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American Denies Any Involvement in Haiti Coup Attempt

Police officers detain a man during protests against Haiti's President Jovenel Moise, in Port-au-Prince, Feb. 8, 2021.
Police officers detain a man during protests against Haiti's President Jovenel Moise, in Port-au-Prince, Feb. 8, 2021.

Dan Whitman, a former U.S. Foreign Service officer and State Department employee, says he had no involvement in the foiled Haiti coup plot on Sunday.

"I don't know who is spreading this narrative, or why. I've never met or heard of any of the individuals mentioned — and don't know why my name would be used in this regard," Whitman told VOA in a phone interview Monday.

The American, currently a professor at American University's School of International Service, is depicted in a video distributed by Haiti's Intelligence Service to members of the Haitian press on Sunday. A photo of Whitman is captioned as a "former member of the State Department" who, the video alleges, masterminded the plot to overthrow President Jovenel Moise with the help of national police officers.

Whitman worked at the State Department from 1985 to 2009 and has written a book on Haiti, “A Haiti Chronicle: The Undoing of a Latent Democracy," published in 2004. The professor is fluent in French and spoke a few words of Creole to VOA during the interview.

Asked why he had been included in the Haitian video, Whitman told VOA, "I haven't seen the video, I've heard about it."

As for whether he was in Haiti on Sunday (February 7), or recently, he said, “I left that country 20 years ago and I’ve never been back.”

Dan Whitman worked at the U.S. State Department from 1985 to 2009. He is now a professor at American University's School of International Studies. (Credit - courtesy)
Dan Whitman worked at the U.S. State Department from 1985 to 2009. He is now a professor at American University's School of International Studies. (Credit - courtesy)

Whitman told VOA it upsets him that his name has been linked to the foiled coup attempt.

VOA asked the State Department for comment on the video implicating a former employee.

"It is our well-established practice to conduct diplomatic relations through our embassies, not private individuals,” a spokesperson said. “And we have a very capable embassy and ambassador in Port-Au-Prince. As you know, we do not discuss cases involving private U.S. citizens absent their written consent."

Haitian President Jovenel Moise announced during a Facebook Live event at noon Sunday that law enforcement officials had foiled a coup attempt and made more than 20 arrests.

Moise stood on the tarmac of the Toussaint Louverture International Airport, alongside his wife, first lady Martine Moise, in front of a private plane that he boarded immediately afterward to visit the southern coastal town of Jacmel to kick off Carnival festivities.

He said Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe would hold a press conference Sunday afternoon to provide further details.

Jouthe told the press he saw and heard proof in the form of audio recordings produced by the Intelligence Service, signed documents and the text of a speech for the inauguration of the new president.

VOA listened to the recordings — a video that shows a photo of who is speaking over the audio of their conversation in French and Creole — Monday. Here’s what was heard:

The plot

The alleged coup plot is laid out in a produced video featuring mobile phone footage of Supreme Court Justice Hiviquel Dabrezil shortly after his arrest and then segues to a series of audio recordings of conversations between the alleged coup plotters.

In one exchange, Dimitri Herard, a commander of the USGPN (L'Unité de Sécurité Générale du Palais National), a specialized unit of the national police force tasked with protecting the national palace, is talking to National Police Force Inspector General Marie Antoinette Gauthier about plans. Gauthier is captioned in the video as "lead putschiste.”

Dimitri Herard: “Hello, commander?”

Marie Antoinette Gauthier: “Yes, hello. Dimitri? I'm listening.”

DH: “Yes, commander.”

MAG: “Listen, I received orders from the State Department.”

DH: “OK...”

MAG: “ plan certain things.”

DH: “Clearly. They contacted me as well so that's why I was waiting for your call. I'm listening commander.”

MAG: “Yes, listen. They told me that Friday or Saturday — you understand?”

DH: “Uh-huh.”

Whitman is never mentioned by name. But the Intelligence Service video narrator alleges "the group plotted with a former member of the Department of State — Dan Whitman — who they say was working with them to pull off this coup d'Etat."

In another exchange, Herard and Gauthier discuss the "extraction" of President Moise.

DH (in French): “I don't know if it's the same people who contacted you — OK? But they also mentioned an inauguration on Monday, the 8th, etc., but. …”

MAG: “I'm coming over.”

DH: “OK, the reason why I’m asking the question is I wanted to know what about the president? What is happening with him?”

MAG: “Listen, listen the president — on the morning of the 7th, if he is still in power — are you listening?”

DH: “Yes, I hear you clearly, commander.”

MAG: “On the 7th, I'll have to take control of him. Do you understand?”

DH: “OK.”

MAG: “I'll let him know we have a warrant for his arrest, and we have to detain him and take him to — are you familiar with the Petit Bois complex?”

DH: “The complex that is near the American Embassy?”

MAG: “Yes.”

The video alleges that the 23 arrests on Sunday gave authorities a clear picture about the plot and the prominent politicians, businessmen and law enforcement officials who agreed to participate in it.

"We found that this coup was masterminded by Jean Henry Ceant (former prime minister)," the narrator says, "Reginald Boulos (millionaire businessman who is also an opposition politician), who would finance it; Jean Marie Vorbe — in fact the complex where they masterminded the plot belongs to Jean Marie Vorbe. Youri Chevry (Port-au-Prince mayor) and Nenel Cassy (former senator of Lavalas party) were responsible for arming and financing. Fantom 509 (rogue police officers), they were going to organize the coup and a member of the Supreme Court — Justice Mario Beauvoir and many other members of the opposition, many of whom have been arrested and other warrants are outstanding for the arrest of all the coup plotters."

US reaction

Commenting on Sunday’s events, a State Department spokesperson told VOA, “The United States is following the situation in Haiti with concern and calls on all political actors to address their differences though peaceful means. We understand the Haitian National Police is investigating 23 individuals who were arrested over the weekend. The situation remains murky, and we await the results of the police investigation."

In response to VOA's question about what message the United States would like to send Haitians who insist Moise's term is expired, the spokesperson responded, "While the Haitian constitution does not clearly address today’s situation, President Jovenel Moise was elected in November 2016, following the annulment of the initial presidential polls in October of the previous year. He was sworn into office on February 7, 2017, for a five-year term, which is, therefore, scheduled to end on February 7, 2022."

Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks of New York tweeted Saturday that he co-led a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken with Congresswoman Yvette Clarke “to condemn President Moise’s undemocratic actions in Haiti, urging a Haitian-led democratic transition of power. The letter was signed by five other House representatives: Albio Sires, Andy Levin, Alcee Hastings, Ilhan Omar and Darren Soto.

Early Sunday, Congressman Levin tweeted condemnation of President Moise.

“I am deeply saddened but unsurprised that Moise has escalated his anti-democratic campaign with a mass arrest of opposition officials and others on what should be his final day in office,” Levin tweeted.

The State Department told VOA it was aware of the lawmakers’ comments but declined to provide any details on communications.

"We do not comment on specific communications with Congress," the spokesperson said. "The department is briefing members on the situation in Haiti. The secretary appreciates insight and communication from Congress on foreign policy."

The United Nations also commented on Sunday's events in Haiti, echoing the Biden administration's stance.

"On Haiti, I will tell you that we are obviously, both the secretary-general and the team on the ground, are following the situation with worry and concern. It is very important that all stakeholders address their differences though peaceful means," spokesperson Stephane Durjarric told VOA.

"We have also seen the reports and are very much aware that the Haitian National Police is investigating 23 individuals arrested over the weekend for allegedly plotting a coup. We are waiting and are interested in seeing the results of what that investigation is," Dujarric said.

Port-au-Prince was calm Monday, according to VOA Creole reporters, who said most businesses and the Supreme Court were closed.

Jean Samuel Pierre in Port-au-Prince, Cindy Saine at the State Department, Margaret Besheer at the United Nations contributed to this report.