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GWEN IFILL: As American troops stepped up efforts today to disarm rebels still roaming the streets of Haiti, U.S. lawmakers were asking questions, questions about how and why President Jean-Bertrand Aristide relinquished power in Haiti ten days ago and about what the U.S. will do now to stabilize the island nation.
REP. MAXINE WATERS: It is clear that a coup d’etat took place in Haiti. We’ve learned our government made the departure of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the democratically elected leader of Haiti, a precondition to introducing United States forces to restore order. At the very least, despite our government’s claims, to support democratically elected governments, this administration was unwilling to take any real steps to prevent President Aristide’s overthrow. Uncovering the truth about our government’s role in President Aristide’s departure is critical to any attempt to chart the future of U.S.-Haitian relations.
GWEN IFILL: Republicans and Democrats questioned the extent of the U.S. commitment to the hemisphere’s poorest nation. Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine calls for additional U.S. forces to supplement the troops the Pentagon says are now there.
SEN. MIKE DeWINE: It is abundantly clear to me that there are not enough troops in Haiti today, and it is a danger to those troops by not having enough troops, and it is also clear to me that unless more troops are put into Haiti by the United States, that we are not going to be able to stabilize the situation.
GWEN IFILL: Roger Noriega, the assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, said the U.S. refused to support Aristide because he had governed badly and irresponsibly.
ROGER NORIEGA: The message to the hemisphere when the rest of the world did not respond to Aristide’s claims that he, or demands for international support to come in and support him, is that we will work together to help good leaders govern well. But we’re not under any obligation to help bad leaders govern badly. In the end, no country, the United States included, was inclined to send forces to sustain the failed political status quo in Haiti. President Aristide decided of his own free will to resign.
GWEN IFILL: Noriega denied Aristide’s repeated claim that he was kidnapped, an allegation that he said has made it difficult for him and Secretary of State Colin Powell to work with the Caribbean’s refugees organization, CARICOM.
ROGER NORIEGA: Secretary Powell and I have communicated with CARICOM leader to explain the situation because some of them actually believe that Aristide’s version of the facts that he was kidnapped, which is, of course, ridiculous. But we need to convince them that we want to go forward. And we need to convince them, frankly, that the 8 million people in Haiti still need their help.
GWEN IFILL: Noriega said the number of troops on the ground will grow to 3,400, and that unruly rebels will eventually face criminal charges.
GWEN IFILL: Now, for more on today’s hearing and what the future holds for Haiti, we’re joined by two members of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs: Chairman Norm Coleman, Republican of Minnesota, and ranking member, Sen. Christopher Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut.
Senator Coleman, what were the biggest unanswered questions before you went into the hearing today and what remains?
SEN. NORM COLEMAN: The question that was raised is what is the future of Haiti? We spent a lot of time bickering about what happened yesterday but that’s not going to help the 8 million people in Haiti who are suffering, a quarter of a million HIV-positive people. One of the questions left and Senator DeWine raised is what do we need to have security. You have to have security first. You can’t have economic security without national security. So that issue is still left unanswered but clearly we’ve got to get about to rebuilding, working with Haitians to rebuild that country and spend a little less time bickering in Washington.
GWEN IFILL: Senator Dodd, do you think that was bickering, or do you feel that you got your questions answered today?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: No, they really weren’t answered. Some were. And it was a good hearing. And certainly the future of Haiti is very, very important. But I don’t think we can just quickly brush by the events of mid-February and the 29th of February when Aristide left.
Clearly the United States decided that it was going to walk away from a democratically elected government. Whether we like all governments, think they’re great leaders, if that becomes the standard, then we are violating the very charters which we’ve signed on to. The American democratic charter signed by the United States and 23 other nations only a few years ago said when a democratic nation in the hemisphere seeks support of OAS members, they will come to that support.
Aristide, according to Mr. Noriega today when I asked him, said very specifically he asked for help and we unilaterally turned him down this. This charter says that the other nations must vote and decide whether or not a government has failed. We never did that. In fact we did sign on February 24, a resolution out of the OAS which said that the opposition ought to agree with what Aristide had agreed to and that was a coalition government. So we walked away. We sent very confusing signals. Now, if that’s the message in the rest of the hemisphere that the charter means nothing anymore, then that is a very, very important piece of news.
So I don’t want to dwell on this, but frankly not to pay attention to it, I think sends all the wrong signals to the rest of this hemisphere. Now clearly we need to get more troops in; we need to provide aid but frankly that needed to be done three years ago. And we would never provide any direct assistance to the Aristide government because the Bush administration never wanted to support Aristide and the result — chaos developed and of course you ended up with the opposition that you did.
GWEN IFILL: Let me ask Senator Coleman actually whether it’s important as Senator Dodd is pointing out, to figure out what went wrong last time before you can decide what happens next. If President Aristide was removed from office because, as Mr. Noriega said today, he wasn’t worth defending, how do you plan for his successor, if that were to happen again?
SEN. NORM COLEMAN: I think you have to reverse the order. I think we have to go about right away is there potable water in Haiti — are we making sure folks suffering from HIV/AIDS, the largest percent in the western hemisphere are being treated? Is there a level of security to distribute the food which witnesses said is in Haiti, but we can’t get it distributed?
Then we can go about dealing with the question of Aristide and then we can have a great debate over that. Aristide himself never invoked the provisions of the treaty because he didn’t want to live by those things that called for democratic rule. Aristide was sending messages and orders from the presidential palace to have people killed by his own gang of thugs. But that’s a great debate for later.
Right now we have people suffering; we have an obligation to do the right thing for the Haitian people. I think we need to reverse the order of what we saw and heard in the hearing today.
GWEN IFILL: Senator Coleman, when you talk about reversing the order and putting things in context, do you think that the United States has its appropriate role in this case, should be involved in nation building in Haiti at this point?
SEN. NORM COLEMAN: I think the United States has a self interest in the future of Haiti. If we don’t deal with some of these issues, we are going to see as we’ve seen in the past, thousands of Haitians coming to our shores. So we have a personal security interest in nation building in Haiti — not alone. We’ll work with the French, we’ll work with the Caribbean nations but we have to get about first maintaining security, second make sure food is distributed, make sure water is available and then we can have a detailed discussion of what happened and how did it happen.
GWEN IFILL: Senator Dodd, President Aristide has said even from exile in the Central African Republic that he still believes that he was kidnapped, whether that is a political kidnapping or a broad use of the term is still not clear. Do you believe that President Aristide was properly removed from office, and that the United States played the appropriate role?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: I think there are some very serious questions about how he was removed. What was admitted to today by Secretary Noriega is that President Aristide, a democratically elected government with all of its flaws and no one is defending the flaws at all, but a democratically elected president of that country asked a fellow OAS member nation to support him in his moment when he had only two or three hundred thugs threatening that government. We turned him down and basically what we said to him was, you can stay here and probably be killed, or you can get on a plane.
And we are not going to tell you where you are going to go until about 20 minutes before you land. You can call that voluntary if you want. I don’t. I think it amounts to basically escorting him out of the country with the only alternative of being murdered by these thugs when they took over in Port-au-Prince. I don’t like to think of my government with a democratically elected government, even one you don’t like very much, being around and supporting that kind of result.
SEN. NORM COLEMAN: Secretary Noriega made it very clear we were not going to risk American lives to prop up this leader, by the way, who fell from 200 thugs, which tells you about the absolute lack of support, lack of moral authority that he had because of his own actions and as a result we didn’t risk American lives. We have got work to do in Haiti. Let’s get about doing it and then we’ll answer some of the questions that were raised today.
GWEN IFILL: Let me ask you this, Senator Coleman, as you try and decide what the work is that you need to, how much will you learn from the lesson of what the United States has done in Haiti in the past, since it’s not obviously the first time the United States has been forced or has been called upon to intervene in trying to keep that government stable. What do you learn from say what the United States did in 1994 that would apply now?
SEN. NORM COLEMAN: One of the benefits being a new member of Congress is not burdened by whatever the sins of the past are. It is very clear that what we have to do is bring security to Haiti, do it in a multilateral way, make sure food is being distributed, water, then do those things to ensure you’ve got a government, and then start investing in infrastructure. We’ve got to get jobs to Haiti. I can’t respond to what was done in the past. I think hopefully history has taught us some things.
But the bottom line is that we have people who are in need today. We’re the greatest nation in the world. We should be doing the things to reaching out and working with them and then we can deal with some of the internal political battles that we are having here at a later point in time.
GWEN IFILL: Senator Dodd, let me ask that question to you because as Senator Coleman refers to internal political battles, some of the complaints began about the way the United States handled Haiti in a Democratic administration under the Clinton administration. You were there. What do you think should be learned about how this was handled last time that can apply this time?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: Well, I hope we can do both. I mean, as I said at the outset of this interview, that I don’t want to necessarily dwell on this but I don’t think you can brush by it and say we’ll debate it at some later date because the implications of how this administration conducts foreign policy in this hemisphere is very, very important. Other nations want to know. But certainly we now, if you want to take advantage of this crisis, hopefully we can do something meaningful here. We’ve never really done that in the past. I will be anxious to see whether or not the administration wants to support Senator DeWine’s efforts, in the next hour or so, whether $150 million in aid from this administration will be forthcoming. We spent $2 billion to bring Aristide back to government after he was thrown out by the military in that country. I’m told we may spend another billion dollars or more on the military just to bring order in the country now.
I think we could have saved a lot of that money had we stood up at the right hour and defended a president in that country, the opposition, and urged them to join in a coalition government which he accepted, the opposition refused even though the CARICOM governments asked the opposition to join in the coalition unity government. It is going to cost us a lot militarily It will be interesting to see whether the administration is really willing to put the money up now to support the economic solutions and suggestions that Norm Coleman is suggesting which I support.
SEN. NORM COLEMAN: The good news is bipartisan support for increasing the aid to Haiti and there is also bipartisan support for increasing trade opportunities. So let’s figure out how we can work on the things we agree upon and improve the loss of life with Haitians.
GWEN IFILL: That’s precisely what I want to actually ask you about, Senator Coleman. Mr. Noriega quoted the president as saying he is calling for a break from the past on Haiti. Can you tell us specifically as you can what that will mean in the next weeks and months as the Congress grapples with this?
SEN. NORM COLEMAN: First of all I hope to see an increase in aid. The amount of aid under Aristide was about $50 million. That’s less than what we were putting into Haiti in the early 1990s. It’s clear and I think Secretary Noriega understands that we’ve got to put some more money into Haiti. We have some self-interest in that. There has been an opportunity to expand some trade opportunities with Haiti floating around forever, a strong kind of wink from the administration that supports that would be extraordinarily helpful. And I’ll push for that; I’ll make that kind of push. We have to have a break from the past. We to say that we are committed to working with this country — either we pay now or we pay later. I think the investment we have to make now will pay great dividends later on.
GWEN IFILL: And, Sen. Dodd, are you convinced if that money is forthcoming that the United States will follow through on its commitment even if another flawed leader takes President Aristide’s place?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: Well, you’d have to say in light of the events of the last month or so, there’s a big question mark there. If you are going to use the standard that Mr. Noriega and the Bush administration have used, standing by and watching this administration being ousted, President Toledo in Peru has about 7 percent support of the Peruvian people. I guess you might call that a failed leader democratically elected. What is the standard going to be now if we don’t have governments that are overly tremendously popular, that we may not stand by them? I think you have to sort it out. I don’t think it’s a minor point; I don’t think it’s just past history. It’s a very critical issue about how this administration is going to conduct its foreign policy. In Haiti, it could mean revisiting that same scenario if in fact we are going to repeat that theory.
SEN. NORM COLEMAN: Definition of flawed leader. Are we talking about somebody who was supported by thugs who are operating in a criminal manner? A far cry from Toledo and Peru –
GWEN IFILL: Okay, this is to be continued. Sen. Norm Coleman and Sen. Christopher Dodd, thank you very much.