"The Bush administration is again engaged in regime change by armed aggression," former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark said. "This time, the armed aggression is against the administration of the democratically elected president of Haiti."
Activists at a Friday press briefing outlined what they believe to be a well-crafted plan by the Bush administration to overthrow Aristide. Former Haitian military members, drug dealers and militants were armed and trained in the Dominican Republic thanks to military support from the United States. They have now crossed the border into Haiti, activists said.
The rebel insurrection that erupted three weeks ago has left roughly 80 people dead, nearly half of whom were police officers.
U.S.-supported coups in Latin America and Africa during the Cold War were referenced by many as models for what they perceive to be the Bush administration's current strategy in Haiti.
"Policy is being engineered, just like when the U.S. wanted to overthrow the Sandinista government," said Ben Dupuy, secretary-general of the National Popular Party of Haiti. Covert CIA operations in Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and the Congo were also mentioned by activists, who repeatedly called for the United States to cease any involvement in the Caribbean nation.
The crisis in Haiti has been looming since flawed legislative elections were held in 2000 during which Aristide's party claimed victory with an overwhelming majority of votes. In response, international donors froze millions of dollars in aid, cutting off a vital lifeline for one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.
In addition, Aristide, who became Haiti's first freely elected leader in 1990, has been accused of not doing enough to alleviate poverty, condoning corruption, and using violence to quell political opposition.
Activists blamed the American government for the failure of Aristide's social programs.
"The U.S. brought this about by keeping an embargo on the country since 1994. How could Aristide have succeeded?" former attorney general Clark asked. "His goal has always been to move the people of Haiti from a state of poverty to a state of dignity."
Participants pointed to differing ideologies on democracy as the motivating force behind the Bush administration's alleged support of opposition forces.
"The U.S. talks about democracy, but it's their democracy, not the people's democracy," Dupuy said.
Using Venezuela as an example, Dupuy and Clark accused the administration of not supporting governments that replace any group of ruling elites. "Any government that has the support of the majority of its people will have a problem with the United States," Dupuy said.
Regarding evidence linking the U.S. government with opposition forces, Kim Ives, an activist and journalist working in Haiti, said that he had proof of collaboration between Special Forces in Haiti and the Dominican military. He said the Pentagon has sent military aid to the Dominican Republic, including 20,000 M-16 rifles.
"It's not unlikely that some of those M-16s are some of the hardware we see in the hands of the rebels today," Ives said.
"It is clear that the rebel forces crossed the Dominican border heavily armed with equipment that even the former Haitian military did not have, which could not have been done without the knowledge of the Dominican army," another participant said. "We also know that the Dominican government would not have allowed this to happen unless it had clearance from the United States government."
As Aristide supporters presented their case for covert U.S. support of insurgent groups, the Haitian president's fate was being discussed in Paris at a meeting between Dominique de Villepin, the French foreign minister, and a representative of the Haitian government.
France is pressuring Aristide to step down and cede to a transitional government.
Strengthening the French government's position and further distancing the White House from the Haitian leader, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday that Aristide should make a "careful examination" of whether he should step down.
So far, the Bush administration remains committed to a political solution, and would be supportive of an international security force going into Haiti only after a political agreement has been reached, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Friday.
Participants at the National Press Club briefing had harsh words for both the French and U.S. governments regarding the resignation of the embattled leader. "We call on the Bush administration and the French government to cease their efforts to overthrow a democratically elected government and to allow democracy and freedom to continue," said Ray Laforest, director of Haitian Constituency U.S.A.
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, who said he was a personal friend of Aristide, spoke on behalf of the Haitian government adding, "I protest the actions of the United States government -- especially Secretary Powell."
Some Aristide loyalists do, however, see a role for the United States in the days to come. "People must compel the organizations that are relevant to immediately demand that the rebels stop and be held accountable, and that they stay out of Port-au-Prince. The United States government must say that out loud," Clark said.
Roger Ervin, a consultant to the Haitian government, pointed to three actions the U.S. should take to address the crisis in the Caribbean nation: join those in the international community who want to send a security presence to restore order before a peace agreement, publicly choose a side, and send humanitarian assistance.
"A wink and a nod from the U.S. is not going to get us anywhere," Ervin said.
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