- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 7, 2004

Hundreds of demonstrators at Lafayette Park in Northwest yesterday demanded that democracy be restored in Haiti and that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide be returned as head of the democratically elected government.

“We need to be very clear about what transpired over the last two weeks in Haiti,” Damu Smith, executive director of Black Voices for Peace in the District, told the demonstrators who gathered in the shadow of the White House to listen to speeches by representatives of various interest groups.

Mr. Aristide left Haiti last Sunday morning as rebels closed in on the capital, Port-au-Prince, after a 3 week uprising. He arrived in the Central African Republic shortly after midnight. Mr. Aristide has accused the United States of using troops to force him out of power and on Thursday said the letter he signed before his departure was not a “formal resignation.”

During the two-hour demonstration yesterday the crowd chanted slogans in unison and hoisted signs that read: “Bush’s Haiti Policy: Death of Democracy,” “Tell the Truth on Haitian Coup,” and “Aristide did not resign. The U.S. has kidnapped him.” Some protesters wore T-shirts with the slogan, “Coup You Bush,” as others waved red, green and black “revolutionary” flags.

Paul Roland, 45, of Chevy Chase, said he was sickened by what the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency did to remove Mr. Aristide from Haiti.

“U.S. covert operations have destroyed many democracies and stable governments throughout the world,” said Mr. Roland, who hoisted a variety of signs lambasting the Bush administration’s stance on Haiti. One of his placards read: “U.S. Covert Operators — the World’s Gestapo.” Another said, “Powell is lying: The U.S. helped overthrow Aristide.”

Before the rally got under way, Mr. Roland said, “This is the latest example, but it is particularly horrible given the poverty and misery in Haiti. I also think it’s racist policy given [the fact] that Haiti is almost completely African descent.”

Mr. Smith moderated the rally from a small staging area on the grounds while the revolutionary lyrics of Caribbean singer Nasio resonated throughout the area. Also participating in the rally were Global Justice, Haiti Reborn, the Department of Haitian Empowerment, along with local activist and pastor Grayland Hagler, and Marx Aristide, former executive director of the Washington Office on Haiti.

“Bush is the president of the United States whether we like it or not. Suppose a country outside of the U.S. came here and helped overthrow the United States — I think the U.S. would be raising some questions,” Mr. Smith said to cheers from the crowd.

Melinda Miles of Haiti Reborn, based in Hyattsville told the crowd that the past week had been a sad one for democracy.

“As I stand here today, I feel anguish not only for the destruction of Haiti’s democracy, but for the failing of our own democracy as well. For too many years, the U.S. government has taken sides against the Haitian poor,” Ms. Miles said.

She blamed the U.S. government for creating the hated and feared Haitian army during its first occupation. “It was the U.S. government who worked with that army to overthrow Haiti’s first democratically elected government in 1991,” Ms. Miles said.

Mr. Aristide, a parish priest, was elected president in 1990 in Haiti’s first free and fair presidential elections, which were monitored by the United Nations. He served only seven months before being thrown out of office by an internal coup, finding asylum in the District until he was reinstated by a U.S. led-effort in 1994.

Jon Samuels, legislative director for Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Illinois Democrat, came to show support on behalf of himself and his boss who was in Chicago attending a similar rally.

Mr. Samuels encouraged the crowd to let itself be heard: “We need committed people out here, loud enough to let people in that building [the White House] hear.”

“It’s a sad day for our democracy when Bush is lecturing about flawed elections,” he said. “What was our repose? Pick up arms? No. Vote in November.”

Mr. Smith agreed, saying, “The last time I checked the records in America, and in the state of Florida, Jeb Bush conspired to disenfranchise black people from voting. Black people, including Haitians, were systemically prevented from voting.”

Mr. Samuels said, “We’ve got to save democracy in our hemisphere. We need a full congressional investigation. We need loud voices. The best way to help my boss and the Congressional Black Caucus is to keep speaking loudly.”

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