Published on Global Research.ca, Exclusive Interview With Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, by Nicolas Rossier, Nov. 13, 2010.
… Can you put these accusations to rest?
- First, they are lying. Second, what can we expect from a mental slave? (laughs) He will lie for his masters. He is paid to lie for his masters, so I am not surprised by these nonsensical allegations. As I said, they are lying.
- They are lying. But it’s possible that maybe under you at some level in your government there was some corruption involving Teleco and IDT?
- I never heard about things like that when I was there and I never knew about it. If I had known, of course we would have done our best to stop it or to prevent it or to legally punish those who could have been involved in such a thing.
Why have you not declared this publicly? Because these things happen all the time. I am sure there is corruption at every level in the South African government as there is under the Obama Administration. Things happen and we don’t need to examine Haiti only to find it. You could say that you were the head of state but not the head of Teleco. Things happen.
- As I said, there are more people receiving money to lie than people receiving money to tell the truth. I don’t know how many times I have answered this question, but sometimes the journalist may have the answer but is not allowed to make it public. (laughs).
Would you be in favor of creating a Haitian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, similar to what South Africa did, that would allow some of the people who have been exiled under Duvalier and Cedras and your two presidencies to come back and be called to appear in that commission – and ask for forgiveness and amnesty if needed?
- What I will say now, is not because I am now outside Haiti wanting to go back that I will say it. No, I already said it and I will just repeat it: There is no way to move forward in Haiti without dialogue. Dialogue among Haitians. Once we had an army of 7,000 soldiers controlling 40% of the national budget, but moving from coup d’état to coup d’état. I said no. Let’s disband the army, let’s have a police force to protect the right of every citizen, let’s have dialogue to address our differences. There is no democracy without opposition.
- We have to understand one another when we oppose each other. We are not enemies, so we have to address our differences in a democratic way and only then can we move ahead. I have said it so many times already. We still have people calling themselves friends of Haiti coming to exploit the resources. They don’t want national dialogue. They don’t want Haitians to live peacefully with Haitians.
- South Africa did it when they had The Commission of Truth and Reconciliation. People came and realized that they had made mistakes. Everybody can make mistakes. You must acknowledge that you made mistakes, and the society will welcome you. If you cannot do that through tribunals because of the numbers, then find a way to address it. We cannot pretend that Haiti will have a better future without that dialogue. We must have it.
- In 1994, when I went back to Haiti from exile, we established a Commission for Truth and Justice and Reconciliation. I passed the documents to the next government, and I never heard about it again. Haitians never heard about it because the government wanted to move fast towards privatization of state enterprises instead of that path which was recommended.
- Would that mean allowing all the political exiles to come back no matter how bad they were, including people like Raoul Cedras and Jean-Claude Duvalier.
- I will not move forward with conclusions outside of that framework of justice. The Commission addressed the case of these criminals and paved the way for justice and dialogue. You see, so I said it and will continue to say it: We need to continue to address this issue of dialogue, truth and justice. Otherwise, we will continue to play either like a puppet government or be mental slaves in the hands of those who still want to exploit our resources and they will not decide to change it for Haitians. Haitians must start to say no. Let’s change it – not against foreigners, not against true friends, with them if they want, but they will not do it for us unless we start to do it.
Do you hold a grudge today against president René Préval for not being more forceful in trying to facilitate your return to Haiti? He owes his election thanks to the Lavalas base.
- If I pay attention to what the people are saying, they describe President Préval as someone who betrayed me and it’s true. They voted for him. I did not vote, I was here, but those who elected him now realize he has failed them. He betrayed them.
- He is playing in the hands of those who are against the interests of the people – that is what they said.
Do you feel personally betrayed? I am sure you realize the difficulties of the situation he was in.
- Personally, I say let’s put the interests of the people first. Not my interests. If I can do something for him, or if I have to, I will do it. It’s a matter of principle an in his case he did not have to do anything for me. He just had to respect the constitution. The constitution does not allow exile. He should not violate the constitution. That is it. But as he did, history takes note and history will recognize that he failed, unfortunately.
- I remember a famous progressive journalist in Geneva reviewing my film (4) and one of the critics he had was that I did not speak about voodoo and how it affects Haiti’s politics.
What do you think of this tendency among many western journalists who try to explain Voodoo as one main reason for Haiti’s problems?
- I enjoy drawing parallels between voodoo and politics. Why? Because in the west when they want to address political issues, they may, as you suggested or indicated, mix it with voodoo as a way to avoid going straight to the truth. The truth could be, for instance, historical.
- Fourteen years after Christopher Columbus arrived in Haiti, in 1492, they had already killed three million indigenous people. Do they speak about it today? Do they know about it? I don’t know. At that time, one could be 14 years old and would have to pay a quarter of gold to Christopher Columbus or they would cut your arm or feet or ears. Do they talk about it? If you do, it’s like “oh really or maybe.” They have problems exposing the truth, acknowledging what was going on at that time. And if you look at the reality of today, it is almost the same thing.
- Last week there was some trouble because of storms and earthquakes and Haiti lost about ten people, some say five some say more than ten. In any case, even if it were one person, it would already mean a lot for us because a human being is human being. Instead of focusing on what is the reality of misery, abject poverty, occupation, colonization, some prefer to find a scapegoat through voodoo. The UN itself had to expel 114 soldiers for rape and child abuse. So we see people invading a country, pretending to help, while they are actually involved in rape, child abuse and so on. And it is not an issue for people who like to talk about voodoo as if voodoo by itself could cover this reality. The same way they don’t want to face our historical drama linked to colonization.
Is it a racist distraction?
- It is, it is. I respect religion and will respect any religion. Africans had their religion here. They went to Haiti and continued their practice and I have to respect that. In addition, the Haitian constitution, respects freedom of religion. So let’s address the drama, misery, poverty, exploitation, occupation, and people without the right to vote or eat. People want to be free. They don’t have self-determination. Let’s focus on people who have no resources and are dying. We had such a wonderful solidarity after January 12 in the world, where citizens worldwide were building solidarity with Haitians. That was great to see Whites and Blacks crossing barriers of color to express their solidarity with the victims of the deadly earthquake.
- And on behalf of the Haitian people, if I may, I will say thank you to all those true friends who did it while others who call themselves true friends of Haiti preferred to send soldiers with weapons to protect their own interests instead of protecting human beings who were really suffering. Amputations – we had them by the thousands without anesthesia. They were cutting hands and feet of victims and it’s not an issue for some people who prefer to talk about voodoo as if voodoo could be the cause of what is going on in Haiti. No, what is going on in Haiti is rooted in colonialism, neo-colonialism in that neoliberal policy applied and imposed upon Haiti, not in religious issues like voodoo. For me, as long as they don’t try to face the reality as it is, they may continue to use issues like voodoo to hide facts, any attempt to replace truth by racist distractions will fail.
Anything that you would like to add that you have at heart and have not been able to tell?
- Well … if you ask a Zulu* person the way to reach somewhere while you are on the right path, that person will tell you (in Zulu): “Ugonde ngqo ngalo mgwago” which means go straight on your way.
- That is why the Haitian people who are moving from misery to poverty with dignity should continue to move straight towards that goal. If we lose our dignity we lose everything. We are poor – worse than poor because we are living in abject poverty and misery. But based on that collective dignity rooted in our forefathers, I do believe we have to continue fighting in a peaceful way for our self-determination, and if we do that, history will pay tribute to our generation, because we are on the right path.