Interview by Peter Hallward, March 2007[i]
Guy Philippe was a commander in the Haitian National Police from 1995-2000, and in February 2004 he led an armed insurgency that helped to overthrow the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Peter Hallward is a professor of philosophy at Middlesex University in the UK, and the author of a book on recent Haitian politics entitled Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment(Verso, forthcoming in the autumn of 2007).
Peter Hallward. When Aristide was elected president in 1990 he promised to free Haiti from the dictatorial legacy of François and Jean-Claude Duvalier and their tonton macoutes militia; by the time he was driven out of the country, on 29 February 2004, Aristide’s critics claimed that his régime had become just like the dictatorship it was supposed to replace. This is very controversial, and like many foreign observers interested in your country I’ve been trying to figure out what really happened between 1990 and 2004. You played a decisive role in this confusing period of Haitian history ― you are the person who led the military campaign that prepared the ground for Aristide’s dramatic expulsion. I’m grateful for your help in answering my questions, especially since you know very well that I don’t share your political point of view.
Guy Philippe: Thank you for writing a book about my country. I think it’s essential that people learn the truth. You can ask me all the questions that you like but you must promise to include everything I say, and to leave nothing out. I take orders from no-one; you can ask me anything you want and I will respond with my usual frankness.
Today I’m proud to know that if it wasn’t for me and some young students Haiti would still be suffering under complete dictatorship. I know that I saved the country. If it hadn’t been for the treachery of our professional politicians, the people who signed an unpatriotic agreement with France and the United States, then today the country would be in a much better position. These people ― Andy Apaid, Evans Paul, Paul Denis, Lesley Voltaire ― will be judged one day before the tribunal of history. As for me, I did what I had to do, and if necessary I would do it again.
PH:Ok, I will ask you plenty of questions, and I promise not to alter or shorten your answers. I realise, as well, that in order to protect yourself against your enemies there are certain things that you are not yet at liberty to say, and that you’ve dealt with many of these things in a book that you’ve already written, Le Temps des chiens, which you plan to publish in a few years time.
Before dealing with the events of 2004, I’d like to go back to the beginning, to 1990. When Aristide was first elected, were you already in the army? Did you play a role in the coup that overthrew him in 1991?
GP:No, in 1990 I hadn’t yet joined the army. Unfortunately some foreign journalists can’t be bothered to check their sources, and have said that I was involved in the 1991 coup. It’s not true: I was still a student, in Puebla Mexico. I joined the Forces Armées d’Haïti (FAdH) as a cadet in Ecuador, in 1993.
PH:When did you leave Haiti for Mexico? Why did you go there?
GP:I followed in the footsteps of my two older brothers, who went there to study medicine. I got there in December 1990.
PH:Why did you eventually settle on a military career?
GP:I’d always dreamed of becoming a soldier. I love the army and I hope that my children become soldiers as well.
PH:How did you react when Michel François and Raoul Cédras led the Haitian army to overthrow Aristide on 30 September 1991?
GP:As I said I wasn’t in Haiti at the time but I don’t think that Cédras was right to launch a coup d’état. He then ruled Haiti for three years, and these years were catastrophic for the country in every sense. Cédras and his men had no specific goals. In 1992 I even participated in a demonstration organised by Jesse Jackson, calling for a return to the constitutional order, in Miami’s Little Haiti.
PH:After finishing your studies in Mexico you won a scholarship to study in Quito, Ecuador. Is that where you met people like Gilbert Dragon and Jacky Nau, who remained your closest collaborators a decade later? What did you do while you were there? Do you go for military training, or for police training?
GP:I knew Jacky Nau long before we went to Ecuador, since we went to the same primary and secondary schools (St Louis de Gonzague); later we were neighbours. We’re very old friends. I was still in Mexico when Jacky told me I should apply for a scholarship to the military academy in Ecuador, and that he could help recommend me because he was on good terms with the Haitian consul in Quito. So I applied and was accepted at the Escuela superior de policía de Quito, and studied there from September 1992 to August 1995.
PH:What sort of things did you study there?
GP:I specialised in the preservation and restoration of public order in a democratic state [Maintien et rétablissement de l’ordre public dans un Etat démocratique].
PH:Many people say that the Americans use Ecuador as a military base to train military or paramilitary personnel from countries that share their strategic interests, as a sort of foreign campus for their ‘School of the Americas.’ People like Stan Goff (a US special operations veteran who led a special forces team in Haiti in 1994) say that the 7th US Special Forces Group runs a number of training programmes in Ecuador. Did you participate in any such programme? Did you have any links with US military personnel during these years?
GP:There were no US soldiers in Ecuador. You have to understand the situation in some of these countries in Latin American. They are very patriotic, and it’s hard to imagine American military personnel training cadets in Ecuador. Ecuador isn’t like Haiti: in Ecuador there’s a strong sense of patriotism and of national duty. Unfortunately Haiti isn’t like that.
PH:As far as I know the US currently has at least 17 military bases in Latin America and the Caribbean, including the Eloy Alfaro Air Base in Manta, Ecuador (which the new government of Ecuador is now trying to close). But despite many reports to the contrary, you had no actual links with the US military from 1992-95?
GP:None at all.
PH:Aristide came back to Haiti in October 1994, in the company of US Marines. He quickly began to demobilise the army that had overthrown him, and replaced it over the course of 1995 with a new Haitian National Police (PNH). You were appointed first as a police commander first in Ouanaminthe (in the autumn of 1995), then you moved to the Delmas neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince (1997-1999), before spending a year in Cap Haïtien (2000). These early years in the development of the PNH are very controversial. Some people accuse the Americans of interfering with the recruitment and trying to undermine the government’s authority; others say that Aristide and other Lavalas politicians sought to manipulate the police for their own purposes. What was your own experience?
GP:I wouldn’t say that the Americans tried to control the country after 1994; it was instead Aristide who invited 23,000 Marines to come to Haiti to allow him to regain power. It’s normal that an occupying power would impose certain conditions. You can’t invite 23,000 foreign soldiers to your country and hope to preserve your independence, it’s not possible.
In any case it’s Aristide who then handed the Americans the country on a platter ― the Teleco, the Minotérie, the National Police, the USP, USGPN, our national pride as a people, our sovereignty, everything.
Aristide always said he loved the poor but after 14 years in power the conditions of life for the peasantry and for the poor living in the urban slums have got much worse. He gave everything to the mafioso bourgeoisie of Port-au-Prince and let himself be corrupted by foreign embassies.
Did you know that Aristide ordered the assassination of Mme Mireille Durocher Bertin in March 1995, a few days before the arrival of President Clinton?
PH:I thought that Aristide allowed the FBI to investigate her murder, and that they weren’t able to determine who actually killed her?
GP:I was the police chief in Delmas in 1997 and I know what happened. Did you know that Aristide also ordered the assassination of Pasteur Leroy (a leader, with Hubert de Ronceray, of the Mobilisation pour le Développement National) in August 1996? I was the police commander in the Delmas in 1997 and led the investigation; I have the names of the killers, and they all worked at the National Palace. As a result of pressure from the US embassy they were dismissed, but in 2001 they were brought back into the PNH.
Aristide tries to pretend that he had problems with the Americans but I tell you it’s not true. The Americans always protected Aristide, ever since 1994. His own personal security was guaranteed by American soldiers. Aristide privatised all the large public companies in order to please the gringos and the IMF. The cement company was privatised, for instance, and today we have to import cement when we used to produce it in Haiti. The Minotérie was unscrupulously sold to the bourgeoisie and today it just imports flour from the US, etc.
PH:Many people agree that these privatisations were not in Haiti’s national interest, but I think it was Préval and not Aristide who reluctantly agreed to US and IMF demands to privatise the cement and flour companies. And both Aristide and Préval then resisted further international pressure to privatise Haiti’s other public utilities (the phone company, electricity company, port authorities, airport and so on).
GP:Aristide never offered any real resistance to international pressure. Everybody knows that when Préval was president from 1996 to 2001 it was Aristide who made all the decisions. As for me I have to laugh when I hear people say I was helped or directed by foreigners. The only orders I follow come from my own conscience and I offered my life in order that we might build a new Haiti. Aristide had the chance to be our Thomas Sankara but he allowed himself to be bought by the enemies of Haiti.
PH:In the summer of 1996 some former soldiers, angered by the demobilisation of the army, tried to overthrow the government of René Préval (who succeeded Aristide in February 1996). Did you play any role in these events?
GP:In 1996 I heard that there was plans being prepared for a coup d’état, and Leon Jeune and Pasteur Leroy were at the head of this movement. I was in Ouanaminthe at the time and did not play an important role in the police operation against it; on the other hand the police arrested Jeune in 1998, when I was police chief at Delmas.
PH:You were transferred to Delmas in 1997. What were your priorities?
GP: At Delmas my priorities were to restore an atmosphere of peace, and to make sure that the laws of the country were respected. We were brilliantly successful. The Armée Rouge was neutralised in Cité Soleil, Delmas 32, 33 and 75 were pacified, and people began to treat policemen with more and more respect.
PH:Some human rights groups (for instance Human Rights Watch) said that you owed such success to a reliance on violent methods, and some policemen under your command were accused of staging extra-judicial executions. Is this true?
GP:You should ask them to draw up a report on police operations in places like the US, Canada, France and the DR, and then to compare their procedures to mine. I always respected the laws of the republic. Human Rights Watch also said that I belonged to a death squad in 1980, as an officer in the FAdH, when in fact I was only 12 years old. This proves that some of these organisations are not credible.
PH:How would you describe the situation in the PNH in 1998/99? In 1999 there was a lot of tension between Dany Toussaint, the former commander of Aristide’s interim police force, and René Préval’s security minister, Bob Manuel. Did you have to chose sides at some point?
GP:No, I never had to choose between Dany Toussaint and Bob Manuel, and I always served my country without belonging to this or that group. I worked under superior officers who wanted to professionalise the PNH and I served them loyally to the end. If I’d had to make a choice in 1999 then I’d say that I would have sided with Bob Manuel, since he’s someone for whom I have a lot of admiration and respect.
PH:In October 2000, the Préval government accused you and the other ‘Ecuadorians’ of planning another coup d’état. What happened?
GP:You have to remember that I had witnessed irregularities committed during the fraudulent elections in May 2000, and Anthony Nazaire and another commander whose name I can’t remember had asked me, on Aristide’s behalf, to blow up the electoral office in the Northern department. I had seen how Aristide allowed his partisan Ronald Cadavre to humiliate my friend police commissaire Jackie Nau, and I had been a witness to all the anti-democratic manoeuvres of the tyrant Aristide, including the assassination of that poor man at Tabarre, who Aristide ordered to be killed so that he could appropriate his lands and build his university. I witnessed the assassination of Marie Christine Jeune, and I wept when my friend Bazile Berthony was killed. So there is no doubt that I was ready to support the opposition to Aristide in all its forms.
PH:So you decided, along with Nau and a few others, to try to overthrow the government before the situation got any worse?
GP:We had no plans for a coup d’état against Préval. After the clash with Ronald Cadavre we decided that we should try to stop the country from lapsing back into dictatorship.
PH:In October 2000 the US embassy warned Préval against you. But how did you manage to get out of the country, if not with help from the US or DR embassies?
GP: Whoever alerted Préval should have told him that we didn’t want to eliminate him, but that we wanted to arrest Aristide on 7 February 2001. They warned Aristide, out of fear that we might talk to Préval or his police-chief Pierre Denizé about their own plans regarding Préval. I left the country in October 2000 to save Préval. I’ve explained all of this in my book.
PH:What were your plans, towards the end of 2000?
GP:By then I knew the game that Aristide was playing, and was getting ready to defend the country by all necessary means. In 2001 I supported both the democratic opposition and the armed opposition against the tyrant. My movement had as its only goal the realisation of the dream of our founding father Dessalines: the quest for social justice and a better distribution of the state’s resources. Unfortunately some people have certain prejudices against the army but they forget that some great social revolutions have been undertaken by soldiers ― Thomas Sankara, Hugo Chávez, etc. Such people blamed Chávez for all kinds of things after his failed coup d’état in 1992, but now he is widely recognised as the greatest man in Latin America. Today Haiti languishes under the control of a rotten, servile political elite, and under a corrupt economic elite that has no concern for human progress. We will never get out of this impasse without a revolution, a peaceful revolution.
PH:Some people who were disappointed by Aristide in the early 1990s thought he made a mistake by trying to be too peaceful, and by choosing not to pursue the path of armed struggle. Were you determined to avoid this mistake yourself?
GP:Aristide has always used force and violence and I think those people should come in Haiti and investigate so they could see how brutal Aristide was.
PH:Where did you go after the confrontations of October 2000?
GP:There were no confrontations in October 2000; I went to the DR first, then back to Ecuador.
PH: Is it true that you were driven out of Haiti in a US diplomatic car?
GP: No it’s not true. I drove as far as Ouanaminthe in my own Nissan Pathfinder, and two of the people who took us to the border were arrested.
PH:At that point were you more or less alone? When did you start to join with other former members of the army who shared your opposition to Aristide? I’ve been told that ex-FAdH corporal Ravix Rémissainthe was the first to begin training with former Haitian soldiers in the DR, and that you joined him sometime later; others say that it was Chavannes Jean-Baptiste who first launched the movement, with a small training camp near the village of San Cristobal.
GP:I recruited Ravix in May 2001; I don’t know whether Chavannes had started anything before May 2001, but I’m grateful to him for the help he gave us during the liberation of Hinche, in February 2004.
PH:What was Chavannes able to do for you in February 2004? Did he and other members of the MPP also facilitate the passage of your men in and through the Central Plateau in 2001-2003?
GP:Chavannes gave us a lot of good advice, and some logistical help.
PH:Going back now to early 2001: during the first half of that year, you quickly succeeded in assembling a squadron of men who were willing to fight to destabilise and then overthrow Aristide’s government.
GP:I think it was Aristide himself who destabilised his own government. He had the offices of opposition political parties burned, he had the journalist Brignol Lindor assassinated. He ‘chimerised’ the command of the PNH, and from that moment on his government was doomed to collapse under its own weight.
PH:I’d like to ask you more about those events in a moment, but first a little more background. How many people had joined your squadron, by the summer of 2001? Where did they come from?
GP:My men mainly came from the Grand Nord, from parts of the South and from the Grand Anse.
PH:Were they mostly former members of the FAdH? Of the PNH? Of FRAPH?
GP:They came from every sector of the population.
PH:How many men could you rely on, by July 2001?
GP:I don’t know.
PH:Were you all based together, or were your men scattered in different parts of the country? Did you have a permanent base of operations? Some people say that your partisans were temporarily incorporated and trained in various divisions of the Dominican army; others say you had a base in Elias Piñas, just across the border from Belladère.
GP:We didn’t have any sort of camp in the DR, that’s completely false. I’ve written about this side of things in my book.
PH: Did you have a camp or training ground somewhere else, in Haiti?
GP: I’ve written about this side of things in my book.
PH:Did the DR give you any sort of support during these years? If I remember right President Mejía told journalists that he was aware of your activities, and that he ‘controlled’ you. Is that not true? The Dominicans certainly didn’t seem to mind you moving back and forth across the border.
GP:No, the Dominicans didn’t help me, but I have a lot of respect for them. They adopted and received me when everyone else rejected me.
PH:So was it actually quite difficult to prepare and train your men in the DR, in fact? Did they make you keep a low profile? Did this delay the development of your movement?
GP:I don’t know what you re talking about. We had no camp or training programme in the DR.
PH:Did you receive any help from the US or French governments during these years?
GP: I’ve written about this as well, in my book, for the benefit of my country. There are some things I cannot reveal at this point but everything’s in the book which will appear in 2012, whether or not I myself am still alive.
PH:At what point did you start working with Paul Arcelin? What was his role? I assume he helped with some international connections? Did he set you up with Ravix?
GP:I met Paul at a friend’s house in 2001, he gave me very good advice and demonstrated great courage in 2002-2003. It was Chamblain who introduced me to Ravix.
PH:Had you known Chamblain for a long time? Did you always have a good working relationship with him?
GP:I’ve known him since 2001.
PH:At what point did you come into contact with Stanley Lucas and his team at the International Republican Institute (IRI)?
GP:I first met Stanley Lucas when I was only seven years old. He coached me at ping pong, and I’m grateful to him because thanks to him and Pierrot ThéodatI later became the national champion. When I was in exile in Ecuador I ran into him by chance at a club in Quito (the No Bar), and we spoke for a while but we didn’t make plans for a military attack against Aristide. In Santo Domingo I saw him at the Hotel Santo Domingo but we hardly spoke.
PH:Is that it? He didn’t help coordinate things with members of the Convergence and the G184? He was working with those guys all the time.
GP:Maybe he had his plans with the Convergence, but not with me.
PH:Is Stanley Lucas still a friend? You both have political ambitions, do you think you might be able to work again together
GP:No. Stanley has made his political choice and I’ve made mine. We’ve taken opposite paths.
PH:Aristide’s second inauguration took place in February 2001; after forming a group called the ‘Democratic Convergence,’ his political opponents (led by Evans Paul, Serge Gilles, Paul Denis, Himmler Rébu, and assisted by Andy Apaid, Rudolph and Reginald Boulos, Charles Baker and other leaders of ‘civil society’) refused to recognise him and tried to mount a parallel government. They also called for the restoration of the army. Did you have specific links with these political leaders at this point?
GP:By that stage I had links with some of them. I’ve always had relations with the Haitian political class; at first they were good, but after all the low blows they’ve dealt me things have changed. I have said before and I will tell you again that leaders like Serge Gilles, Himmler Rébu and others came to the Dominican Republic to ask me to help them save the country.
PH:Can you be more specific? When did some of these people begin to make serious plans with you for a military project against the government?
GP:From December 2000.
PH:During a meeting in the DR? Who coordinated the meeting? Did they approach you directly, or was it via Stanley Lucas or Paul Arcelin?
GP:I had my own direct contacts.
PH:From that point on, were you in fairly regular contact with them?
GP:Yes, we were in regular and fairly close contact.
PH:And what sort of promises did they make in exchange for your help in putting pressure on the government? Did they offer to restore the army once Aristide was gone? Did they promise your men that they would be integrated into this army, or at least into the PNH?
GP:It was agreed that my men would be responsible for the country’s security.
PH:The first anti-government attacks launched by your Front date from 28 July 2001. What happened, exactly?
GP:The Front didn’t launch any attacks in July 2001, it didn’t yet exist.
PH:Ok. In July 2001, who was it that attacked the police academy in Port-au-Prince, and various other police stations in other parts of the country? Were you not involved in these operations?
GP:I didn’t plan the attacks of July 2001. The OAS prepared a report on the events of July and December 2001, and I suggest you read it if you need more information about what happened.[ii] I know that certain political leaders and representatives of civil society can help you with this, since they know everything about what happened on these two occasions. Since they’re cowards, however, they’ll just tell you that they know nothing about it.
PH:Can you be more specific? Who should I ask: Apaid, Boulos, Evans Paul, Serge Gilles? Anyone in particular? The OAS report you mention notes that ‘the political Opposition in Haiti has not been accused of bearing any responsibility for the attack on the National Palace.’ People like Evans Paul and Serge Gilles always said that it was the government itself that staged the attack. Are they lying?
GP: Ask the leaders of the Convergence, they should know.
PH:Again, did neither you yourself nor any of your collaborators have anything to do with the operations of July and December 2001?
GP:How many times do I have to answer this question?
PH: But you haven’t answered it yet! If I remember right, in late 2004 you and Ravix Rémissainthe described your role in these attacks on the radio, for instance in a broadcast of the radio programme Ranmasse, on Radio Caraïbes. Is that not true? I need to ask you directly: did you or any of your collaborators have anything to do with the December 2001 attacks on the National Palace?
GP: Ravix and I never did a radio broadcast together, though it’s true that during one broadcast I gave he rang to describe some of the actions he was involved in. I’m not going to discuss the December 2001 incident yet but don’t worry, when the time is right people will learn what really happened.
PH: According to the OAS report you mention, one of the leaders of the 17 December 2001 attack was former FAdH officer and USGPN member Chavre Milot. Am I right in thinking that Chavre Milot, along with Youri Latortue and several others, was pushed out of the USGPN shortly after Aristide’s return to power, in February 2001? And are you saying then that it was the leaders of the Convergence themselves who recruited and equipped Milot’s team of ex-FAdH and ex-USGPN commandos to carry out the assault, and that they did this without your assistance and expertise?
GP:I’m not saying that.
PH: Chavre Milot was then killed during the operation, though the OAS report says the circumstances of his death are unclear; can you say anything more about this?
PH:Both the July and December attacks were carefully planned military-style operations; surely there weren’t many people in the FAdH who were capable of organising something like this. In the December assault on the National Palace, the weaponry included at least two 50 calibre machine guns. It isn’t easy to get hold of this kind of equipment in Haiti. Former US sergeant Stan Goff says that these operations look like they came straight out of a Special Forces textbook, and he’s well-placed to know ― is he wrong?
GP:Maybe he knows what he’s talking about.
PH: Do you mean that it’s possible that US military advisors were working secretly with the Convergence leaders, to plan and equip this particular attack? Is that your suspicion?
GP: No comment.
PH:The OAS report you mentioned goes on to note that ‘in the course of their occupation of the Palace, the assailants used radio transmitters which they had recovered from the Police to state that Jean Bertrand Aristide was no longer President and that Guy Philippe was the new commander of the National Police of Haiti.’ And after he was captured, didn’t one of the commandos (Pierre Richardson) testify that you were behind the operation?
GP: The following day Richardson said that he had confessed this under pressure.
PH:Why these particular dates, July and December 2001? Who decided on them?
GP:Once again, you should pose this question to the leaders of the Convergence, of civil society and to Aristide himself.
PH:You always had a lot of friends and contacts in the PNH. By the time of the July and December attacks in 2001, were some of them actively working against the government?
GP:I’ve always had good relations with members of the police. Some people say that many policemen still follow my orders, but this is false. When I was their commanding officer I treated them like men, with respect, and I always led by example; that’s why they like and respect me. The various director-generals of the PNH can try to reduce my influence in the institution but they won’t succeed, because in the national police commissaire Guy Philippe is a legend, and there’s nothing they can do about that.
PH:During the December 2001 assault, some of the attackers managed to penetrate into the President’s private rooms (as it turns out he wasn’t there). Surely this required complicity from some leading members of the USGPN?
GP:I refer you to the OAS report.
PH:The OAS report confirms that the attackers took control of the ‘principal building without resistance from the guards who were in charge of the security of the Palace’, and that they were helped by ‘complicity within the National Police by officers who passed on information.’ In general, how easy was it to turn some members of the USGPN and the USP against Aristide? Did most of them remain faithful to him to the end?
GP:By 2002, they all wanted to be rid of him.
PH: I’d like to ask you now about what happened in 2002-2003, before turning to the events of February 2004. After the December 2001 attack and the reprisals that followed it, the political opposition to Aristide’s government became more forceful; at the same time, over the course of the following year hit-and-run attacks against representatives of the government, particularly in the Plateau Central, became more frequent. Who was in charge of these operations?
GP:Jean-Baptiste Clotaire was the commander, and he directed all these operations; unfortunately Ravix assassinated him in 2005.
PH:Why did Ravix do that?
GP:Envy and jealousy.
PH:What was the thinking behind the assaults of 2002-2003? Had you decided that another direct attack on the National Palace was too risky, and that the best strategy was to weaken the government by dragging it into a low-level guerrilla war?
GP: No comment.
PH: What then was the purpose of Clotaire’s attacks in the Central Plateau? Didn’t they result in the deaths of many innocent people? For instance, wasn’t Ravix involved in the killing of five members of Cléonor Souverain’s family in Belladère, in June 2002?
GP: You should ask people who were working with Clotaire at that time.
PH:What sort of strategic recommendations did the leaders of the Convergence and the G184 make during these years?
GP:You should definitely read my book to understand the kind of relations we had.
PH:I look forward to reading it. Is it true that it was Serge Gilles who suggested the attack on the Peligre dam in May 2003?
GP:Yes I’ve already said this last year, on radio. If I said it, it’s true. At least that’s what Serge Gilles and his associates told me when they came to visit me in the DR at the time.
PH:You weren’t yourself involved in the attack on Peligre? Immediately after the assault you were arrested and held for a short time by the Dominican authorities; did members of the political opposition intervene to help negotiate for your release?
GP:No: I had nothing to do with that attack, I swear it.
PH:So in 2003, as in July/December 2001, was your group just one of several ex-military groups working with the Convergence during these years?
GP: We were not working for the Convergence, we were fighting together in 2003.
PH:Were you in contact with other political leaders during this period? For instance with Gérard Latortue (who would later become prime minister), or with his nephews Youri and Jean-Renel Latortue? Gerard and Youri were mainly living in the US during these years, but were they already preparing for a Haiti after Aristide? And did Jean-Renel help with money or munitions? Winter Etienne has said that in the autumn of 2003 his group in Gonaïves received around $20,000 worth of ammunition from Jean-Renel; did Jean-Renel help you out as well?
GP: It wasn’t just Latortue who helped out, many others made contributions as well, including in fact some leading figures in Lavalas; they are all named in my book.
PH:I know that Youri Latortue is an old friend of yours. Did you cooperate together during your tenure at Delmas? Was he able to help your movement in 2003-2004?
GP: We were not in contact in 2003.
PH:During this time your band of men was getting bigger, and I imagine it became more of a challenge to keep them supplied and organised. Some people say that you got most of your weapons and munitions from the DR, and they refer to a large shipment of around 20,000 M16s that were due to arrive in the DR in 2003[iii]; I’ve heard, though, that this shipment didn’t actually arrive in the DR until later in 2004. In that case, where did your weapons come from?
GP:The Haitian elite and the political parties in the Convergence helped us with money and weapons. Some leading Haitian businessmen met with us, and in Cap Haïtien for instance they donated around $50,000 (US). Getting hold of money was not a problem.
PH:Can you be a little more specific? In Cap Haïtien I spoke to people who say they were party to meetings of leading local businessmen, for instance at the Hotel Saint Christophe, which served to raise funds on your behalf. I was also told that some international companies, for instance the Québec-based mining firm Saint Geneviève Resources (with gold-mining interests in north-eastern Haiti) contributed money to your cause. But did most of your funds come from Haitian sources? The wealthy families that despised Aristide ― Apaid, Boulos, Baker in particular ― did they subsidise your movement? Or were they simply trying to profit from it?
GP:Yes we had meetings with various businessmen and they helped us. In Gonaïves we met with several businessmen and via Ravix they contributed around $200,000 (US) to buy arms and ammunition. The businessmen seemed keen to help us at all costs.
PH:Can you say which particular businessmen you dealt with? In exchange for their help, did they make specific demands on you?
GP:I cannot name all of them, it would not be fair.
PH:Did the French embassy also help out at this point? The French were especially keen to get rid of Aristide once he started asking them to repay the money that France had extorted from Haiti back in the nineteenth century. The French media gave your movement plenty of sympathetic attention, and I remember that you were grateful to RFI in particular for their coverage. How was this organised? Were you in regular contact with Eric Bosc, or anyone else from the French embassy?
GP:The French embassy did not help me, and I had no contact with Eric Bosc before March 2004.
PH:With hindsight, it’s clear that a decisive step towards the end of Aristide’s government was taken when Raboteau gang-leader Amiot Métayer was killed in Gonaïves, in September 2003, right around the time that new ambassadors arrived from the US and France. There’s a lot of controversy about who might have killed him. His brother Buteur Métayer (along with various ex-FRAPH and ex-FAdH people in Gonaïves) claim that Aristide’s government was behind it. Do you have any information about this?
GP:I wasn’t in Haiti when Amiot was killed and at that point I had no links with Buteur Métayer or his associate Winter Etienne. But in February 2004 Buteur told me that he was sure it was the work of Aristide, since the person who came to look for Amiot the night of his murder ― Odonel Paul ― was someone close to the government.
PH:The gang led by Buteur and Winter Etienne then managed to resist significant police pressure for several months, through the end of 2003. Did they manage to do this on their own? You didn’t help them out? Were they supported by other former soldiers, or by other members of the political opposition to Aristide? By this stage ex-colonel and Convergence leader Himmler Rébu, for instance, had become a familiar presence in northern Haiti.
GP:They were not a ‘gang’, and they were helped by some soldiers that Jean Robert Lalanne and the Democratic Convergence sent to Gonaïves, to train and organise the others. Lalanne told me that he received weapons from the G184 and from a certain political party, but he didn’t tell me which one. Most of Lalanne’s men arrived in January 2004, but I should explain that Lalanne’s men were also my men, they were former soldiers who came to meet me at the border towards the end of December 2003. But at that point the border was under strict control and I couldn’t cross it, so the troop leader decided to get in touch with Lalanne instead. Lalanne took care of them for around a month, before transferring them to Gonaïves. At that point I was in charge of operations in the north, the north-east and in the central plateau, and Buteur was directing operations in the Artibonite.
As for Himmler Rébu, he didn’t send any actual reinforcements in 2004; when I called him in February from St Michel to ask for help he simply replied that he couldn’t send anything, neither weapons nor ammunition nor soldiers. Lalanne sent some men and some weapons (around twenty guns, and some ammunition).
PH:What was Dany Toussaint able to offer you? Did he also help Buteur’s group in Gonaïves? In March 2004, right after Aristide’s departure, Dany was still being described by some journalists as ‘the great specialist in everything to do with security and armed force in Haiti.’[iv]
GP:Buteur told me that Dany helped. Aristide had always had problems with Dany because Dany wasn’t submissive enough, and he had his own agenda. My own links with Dany were fairly loose; I spoke with him on the phone three times, twice from the DR, since we were both good friends of Paul Arcelin, and then again in early February, when my group was based at St Michel de l’Attalaye. He was very polite, even if he didn’t have much concrete help to offer. Dany is definitely a much better officer than most former members of the FAdH high command, who are just softies [poules mouillées] and cowards.
PH:And at what point did you begin working regularly with Jodel Chamblain?
GP:In spite of the reluctance of most of my advisors, including Paul Arcelin, it was me and another friend that insisted on including Chamblain. Everyone was afraid of him. Finally, on 6 February 2004, I went to see him in Santo Domingo, to ask him to come fight at my side. He accepted immediately. Ravix didn’t want him to join us, and he refused to cross the border with us. Then after we had taken Hinche in mid-February, Ravix wrote to ask me if he could join with us again; Ravix didn’t participate in the operations to take Hinche and Cap Haïtien.
PH:In your opinion, does Chamblain deserve his fearsome reputation? Were you able to work well together? Are you still close?
GP:I think Chamblain is a man who has been made a victim of the system. Did you know that Aristide had his pregnant wife killed, right in front of him? For me Chamblain is a great patriot who offered his life for his country in 2004, without asking anything in return.
PH:At a certain point your group moved to a base in the small town of Saint-Michel de l’Attalaye, not too far from Gonaïves. When did you move there, exactly? Did you encounter some resistance from people in the area, was there some violence?
GP:No there was no violence; we moved to Saint Michel at the beginning of February 2004, and the people there welcomed us as liberators.
PH:That’s just a day or two before the full-scale insurgency began in Gonaïves (5 February 2004). Presumably the timing and coordination was carefully planned. If you weren’t yet in close contact with Buteur and Winter, who was behind this planning? Lalanne?
GP:That is a question you should address to Ti Will and Winter Etienne.
PH:Jean Tatoune was apparently a ‘heavyweight’ in the Gonaïves insurgency, and like Chamblain was a veteran of FRAPH. Did he facilitate the link between your group and Etienne’s group?
GP:He played a major role in the movement but he didn’t arrange our connection.
PH:How many people were members of your squad, at this point?
GP:At St Michel we were almost a hundred; in Gonaïves we grew to three hundred, and then after taking Hinche and Cap Haïtien I had thousands of men.
PH:The final phase of the insurrection kicked off in Gonaïves on 5 February 2004, when Buteur’s group, with Lalanne’s reinforcements, managed to overwhelm the police and take control of the city. At what point did you decide to commit your forces to the Gonaïves uprising, and to fight alongside them? Was this something planned well in advance, or did it happen more or less at the last minute?
GP:To begin with there was a certain amount of mistrust, and I wasn’t totally sure that Buteur was reliable. But after the incidents of 5 and 7 February I understood that we should fight together, and so I sent emissaries to Gonaïves to prepare my entry into the city. They unanimously decided to name me commander in chief of the resistance. I took command around 10 February. Gilbert Dragon was my second-in-command; Ti Will was the commander for the Artibonite, Robert for the North-East, and Clotaire Jean Baptiste for the Plateau Central. Chamblain was in charge of operations.
PH:And what strategy did you adopt?
GP:Buteur’s men wanted to attack Saint Marc right away, on 10 February; I made them understand that we should instead first attack Hinche and then Cap Haïtien and Ouanaminthe in order to secure our rear, and that only then should we attack, on the same day, Saint Marc and Port-au-Prince; by that stage we had enough men, and we already had a squad operating in Port-au-Prince itself. I assigned the capture of Hinche to Papaye who was in command of the ‘Anti-Choc’ team, my best men, and to Chamblain who in command of another squad. The ‘Anti-Choc’ team was a group of 50 men, who were well-armed and well-trained; they were all ex-soldiers from the best units.
PH:Did Chamblain bring his own men with him from Santo Domingo, or from somewhere else? Or did you assign him a group of your men to command?
GP:No, Clotaire assigned him a group of our men.
PH:What about the capture of Cap Haïtien, on Sunday morning 22 February? This was a decisive operation: who was in charge? And did you settle on the timing after consultation with the leaders of the Convergence and the G184?
GP:The assault on Cap Haïtien proceeded under my personal responsibility. I dispatched two different platoons, one led by Chamblain and the other by Papaye. (From Gonaïves I’d received some reinforcements led by Porda). The date was decided after discussions with Lalanne. Lalanne called me on 21 February to tell me that his life and the life of his family was in great danger, that the FL partisan Nahoum Marcellus was getting ready to burn Cap Haïtien to the ground. He asked me to liberate the city before Monday 24 February. He told me that he himself was in hiding in the Plaine du Nord, outside Cap Haïtien. Although I didn’t want to attack the Cap that Sunday, I agreed to do it in order to save the lives of these innocent people, since I knew that the chimères led by Nahoum Marcellus were notorious killers. But to my great surprise, after we had taken Cap Haïtien I learned that Lalanne and his family were in fact in Port-au-Prince, staying at the luxury hotel the El Rancho, and that they’d been there since the beginning of the hostilities. You have to remember that I lost three men trying to liberate and take control of Cap Haïtien that day.
PH:How difficult was it then to take control of Cap Haïtien itself? Was there a lot of resistance?
GP:It was pretty difficult to take Cap Haïtien. Moïse Jean-Charles, the mayor of Milot, ambushed us and we lost three men right away; then we had to fight for more than two hours walking from Milot to Cap Haïtien under fire.
PH:Once you had taken the city, was it also difficult to control the population in Cap Haïtien? The police had fled and the government had fallen apart. If I remember right you organised some tribunals to operate in lieu of the regular courts. Who was in charge of these, and what sort of people did they convict? What kind of sentences were they given?
GP:There were no such tribunals.
PH: By 24 February, around half the country was under your control. Meanwhile, the leaders of the Convergence and the G184 were busy ‘negotiating’ with the French and the Americans, and insisting that were not prepared to compromise with Aristide. It seems that they wanted to get rid of Aristide as soon as possible, so did they encourage you to advance towards the capital? When did you plan to launch your final attack?
GP:On 28 February I received new reinforcements, and by then I had around 2000 men at my disposal. Also on 28 February we were able to buy, after some delays, more than $75,000 worth of ammunition. We were planning to attack Port-au-Prince on March 2 or 3.
PH: Where did these reinforcements come from? Some people told me that new troops arrived in Cap Haïtien by boat. Is that true?
GP:By boat and by bus.
PH:Did you really have so many men under your command? The Americans ― Foley, Noriega ― dismissed your group as nothing more than a ‘ragtag band’ of a few dozen men.
GP:They can say what they want, but I’m proud to say that I liberated my country without receiving help from any outside country. They describe us as a ‘ragtag band’ but I’d like to know the name they give to their own men, who are killing thousands of innocent people day in and day out in Iraq and Afghanistan.
PH:Even with the money that you received in Cap Haïtien, I imagine it wasn’t easy to get hold of so much ammunition in a country that was still under a US-imposed arms embargo. Where did the munitions come from, who sold them to you?
GP:I can’t say anything more about these munitions, but I’ve written about this in my book.
PH:Even with a lot of men and weapons, taking Port-au-Prince must have seemed like a serious challenge. There were barricades everywhere, and huge demonstrations of people determined to protect the city. Some people say that your threat to attack the city was just a bluff.
GP:After we had taken Cap Haïtien Aristide was totally isolated, betrayed by his security guards and his friends. People who don’t have the balls to do what I did have said, after the fact, that it was just a bluff. But during all these operations I lost more than 50 loyal friends. My critics say it was a bluff but this is just envy and jealousy; they all dream of being able to pull off exploits like mine but they are too afraid to do it, and so now they try to minimise what I accomplished. But I say to them, in spite of their envy, that History will remember that it was Guy Philippe and his men who saved Haiti in February 2004. Without me Aristide would still be in control of the country. If today Haiti has a new chance for a better future it’s thanks to GUY PHILIPPE, his men and the students.
PH:You said at the time that you had men working for you, from within the National Palace, in leading positions of the Presidential Guard (USGPN) and the president’s personal security team (USP). By 23 February, had many members of Aristide’s security forces come to the conclusion that defeat was inevitable, and that it would be better to join you rather than fight you?
GP:I had men everywhere, including people within the ministerial cabinet.
PH:Can you say more about this? It’s clear that many leading politicians in Fanmi Lavalas abandoned Aristide in his final months. Leading FL senators like Louis-Gérald Gilles (after Pierre Prince Sonson, Dany Toussaint, Joseph Médard) publicly turned against the government. But had you won the support of members of Aristide’s own cabinet as well?
GP:Yes, but I won’t give their names.
PH:And in these finals weeks of conflict, were there specific people within the USGPN and USP who helped open the door for you? I assume that Dany Toussaint and Joseph Médard put you in touch with some of their allies in the USGPN? Wilson Casséus, for instance, was deputy commander of the USGPN and he seems to have cooperated with you immediately after Aristide’s expulsion; he was then promoted to head of the USGPN. Aristide’s pilot Frantz Gabriel suspects that Casséus might have been secretly cooperating with your men long before then. Is that true?
GP:Both Wilson Casseus and Frantz Gabriel were good friends of mine before 2000, it’s normal that we would talk from time to time.
PH: But was Casséus on your side, or Aristide’s?
GP:He’s the only person who can give the right answer.
PH:Were you also in touch with people like Pierre Chérubin, Néoclès Arne, Orcel Lubin?
GP:No I was not.
PH:What about Oriel Jean?
GP:I had no contact at all with Oriel Jean.
PH:And during this last climactic week of February, after taking Cap Haïtien, were you still in regular touch with the leaders of the Convergence?
GP:Evans Paul, Serge Gilles and the others were aware of all my movements since we were working together. They asked Lalanne to call me, to ask me to come urgently to Port-au-Prince on 29 February to have a big meeting to decide the future of Haiti; Apaid, Rebu, Evans Paul, Dany Toussaint were all at that meeting. But under international pressure they then betrayed us and they signed the tripartite accord on 4 March, which decided on the procedure for choosing a post-Aristide government. And it was them, and Andy Apaid, who advised the US embassy to kidnap Aristide in order to prevent me Guy Philippe from taking power and setting up a government in Haiti like the one that Chávez set up in Venezuela.
By the end of February I was practically ready to launch the final assault on the capital; I was also surrounded by spies (disguised as journalists). And I think that it was in response to the fact that I was ready to make my final move that the leaders of Haiti’s rotten political class and mafioso oligarchy convinced the Americans and the French to get rid of Aristide. And although he denies it now, Aristide was afraid, very afraid, and he agreed to resign. Then, out of fear that I might take the National Palace by assault, the Americans moved in and took control themselves.
PH:Wasn’t it US ambassador Foley himself who stopped you from attacking Port-au-Prince?
GP:It wasn’t the Americans who blocked my advance; it was Apaid, Boulos and the leaders of our corrupt political class that pressured the international community to invade our country. And the international community duly invaded, and they used Aristide’s request for help as a pretext. If I’d had the support of our elites like they promised it in the DR I’d have taken the National Palace and arrested Aristide, with or without the agreement of the Americans.
PH:These people, Evans Paul, Serge Gilles, Andy Apaid and the others, were they really worried that they would lose control and that you would take over? Didn’t they just try to use you and your men for a while, in order to strike a helpful blow against their enemies in Lavalas? What did they promise you in return?
GP:I must tell you, for the historical record, that no-one used me; they had their agenda, I had mine. What had been agreed with Evans Paul, Serge Gilles, OPL, and the leaders of civil society was that we would establish a government of national consensus with representatives from all sectors of the country, including Lavalas. The president of the cour de cassation would be provisional president, and my men were to be responsible for the country’s security, without any foreign intervention. But you know what actually happened.
Once again I must tell you that the people who sabotaged this liberation movement are the same enemies as always, and they did it for the same reasons that led their ancestors to assassinate Dessalines: the traitors of 2004 are the people who signed or approved the tripartite accord, ANDY APAID, EVANS PAUL, PAUL DENIS, etc. I want posterity to know the truth. These people have made the country suffer too much. Our movement suffered a great setback on March 4th 2004, but just like the movement that Chávez led in Venezuela we will keep fighting, and we will win in another 5 or 10 years, democratically.
PH:If they hadn’t blocked your advance, and if you’d been able to take control of the city without international interference, what would you have done with Aristide himself?
GP:A lot of people have asked me this; maybe they think I would have executed Aristide. No, I believe in justice; he would have been put on trial. If I fought so fiercely against Aristide it’s because I really believed in what he was saying, back in 1990. I really thought he was going to help the poor to escape their misery; unfortunately he let himself be bought, and he didn’t turn out to be the Castro or the Sankara that we needed. It was a real disappointment.
I’m 39 years old and I feel that I have already lived through too much. God would have spared me a lot of pain and disappointment if I had been killed during the assault on Cap Haïtien, and frankly that might have been better for me. I thought we could save what was left of the country, I thought we could retrieve a little of our dignity. I thought that the political class, and civil society led by the G184, had learned some of the lessons of history. But no, unfortunately they remain the same as ever: traitors, subhumans [sous-hommes], cowards and opportunists who have not understood that sometimes you should be ashamed to be rich and happy in the midst of so much misery.
PH:Once you arrived in Port-au-Prince with your men on March 1st, for a couple of days it looked like you might succeed in becoming the new ‘chef militaire’, and I’ve been told that on March 2nd your men marched up Bourdon towards prime minister Neptune’s office, to arrest him. I was also told that Foley or Moreno called you, to stop you.
GP:Haitian people often credit the American embassy with more power than it really has, but yes one particular US official did come to ask me not to arrest Neptune, and I didn’t arrest him because his office was protected by a number of US military tanks.
PH:Right after this, as you were saying, the leaders of the Convergence in cooperation with the ‘friends of Haiti’ signed the tripartite accord, and made sure that you were kept at a distance from the new government they then put in place. Initially the Americans asked you to lay down your arms, but it seems like neither the Americans nor the UN tried to follow this up with a genuine disarmament programme.
GP:We did lay down our arms. But I’ve never seen the UN run a successful disarmament programme. I think President Préval is the only one that can do this, by calling for a process of national reconciliation that will include every sector and group. We don’t need foreigners to do that for us, we can do it ourselves and it’s urgent; there are too many weapons on the streets.
PH:And were most or many of your men later integrated into the PNH? If I remember right, in late March 2004 you gave the new head of the police Léon Charles a list of around 1500 names, recommending that they be brought into the force. But how many of them actually became police officers?
GP:Some are now serving their country. I had hoped that there would be more of them.
PH: Can you estimate roughly how many of them became members of the PNH in 2004? How many of them are still in the force now, in 2007?
GP:I don’t know.
PH:And what about you yourself: during the Latortue government of 2004-2006, did you play a role in the security of the country, behind the scenes? Did you do some work for the office of Youri Latortue, for instance, who was effectively in charge of security in Port-au-Prince?
GP:Youri is my friend and my brother in arms, and it’s normal that we stay in contact. But I never worked for the Latortue government.
PH:What then happened to Ravix and the men close to Ravix? Did you remain allies all through 2004? By the autumn he had become increasingly frustrated with the new government, and eventually issued a new declaration of war, in December 2004. He paid for it with his life, in April 2005. What did you think about this?
GP:Ravix didn’t understand the game that the politicians were playing. It was some of these shadowy politicians who advised Ravix to take over Aristide’s residence in Tabarre in December 2004, and to attack the police stations in Petit Goâve and several other places. I know the names of these perverse politicians. Ravix couldn’t win this war, it was lost in advance.
PH:In your opinion, given the situation in the country, is it now necessary to remobilise the army?
GP:The constitution is clear on this point. We need to remobilise the army.
PH:And to conclude: what are you own current projects and plans?
GP:I’m the secretary general of the FRN (National Reconstruction Front). At the level of the party, we’re getting ready for the elections of November 2007. My goal, with the help of the Haitian people and in particular of Haitian youth, is to transform our political elite and to restore Haiti’s sovereignty. I want to send a special thank you to people from Sanpaid, St Michel, Gonaïves, Maissade, Hinche, Belladère, Ennery, Gros Morne, Cap Haïtien, Ouanaminthe, Trou du Nord, Terrier Rouge, Limbe, Ti Rivière de l’Artibonite, St Marc, Pestel, Corail, Jérémie, Beaumont, St Raphaël, Dondon, Les Cayes,grand goave,Cayes- Jacmel, Ti Goâve and Port-au-Prince for all the support they gave us in 2003 and 2004.
* * * * *
Editorial note: This interview was conducted in French, by email, in February and March 2007. It was translated into English by Peter Hallward, with no editorial interference of any kind. The translation has been reviewed and approved by Guy Philippe. It was first published on HaitiAnalysis.com on 24 March 2007.
[i]This interview was conducted in French, by email, in February and March 2007. It was translated into English by Peter Hallward, with no editorial interference of any kind; the translation has been reviewed and approved by Guy Philippe. It was first published on www.haitianalysis.com, on 23 March 2007.
[ii]Organisation of American States, ‘Report of the Commission of Inquiry Into the Events of December 17, 2001’, at http://www.oas.org/OASpage/Haiti_situation/cpinf4702_02_eng.htm.
[iii]See for instance Luis Barrios, ‘U.S. Special Forces Trained and Armed Haitian Anti-Aristide Paramilitaries in D.R.’, Democracy Now! 7 April 2004.
[iv]Jean-Michel Caroit, ‘En Haïti, “chimères” et partisans de l'ancien président Aristide tentent de s'organiser’, Le Monde 11 March 2004.