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Crisis in Haiti

February 25, 2004 at 12:00 AM EST
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MARGARET WARNER: As violence continued in Haiti today, international diplomats were still struggling to broker a deal between President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and opposition groups demanding his ouster. A delegation came to the capital, Port-au-Prince, last Saturday to present a U.S.-drafted proposal in which Aristide would remain as president, but share power with his rivals. Secretary of State Colin Powell had said the U.S. would not endorse forcible regime change.

COLIN POWELL: We cannot buy into a proposition that says the elected president must be forced out of office by thugs and those who do not respect law.

MARGARET WARNER: Aristide promptly accepted the proposed deal Sunday, but yesterday the political and civic opposition leaders said “no.”

OPPOSITION LEADER: And there will be a worsening of the situation of violence as long as Mr. Aristide is in power…

MARGARET WARNER: The violence, which has killed 70 people, began with an armed rebel uprising three weeks ago. The rebels, who say they’re not connected to the civic opposition, now control the northern half of Haiti and are threatening to seize the capital. Yesterday, Aristide appealed for foreign assistance to his outmanned Haitian police force. Otherwise, he warned, thousands will die or flee to U.S. shores.

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE: The world sees this kind of tragedy, it is a genocide, it is a crime against humanity.

MARGARET WARNER: On Capitol Hill today, the congressional black caucus urged the president to act quickly to end the violence without waiting for a negotiated settlement.

U.S. REP. CHARLES RANGEL: We don’t want the blood, any more blood, Haitian blood on American hands, on the international community’s hands. And no matter what the French or anyone thinks of Aristide, we cannot have his life taken away on our watch.

MARGARET WARNER: Now for the latest on diplomatic efforts to solve the Haiti crisis, we turn to Luigi Einaudi. He’s assistant secretary general of the Organization of American States, he’s also the OAS point person on Haiti. He’s met frequently with President Aristide and with many of the political opposition leaders. Welcome.

LUIGI EINAUDI: Thank you very much.

MARGARET WARNER: Let’s start with what Congressman Rangel just said at the end of the tape. Is President Aristide in danger of losing his life here? Is the situation that dire?

LUIGI EINAUDI: Quite possibly. To some extent, the situation is as bad as it is because President Aristide was humiliated and nearly killed in a military coup in September of 1991. And to some extent, he has vowed never to let that happen again. And it’s one of the reasons for his attempt to control power in ways that a lot of people find objectionable. Conversely, there are people who moved against him then who are sorry they left him alive.

MARGARET WARNER: So, take us back to this weekend, this latest effort to negotiate a settlement. Secretary Powell got personally involved. He even interceded with the opposition trying to get them to agree. It failed. Give us your political analysis of why it didn’t work.

LUIGI EINAUDI: Basically, because I think that the only people who wanted it really to work are us foreigners. It’s hard to be Haitian. If you’re Haitian, you’re poor, you live in a very difficult environment. You are forced to be suspicious. You’re aware of your slave heritage. But it is also hard to be a friend of Haitians because they suspect the motives of the outsiders and I think basically for two years we’ve had a hidden war that has been escalating into the present.

And it’s interesting. The opposition did not want to do anything that might legitimate Aristide. Aristide did not want to do anything that would really undermine his power. And the outside community, to some extent, was a bit late in reacting to all of this, although we have made… the OAS has made a major effort because people felt we’ve been doing this before. We tried, learned in 1994, nothing works here.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you this. The way it has been portrayed here, Aristide was willing to share power and the opposition wasn’t. Is that the case? Or is the opposition right to be suspicious of Aristide and whether he really means it?

LUIGI EINAUDI: Yes.

MARGARET WARNER: Yes, they are right to be suspicious.

LUIGI EINAUDI: And it is also true he was willing to offer. The problem is that on the basis of past history, this distrust that I mentioned reigns supreme. And I have often said that you distrust people and they come back at me in Haiti saying it’s not that we distrust, it’s that we know that everybody’s planning how to get out of whatever commitment has been made.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, what is the connection between the civic or political opposition? First, let me ask you a quick question about them. Is that a unified group or are they also split?

LUIGI EINAUDI: Not at all.

MARGARET WARNER: No?

LUIGI EINAUDI: No, I think that in fact the one unifying factor for much of the opposition is anti-Aristide. And they themselves are divided. There are some very optimistic long-term elements here. Used to be that Haitian politics was left to the hands of the professional politicians and the military. Now the military’s largely out and disbanded, although, as we’ve seen, some of them are coming back. Now we’ve also had the growth of civic movements and the like. The problem is that they have all united in a way that creates a further polarization and division for the time being.

MARGARET WARNER: Now what’s the connection, they insist there isn’t one of course, between the political opposition in the city and these armed rebels out in the countryside. But is there a connection?

LUIGI EINAUDI: Well, if you spend all of your time talking and the government is not particularly responsive, after a while, you need a bit of bite and you don’t necessarily object that some other people take advantage and mobilize and give you some bite. The difficulty in Haiti now is that I think things have really gone to a further pass than anybody expected.

The government never expected its police to crumple the way it has. The opposition really, until recently, was hoping to provoke an armed intervention from the United States or somebody else to change things. They didn’t think they could take things into their own hands. One of the reasons they turned down the peace plan over the weekend was that they now think they don’t need the outside. They think they can win.

MARGARET WARNER: You mean because the rebels are providing the pressure?

LUIGI EINAUDI: Yes.

MARGARET WARNER: Now President Aristide, as we just saw, warned yesterday, if somebody doesn’t intervene and shore up his police force, thousands will be killed and many will try to flee to the U.S. as refugees. Do you think that’s true?

LUIGI EINAUDI: Yes, I do think that’s true.

MARGARET WARNER: On both counts?

LUIGI EINAUDI: Yes, I think the flights have already begun. The deaths are gradually growing. I think the expectation and the fear right now in Port-au-Prince itself, the capital, is that there could be loosed some terrible revenge taking. There’s a sad lesson from what’s happened in the North. There’s a report from the United Nations in Geneva, and everybody tried to put together, when fuel and food and medicine started to be blocked by these uprisings, a humanitarian corridor. I mean that’s one thing that the entire international community is in total unity about.

The U.N. is saying, and we saw the clip of some of their workers leaving now, that they have been unable to do it because and the report said this: there are too many fiefdoms with barricades and demands. That to me is a description of growing anarchy.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, do you also have a split in the international community? The way at least the wires reported, the French put out a statement seemed to be calling for a force right away and we heard President Bush say: happy to support a force but only after there is a compromise. Is there a lack of unity also among the foreign diplomats and foreign countries that would like to solve this?

LUIGI EINAUDI: I think there has been a lack of unity. Whether that lack of unity will continue under the pressure of these events is not clear. We saw Secretary Powell say very clearly, and he didn’t say just in your clip, he has repeated it a number of times recently, and when we met with him ten days ago, that we have to recognize that President Aristide is an elected president.

There are others who are less interested in that principle, and are willing to say, look, this man must go. On the other hand, I think the U.S., reeling still from the experience of 1994 when we did, under President Clinton, put Aristide back in power after the coup, but didn’t really ultimately leave feeling that we had achieved a major result, so the U.S. is not clear that it wants to go in and sort of defend a regime that’s under attack.

MARGARET WARNER: And a regime whose record it’s not exactly proud of or can’t really stand behind.

LUIGI EINAUDI: That’s right. Although frankly I think the political reasoning is that we don’t want to get involved in a conflict where we will be losing more casualties. And that is true of everybody. I think the French would like to do things, but are constrained. They’re far away. They’re the former colonial power. The Caribbean countries are small.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you about something the French said today at the end of their statement: Aristide bears ultimate responsibility for the current situation, they said. It is his decision but a new page must be opened in Haiti’s history. Do you read that as the French pressing Aristide to leave, to step down before his two years are up?

LUIGI EINAUDI: The whole French statement is very parallel to the position of the opposition and it’s a very intelligently and well-crafted position.

MARGARET WARNER: And from what you know of President Aristide, would he ever do that?

LUIGI EINAUDI: I think we are in this trouble in part because he vowed that he’d never be thrown out.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much.

LUIGI EINAUDI: Thank you.