PRETORIA, South Africa – Former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (search) charged Tuesday that political violence in Haiti was a "black holocaust" orchestrated by France and the United States.
Speaking to reporters in Pretoria (search) where he lives in exile, Aristide renewed his charge that he was kidnapped by the United States and France as part of a coup d'etat in February 2004 and that he remains Haiti's democratically elected leader.
Aristide refused to say if he would be a candidate in general elections promised later this year in Haiti, but he said there could be no free democratic elections in the troubled country until thousands of his Lavalas (search) party members are freed from jail or allowed to return from exile. The ousted president said he wanted to return to Haiti, "whenever conditions permit."
Aristide also again denied fomenting political violence in Haiti (search) from South Africa and defended his former interior minister, Jocelerme Privert, who was charged Monday in connection with the killing of political opponents. He called the charges "lies."
"We are for peace, not violence," said Aristide, claiming his Lavalas party members were victims, not perpetrators.
"Racism is behind a black holocaust in Haiti," said Aristide. "More than 10,000 of my supporters have been killed in the past year."
Pierre Esperance, the director of National Coalition of Haitian Rights (search), said last month the figure for the total number of people killed in political violence during the last year — not just Lavalas supporters — is between 1,000 and 1,500. Police also have given much lower estimates.
He also charged that killings were being orchestrated by the United States and France, who he has said kidnapped him and organized the coup that ousted him.
Former soldiers and gangsters led a three-week rebellion that ousted Aristide on Feb. 29, 2004. The United States and France, Haiti's former colonial ruler, said they had suggested he step down for the good of Haiti. Both have denied kidnapping Aristide or staging a coup.
U.N. peacekeepers have moved aggressively in recent weeks against pro- and anti-Aristide street gangs as well as the former soldiers who helped oust Aristide, saying their refusal to disarm has undermined efforts to pacify Haiti. U.S. Ambassador James Foley said earlier this month that the United States was concerned that both street gangs and the ex-soldiers were trying to destabilize the interim government.
Aristide became Haiti's first democratically elected president in December 1990. He was overthrown by a coup in 1991; restored to power by U.S. troops in 1994; and elected president again in 2000.