Upheaval in Haiti
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GWEN IFILL: Jean Bertrand Aristide’s hasty departure obviously did not end Haiti’s latest crisis. But where does the island nation go from here, and who is willing to help? We turn to two Haiti-watchers for their views. Luigi Einaudi is assistant secretary general of the Organization of American States, and point man for the OAS on Haiti.
And Robert Fatton is a professor and chairman of the Woodrow Wilson department of politics at the University of Virginia. He was born in Haiti, and is now an American citizen.
Ambassador Einaudi, were you surprised at the hasty departure of President Aristide over the weekend?
LUIGI EINAUDI: I knew it might be possible, but yes, I was surprised.
GWEN IFILL: Did it seem as if…why did it seem surprising to you, because it was so hasty or because he had just been saying the day before that he had no intention of going?
LUIGI EINAUDI: Yeah, and not a question of his statements, politicians often state things that they don’t fully mean. In case of Aristide, I think that he had worked his life to be where he was and he did not give us the impression that he was really ready to go.
GWEN IFILL: Professor Fatton, what do you think changed?
ROBERT FATTON: Well, I think that what happened is that he realized that the United States and the French essentially abandoned him completely. And then he was facing the armed insurgents, and this was a fait accompli. Actually, I was not surprised by his departure, because once you heard the statement from the White House Saturday night, you knew that denouement was going to happen at any time. So this is not surprising to me. This is the typical type of change of regime that we’ve seen in the past, not only in Haiti, but also elsewhere in Latin America.
GWEN IFILL: We just heard Martin Kaste say that a lot of Aristide supporters would have been more reassured if they had heard something from him, just something calling for peace, calling for calm. Do you think that’s unusual?
ROBERT FATTON: That might have been the case if he was allowed or whether he wanted to give a speech I don’t know. But I think the situation is way past that moment, and we have to look at the current realities. And the current realities are that the people with the guns from the other side are now, are really in charge. You see there is a saying in Creole, an old one, which says that constitution c’est papier, bayonets c’est fe, and it essentially means that constitutions are made up of paper, and bayonets are made up of steel, and this is the reality of Haitian politics.
GWEN IFILL: You actually have the wording, Mr. Ambassador, of the president’s resignation letter. Could you just read some of it, some of the English translation of it to us?
LUIGI EINAUDI: Yes. Let me say that Robert Fatton is really quite right, I think there is no doubt that the situation had changed very rapidly, and I think there is no doubt to those of us who know Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s classic and very distinctive signature that he signed this paper.
And in fact, the words are the kinds of words that would make sense and which were read by Yvonne Neptune, the prime minister and for a long time the acting head of Lavalas party, so it isn’t as though this letter was sort of received. And he talks about, precisely, respect for the constitution, the constitution cannot be drowned in the blood of the Haitian people. “For that reason, tonight I am resigning in order to avoid a bloodbath. I accept to leave with the hope that there will be life and not death”.
So it’s very clear, he says he accepts to leave, and one can say that he’s saying thereby that he is not sort of volunteering, but he is facing the reality, and in that sense I think he can even be praised as facing a serious choice and deciding not, himself, to further contribute to the violence.
GWEN IFILL: Professor Fatton, as recently as last Friday, President Bush said that there would be U.S. intervention of some sort but only once a political solution had been reached. Now we have seen that President Aristide has left, but there doesn’t seem to be a political solution. What do you think changed in that formula?
ROBERT FATTON: Well, there is a very significant change in the political calculus in Haiti and that is the emergence of the armed insurgents. In other words they are now [inaudible] and they have to be taken into account. Many members of the civil opposition really didn’t want to be associated with the armed insurgents. But now whether they like it or not, they are in this together, and ultimately the fall of Mr. Aristide is truly the result of the armed insurgency. It is highly unlikely that Mr. Aristide would be out of the country now if it had not been for that armed insurgency.
GWEN IFILL: Professor Fatton, who are these armed insurgents? There have been many questions raised and even Colin Powell said today said some of them have criminal backgrounds or not the kinds of people they necessarily want to install in power. Who are they, are they as rag tag as we’ve been told and how did they reach the point where they were able to pull something like this off?
ROBERT FATTON: Well, they are not choirboys, let’s put it that way. And I think there are all kinds of questions that we’ll have to be answered. We don’t know yet who started the armed insurgency, it’s clear that it came from the Dominican Republic, and questions may indeed be asked about the role of the Dominican Republic in the whole affair.
Now what we are seeing is really the return of the army, the army had been disbanded by Mr. Aristide when he came back with the help of the United States. And there’s never been any love lost between the regime of Mr. Aristide and the army, and I think now you have a comeback of those elements, some of the [inaudible] who were the paramilitary thugs, under the military dictatorship and some soldiers who were absolutely displeased with the disbanding of the army.
GWEN IFILL: So Mr. Ambassador, if the OAS and the United Nations and the United States and France and all these other countries are supposed to come up with some sort of long lasting, this time, political solution, who do you deal with? Who is Guy Philippe?
LUIGI EINAUDI: I don’t think you deal with Guy Philippe directly. Martin Kaste gave a very interesting quick summary, and he mentioned a tripartite commission and that is something that involves a representative from the government party Lavalas, a representative from the opposition civil society groups, and a representative from the international community. And they are going to name candidates to fill various positions. The key thing here is that it’s participation, and trying to follow the law.
One of the reasons why Haiti had broken down so badly is that the rule of law really was not being followed. So the key test here is, on the one hand, stabilize the situation in terms of security, ending the looting and so forth, and I think that that has improved somewhat, but don’t believe it because underneath there’s a terrible problem. And the way to control the underneath problem is to try to do what Haiti hasn’t had, and what the international community didn’t bring itself to do before, which is to try to ensure a participative system in which Haitians of different political persuasions work together in a legal manner. We’re talking about building up the center.
GWEN IFILL: Professor Fatton, Ambassador Einaudi says this time the international community has to do what it did not do before. How did this solution, if there is a solution that would be worked out in a way that mistakes if there were mistakes in installing President Aristide and restoring him to power, can be avoided this time?
ROBERT FATTON: Well, I really think that what you need is a long-term sustained commitment on the part of the international community. If you don’t have that, you’re going to get the same problems that we’ve seen for the past ten years or so. You see, Haiti is extremely polarized. You have a very small class of haves and a huge class of have nots. And if you can’t do something about those huge inequalities, you are literally sitting on a potential explosion. This is the key problem. You see, Mr. Aristide was only a symptom of a society facing a deep, deep crisis, political crisis, moral crisis, political crisis and a massive ecological crisis. So those things are really the foundations of the predicament of the Caribbean nation.
GWEN IFILL: The rumors today and the allegations about whether President Aristide’s exit was forced or not, whether or not they’re true, does their existence in the very rumor fueled environment as Martin Kaste was talking about in Haiti right now, do they do damage to the effort, Mr. Ambassador, to get things on track?
LUIGI EINAUDI: Yes, they could do damage, particularly if they affect the unity of the international community. I think if the international community maintains its unity and the interesting thing is here that there’s only one plan going, it’s the CARICOM consequence of steps, which CARICOM did not invent with any -
GWEN IFILL: The Caribbean nations -
LUIGI EINAUDI: — the Caribbean nations plan. That’s a sensible straight forward kind of plan. And it begins with creating a council of wise men to replace the congress, then you get a new government and you aim down the road and hopefully not too far down the road for elections. So there is a plan, and if the international community keeps its eye on that plan, we can find out whether or not this change is one that’s going to prove beneficial and stable, or whether it is as some people allege just a nefarious coup by other words.
GWEN IFILL: Well, to use that word again, Professor Fatton, that’s the word that Charles Rangel, the congressman from New York used today, he posed the question, what about this is not a coup? What would your answer to that question be?
ROBERT FATTON: Well, let me put it that way. Mr. Aristide was faced with the proposition that he could not refuse. In other words, there were no exit [sic], the Americans abandoned him, the French abandoned him, and the insurgents were at the gates of Port-au-Prince. From what I gather, his private security was no longer his private security, it was an American firm based in San Francisco. So you can call it whatever you want. The fact is that Mr. Aristide did not resign voluntarily. Whether it’s a coup or proposition that you can’t refuse is really now just moot. The president could not withstand the opposition that he faced.
GWEN IFILL: Professor Robert Fatton and Ambassador Luigi Einaudi, thank you very much.