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What's at Stake in Haiti?

Think Tank Transcripts:What's at Stake in Haiti?

MR. WATTENBERG: Hello. I'm Ben Wattenberg. It's been three yearssince the Army seized power in Haiti. Now President Clinton may sendin the Marines. Is that the best thing for Haiti? Is it the bestthing for America?

Joining us today to sort through the conflict and the consensusare Elliott Abrams, former assistant secretary of State forinterAmerican affairs and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute;Bernard Aronson, also a former assistant secretary of State forinterAmerican affairs and now national international adviser toGoldman Sachs; Ian Martin, a senior associate at the CarnegieEndowment for International Peace and a former director for humanrights at the United Nations serving in Haiti; and Lorenzo Morris,professor of political science at Howard University.

The question before this house: What's at stake in Haiti? Thisweek on 'Think Tank.'

In 1804, Haiti became the second nation in the Americas to achieveindependence after a slave rebellion overthrew the French. But itsoon succumbed to political chaos. In 1915, President Woodrow Wilsonordered U.S. Marines into Haiti to protect U.S. economic andstrategic interests. They stayed for 19 years.

Then from 1957 to 1986, Haiti was ruled by the notorious fatherand son dynasty, Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier. The Duvaliers usedgangs of armed thugs, called the Ton-tons Macoutes, to maintain theirrule.

But in December of 1990, Haiti held elections. Roman Catholicpriest Jean-Bertrand Aristide won that election with 67 percent ofthe vote, but a year later, claiming misrule by Aristide, a militaryjunta led by General Raoul Cedras seized power, forcing Aristide toflee. After the coup, the military cracked down and the killing andbeating of opponents once again became routine. Negotiations aimed atrestoring Aristide to power broke down.

Haiti is located in the West Indies, 600 miles from Florida. Ithas a population of more than six million and is slightly larger thanthe state of Maryland.

The United Nations, led by the United States, has imposed a seriesof ever-tightening economic sanctions against Haiti. Already thepoorest country in the Western Hemisphere, sanctions are making adesperate situation even worse. As conditions deteriorate, thousandsof Haitians have taken to the sea in leaky boats usually headed forthe United States. The U.S. Coast Guard patrolling off Haiticontinues to pick refugees from the seas. Today nearly 17,000refugees are housed at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Base, Cuba.

On Capitol Hill, in a strange turn of political events, manyformer Cold War doves are pushing for a U.S. invasion of Haiti, whilemany former hawks want the U.S. to stay out. Now 14 warships and 2800U.S. Marines circle the island and practice invasion maneuvers, butthe Haitian military junta shows no sign of backing down in the faceof U.S. threats. Not yet.

Professor Lorenzo Morris of Howard University, I wonder if wecould begin by trying to learn a little bit about Haiti. Americansseem to think it's some kind of a mystical, crazy place with voodooand all kinds of stuff. Let's go around the room and see what we knowabout the country.

MR. MORRIS: Well, I think it is a little bit mystical in that ithas a special culture that obviously has a voodoo influence, but ithas something quite obvious, which is a strong historicalrelationship with the U.S., even though it is not a formalrelationship. When the revolution occurred at the beginning of the1800s, the U.S. -- that is, the presidents -- recommended, fromJefferson to Madison, an embargo, to quell the influence of the newlyrebellious slaves.

The largest slave rebellion in the U.S. was led by a man whocontacted the leader of the Haitian rebellion. There is an influencethere that is significant, if not dramatic. When you get to thiscentury and the U.S. occupation, there was an influence over theclass structure which led to that separation that seems so brutalnow, between this elite and the peasants in Haiti. It didn't lead toit alone, but it certainly helped to encourage it.

Today, and with the election of Aristide several years ago, we seethat most of the Haitians look to the U.S. as a major influence. Itwas difficult for most of the Haitians to believe that the U.S. wasnot involved in influencing the elections, and more importantly, it'sdifficult for them to believe that the U.S. was not involved inremoving the last Duvalier dictatorship, nor that it was not involvedin keeping it there.

And finally, they see in this military a latent U.S. presence.Certainly we in the United States don't support that presence or seethat presence, but a long historical image of a U.S. hanging overtheir borders and hanging over their waters is difficult to dispel.

MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. That was a brilliant brief exposition of 200years of history. I salute you, sir.

Ian Martin, you were in Haiti for six months fairly recently. Whatcan you tell us about the country, the place?

MR. MARTIN: I indeed just came to know Haiti last year, and I cameto it as someone taking responsibility for a team of observerslooking up close at the human rights situation. And what I found wasa society where 200 years of history had dealt the great majority ofthe population a very rough deal indeed, and where in 1990 and 1991,for the first time, the great majority of that population experiencedtremendous hope that there was to be a new beginning in theirhistory, the first time that the majority of that population electedtheir own leader and some months when some very significantdevelopments began that would have given them a degree of security intheir lives that they had never known.

MR. WATTENBERG: Secretaries Abrams and Aronson, old colleagues,former comrades-in-arms in a variety of causes over the years, whatcan you -- Elliott perhaps first, and then Bernie -- what can you addto this picture of Haiti itself? What are we talking about here?

MR. ABRAMS: Well, let's remember first that Haiti is and has beenfor decades and decades the poorest country in this hemisphere. It isdifferent from most countries in Latin America or in North America inthat the level of poverty and therefore the level of, for example,education is worse than anywhere else in this hemisphere.

It's also the country with probably the least experience withdemocracy in this hemisphere. So building democracy in Haiti, givingpeople that economic and political chance is probably harder andyou're starting from a lower base of opportunity than anywhere elsein this hemisphere. It's very tough.

MR. ARONSON: I agree with everything that was said. The only pointI would add, and it's really a refinement, is that Haiti is very muchisolated from the currents in the hemisphere. It doesn't really fitin the Caribbean Basin. It's not part of the British traditions andthe English-speaking Caribbean.

MR. WATTENBERG: It's, as we say, a Francophone country; they speakFrench.

MR. ARONSON: They speak French or Creole. And it doesn't reallyfit in Latin America. And all of the democracies in the CaribbeanBasin are English-speaking or Spanish-speaking.

And secondly, Haiti has been independent since 1804, whereas mostof the other countries in that region only gained their independencein this century, some of them only in the last 30 or 40 years. So ithas not had the ties that the other countries had, and it is isolatedin many ways. If you try to say which country in the region could goand talk to the Haitians, really none except perhaps the DominicanRepublic, where there are some military-to-military ties, but eventhere, there is a lot of tension between the two governments. So

MR. WATTENBERG: Lorenzo indicated close ties between Haiti and theUnited States. Are we their closest buddy?

MR. ARONSON: I think that is true in the sense that politicallythe United States has had the most influence on Haiti in this centuryof any other country either in the hemisphere or outside thehemisphere. MR. WATTENBERG: Ian Martin, you are in favor of anAmerican invasion of Haiti. You have written that.

MR. MARTIN: I wouldn't put it as simply as that, but I think we'venow reached a situation where that is probably the least bad pathforward.

MR. WATTENBERG: Lorenzo, are you in favor of the invasion?z

MR. MORRIS: Like Ian, I wouldn't put it that simply. My firstpreference is for a U.S.-supported independent effort on the part ofHaitians. Of course the repressiveness of the regime makes thatappear to be impossible. But I find it astonishing that the U.S.cannot identify any resistance movement either outside the country orinside the country. If you consider the possibility of supporting aregime that cannot at the same time be mobilized independently of thesupport, it's a real problem.

So yes, I'm in favor of an intervention, but only because I seeour presence as so significant historically that we're simplyredefining the nature of the intervention.

MR. ABRAMS: There is another issue here that we'd better throw inright now because it's going to come up not only in Haiti, but inlots of countries in what we used to call the Third World.

A lot of countries are now having their first free election. Whathappens if that free election is freely won by someone who isn't ademocrat? It's happened: in Algeria, the Islamic Salvation Front,presumably not, from their words, completely opposed to democracy.Islamic fundamentalists -- they won the election. What do you do?

In the case of Haiti, somebody won an election, clearly, easily,landslide -- Aristide. That doesn't make him a democrat. And theissue that arises to me in Haiti is, what happens when someone iselected who is not a democrat and who proves in his time in power

MR. WATTENBERG: He says he's a democrat. MR. ABRAMS: Well, thatdoesn't matter. What matters is what he does as president, and Iwould

MR. WATTENBERG: Can you make the case that because you don't likewhat Bill Clinton has done in his government that he was not electeddemocratically?

MR. ABRAMS: Of course not, but Bill Clinton did not send mobs tosurround the Congress, at least not to my knowledge. What we'retalking about here is a real problem that's going to come up, hasalready arisen in many countries. What happens when someone does notbehave as a democrat in office? Is there a point at which that personforfeits his right to be considered a democrat and to get the supportthat the international community gives democrats?

MR. WATTENBERG: Bernie, as I understand it, you are opposed,although perhaps for some different reasons, also to an interventionin Haiti.

MR. ARONSON: I don't think we should do that right now. I don'tthink we should take it off the table as a possibility either. Youknow, there are really three ways you can deal with Haiti. You cancapitulate, you can negotiate or you can invade.

And I would like to see the threat of an invasion used to enhancethe ability to negotiate. I don't think we did as good a job as wecould have -- and I'm not pointing fingers because I was involved inthe policy as well -- to try to reach a negotiated politicalsettlement, and I think we could have exhausted that possibility morethan we did.

Aristide abused power when he was in office, and that has to befactored into any solution. And I think it's in Haiti's interest andit's in President Aristide's interest to see a government arise thatis legitimate, that has him as the president, but is broad-based andhas the support of as many sectors in that country as possible.

And if you want to a good model, look at South Africa. ThereNelson Mandela was wise enough to reach out and try to bring all ofthe factions, many of whom have been killing each other for years,and try to create some government of unity and that gave confidenceto all sides.

MR. WATTENBERG: Hold on. Lorenzo.

MR. MORRIS: Well, I just wanted to comment that the saddest thingin the world, someone said after Nkrumah was overthrown, was to bethe only democrat

MR. WATTENBERG: This is the former president of Ghana.

MR. MORRIS: Ghana, yes -- to be the only democrat in thegovernment. And movements generally lead to changes in government,and Aristide headed a movement. A movement can't be fundamentallydemocratic in the way that most Americans like to think of it. Anelection is an introduction to democracy. It's not the declaration ofit. He won an election with an introduction and an offer to pursuedemocracy. It was difficult for him or difficult for others in theregime to guarantee it, just as it will be difficult for Mandela inSouth Africa.

And I think that's part of the problem. What happens then is thatthere are uncertain rules. One of the problems in any country likethis is that the party systems are shallow. They may have a lot ofpeople, but there is no structures to reinforce them, as we have inthe Democratic and Republican Party.

So in a sense, it would be harsh -- it may be reasonable tocriticize Aristide, but it would be harsh to say that he could do alot to assure a democratic structure since the structures weren'tthere.

MR. ABRAMS: Yeah, but we're not talking about assuring. I'mtalking about -- you know, when we talk about his human rightsviolations, we're talking about encouraging mobs to surroundParliament to prevent a vote of no-confidence in his prime minister.

Haiti's problem -- one way of summing it up is that they don'thave a Mandela; they have an Aristide. And that's been a problemimpossible to overcome.

MR. MARTIN: There's a great exaggeration as to how great a problemthat is. I think President Aristide is a democrat, not an absolute,perfect democrat -- I don't meet a lot of those, but a real democrat.And the extent to which the public debate here has begun to be basedon a completely distorted account of the experience during 1991 is avery serious problem, a very serious falsification of the record, inmy view.

I was watching the human rights situation during that period fromthe vantage point of Amnesty International, and like everybody elsein the human rights community, we would assess that period as by farthe least bad period in terms of human rights violations in Haiti anda period in which some extremely positive developments were underway.

There was a clash of two kinds of democracy during that period.From 1986 onward, there was a great flowering of popular democraticmovements, and at the same time, there was a Parliament which in manyways failed to reflect the political change that was taking place inHaiti. And they came into conflict, and I have criticisms to make ofhow President Aristide handled that situation.

But to suggest that this is a situation where someonefundamentally anti-democratic came to power by democratic means,which may be the case in Algeria, is certainly not the case in Haiti.

MR. ABRAMS: Well, I don't see any reason to believe that Aristide,on the basis of a life's record, is fundamentally committed todemocracy. It seems to me he views it as instrumental. It got him topower, it may allow him to do some of the things he wants to do inHaiti, but when people get in his way, or got in his way aspresident, he used undemocratic means to get them out of his way.

MR. WATTENBERG: Elliott, let Lorenzo

MR. MORRIS: I just wanted to comment that in the literature ofpolitical psychology from Erik Erikson to the present, every movementleader appears undemocratic. Movements don't generate the kind ofimage -- if you look at one thing that I can perhaps agree with youon that he didn't do that's traditional of American democracies is hedidn't do the public relations things. He didn't do that kind ofoutreach.

He had anti-American rhetoric, and he talked about the elitepechan vildez [ph], the rule of the wealthy in Haiti, in a way thatsuggested they were threatening the survival of democracy. Well,certainly they were threatening the survival of many of the peasants,but he talked about them in ways that were inconsistent with image.

And I think some of that is image, some of that is naturalmovement transition. A movement, it has to be a tightly organizedunit and

MR. WATTENBERG: All right, can I ask -- the driving force, itseems to me, politically now is coming from the Congressional BlackCaucus. Do you see that that -- is that a correct statement, thedriving force for an invasion?

MR. MARTIN: It's a partially correct statement. I mean, certainlyif you look back to the administration's change in position in May,it wasn't just the Congressional Black Caucus, it was a widerconstituency of criticism of the previous policy.

MR. MORRIS: Certainly to the extent the refugees are the issue,then there's a whole Florida constituency that -- the Floridagovernor and everyone else that are pushing for it as well. I thinkthe driving force from the Caucus is for some solution that is lessbrutal, or attempted solution that is less brutal than the sanctions.

MR. WATTENBERG: What about the Congressional Black Caucus?

MR. ABRAMS: Well, I think race plays a -- I think the Black Caucushas had a large impact, or the black community more generally,because Randall Robinson of TransAfrica, the guy who went on thehunger strike, is not part of the Black Caucus.

But I think race is critical. It's hard for me to believe thatthere would be this much resistance in the United States to a groupof refugees who were not black, and indeed we do not resist any othergroup of refugees as much as we resist Haitian refugees.

MR. WATTENBERG: Bernie, let's finish up the race thing. What aboutrace?

MR. ARONSON: I think it's an issue in Haitian politics and hasbeen for a long time, and it's an issue in our politics. But itshouldn't drive the debate. We should decide whether our values andour interests are at stake here, and if they are, to what extent andwhat should we do about it, and try to have that debate.

I think Elliott is right, that if the refugees were white, weprobably would respond somewhat differently, though the refugee issueis very complicated.

MR. WATTENBERG: I know. Let me ask you guys -- I want to go on toone other question, which is what do we think of Clinton's foreignpolicy? But I first want to ask both Bernie and Elliott thisquestion.

Over the years, you have from sort of different perspectives, anddifferent parties recently, been very frustrated by the fact that theliberal wing of the Democratic Party, not just the CongressionalBlack Caucus, but a big and perhaps growing part of the DemocraticParty has been afraid to use force, or thought that America, wheneverit uses force or flexes its muscles, is a malign force.

Aren't you tempted, when you see the liberals who you have alongsaid, hey, why don't those guys give us a break one time and showthat we're a world leader and we can do something, aren't you temptedto say, hey, let's go with it this time, get everybody on board?

MR. ABRAMS: No, no. And not because -- I fear the results of thisintervention would not be happy ones for the United States. This is aquestion of it's easy to get in, how do you get out. And so what youmight prove, even to those very liberals, is that they had it wrongthat time and that intervention really is always a morass and youjust shouldn't do it. This is the wrong place to prove the principlethat intervention is really a terrific thing.


MR. ARONSON: Look, when you go to war, even against an army thatis as pathetic as the Haitian army, real people's lives are at risk,American lives and Haitian lives. And the last reason we should dothat is to score some political point. I mean that is a very seriousdecision, and we ought to make it based on the principles that are atstake.

And I'd like to make one point about

MR. WATTENBERG: Well, isn't one of the principles that America isprepared to respond with muscle when it has to for democracy?

MR. ARONSON: Potentially the credibility of the country is alegitimate issue, but that's different from convincing some wing ofthe Democratic Party that they should have had a different view allalong. I don't think that that's a basis for dealing with Haiti atall.

MR. WATTENBERG: All right. Let me move on to what I think is goingto be our final aspect of this thing. Ian Martin -- let's go around,or interrupt, if you would like -- how has the Clinton administrationhandled this deal?

MR. MARTIN: He started out with a pretty rough situation becausethe best moment for getting clear, firm messages to the Haitianmilitary would have been immediately after the coup, and he came inwhen there had already been a long period of time of their learningthat the U.S. administration was not serious about wanting them out.

He set a different policy. I don't believe it was pursued firmly,toughly, consistently enough, and it eventually collapsed with thewithdrawal of the Harlan County. And then he changed policy againthis May, and I broadly support the policy that has been set sincethis May of attempting to get the Haitian military out by tough,targeted sanctions, but being prepared to back that up with thecredible use of force.

But if you look at the underlying policy, I think there was aserious attempt from spring '93 onwards to achieve a peacefulsolution, which collapsed because there weren't tough enough messagesunderlying it. I think there has been a change of policy which hasnow brought a real possibility that the military could still beforced out by sanctions, but the necessity to proceed to themultilateral use of force if it fails.


MR. MORRIS: Well, actually, I have many good things to say aboutClinton. This would not be one of them. And I think that it startedoff very poorly, and that's why my criticism would be severe. I thinkwe've inadequately and inappropriately imposed sanctions, aggravatedthe impression that the military could survive, both on their part --and they said that in many ways -- and on the parts of the peasants,who might have been able to resist in a greater way than they have.

However, in the past few months, I think given the options, he hascome around. The ambiguities of his past policy are the ambiguitiesof our policy. Did we care about Haiti or was the refugee presenceenough of a threat?

Technically, the refugee presence was not enough of a threat ifyou compare it to any other refugee situation. Rwanda, a countryone-fifth the size of ours -- Zaire is taking 10 times the number ina short period of time. I mean, we could absorb everybody in Haitiwho wants to get on a boat and they would be unnoticed if it were notfor their racial image.

So I think there were ambiguities in our national concepts and inthe Congress which Clinton expressed. I think given thoseambiguities, he has in the past few months come to a few clearoptions, with the first preference seemingly for multilateralintervention.

MR. WATTENBERG: Bernie, Clinton?

MR. ARONSON: Look, anybody who's dealt with Haiti ought to behumble in criticizing the U.S. administration because it's a verydifficult problem, there aren't easy answers, and we have realstakes. I think Aristide is legitimate. We should defend hisdemocratic election. But he also committed some abuses, that have tobe taken into account.

I give the administration credit for trying to solve the problem.I think they ought to make a better effort, a greater effort topursue a bipartisan policy. And the other side should, too. TheUnited States cannot do anything as difficult as restore a democraticgovernment to Haiti if we're polarized along partisan lines. CentralAmerica proves that. So I think all sides should try to cool therhetoric and stop pointing fingers. We're trying to do somethingthat's very difficult. We're not going to do it if we're totallydivided as a country along party lines.

MR. WATTENBERG: Elliott, you get the last shot. Tell me about theClinton policy in Haiti.

MR. ABRAMS: It's hard to see how it could have been worse, in ourpolicy to destroy the economy and impose misery on the poorestcountry in this hemisphere in an effort to restore its president, aperson who went in office, violated many, many democratic norms.

The policy of defining democracy as Aristide and Aristide asdemocracy was a mistake to begin with. To add to it the infliction ofmisery as the tool of American policy has produced enormous numbersof refugees and a true humanitarian disaster in Haiti. It just seemsto me it's hard to think how we could have done more harm.

MR. WATTENBERG: On that note, alas -- I think we've heard a lot ofnews here -- we are going to have to close. Thank you, ElliottAbrams, Lorenzo Morris, Bernard Aronson, and Ian Martin.

And thank you. As you know, this is a new program, and we haveappreciated hearing from you very much. Please send us your commentsand questions to the address on the screen.

For 'Think Tank,' I'm Ben Wattenberg. END

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