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Aristide Takes Fight To French Court

by Julio Godoy
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(IPS) PARIS -- Ousted Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide has taken his battle with western countries to a court in Paris.

An international team of lawyers has filed a petition in a Paris court alleging that officials from the French and U.S. governments kidnapped him and led a coup.

U.S. lawyer Ira Kurzban is reported to have met Aristide in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, to discuss the legal strategy in this new battleground. Kurzban and his French partner Gilbert Collard announced in Paris later that they would sue the U.S. and French governments.

Aristide was in exile in Bangui from Mar. 1 until today after U.S. officials forced him to quit the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince. Today, he was headed for Jamaica for a ten-week stay.

His lawyers describe how Aristide was ousted. On the night of Feb. 28-29, U.S. ambassador James Foley met Aristide's prime minister Yvon Neptune. Neptune declared after the meeting that "the situation is extremely worrisome."

Later that night, U.S. deputy ambassador Luis Moreno accompanied by six U.S. special agents met Aristide. Under pressure from Moreno, Aristide signed a letter saying "if my resignation can avoid a blood bath, I accept to leave in the hope that life will triumph, and not death."

Moreno then led Aristide to an aircraft that flew him and his wife to the Central African Republic.

Aristide now blames Foley, French ambassador to Port-au-Prince Thierry Burkard, his predecessor Yves Gaudel, author Regis Debray and the French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin's sister Veronique Albanel for conspiring in the plot to oust him.

Debray, who became well known for his close relationship with Ernesto "Che" Guevara during the latter's failed guerrilla campaign in Bolivia, and Albanel were French special envoys to Haiti last year. They negotiated ways with Aristide to cut short the political crisis in the Caribbean country.

Debray presided over the 'independent deliberation committee on the French-Haitian relationships' created by the French government. Albanel, president of the hitherto unknown non-governmental organization Universal Fraternity was a member of this committee.

Spokesperson for the French ministry of foreign affairs Herve Ladsous justified Albanel's participation on the ground that "a number of personalities were invited to participate in the deliberations" because of their "professional experience." Collard now says Debray and Albanel pushed the Haitian president to resign and leave the country. "The U.S. government wanted to oust Aristide, and the French government played accomplice," Collard told media representatives.

Collard says Aristide's resignation letter was unconstitutional. "Aristide was surrounded by heavily armed foreign agents, and it was in the middle of the night."

Kurzban said the plane that flew Aristide and his wife out of Haiti belongs to the U.S. government. "The kidnappings of Aristide and his wife were committed by U.S. officials apparently acting under the orders of the U.S. deputy ambassador Luis Moreno, and very likely of the U.S. deputy secretary of state for Latin America Roger Noriega, and the secretary of state Colin Powell and of defense Donald Rumsfeld," Kurzban told media representatives here.

Until mid-February, despite several weeks of fighting within Haiti neither the U.S. nor the French government had asked for the resignation of Aristide. France was calling for an international peacekeeping mission.

But Feb. 25 de Villepin openly urged Aristide to resign. "Aristide carries a heavy responsibility for the present situation," de Villepin said in Paris that day. "He must assume these responsibilities. His government is in a deadlock, and beyond all constitutional norms."

Three days later, the U.S. government adopted the new French position. And later that day Aristide was no longer in office.

His lawyers say that in the face of the growing success of the rebels, Aristide had sought a reinforcement of his personal guard early in February. Security was provided by the U.S. firm Steele Foundation.

But the company rejected the demand. The French newspaper Le Monde quoted a diplomat as saying "a telephone call from Washington to San Francisco (where Steele Foundation is based) settled this question."

Le Monde reported that Foley had warned the Steele Foundation that "the U.S. marines won't come to rescue your men (protecting Aristide) if they are run over by the rebels."

Several reports in the French media suggest that the French stand against Aristide came in response to Aristide's threats that he would turn to an international court to seek compensation for the price former Haitian slaves had to pay to obtain independence in 1804. The daily Le Parisien estimated that Aristide's claims would add up to some $28 billion.

The evident pressure the French government exerted upon Aristide to secure his resignation throws poor light on France as a supporter of international legality.

As French soldiers landed in Haiti along with U.S. marines last week, de Villepin praised "the perfect U.S.-French cooperation." This cooperation goes beyond military cooperation in Haiti. Both governments are blocking demands to investigate the circumstances surrounding Aristide's resignation.

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Albion Monitor March 15, 2004 (

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