U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: Latin America Bureau

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
95/06/02 Briefing on Haiti
Office of the Spokesman

[Excerpts from Daily Press Briefing of June 2, 1995]

ON THE RECORD BRIEFING
ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE ALEXANDER WATSON
AND
AMBASSADOR HARRIET BABBITT

JUNE 2, 1995

MS. SHELLY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We're going to have our briefing in two parts today. We are going to have a pause after we have this briefing before we go in and cover the rest of the topics. I hope that won't be too long. So we will start with the briefing that we had announced to you before, which as you know is an ON THE RECORD briefing with Assistant Secretary Watson and Ambassador Harriet Babbitt, who as you know is our Ambassador to the OAS.

So we'll start with that, have a brief pause after that, and then we will go on with questions on other subjects.

Alexander Watson is, of course, well and favorably known to you, but I think it's the first opportunity that we've had to welcome OAS Ambassador Harriet Babbitt to the State Department press briefing. She is the Permanent Representative of the United States to the Organization of American States. She's an accomplished attorney with a distinguished background in private and public service. She brings to this very important diplomatic post a wealth of international experience, particularly in human rights and democratic transitions.

In her capacity as the Permanent Representative to the OAS, she's chaired a number of key OAS bodies. In l993-l994, she chaired the OAS committee that monitored compliance of the embargo against the military regime in Haiti. For the first three months of l994, she was also chair of the OAS Permanent Council.

She's currently Chair of the Working Group that coordinates the Organization's Implementation of Initiatives, endorsed by the Hemispheric leaders of the Summit of the Americas held in Miami in December of l994.

Ambassador Babbitt was an attorney with Robbins and Green and held a number of legal and financial posts in Arizona. She was a Director of City Bank Arizona and a member of Board of Advisors of U.S. West Telephone Company.

Her list of achievements is very long and very distinguished.

So without any further ado, let me now pass the microphone to my guest briefers for today; and, of course, they will be delighted to take your questions following some opening remarks. So if I can invite both of you to come up to the podium, I guess we'll begin with some short remarks by Assistant Watson, after which we'll be hearing from Ambassador Babbitt.

Thank you very much.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: Thank you, Christine.

Just very briefly to lay out for you, what the Secretary will be doing over the weekend after he comes back from Bosnia and before he heads out to the Middle East.

He wanted definitely to make some time for these events in Port-au- Prince. So he's going there to do three things, basically:

-- to reinforce our commitment to democracy and the economic recovery of Haiti and to highlight the vital role that the Organization of American States has played in the restoration of democracy and of President Aristide in Haiti.

-- and, secondly, to review with his counterparts the progress that has been made so far on implementation of the commitments undertaken at the Summit of the Americas in Miami last December and to focus our efforts on the key issues we should be addressing with more energy at this point.

-- and, third, to support and manifest his support for the reforms and policy reorientation that the OAS is undertaking under the dynamic leadership of Secretary General Cesar Gaviria.

Let me turn the mike over to Ambassador Babbitt now to talk a little bit about the OAS, and then I can come back and talk about the non-OAS portions of this visit.

AMBASSADOR BABBITT: Thank you very much. I'd be happy to take questions, but I thought it might be useful to give some background about the OAS -- what it is, and what a General Assembly is.

It is the Annual Meeting of the 34 Foreign Ministers, during which the Foreign Ministers formalize the work that the rest of us have been doing all year long and task the OAS with the work for the following year.

This will be a special one, both because we're having a new Secretary General, Cesar Gaviria, who sort of epitomizes the new OAS. The election of a dynamic and energetic former president is a signal from the Hemisphere that there are greater expectations of the OAS.

There will be items on the agenda that are new -- items with regard to corruption and the undermining effect that it has with respect to democracy and respect to trade in the Hemisphere; confidence- and security-building measures dealing with the whole range of Hemispheric security issues; and, of course, the democracy issues, which are what distinguish the OAS from other regional organizations.

The meeting of Foreign Ministers in Haiti will take place, with respect to Haiti, on Monday; and that is a closing of the meeting of Foreign Ministers, which opened the day of the coup in l99l. It is an activity of the OAS of which the OAS is very proud.

In l99l, on the very day of the coup, under a new l080 resolution mechanism in the OAS, the Foreign Ministers agreed to meet. All 34 Ministers agreed to work on behalf of the restoration of the constitutionally elected government in Haiti. That's a very new mechanism and a unique mechanism among regional organizations. If there's a coup in Asia, the ASEAN Foreign Ministers don't meet; there's no formal mechanism. And the fact that this Hemisphere has one is a great statement in support of democracy.

Last year, at the General Assembly in Brazil, President Aristide came, spoke to the General Assembly, and invited all of the Foreign Ministers and all of us back to Haiti for this General Assembly. There were many skeptics in the crowd, but it was invitation which was accepted with anticipation; and we will go back on Sunday to celebrate the return of democracy to Haiti and formalize the acceptance of President Aristide's invitation.

Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: Let me just touch briefly on the Secretary's program on the bilateral, if you will -- Haiti side of the agenda, first.

He will be officiating, really, with President Aristide at the graduation ceremony of the first class of civilian police to come out of the new Police Academy. I know you're aware that is an extremely important development in the history of Haiti with elimination now of the armed forces and the replacement of the interim police by the new civilian police. This will be the force that maintains law and order in the country, and this is the first graduating class of these people -- who have been trained in the Academy largely by American, French, and Canadian teachers and trainers.

Then he will, of course, be meeting with President Aristide and having a substantive discussion with him on a couple of occasions. He will also visit our troops, and he will have a session with the two representatives of the United Nations in Haiti right now -- former Algerian Foreign Minister Brahimi, who heads the U.N. Mission in Haiti, and General Kinzer, who is the head of the military component of that.

Then one of the things he'll do when he first arrives there after going to the graduating ceremony will be chairing of the meeting that I mentioned before of his colleagues to discuss the progress we've made in implementing the commitments we undertook at the Summit of the Americas last December in Miami and sort of focusing our attention on the areas that we think deserve most attention right now.

There's been quite a lot of progress in the six months since the Summit. Just to tick off a couple of things for you at this point without going into too great detail, obviously on trade we've had a series of meetings around the Hemisphere -- including one here last week, that will culminate, if you will, in a meeting in Denver on June 30 of the Trade Ministers of the Hemisphere to lay out the schedule and priorities for the ongoing negotiating process to create a free trade area of the Americas in 2005.

There will be a second meeting of Ministers of Trade in March of next year, but this is the first one.

Following immediately after that meeting will be a meeting co- hosted by Ron Brown and Mickey Kantor, where the private sector gets a chance to meet with the officials of governments to talk about the future of trade and into Hemispheric integration. They'll be focusing on a wide variety of very specific kinds of issues -- transportation, communications, energy, et cetera -- and we can give you a full list of those if you're interested.

As Hattie has already mentioned, the Secretary General of the OAS has proposed readjusting and reorienting the priorities of the OAS to deal with the mandate it received at the Summit of the Americas -- particularly focusing on strengthening the efforts to support democracy and human rights around the Hemisphere, and also setting up the efforts to put together a compendium of trade arrangements in the Hemisphere so that when the Trade Ministers are talking about trade issues they have a good factual basis of all the 23 trade arrangements in the Hemisphere.

It's important, I think, to note that the Inter-American Development Bank is now committed to several billion dollars that it wasn't going to have before to focus on health and education over the next five years.

The Pan-American Health Organization has just launched a program to eradicate measles in the Hemisphere.

We've had meetings on combating money-laundering, and they'll be a conclusion of our efforts to deal with money-laundering on a Hemispheric basis in a meeting this fall.

And we have made more progress on developing a counternarcotics strategy, to which all the countries of the Hemisphere can adhere.

On the interesting question of corruption, which assumed a central role in Miami, we've had some work between the OAS and the OECD in Europe about how to work together to reduce bribery and procurement and things like that.

Then, of course, we've moved forward on eliminating lead gasoline in the hemisphere. Several countries have taken important steps in that regard. It has a tremendous impact on the welfare of children in the hemisphere. And we also have been working closely -- the United States has -- with the Central Americans on sustainable developments.

Those are some of the things that they'll be talking about at that meeting. So I think those are the things I wanted to bring to your attention at this point, and we'll be glad to take any questions that you may have.

Q The Latin countries, as I recall -- at least some of them -- back in December at the summit were saying that the trends in the United States towards protectionism were growing rather than shrinking, and I seem to recall a list of 60 items that they had mentioned and about which they had expressed concern.

I mean, is it true that the trends are going the wrong way in this country with respect to free trade?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: I don't really think so. On the question of trying to make sure that the Caribbean and Central American countries are not disadvantaged by NAFTA, we're moving ahead in the Congress with what's been called NAFTA parity legislation, sponsored in the House by Representatives Crane and Gibbons and in the Senate by Senator Graham. We've had hearings on that, and that's moving forward rather quickly, and I think there's reason to be optimistic that such legislation will be approved fairly soon.

We have been meeting with our Canadian and Mexican friends to work out exactly how we will be dealing with the Chileans. We negotiate with them to access to NAFTA. Clearly, a crucial thing there is what kind of fast-track authority we get out of the Congress. Ambassador Kantor is working with the appropriate members of Congress on that.

I was encouraged to hear Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich comment at a luncheon at the Council of the Americas the other day about his support for both fast-track authority, certainly for Chile, and also for the Caribbean Basin, if you will, on NAFTA parity legislation. So I think there's a basis for optimism.

Clearly, always in trade negotiations there are opponents and there will be some difficulties, but I don't think there's any reason to believe that the tide is turning in the wrong direction.

Q Would you expect the new U.S. policies on immigration from Cuba and Haiti to be an issue, that being the OAS meeting or in the bilaterals?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: I don't really think so. In either the Secretary's meeting or follow-up, I don't anticipate that those issues will come up. They have plenty to talk about in the short time on the kinds of issues that I mentioned.

I don't know, Hattie (Babbitt), do you think any of that's going to come up in the plenary debate or --

AMBASSADOR BABBITT: I would think not. I think that the focus in the informal dialogue, which is the opportunity that the 34 Foreign Ministers have to speak informally, would be focused on the document which has been prepared, which is really a document dealing with the renovation of the Inter-American system, and how that can better foster things. Those are viewed, I think, more as bilateral issues and probably are not going to be part of that discussion.

Q This is the area of the world with which I'm least familiar, so I'll betray my ignorance here and ask a question to which my colleagues probably know the answer. What is the role of Cuba at a gathering like this, as a participant and as an agenda item?

AMBASSADOR BABBITT: Cuba's membership -- Cuba's participation, not Cuba's membership -- was suspended in 1962. Cuba has not participated in the OAS since 1962. The OAS is unique among regional organizations because it has as a condition precedent of participation -- a representative democracy, a democratic form of government. That is a qualification which the current Government of Cuba does not meet.

The rest of the countries of the hemisphere and the United States of America look forward to a day when a pluralistic, democratic Cuba can participate in the OAS. But that's not very likely next week. (Laughter)

Q Mr. Ambassador, I'd like to ask you to recount your impressions -- summarize your impressions -- of the binational meeting with the Mexican Government here a couple of weeks ago, and then enlarge and project how the narco-subversion problem, which has been so bad in Colombia and is becoming such a threat to the national security of Mexico -- at least according to their leaders -- how the OAS can get involved and stem the flow of drugs and the laundering of money -- basically reduce the power of the cartels in Mexico?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: I don't really want to spend too much time on those topics right here today because we've been asked to talk about a more limited universe. But let me just say something briefly. I thought that the Binational Commission meeting went extraordinarily well. I've been at three of them now -- one when I was sort of a lady- in-waiting for this job and they were kind to let me attend, and in Washington and the last year in Mexico and then this one here, I think the level of frankness of the exchanges and the real solid work that is accomplished at these meetings increases every year.

I thought that it was important. We must have had about 15 ministers, at least, from the two governments participating directly in these talks. That was important, and I think that we reached some understandings on a variety of areas from the more mundane to very important things like what kind of bridges and railroads and canals will have along the border; what sort of environmental projects will move forward -- those sorts of things -- up to some good discussions on migration questions and narcotics question and transportation and even agricultural issues.

So I thought it was a very fruitful session, and we can spend some time going over the specifics later on if you're interested.

On the question of narcotics, certainly it remains one of the highest areas of concern to us and one of our highest priorities in trying to help the countries of the hemisphere deal with what is a very serious mutual problem. You know that President Zedillo of Mexico calls it the single most important national security threat to Mexico, and we are working increasingly closely and effectively with them, and I know that Attorney General Reno and her counterpart, Antonio Losano, in Mexico have an excellent and productive relationship, and they're expecting good things to come from this. Already some good things have come, but they expect more to come.

I just wanted to pass to Hattie to talk about what the OAS role in this is through its organization called CICAD, and other things that it does.

AMBASSADOR BABBITT: CICAD is the Inter-American organization which deals with narcotics issues -- the anti-narcotics issues -- and it is useful because, as I suppose is obvious, most of these issues go across borders -- one border or another -- often many, many borders. There's a growing awareness in the hemisphere that the hemispheric world does not divide nicely between producing countries, trafficking countries, and consuming countries; that more and more those three categories blend, and that in order to have a useful strategy against this, it must be a multilateral strategy.

A couple of things that the OAS group has done, which have been enormously useful, is to draft model legislation with respect to money laundering, and model legislation with regard to precursor chemicals.

The fact that many countries share the same legislation makes it much easier to deal with the law enforcement aspects of those two particular issues.

There's much to be done, but I sense in watching this organization grow that the awareness of the three categories of producers, traffickers and consumers now really cross virtually every border. We'll give additional strength to CICAD capacity to deal with it.

Q Is the Secretary going to be having any events that have to do with the upcoming elections in Haiti? Is he visiting any polling places, doing anything that -- sort of to encourage democracy?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: He'll certainly be speaking with President Aristide, and he'll have two press availabilities at which he can express his views on these things; and, of course, his support for the -- manifested support for the U.N. mission in Haiti plays to that issue as well. But he's not going to be actually visiting the organization that is organizing and running the elections.

Brian Atwood did that earlier this week. He had a very successful visit, and Ambassador Bill Swing is dealing with this issue every day because, as you know, there's been some tentativeness about whether the elections could actually be pulled off on the 25th. We now are quite confident, as are the U.N. and other people down there, that this will take place -- that the ballots will get printed with the right names on it and distributed in time, and the elections will be able to be held on that day in a free and fair fashion.

But it is certainly something that the Secretary may choose to address in the meeting of foreign ministers that is focused on Haiti on Monday morning as well. But, no, he doesn't have time in this relatively short visit to be able to get out as far as he would like to in that regard, I'm sure.

Q Do you know how long it's been since the Secretary of State has attended the Foreign Ministers' meeting? It seems to me usually the Deputy Secretary goes.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: I think Hattie may know better. I think Jim Baker attended the OAS General Assembly in 1989. That was here, I think.

Q Six blocks away. (Laughter)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: But the last three have been in Nicaragua and in Brazil and now Haiti. But, no, I think that's an important -- I was trying to say earlier that I think it's very important that the Secretary of State is attending this session, particularly given everything else that he's got on his incredible schedule.

I think that the reason that he's doing that are the reasons I tried to lay out for you -- both the OAS-related reasons, the Haiti and the summit reasons, those three different areas.

Q Mrs. Babbitt, has the assassination problem in Haiti we heard about -- oh, about two months ago there was a very spectacular assassination. Has that problem been attenuated? Has the Aristide Government successfully addressed that threat?

AMBASSADOR BABBITT: Let me address it from an OAS-GA standpoint, and then maybe Alex will have some more specific or different information. There is, of course, always an issue of security when you have 34 foreign ministers all in one place all at the same time. So that the issues with respect to security have a sort of heightened importance.

The issues with respect to the stability and the security in Haiti are difficult ones and are being dealt with on a daily basis, and every morning the Haitians get up and we get up and feel grateful for the progress that's made and look for ways to make more progress.

But the analysis is that it is a secure environment to host 34 foreign ministers, and that's a statement that's hard to make about very many places on the globe.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: I think that they're making a lot of progress on the security issue. The question of the assassination of Madam Bertin, which I think you're referring to, the FBI has been working with them, and we do not have access to, nor if we did could we make it available, any of the details of the investigation. But, as you know, they've arrested a second person, and they're still looking at this.

The impression that our Embassy has down there is that the level of violence has decreased considerably. There has been virtually no election-related violence. A couple of incidents, and that's all, and nobody's lost their life so far, and that's really good and encouraging.

But this underscores the tremendous importance of getting this civilian police force up and running as fast as possible, and we're going to be trying to double the production of police personnel, so that we'll have six or seven thousand or so by the time President Aristide leaves office in February of next year. But it's absolutely crucial that this force be up and running as quickly as possible.

Q Thank you very much.

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