haitian government leaving it
with virtually no money, so the government had very limited resources to do
Secondly, the United States government pulled out the police training program a
couple of years before that, so there was no police training program operating
in Haiti because the U.S. pulled out, by the way, under very clouded
circumstances where the head of the program accused others of trying to use the
police for U.S. intelligence purposes.
and finally, was the fact that the U.S. had a full embargo on weapons, both
lethal and non lethal, so Haiti couldn’t even buy gas masks, bullet proof vests
for their police officers, could not buy tear gas to use for disturbances, they
couldn’t do anything because of that embargo, and then the U.S. used its
influence in other countries so they wouldn’t sell any weapons to Haiti. So
Haiti was virtually left defenseless.
before this armed commando group crossed the border there was a secret operation
by the U.S. military called Operation J Project, and it was published in the
newspapers on February 20, 2003.
operation was ostensibly to train the Dominican army in counterinsurgency, but
Dominican legislators complained about it because it was so secret even they
didn’t know about it. They brought with them 20,000 M16 rifles and ostensibly
gave them to the Dominican Army and gave them counterinsurgency training. At
the same time Guy Philippe and Jodel Chamblain, who was an asset of the Defense
Intelligence Agency and the CIA, were in the Dominican Republic at the time, and
– lo and behold! – a year later they are crossing the border with the same M16s,
with other equipment, with a trained group. And this is the group that
ultimately went from city to city, where they were met by police officers with
.38 handguns facing M16s and M60s. And that’s what you had city after city.
other hand the so called opposition was working in tandem with these people and
it is known because when they tried to take over this little city after city,
that’s when the international community came in and tried to maximize the
pressure on Aristide to sign an agreement. And that happened a week ago on
Saturday, when I was in Port au Prince at the time. Roger Noriega, who has been
after Aristide for more than a decade and for him is a personal matter, is
U.S. as Assistant
Secretary for Inter American Affairs. He was the negotiator for the United
States in this matter, and he put maximum pressure on Aristide to make him
sign this agreement,
which he agreed to do in an hour or two. Essentially the agreement turned over
the government to the opposition along with the president picking a new
government. The opposition then met at
five o’clock and said that
they needed two extra days, till Monday. I turned around to the president’s
chief of staff and I said: “Before Monday, tomorrow Sunday, they will go to Cap
Haitien. And they will take over Cap Haitien.” Because the strategy clearly
was to take over as much ground as possible, surround Port au Prince before the
final coup attempt. And that’s exactly what happened. They took over Cap
Haitien the next day.
leader of the so called non violent opposition, which was obviously coordinating
their efforts with this group of commandos is a person named André Apaid. He is
a very wealthy industrialist in Haiti. He opposed the minimum wage, and that
was one of the problems as to how he and Aristide came in conflict, because he
didn’t want to pay people more than a dollar twenty a day. Aristide insisted on
raising the minimum wage. He also came into conflict because he attempted to
perpetrate a fraud on a Haitian telephone company and was fined two million
gourdes by the government as a result of the fraud.
At this moment while the armed groups were taking over Cap Haitien, the U.S.
administration, which until then had been saying that they were negotiating an
agreement and that Aristide must stay as president, all of a sudden starts
hinting increasingly on stronger terms that Aristide should go. So there is a
political shift in the administration’s policy around this time.
Ira: Well, this
has been clearly the pattern. I’m not sure it’s a shift.
You think that’s the way it was planned from the beginning?
They put pressure on Aristide to do something and when he did it they turned to
the opposition and said, OK, now you are supposed to do what you agreed to do.
The opposition said “No” and they said, Well, Aristide you need to do more.
This opposition was formed at the same time that Operation J Project was going
on in the Dominican Republic. The International Republican Institute met with
Apaid and others in the Dominican Republic, and formed the Group 184, of which
Apaid was the leader. Apaid is not a Haitian citizen, he is an American
does not recognize dual nationality, so you can’t hold a Haitian passport and an
American passport. Apaid was born in the United States, so he had to apply for
a Haitian passport. The authorities said to him that they would give him a
Haitian passport because his parents were Haitian, but that he would have to
give evidence that he had renounced U.S. citizenship. He refused to do that, so
he was not given a Haitian passport. So we now have the ultimate absurdity,
which is the Secretary of State Powell calling André Apaid, after they refused
to sign the agreement on Monday, and begged him “with a wink and a nod” to agree
to this proposal, and Apaid saying to him that they needed a few more days. And
of course, as more days passed this commando unit is coming closer and closer to
Port au Prince, they have released everyone from jail in Gonaive and Cap Haitien
and they have given all the convicts guns, so now they have a unit of about
150-200 people, from the 30 or 40 original that started. So now they are
approaching Port au Prince and all of a sudden Guy Phillipe stops. Why? He
said that he was giving the United States a chance to do what they needed to
do. Of course, the U.S. all of a sudden turns around and says Aristide must
Now that the U.S. has said, “Aristide must leave,” the President all this time
had been relying on American bodyguards from a California security company. At
that moment Aristide tried to bring into the country extra personnel from this
company and the U.S. prevented them from going and told them that they couldn’t
go to Haiti until Monday (March 1). In the meantime, of course, things
develop. How do you see that?
IRA: This was
the ultimate squeeze play. This was really putting a gun to Aristide’s chest.
The security company said that they couldn’t protect him any longer, that the
U.S. government had told them that they had to leave, and that the extra people
that were coming to support him had been blocked by the U.S. government from
coming to the country. And finally the U.S. forced President Aristide on a
plane; previously they had told him that if he didn’t sign a letter of
resignation they would allow him to be killed.
has been an unfortunate situation. I hope the international community
recognizes this for what it is – a coup d’etat of a democratically elected
president – and that it tries to bring President Aristide back.