Secretary of State Warren Christopher met briefly with Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Sunday and spoke at a deeply emotional graduation ceremony at the Presidential Palace for the first 375 cadets of a new national police force.
Christopher cut short his planned two-day trip to this nation still recovering from three years of military rule, returning to Washington on Sunday night.
He had been planning to attend the 25th annual meeting here of the Organization of American States, which formally begins today at a Club Med resort outside Port-au-Prince. Instead, Christopher held brief meetings with several Latin American foreign ministers Sunday before returning to Washington.
The OAS meeting is being held here as a way to endorse the U.S.-led operation that returned Aristide to power last fall. A U.N. force of 6,000 troops, including 2,400 U.S. personnel, is still in Haiti providing security but is scheduled to leave the country by next February. Aristide wants to disband the Haitian army and rely on the new 6,000-member police force to provide national security when the U.N. multinational force pulls out.
The police graduation was an important watershed for Aristide's government, and the ceremony was emotional for both Aristide and the new graduates trained under the supervision of the U.S. Justice Department.
Each new police officer held up a copy of Haiti's democratic constitution. The officers shouted "Honor, respect" as Aristide swore them to uphold the constitutional laws.
"Never again will the uniform and a gun be used to suppress the rights of our people," Aristide said. "A uniform and a gun will never again lead us to tyranny and brutality. The sons and daughters, and our constitution, represent our future."