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Upheaval in Haiti

Rebel forces, French soldiers and U.S. Marines began to take control of Port-au-Prince today, after Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled his homeland under pressure yesterday. Ray Suarez discusses the search for stability in Haiti with Martin Kaste of National Public Radio in Port-au-Prince.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    As Haitians celebrated the departure of their president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Secretary of State Colin Powell explained the events that led to the Haitian president's resignation, including a series of phone calls between Aristide and American officials on Saturday night.

  • COLIN POWELL:

    He talked about protection of property, protection of his personal property, his… property of some of his ministers, and would he have some choice as to where he was going if he decided to leave. We gave him answers to these questions, positive answers. And then in the course of the evening other conversations took place.

    He said he wanted to think about it; he wanted to speak to his wife, which he did. And he came back to us and said that it was his decision, based on what his security people were also telling him about the deteriorating situation, that he should leave. And we made arrangements for his departure. He was… he wrote a letter of resignation– I think he might have been in touch with other people– and a leased plane was brought in, and he departed at 6:15, or thereabouts, on Sunday morning.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    A few hours after Aristide left Haiti, President Bush spoke to reporters on the White House lawn.

  • PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

    The constitution of Haiti is working. There is an interim president, as per the constitution, in place. This government believes it essential that Haiti have a hopeful future. This is the beginning of a new chapter in the country's history.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Throughout the day, Powell and other members of the Bush administration denied the allegations that the Haitian leader was kidnapped and forced to leave his country.

  • SCOTT McCLELLAN:

    It's nonsense. And conspiracy theories like that do nothing to help the Haitian people realize the future that they aspire to, which is a better future, a more free future, and a more prosperous future.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Secretary Powell expressed the administration's disappointment with the way Aristide led Haiti.

  • COLIN POWELL:

    I saw a man who was democratically elected, but he did not democratically govern or govern well. And he has to bear a large burden, if not the major burden, for what has happened. And now we are there to give the Haitian people another chance, and we'll be working with Haitians to help Haitians put in place a political system, and we'll support it to the best of our ability. And I'm pleased that the international community has responded so quickly with a unanimous U.N. resolution.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    That resolution authorized a multinational force to keep the peace in Haiti for the time being. At the U.N. this afternoon, members of the Congressional Black Caucus met with Secretary General Kofi Annan, and repeated their allegations about Aristide being forced out. Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel from New York:

  • REP. CHARLES RANGEL:

    Unlike the reports that are coming out of the State Department, President Aristide feels that it was a coup, that he felt he was kidnapped and he was told by United States authorities that they could no longer protect his life. And for 20 hours he was placed on a plane, taken to an unknown country, which turns out to be Central Africa.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Rangel said the ex- president told him that the international community had let him down. The U.N. Security Council has assigned Annan to come up with a long-term plan for rebuilding and stabilizing Haiti.

    Just a short while ago I got an update on the situation in Haiti from Martin Kaste of National Public Radio, who's in the capital, Port-au-Prince. Martin, welcome. Now that President Aristide has left the country and headed to Africa, who's in charge?

  • MARTIN KASTE:

    Nominally the new president here is the chief justice of the Supreme Court, a man named Boniface Alexandre. He took office yesterday after the news of Aristide's departure was made public. But really what's going to start here is interim government process. The U.S. Embassy and other foreign powers have been putting forward what's called the Caricom plan, which will set up a series of commissions.

    First, the tri-part commission: A member of the government, the opposition, and the international community, which will in turn nominate another larger council which will then name ministers, and that at some point will lead to new elections. However, it's not necessarily certain that it's going to work that way. The opposition is still trying to figure out exactly how it feels about members of Aristide's government being part of an interim government. And also, there's the question of the rebels who are now here in the city, ostensibly helping to patrol the streets after this wave of looting we've been through.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Well, both the armed rebels and the political opposition wanted Aristide out– and now that they've got what they both wanted, are the splits in between those two groups starting to show?

  • MARTIN KASTE:

    Not too visibly yet. But there is some question as to how this is going to go forward from here. The rebels as well as so-called sleeper cells, sympathetic to the rebels who are here in town all along, have appeared in the streets with very large weapons.

    They seem to be working with the police, at least the part of the police that's still functioning here– some of the upper echelon of the police have melted away. But there's a question really here whether these armed groups who are a very, very real force in the streets here, are going to be amenable to some kind of a negotiated settlement. Certainly right now, the streets belong to them.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Is there any civil control in the capital city? The reports that came out just before Aristide's departure told of people looting everything that wasn't nailed down, widespread setting of fires. Now that the rebels are in the capital, have the streets calmed down?

  • MARTIN KASTE:

    Somewhat, yeah. It's definitely quieter today than it was yesterday. However, there's still pockets of both disturbances, some of Aristide's more hard-core supporters coming out. There were some shoot-outs with the police apparently between Aristide supporters in the poorer neighborhoods. As to looting, there's still some going on. It's not nearly the scale of yesterday. But really, I think the worst of that does seem to have gone by already.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Are the United States Marines or other foreign troops much in evidence yet?

  • MARTIN KASTE:

    They're not patrolling the streets — at least we haven't seen them. But they are at certain key points. I think probably the most symbolic this morning was when they appeared on the steps of the national palace, the most prominent building here in the center of the city, this big white palace. There they were on the front steps in their camouflage and their heavy gear, along with some diplomatic security service personnel. They appeared on the steps right before Guy Philippe, the rebel leader, came riding by, and that probably if he had any thoughts of going into the palace grounds he probably discarded that idea when he saw them.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    And what about the streets and the rank and file people, pictures have been beamed around the world of people dancing in the streets, but it's hard to know how widespread that is, or whether it's just a small group that you're seeing, or a scattered sentiment.

  • MARTIN KASTE:

    There are a lot of people here who are authentically relieved that Aristide is gone. There's no doubt about it. There are a lot of long stories about the number of people who had been abused, killed, shot by people who are sympathetic to the Aristide government, and people blamed him for that.

    So a lot of those people are out. Certainly there is a class division here. I think probably middle-class, wealthier people are definitely all unanimous in celebrating this change. I think in the lower rungs of the economic ladder it's a mixed bag. There are definitely people celebrating in those tiers, too, but it's not quite as clear-cut.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Has President Aristide left, did anybody see him go? It might clear up some of the controversy there's been in Washington today about the circumstances of his departure.

  • MARTIN KASTE:

    There's no doubt about it. I think the fact that he was gone all of a sudden on an early Sunday morning — no speech, no call for peace and calm to supporters — that has left, especially his supporters, scratching their heads, at best. At worst, they've reacted violently. I think that's what we saw yesterday. So I think the circumstances are still begging some kind of clarification. I think hearing something directly from Aristide would probably go a long way here to figuring out how people feel about how this whole change took place.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Into that vacuum, that silence that you just mentioned, has the rumor mill been working in Port-au-Prince talking about the circumstances of the president's departure?

  • MARTIN KASTE:

    It was — the rumor mill was working full bore an hour after he was reported to be gone. 7 a.m. yesterday, we were in the prime minister's official residence waiting for the new president, the chief justice, to show up and the prime minister, and already we were hearing stories that the president, President Aristide, had been led away in handcuffs by U.S. Marines.

    Now, we didn't … we had no way of verifying that directly, but those stories are now everywhere, you hear it on the radio. People are talking about it. And a lot of people say, "Well, I don't care how he left because he was a tyrant." Others say, "I do care because there's a constitutional principle at stake."

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    National Public Radio's Martin Kaste in Port-au-Prince. Thanks a lot.

  • MARTIN KASTE:

    You're welcome.

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