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

U.S. Department of State
96/03/21 Testimony: Alexander Watson on Haiti
Bureau of Inter-American Affairs

STATEMENT OF
ALEXANDER F. WATSON
ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INTER-AMERICAN AFFAIRS
BEFORE THE HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE
MARCH 21, 1996

Mr. Chairman,

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before this committee to discuss U.S. expenditures in support of the restoration of democracy in Haiti. A full, detailed discussion of this subject could take hours to present. Instead, I would like to briefly evaluate our policy and then my colleagues and I will be glad to respond to specific questions.

A little later this morning, President Preval will be meeting with the President. As the first democratically elected President to succeed an elected incumbent, his visit marks a turning point in Haitian history and in U.S.-Haitian relations. President Preval will also be talking to Members of Congress about the need for economic reform in Haiti, as well as his vision for the development of the rule of law and democratic institutions in Haiti, and the importance of continued U.S. support in these areas.

As Assistant Secretary, I focus broadly on the entire region in which we live. Haiti is part of the hemispheric community and its problems affect the entire region. When you have worked in and traveled through the hemisphere as long as I have, you quickly realize that Haiti's problems are not unique. While these problems may be worse in Haiti than elsewhere, political instability, health and environmental problems, economic and social restructuring are problems which many of our neighbors are struggling to deal with. And these are problems which with our help many of our neighbors in the hemisphere are overcoming.

During Secretary Christopher's recent trip through the region, we discussed Haiti with a number of the countries such as Argentina and Trinidad and Tobago that took leading roles in the UN Mission in Haiti (UNMIH) and its predecessor, the Multinational Force (MNF), which restored democracy to Haiti. These countries and others in the hemisphere initially worked with us through the OAS in calling for a trade embargo of Haiti, launching an intense diplomatic initiative in the hope of solving Haiti's political crisis peacefully, and sending the International Civilian Mission (MICIVIH) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to bear witness to Haiti's appalling human rights situation during the coup period.

They and we took these unprecedented measures in Haiti because it was in the self-interest of every democratically-elected government in the region to do so. The message was for the hemisphere at large -- "The days of dictators and coups are over. Anyone contemplating the overthrow of a democratically-elected government anywhere in the region can expect a strong, united hemispheric response. Coups will not be permitted to succeed." Thus, our success in reversing the coup in Haiti is a success for the policy of supporting democracy in our region, a policy which has been pursued vigorously under both Republican and Democratic Administrations.

Let me turn to where Haiti is today and how far we have come in less than 18 months.

On February 7, Rene Preval was inaugurated as President of Haiti in the first peaceful and constitutional transfer of power from one freely- elected president to another in that country. Through this unprecedented event, the political leaders of Haiti demonstrated their commitment to the permanent establishment of democratic processes in accordance with the Haitian constitution.

Former President Aristide remains a very charismatic figure who symbolizes the hopes of the Haitian poor for a better life free from violent repression. There are many in Haiti who believed, and still believe, that he should have been allowed to serve an additional three years to make up for his time in exile. Still others would have liked to see him be President for as long as he liked.

However, President Aristide himself set in motion the presidential election process that led to his peaceful handing over of power in accordance with the provisions of the constitution after the expiration of his five-year term. President Aristide stressed the importance of establishing the constitutional precedent of a legitimate transfer of power for the future of Haitian democracy over his personal beliefs or that of his most ardent supporters. He noted that "the second [Presidential] election is more important than the first in a democracy".

We believe that President Aristide's demonstrated commitment to constitutional rule will be a fundamental principle of future political life in Haiti. This stands in stark contrast to Haiti's long history of military governments and dictators who cared little for democracy or the welfare of the Haitian people.

In today's Haiti there is a new sense of personal security due in large part to our efforts to rebuild and strengthen the rule of law. We have made major progress. Only eighteen months ago, prior to the U.S.-led intervention, the system of law enforcement and justice was in an appalling state. There was no police force, and the Haitian Army was widely viewed as an enemy of the people. Judicial institutions were virtually moribund. The de facto regime which overthrew President Aristide was sustained by repression and brutality.

We have seen some real improvements. The Army has been disbanded. The new civilian Haitian National Police has deployed 5,300 new officers, selected in an open, apolitical, rigorous and competitive national process. The repressive system of "section chiefs," or rural strongmen, has been abolished. Local government around Haiti is now in the hands of over 2,000 elected officials.

Two hundred years of rampant corruption and governmental neglect have left deep marks on Haiti's justice system, but halting progress is being made. The Government has acknowledged that judicial reform is critical, and has worked with the international community to address some of the problems plaguing the system, including understaffing, untrained and incompetent staff, and inadequate compensation. Last July, the Ministry of Justice with assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Department of Justice opened a school for magistrates as mandated by the Haitian constitution. During its first three months, the school put over 100 judges and prosecutors through intensive two-week training courses, and will continue to focus on short and long term training for justices of the peace and trial judges. The international community has also provided training for prison staffs, and assisted in the physical rehabilitation of courts and prisons.

Modest progress has been made on the economic front as well. Haiti's gross domestic product grew 2.7 percent in 1995 after declining about 30 percent in the previous three years. Inflation has fallen from 52 percent in 1994 to 25 percent in 1995. Exports expanded sharply, to $100 million in 1995 from $52 million in 1994, although they still achieved only half the levels of the late 1980s. The private sector has not responded to the end of the embargo as quickly as initially hoped, as potential investors have taken a wait-and-see attitude. As a result, unemployment is still estimated at about 70 percent.

Serious problems remain to be resolved. However, the recent extension of the mandate of the UN Mission in Haiti will provide additional breathing space to foster the strengthening of Haiti's democratic rebirth in an atmosphere conducive to economic and social development. International peacekeeping troops and civilian police will continue to support the efforts of the Haitian National Police to provide the secure conditions under which the Haitian Government and people will take responsibility for the future development and advancement of their country. Guarding the country's political stability and internal security are essential preconditions to addressing the range of serious economic, political and social problems Haiti still confronts. The U.S. and other governments are committed to assisting in this effort, but only the Haitians' own resolve and ability to make difficult decisions will determine success or failure in the end.

One of the most troubling developments since the introduction of Multinational Forces has been the approximately two dozen execution style killings which have occurred. The Administration and Congress have worked closely together to make clear to the Government of Haiti that we cannot support security organizations which retain in their ranks individuals who we have credible reason to believe are implicated in such offenses. I am pleased to be able to report today that none of the individuals of the Aristide government security forces who were implicated in these murders remain in the Haitian security forces or the political structure which supervises them.

The removal of such individuals from the security forces is a significant and crucial first step. Bringing those guilty to justice is the other half of the equation. Ending the climate of impunity for government officers who commit crimes is a major step forward in the development of the rule of law.

The Administration has made clear to the Government of Haiti at all levels that a thorough investigation of these offenses is crucial both to establish the rule of law and to maintain international support. Congress has sent a similar message in the form of Section 583 of Public Law 104 - 107 (the Dole Amendment) which prohibits the provision of assistance (other than humanitarian and electoral assistance) to the Government of Haiti unless the President reports to Congress that the Government of Haiti is conducting thorough investigations of political and extrajudicial killings and is cooperating with American authorities in this respect. The President has delegated his functions under that provision to the Secretary of State.

The Administration's intentions with respect to the implementation of that provision of law have been clearly stated to Congress and consistently followed in practice, but I believe it useful to reiterate our position clearly.

When Section 583 became law on January 26, 1996, the Administration again examined the progress of the Haitian authorities' investigations into execution-style murders. We concluded that while progress had been made in terms of establishing a Special Investigative Unit, appointing an Investigative Magistrate and Prosecutor, and seeking international assistance, we could not document sufficient progress to permit us to make the report to Congress called for in the statute.

Since any delay in completing the basic training and deployment of the police would have called into question the timely withdrawal of U.S. forces from Haiti, after consulting with Congressional staff, including staff of this committee, the Acting Secretary of State on February 6, 1996 signed a waiver determination, pursuant to Section 583(c) of the statute, that continuing assistance was "necessary to assure the safe and timely withdrawal of U.S. forces from Haiti."

I wish to confirm that the only assistance within the scope of Section 583(a) which the Administration intends to provide during the period in which U.S. peacekeeping forces are withdrawing is assistance to the Special Investigative Unit formed to investigate the political and extrajudicial killings and assistance to the Haitian National Police. Should it prove necessary, and after consultation with Congress, it is also possible that we may find it necessary to obligate additional assistance to the Haitian Parliament, the justice system, and local governments during this period. We do not envision obligating funds to provide any other assistance to the Government of Haiti during this period, and would consult fully with the Congress should an unforeseen requirement arise.

When the Administration concludes that the Government of Haiti is conducting investigations as called for in Section 583, we will so report to the Congress. In that event, the restrictions on assistance based on Section 583 would no longer apply. If the Administration cannot report that the Government of Haiti is conducting the required thorough investigations by the time U.S. forces have substantially completed their withdrawal, we would review, in consultation with the Congress, whether and to what extent to continue assistance within the scope of section 583 to the Government of Haiti.

We are hopeful that the criteria of the Dole Amendment will be met. The new government has moved to reinvigorate the Special Investigative Unit formed last October to investigate a number of high profile murders committed both during the coup period and following President Aristide's return. The investigative police trained by ICITAP have returned to their duties after the previous government drew them off to other cases. The Government of Haiti has agreed to provide them office space conducive to the professional conduct of these investigations. The UN Civilian Police have provided advisers, and the Department of State has contracted two experienced investigators to work with them. These individuals have been working with the Special Investigative Unit and helped them develop an investigative strategy for certain of the high profile cases. The FBI has briefed the investigators on its own investigation of the Bertin case, and has answered follow-up questions and offered assistance in forensic laboratory work. We are convinced that if the Government of Haiti names a strong leader to the team and otherwise demonstrates its strong backing for the conduct of the investigation, the ingredients are there to produce the thorough, professional investigation we all seek.

Mr. Chairman, we strongly believe that we must use our influence and condition our assistance in such a way as to strengthen those in Haiti who support democracy and the rule of law. Our ability to do so depends in no small measure on our ability to keep our word and deliver promised assistance when our conditions have been met.

After completing training of the last class of basic recruits, our police training program has been effectively closed down for a month due to the conditions that the Administration and Congress established concerning the presence of suspected killers in the security forces. Now that these conditions haves been met, we are working with the Congress to secure release of a hold on training funds so that the police can receive much needed specialized training. One program that has been interrupted is the training of a unit to deal with Urban Disturbances. This capability is clearly needed in today's Haiti. Similarly, programs of remedial training on when and when not to use firearms, as well as supervisory and investigative training all depend on re-opening the Police Academy as soon as possible.

The recent events in the Cite Soleil neighborhood of Port au Prince point up the urgent necessity for getting on with this crucial specialized training. On March 6, in response to an attack on police in that area possibly perpetrated by the "Red Army" gang, the police and the Ministerial Security Guards -- who are supposed to be watchmen in government buildings -- took action that resulted in the killing of seven civilians. Though he assumed office only on the morning of the incident, Police Director General Denize reacted promptly, ordering an investigation by the highly respected Inspector General of the National Police, and promising severe disciplinary measures. We are hoping to see the Inspector General's preliminary report in approximately two weeks. Preliminary reports from international human rights observers and UN civilian police indicate that the abuses appear to have been committed by the Ministerial Security guards.

While pointing to the need to get on with our training program, the events in Cite Soleil also highlight what is perhaps the most serious security problem faced by the Haitian authorities -- the lack of qualified mid-level supervisory personnel throughout the security forces. The best trained young basic recruits cannot perform effectively if they do not have capable leaders. Equipment and supplies cannot be utilized effectively without supervisors. And discipline essential to a professional police force cannot be maintained without accountable leadership.

President Preval and the Haitian Senate have made a good start in their selection of the senior leadership of the police and in instituting a system of promotion from within of the most meritorious young police officers to first line supervisor positions. We are encouraging the Government of Haiti to adopt a system for recruiting and training on an apolitical basis from all walks of life qualified individuals to fill the positions in between.

While it remains for the Haitian government, parliament and people to address the serious problems which remain, there is abundant evidence of an improvement in the overall human rights situation for the vast majority of the Haitian people, and this in itself indicates bright prospects for strengthening the rule of law taking hold. The authorities' respect for individual liberties and political freedom, while far from perfect, is genuine. There is a seriousness reflected in the deliberations of the newly-elected Haitian Parliament and its relationship with the executive which has breathed new life into Haiti's Constitution.

Without question, the most profound issue facing Haiti and its poverty- stricken people is the development of economic opportunity and improvement in the living conditions of Haiti's people. Although the new economic team is now in place, the government of Prime Minister Smarth has not yet had time to tackle the difficult economic issues it inherited from its predecessor. Nevertheless, even before his inauguration, President Preval reached out to reassure the local business community of his commitment to private sector development. He recognized the crucial role of the private sector in creating jobs and promised to pursue policies conducive to private investment.

President Preval has consulted with various political groups in Haiti as well to build consensus on economic reform. Acknowledging the reality of Haiti's short-term dependence on external budgetary support, he has indicated his intention to reopen negotiations on agreements with the international financial institutions by April 15, 1996.

In this connection, it is sometimes asked whether restoring democracy in Haiti has been worth the costs. Our efforts in Haiti in FY 1994, the year before President Aristide's return, cost nearly $560 million. Much of this was spent in the last quarter of the year in preparing for President Aristide's return, but almost $300 million of this when to pay for migration and safe haven operations, sanctions enforcement, and humanitarian assistance. In the first half of FY 1995, i.e. up to March 31, 1995 when the U.S.-led Multinational Force completed its task, the U.S. spent $600 million on Haiti related operations and assistance for an 18 month total of about $1.2 billion.

Since then, U.S. Government expenses in Haiti have dropped dramatically. U.S. operations and assistance to Haiti in the second half of FY 1995 dropped 50 percent from the first half to $300 million. This year, FY 1996, U.S. assistance to Haiti is expected to be approximately $120 million; and a similar amount is anticipated for FY97. This compares to our FY91 (pre-coup) assistance of $80 million. It should also be noted that during the first two years of the de facto regime, i.e. FY 92 and FY 93, U.S. humanitarian assistance to Haiti totaled $107 million.

Our humanitarian assistance to Haiti has traditionally been designed to meet important health, education, and development needs. In this regard, $6.7 million in assistance to three health, education, and training programs which are not within the scope of the Dole Amendment has been on hold by the Senate since January. We believe that it is not appropriate to hold this needed assistance which is largely a continuation of programs we have conducted in Haiti for years under both Republican and Democratic Administrations and Congresses. We have been working with the Senate to have this hold lifted.

Eighteen months ago, the U.S. was left to deal largely unaided with the humanitarian and refugee crisis in Haiti. Today, other countries and multilateral institutions are contributing most of the costs of the peacekeeping presence, and the bulk of the economic assistance. With the replacement of the Multinational Force by UNMIH on April 1, 1995, the United Nations assumed most of the peacekeeping costs. At the donors meeting on Haiti in Paris in January 1995, the multilateral institutions and other bilateral donors pledged more than $1 billion in humanitarian and developmental assistance to Haiti for FY 1995-1996.

Supporting democracy has thus already proven more cost effective than dealing with the consequences of tyranny. It is unquestionably a better investment, one which will prepare the basis for increased private sector investment in Haiti, a prerequisite for sustainable economic development.

Haiti's democracy remains fragile, its new security structures inexperienced and untested, and economic renewal is at best tentative. A year and a half after the American-led intervention, the economy has stabilized, and the political and security situation in Haiti has dramatically improved. These improvements have advanced to a point which permits a more modest onward international presence in Haiti, one to ensure a smooth and sure transfer of key functions enabling Haitians to assume responsibility for their own future.

The path to a better future or a return to the Haiti of old is now in the hands of the new government. It must act quickly and decisively to maintain the gains made with the restoration of democracy in 1994 and to regain the momentum of that moment. But it will continue to need our help and that of the rest of the donor community. The people of Haiti still must make enormous sacrifices to bring their country into the 21st century with the rest of the hemisphere and we will help them along that path as we have helped many of its neighbors in the past.

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