WASHINGTON - Members of Congress and supporters of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti said the Bush administration inspired - if not actively supported - the removal of a democratically elected leader.
Senior US officials denied having any hand in the three-week rebellion that ultimately forced Aristide to leave the country early yesterday under US Marine guard to an undisclosed location, saying Aristide's corruption and repression were responsible for the uprising.
Critics of the Bush administration accused the United States of collusion, giving the rebel opposition a chance to veto a proposal last week to participate in power sharing and squeezing the Aristide government in recent years. They said Washington helped remove a leader whom it helped regain power a decade ago but with whom it steadily lost favor.
Chief supporters of Aristide made more pointed accusations. They contended that the rebellion was orchestrated by US military and intelligence officials and planned over several years to topple Aristide.
A senior US military official acknowledged that some American weapons sold to the neighboring Dominican Republic last year may have ended up in the hands of opposition forces in Haiti, but stressed that they were not provided as part of some covert US activity and could have been acquired from the Dominican military.
The Central Intelligence Agency declined to respond to questions yesterday whether it had any role in Haiti.
The United States was blamed for cutting off international aid to Haiti and, as a result, slowly making Aristide's position untenable. The United States put a stop to hundreds of millions of dollars in loans from the World Bank in 2000 after independent observers said Aristide's party won an overwhelming victory in fraudulent elections.
Aristide's lawyer, Ira Kurzban, also accused the United States of playing a leading role on the ground in Haiti. He said that the rebel leader, Guy Philippe, is an ally of Jadel Chamberlain, the cofounder of FRAPH, the paramilitary organization that terrorized Haitians in the early 1990s and that Kurzban claimed was founded with the help of US intelligence agencies.
Kurzban, who said he had not been able to reach Aristide and was concerned about his safety, said he believes that some of the rebels crossed into Haiti from the Dominican Republic, aided by the US weaponry.
``I think they had an active role, and the key is Chamberlain,'' Kurzban said in an interview from Miami. He provided no evidence for the allegations.
The senior US military official said a small number of US special forces conducted antiterrorism exercises, called Operation Jaded Task, with the Dominican military in February 2003, a program he described as ``routine.''
According to news reports at the time, the exercise apparently came as a surprise to the country's foreign minister, who publicly denounced the operation. The US official said 20,000 M-16s were provided to the Dominican forces to help the country guard its border with Haiti and that all the weapons could not be accounted for.
Another senior defense official who asked not to be named called the allegations of US meddling in Haiti ``utter nonsense.''
``I'm not sure I'd call it a coup d'etat,'' Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, told ABC. ``This was something that was much more revolutionary, if you will, much more from the streets.''
Farah Stockman of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Joe Lauria contributed to this report. Bryan Bender can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.