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Stabilizing Haiti

April 1, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: Joining me is Reginald Dumas, the United Nations’ special adviser on Haiti. He was recently in Haiti with a U.N. assessment team, and on Tuesday he briefed the United Nations’ Security Council on his findings. Welcome.

REGINALD DUMAS: Thank you.

GWEN IFILL: You returned from Haiti on Wednesday. What can you tell us about the state of affairs there now?

REGINALD DUMAS: Well, the security situation is much better than it used to be, than it certainly was, say, about a month ago. Although it is not perfectly calm. In the capital, things seem to be more or less returning to normal. In fact, they’re mostly returned to normal in the capital. Outside the capital, there’s still a little bit of difficulty, but the troops of the multinational, interim force are now deployed. The only trouble is that there aren’t too many troops, so that they can’t maintain the kind of security that the Security Council would like to see them maintain.

GWEN IFILL: When you talk about security, one of the things that seems to be missing is actually an active police force, Haitian police force, in addition to these international forces.

REGINALD DUMAS: There’s virtually no Haitian police force at the moment. What I was told last week in Haiti is that they can only locate about 2,000 policemen for the whole of the country. Now, that’s a country between 8 million and 8.5 million people. I understand that New York, which has a comparable population, has a police force of about 50,000. You see the difference. So that it’s a little awkward, in terms of the rule of law.

GWEN IFILL: What about the political infrastructure? I know that Gerard Latortue is in place now as prime minister and there is also a president, but there isn’t a cabinet. And there’s some question about who’s really in charge?

REGINALD DUMAS: There is a cabinet. A cabinet was sworn-in on the 17th, I think, of March.

GWEN IFILL: Okay.

REGINALD DUMAS: So there is a cabinet with ministers of different kinds. You might say that the constitution of Haiti says that if a president vacates office for whatever reason, then the head of the Supreme Court is sworn in to act as president, and that person must be ratified in not more than 90 days. But he has to be ratified, or she, by the parliament. And there’s no parliament.

GWEN IFILL: I misspoke– there’s no parliament, there is a cabinet.

REGINALD DUMAS: There is a cabinet.

GWEN IFILL: So how does business get done?

REGINALD DUMAS: Well, the cabinet is doing what it can. This was the case before when president… former President Aristide was there. And he was in essence ruling by decree, if you like, because there was no parliament. Now this continues, and the cabinet will have to do what it can. Now, there are certain decisions that the cabinet feels, since it is an interim cabinet, it feels it cannot take– certain foreign policy decisions perhaps, whatever those may be; or even national decisions.

For instance, there is the issue of an army. Now, Aristide abolished the army. Some people say that that was unconstitutional because the army is made provision for in the constitution. But the point is that he abolished it. Now, what do you do at that point? Should it be reconstituted? But if it is to be reconstituted, should an interim administration, like the one that Mr. Latortue heads, be in a position to do that?

GWEN IFILL: I want to talk to you about the interim administration, Mr. Latortue, but also President Aristide. First about Mr. Latortue. One of the things he did last week was to embrace the rebels who helped to overthrow Aristide and called them freedom fighters, which caused some heartburn, I gather, in the United States and also at the United Nations. What kind of reaction are you getting from that? Because in many of these so-called freedom fighters, as he called them, are also considered to have been convicted murderers in another life —

REGINALD DUMAS: The remark did not go down well. It did not go down well in the United States or in a number of countries, and certainly did not go down well in the CARICOM.

GWEN IFILL: Which is the Caribbean community.

REGINALD DUMAS: The Caribbean community of which Haiti is a member. It certainly did not go down well, and I believe Mr. Latortue has found himself being spoken to by a number of countries, and CARICOM has expressed — publicly expressed — its dismay at the appellation, at the description, of these former rebels as… having said that, may I say that I think I know what Mr. Latortue was trying to do.

GWEN IFILL: Which is?

REGINALD DUMAS: He, I think, was speaking in the context of what he sees as national reconciliation. In other words, these people, yes, have been rebels. They continue to hold their guns. They have not put down their arms — in Gonaives where he spoke, or in Cap-Haitien up in the North. But I think he feels that in some way they have to be… efforts must be made to reintegrate them into Haitian society. And I think it is in that context that he spoke. But I agree, the description of them as freedom fighters did not go down well.

GWEN IFILL: President Aristide, you mentioned CARICOM, the Caribbean Community of Nations, they still have apparently lingering concerns about the way in which he came to leave office. And at the meeting, which you attended in St. Kits, they expressed that concern to the United Nations and to others.

REGINALD DUMAS: They had expressed the concern earlier. There was an early meeting in early March…

GWEN IFILL: Right.

REGINALD DUMAS: …At which they expressed their concern, and they asked that an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr. Aristide’s departure be carried out.

GWEN IFILL: Do they believe he was kidnapped?

REGINALD DUMAS: I think that is the general belief — so that they call for an investigation under the auspices of the United Nations. They repeated that call a few days ago in St. Kits.

GWEN IFILL: Right.

REGINALD DUMAS: Now, it would appear that the matter is still on the table.

GWEN IFILL: Will there be an investigation? The United States has said flat out this did not happen.

REGINALD DUMAS: I know, and that is why they have called for an investigation because the United States has said it did not happen and Aristide has said it did happen. So there is a, if you like, a difference of opinion on what actually happened. So that was why CARICOM called for this investigation. But my understanding is that no formal request has yet been made.

GWEN IFILL: President Aristide is right now in Jamaica, not very far from Haiti, not there under asylum, but living there to be near his family. This is something which has made Prime Minister Latortue not so happy. How is that working its way through? Does the U.N. have a role in working its way through as well as CARICOM?

REGINALD DUMAS: The U.N. has been speaking through me, if you like, as Kofi Annan’s special adviser, to both sides, hoping to arrive at some kind of accord. So far this has not happened. The Latortue government takes the view, which I can understand, that Aristide is in Jamaica, which is very close to Haiti, and that he can use his proximity to Haiti to try to whip up support among his people in Haiti, which could lead to further tension.

The Jamaican government, on the other hand, says that they have invited Aristide there for humanitarian reasons because his children were in Florida and he and his wife were with the Central African republic, so it’s a question of having the family close.

GWEN IFILL: Right.

REGINALD DUMAS: I don’t think that either side is quite accepting the view of the other side. And the tension continues, which was why at the meeting last week the CARICOM people felt they could not yet sit with Mr. Latortue.

GWEN IFILL: And finally, you have called for a massive and sustained effort in Haiti, a multinational effort in Haiti. There have been, what, ten U.N. and OAS missions in ten years and still Haiti still finds itself in this position of collapse. What is a massive and sustained effort? Kofi Annan has said ten years or more.

REGINALD DUMAS: He says ten years or more. I have said 20 years, so I’m assuming that the "or more" can include the figure of 20 years. The fact is that the institutions of Haiti have virtually disappeared. Whether you’re talking about the army, whether you’re talking about the police that you mention, whether you’re talking about health, whether you’re talking about education, whether you’re talking about justice, whether you’re talking about the rule of law, whether you’re talking about the electoral system, the institutions have essentially disappeared.

In many ways — and I’m sorry to have to say it after 200 years — in many ways one has to create a state. And that is why in my view the international community and the bilateral community, too, including the United States, should do what it can to have this, what I call, a massive and sustained effort, and that is why I spoke about 20 years, because what you have had over time is a sort of stop-start thing.

And I think we have to get away from that, you can’t have a crisis every couple of years and send in a U.N. Mission or an OAS Mission or joint U.N.-OAS Mission. You have to have a sustained effort to help the Haitian people. And that is very important. The Haitian people must be involved in any effort because it is their country.

GWEN IFILL: Reginald Dumas, thank you very much for joining us.

REGINALD DUMAS: Thank you very much.