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Haiti: On the Brink

February 26, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: Joining me now to discuss U.S. involvement in the Haiti crisis are two members of Congress: Charles Rangel, Democrat of New York; and Mark Foley, Republican of Florida.

And, Congressman Rangel, whether or not you agree with Secretary Powell’s analysis about whether the U.S. did enough in the past, is it doing enough today in Haiti?

REP. CHARLES RANGEL: I was really surprised to hear those comments by Secretary Powell. As you know I was with him and Dr. Rice and President Bush yesterday and he seemed to underscore support for the rule of law in that he was waiting for the opposition to sign off on the accords that would include allowing them to appoint a prime minister, but he made it abundantly clear that he was going to respect the term and the fact that Aristide was elected.

Now I would hate to have a friend that sounds like Aristide has in Powell today when he says, while he realizes he was elected, that it’s time for him to seriously discuss what he should be doing.

Do you know the opposition … we’re not just talking about legitimate people that have serious concerns about the administration of Aristide. We’re talking about military people that General Powell helped chase out of Haiti. We’re talking about thugs and criminals that have weapons that are killing people. We should be there talking about peace.

Why in the world would the opposition agree to sit down and agree to the accords and not stick to their position in saying Aristide must step down if the secretary of state of the United States of America is saying that Aristide should seriously consider it? No, we’re not doing what we should.

RAY SUAREZ: Just to see if I understand you, you’re saying there’s been a change in tone in Secretary Powell … on Secretary Powell’s part just since yesterday?

REP. CHARLES RANGEL: Yes, every time you’ve heard from Secretary Powell, notwithstanding his disappointments in the administration of President Aristide, he’s always said that the United States and the international community will respect the fact that he will be in office until he’s elected. Now I heard something about the French saying that he should step down and what not. But I have confidence that my country was saying that the man was elected and that we were going to make compromises to make certain that the opposition would have some say in the administration.

But I just heard what Colin Powell said, and while he said the same thing — that the man is elected and that should be respected — he said the man should seriously consider stepping down, which gives nothing but fuel to the opposition which includes thugs, criminals and people that General Powell chased out of Haiti.

If — I just talked with Aristide and he truly believes that the United States and the international community, if they don’t come in and stop the violence, if they wait for the opposition to agree to the accords that he has already agreed to, he will be dead and they will take over the palace. I talked with President Aristide just two hours ago and I talked with his wife three hours ago. And they are concerned. Our lack of doing anything but waiting for the opposition means that we are against President Aristide.

RAY SUAREZ: Congressman Foley, let me turn to you now. Do you agree with your colleague from New York’s analysis that the Bush administration is starting to back away from Aristide and is it the proper time or the proper thing to be doing?

REP. MARK FOLEY: Well, the administration was in fact trying to seek a settlement whereby Mr. Aristide could remain, in fact, in power for the remainder of his term. Regrettably we’ve heard from a number of other coalition partners that are unwilling to put one soldier on the ground if it means propping up this government. So we’ve got a difference of opinion. Charlie’s right. The French did in fact say they wanted him to go. And that’s ironic because the French love everyone so for them to demand Aristide leave is just a bit interesting.

Now Mr. Aristide has had his problems. We’ve given opportunity to try and rebuild that country. Many of us were part of hopefully seeing Mr. Aristide’s government, in fact, bring about some reforms — have the police department protecting the citizens rather than killing them. We’ve noticed an infiltration of drug dealers and other things on Haiti. So, Charlie and I both agree that the crisis now is about saving lives first, solving the problem. We were hopeful that the insurgents would in fact agree to a shared power arrangement. I know that’s maybe not in the best interest of Mr. Aristide, but one in which I would end some of the turmoil.

But the administration has been very, very insistent on not exactly throwing themselves in the middle of this crisis because they wanted others closer in proximity to lead the battle with us — the Bahamians, the Jamaicans, the Dominican Republic, the Canadians and the French. So rather than saber rattling and telling the Haitian people this is how you’re going to do it and this is the way we insist it be done, the administration has tried to take a careful approach by consulting allies talking quietly behind the scenes to the United Nations.

Mr. Noriega, under Secretary Powell has gone down there last Saturday. He and I traveled there several years ago together. He knows the area and knows the region and spent a lot of time personally invested in trying to bring these factions together.

I will agree with what Charlie said. While we’re signaling Aristide should go, it does fuel the flames, if you will, of those opposition leaders who are storming Port-au-Prince as we speak or close to it. So I don’t want to send out mixed signals but what the administration tried to do initially was try to find a balance, find a way out of this crisis so more people’s lives would not be lost in the streets of Haiti.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Congressman Rangel, the three corners of this triangle seem to not be willing to break the impasse. President Aristide says he won’t share power with the non-armed opposition. And both the armed rebels and the political opponents say they don’t see a future for the country that includes President Aristide in it. So does somebody have to give?

REP. CHARLES RANGEL: Up until yesterday, that was not the case. Aristide has said and continues to say and Secretary Powell and Dr. Rice agreed that he was prepared to share power as outlined by the accords that were set out by the international community in Jamaica and the ones that were supported by Secretary Powell and the one that Mr. Foley just agreed that should be done. So he agreed before. He agreed in giving up the prime minister which has even more power than he and that this should happen.

The problem is that the international community and Secretary Powell were waiting for the opposition to agree to this. They haven’t agreed. They’re insistent that President Aristide step down. They’re not going to the table and they’ll be winners just by doing nothing. So what is it that we’re asking Aristide to do? He’s done everything.

RAY SUAREZ: Congressman Foley, is there a future in your view for a Haitian government and some stable governance there that includes President Aristide?

REP. MARK FOLEY: I hope we can find a solution to this. If it includes Mr. Aristide staying, I’m all for it. If it includes he has to leave based on the international partners, so be it. The one thing I want to see happen is for this country to be calm, for us as Americans to join together with the international community to rebuild this beautiful country. They need help. They want our assistance but we can’t go it alone.

So my desire is — and I think Mr. Aristide is getting the message — he’s going to leave by a Lear jet or he’ll leave in a body bag. These people are getting close. There’s no sense in him risking his life in Port-au-Prince based on the current scenario.

And I can’t see an end to the crisis. We can’t intervene and jump in the middle of this right now until we get backing from the U.N. I think that would be the next appropriate step. They’re meeting now as we’re speaking. Hopefully they will come with guidance in the morning or by noon tomorrow. Hopefully that won’t be too late to step into the middle of the breach and try and solve this problem.

RAY SUAREZ: So you’re saying the United States shouldn’t jump into the middle of this but if it’s waiting for the U.N., can it sit back and watch an armed group take control of the capital and topple this president?

REP. MARK FOLEY: We can’t wait much longer, but when you opened your piece your reporter on the ground there suggested the insurgents had not seemed to be rallying to take over Port-au-Prince. So we’re hoping that they’re remaining on the outskirts of the town. Maybe there’s a discussion going on as we speak that will help keep the flames from burning any brighter. We just simply want to protect the people there on the ground.

So I’m prepared to look at any option but I know the State Department, I know Secretary Powell and I know the president and others are committed to a resolution that will hopefully end the struggle in Haiti.

REP. CHARLES RANGEL: I’m now convinced after listening to Mr. Foley and Mr. Powell that the United States are on the side of the opposition and they want President Aristide either to leave by a jet or leave in a body bag and I’m telling you, if I was in the opposition, I would say we won. Stay cool. We got this president where we want and we don’t have to wait for an election. We’ll get rid of him and the international community will support it.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, what would you rather see happen than that scenario that you just spun out?

REP. CHARLES RANGEL: This United States knows how to stop the violence. When we went there before we didn’t lose one member of the armed forces. Not anyone was injured. Not by accident.

Police Commissioner Kelly of the city of New York trained those people and he said they didn’t stay long enough to fully train them. They’re not armed. We’ve got an arms embargo and we got a bunch of cowards with M-16s that were always against Aristide and always against democracy.

If we just had an international presence saying drop your guns, then the Aristide supporters would drop their machetes and we would not have the bloodshed. Then we’ll have a little longer to determine whether or not Aristide should accommodate the accords and integrate the opposition until his government.

But if we do nothing, what we have said is we didn’t like Aristide, he should go and let the rebels do what they want. As long as there’s no agreement to go to the table and to insist that Aristide has to go, then I think that Mr. Foley’s right. They’re waiting for the body bag or for him to go into exile. And that is not what the United States should be supporting, that duly elected people be chased out of office by a bunch of rogues and thieves.

RAY SUAREZ: Congressman Foley, this has to be really quick but what’s wrong with Representative Rangel’s suggestion that this could be over very quickly with a very small expenditure of American power — very quickly, please.

REP. MARK FOLEY: I just wish they were more consistent. They didn’t want us in Iraq but they want us in Liberia and they want us in Haiti. I agree we could play a role but we can’t go it alone. We need the French, we need the Canadians, we need the Jamaicans; we need others to at least lead the parade as we help to liberate at least from the stress today the crisis in Haiti.

RAY SUAREZ: Gentlemen, thank you both.

REP. CHARLES RANGEL: I’m surprised you would even bring up the war in Iraq.

RAY SUAREZ: Gentlemen, thanks a lot.