U.S. Cautions Aristide Over Divisive Action
The Clinton Administration has warned exiled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide that he can expect continuing U.S. support after he regains power only if he scrupulously follows Haiti’s constitution and prevents his followers from taking revenge against the country’s wealthy elite who opposed his return, U.S. officials said Friday.
In a series of private meetings, Administration officials admonished Aristide to put aside the rhetoric of class warfare that marked his earlier career as a firebrand Roman Catholic priest and seek instead to reconcile Haiti’s rich and poor.
The Administration also urged Aristide to stick closely to free-market economics and to abide by the Caribbean nation’s constitution--which gives substantial political power to the Parliament while imposing tight limits on the presidency.
Aristide demonstrated in a high-profile speech at the White House on Friday that he is an apt pupil.
“We will not allow artificial lines to divide us,” Aristide said. “Members of political parties, members of Parliament, civilians, members of the military, all Haitians, let us stand to rebuild our nation. . . . We say no to vengeance. We say no to retaliation. Let us embrace peace. When? Now. Is it too late? No. The time is now.”
To be sure, Aristide has spoken of reconciliation for much of his three years of U.S. exile. His supporters say that Aristide is determined to help Haiti escape its own violent history.
But Aristide’s critics on Capitol Hill have seized on a speech he made shortly after his December, 1990, election that seemed to sanction the killing by his supporters of political opponents. Although Aristide’s backers claimed that the speech should not be taken literally, the Administration is concerned that Aristide could become an embarrassment if he reverts to his earlier rhetorical style.
Officials conceded that Aristide, a populist priest who was suspended by his Roman Catholic order for inciting class hatreds, is the biggest question mark in the Administration’s Haiti policy. If Aristide reconciles Haiti’s impoverished majority with the country’s elite, the result would be a victory both for him and for U.S. policy. But if Aristide encourages his supporters to even scores after three years of repressive dictatorship, it will undercut a major rationale for U.S. action: ending the gross human rights violations of the military government.
In recent weeks Aristide has met almost daily with senior U.S. officials and with potential members of his Cabinet to plan for his return to power. According to Aristide aides and U.S. officials, the meetings have taken place on the assumption that Aristide will soon regain the presidency either peacefully--if Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, the military leader, relinquishes power--or as the result of a U.S. invasion.
U.S. officials said they hope to install Aristide in the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince about 10 days after U.S. troops land, a schedule that an Aristide aide said is acceptable to the ousted president. These officials said Aristide’s return will be marked by pomp and ceremony if security conditions permit. But if remnants of the Haitian army are staging terrorist raids, the arrival will be low-key.
Administration officials have urged Aristide to reach out to some of his political opponents in setting up his new government. The exiled president, who resisted such suggestions earlier, now has agreed to set up a broad-based coalition regime.
“Do we encourage him to broaden his coalition? Do we encourage him to be inclusive?” State Department spokesman Mike McCurry asked Friday. “Do we encourage him to return to Haiti in the spirit of national reconciliation? Of course we do, but I think President Aristide has already indicated himself that’s exactly his intent.”
Another Administration official put it more bluntly: “For democracy to work, there has to be an understanding between Aristide and his opponents. Is he going to go the narrow route when he returns? We don’t know. We’ve told him what we think. And there are some encouraging signs.”
The official, who declined to be identified, said that the Administration has made it clear to Aristide that if he fails to reach a consensus with Parliament, the United States will not try to prop up his regime.
Ever since Aristide established his exile home in Washington after the Sept. 30, 1991, coup, his relationship with the U.S. government has been uneven. Although then-President George Bush called for the restoration of Haitian democracy, the deposed president always doubted the sincerity of the U.S. effort.
Clinton’s inauguration in January, 1993, brought a brief honeymoon. But Clinton’s former special adviser on Haiti, Lawrence Pezzullo, concluded that Aristide was unwilling to broaden his government or to cooperate with Parliament. Pezzullo left his post and subsequently became a severe critic of Aristide.
For his part, the exiled president concluded for a time that Clinton was not serious about restoring Haitian democracy. Now, however, Aristide is satisfied that the U.S. government is doing everything necessary to bring him back to power.
“President Clinton, thank you for an historic message last night,” Aristide said in his Friday speech to a White House gathering that included the President, Vice President Al Gore and representatives of the 24 countries that have agreed to provide troops to participate in a U.S.-led invasion.
“As you said, there is no question that the people of Haiti want to embrace democracy. It is the restoration of democracy that will bring peace for all, reconciliation among all, respect and justice for every single citizen,” Aristide said.
In the speech, and in recent radio broadcasts to Haiti, Aristide reached out to the island’s wealthy business people, many of whom are supporters of the military government.
“I take this opportunity to say to the entire private sector, all the wealthy, all those in Haiti who have money: The time has come. Your president is happy to say to you . . . The Haitian government that protected you in the past is going to continue to protect your private business,” Aristide said on Radio Democracy, a U.S.-funded station that broadcasts to Haiti.
In his White House speech, Aristide seemed to transform himself from firebrand mystic to policy wonk concerned with the day-to-day work of government.
“The decline in national production by over 10% in 1992, the alienation of foreign investment, the accelerated depreciation of our currency and the 60% rise in inflation must be reversed,” he said. “The security and stability that will come with the restoration of democracy will create the environment where growth is possible. The 140,000 jobs lost in the industrial sector will be restored.”
He even tried to avoid inflated expectations, promising only to move economically “from misery to poverty with dignity.”