Peter F. Romero
Acting Assistant Secretary
Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Statement before the House International Relations Committee
Washington, DC, April 5, 2000
U.S. Policy Toward Haiti
I am pleased to testify before this committee once again on Haiti. This hearing is particularly well-timed, as much has happened since my last testimony in November, and the next weeks and months will be crucial to our mutual efforts to promote democracy, recovery, and development in Haiti. I look forward to a frank exchange both on recent developments and on the ways we can work together to pursue strong American interests in Haiti, particularly as Haiti faces critical legislative and local elections.
Since the early 1990s, Haiti has been a prime focus of U.S. efforts in this Hemisphere. Our objectives have been to help Haitians strengthen democratic institutions and respect for human rights; alleviate crushing poverty, illiteracy, and malnutrition; stem illegal migration; deter drug trafficking; and promote stability throughout the Caribbean region.
Pursuing these objectives has been a huge challenge, and the record has been decidedly mixed. Haiti is struggling to overcome political, economic, and social legacies of nearly two centuries of ruthless, authoritarian regimes. It must overcome the most severe poverty in the Western Hemisphere. Democratic institutions are fragile at best. Unemployment, crime, illiteracy, corruption, drug trafficking, and poverty pose constant threats to stability.
In 1994 the U.S.-led, UN-sanctioned Multinational Force restored democratically elected government to Haiti. Had we and others failed to intervene, Haiti's nightmarish repression and economic disaster under the de facto military regime would have continued, along with flotillas of Haitians fleeing the terror, who numbered about 67,000 from 1992-94. The vast majority of U.S. troops were out of Haiti within 6 months, and the forces that remained moved from intervention to peacekeeping to humanitarian assistance. On January 30 of this year, the final elements of the U.S. Support Group withdrew, marking the end of the continuous presence of U.S. forces in Haiti.
It is thus an appropriate moment to assess the progress achieved over the past 5 years and consider the road ahead. Haiti has not fulfilled many of the expectations associated with the restoration of democratically elected government, but there have been significant strides to alleviate hunger, build basic institutions, increase access to education and health care, combat environmental degradation, and develop civil society and a free and active press. These efforts reversed Haiti from the brink of economic and humanitarian disaster and gave it a fresh start toward democracy and development.
Standing Firm for Free and Fair Elections
Of utmost concern now is the holding of elections to restore the Parliament that has been disbanded for 15 months and install independent local governments. Sustained efforts by Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), backed by U.S. and international assistance, have created the technical conditions for Haiti to hold free and fair elections in April and May and seat its Parliament by the constitutionally mandated date of June 12. Electoral preparations have been characterized by some irregularities, but not at a level to prevent a credible vote.
The Haitian people have shown their thirst for democracy by registering to vote in record numbers: nearly 4,000,000 Haitians -- over 90% of those eligible -- have registered since January. More than 29,000 candidates are competing for some 10,000 local, regional, and parliamentary offices. Throughout Haiti, there is "election fever," as political campaigns are underway, debates are broadcast on radio and television, and rallies and posters are proliferating.
We are deeply troubled, however, by the failure of the Haitian Government to set a new date for elections. Last week, there were a string of protests -- some violent -- by groups seeking to disrupt these elections. We are shocked by the murders of prominent journalist Jean Dominique in Port-au-Prince and a center-right activist and his wife in Petit Goave, an attack on at least one opposition candidate, and reports that other opposition figures are receiving phone messages of recorded machine gun fire.
Let no one mistake our messages:
First, the Government of Haiti must announce a new prompt date for legislative and local elections now. Failure to constitute a Parliament by June 12 would risk isolating Haiti from the community of democracies and jeopardize future cooperation.
Second, the government of Haiti must work with the CEP to provide the financial, logistical, and security support needed for free, fair, and secure elections.
Third, the violence associated with the electoral process must cease immediately. Political leaders are responsible for the actions carried out by their supporters, and there will be consequences for actions to thwart democracy.
Fourth, the legitimacy of presidential elections later this year relies on credible, separate elections this spring.
These messages have been announced publicly and communicated directly to the leaders of the government of Haiti and major political parties by senior Administration officials and our embassy in Port-au-Prince. We are working with others in the international community -- including the UN, OAS, and EU -- to deliver similarly strong messages. In fact, I will be addressing today the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States on the dangers to democracy represented by the absence of a firm date for new elections. The U.S. made a tremendous investment in the restoration of Haiti's democratic institutions. We seek to ensure Haiti remains on a democratic path.
Building the Institutions of Democracy and Governance
When I last testified on Haiti before this committee, there were concerns with recent events that indicated attempts by some sectors in Haiti to politicize the 5-year-old Haitian National Police (HNP). Since that time, senior HNP leaders report that this pressure has diminished, although we continue to watch the situation closely. A recent survey showed that more than half of the Haitian population continues to give the HNP high marks, the highest of any other government institution. This figure is a remarkable transformation in a nation where state security forces were historically feared as agents of repression.
Still, we recognize that the HNP is an immature force grappling with serious problems of corruption, attrition, and incidents of narcotics trafficking and human rights abuse. We support the activities of the HNP Inspector General in investigating and prosecuting police members accused of committing crimes. We are also committed to assisting training efforts through the USAID-funded Department of Justice International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP).
In addition, we are working with the United Nations and the so-called "Friends of Haiti" to establish a new mission called the International Civilian Mission for Haiti (MICAH). This mission supports nascent institutions of democracy in Haiti by providing 100 international experts to support the police, the human rights sector, and the judiciary. MICAH's police component is focusing on developing improved management practices in the HNP. Its human rights component is emphasizing support for indigenous organizations and monitoring of human rights practices and potential abuses.
Fighting Drug Trafficking and Illegal Migration
Combating drug trafficking through Haiti remains one of this Administration's highest priorities. Some 13% of the cocaine entering the U.S. transits Haiti, and narco-traffickers operate with relative ease. Drug trafficking is a direct threat to American national security interests and threatens to corrupt the basic institutions of Haiti, including the police, judiciary, and government. To fight this scourge, we have increased our DEA presence in Port-au-Prince from one to eight officers in the past year and increased interdiction efforts to counter airdrops, direct freighter shipments, and money laundering. We are helping train the new Haitian drug enforcement unit and its coast guard. In these efforts, we have regrettably received inadequate cooperation from the government of Haiti, in part because of insufficient resources and the absence of a parliament needed to pass vital legislation. The Administration determined on March 1 that Haiti failed to meet 1999 counter-drug certification criteria, but that U.S. vital national interests required that Haiti be certified.
We will continue efforts to disrupt the flow of illegal drugs. We will work on an interagency level in planning U.S. law enforcement activities in such areas as tracking international traffickers, improving the drug interdiction capacity of Haitian police, attacking money laundering, and facilitating cooperation between Haiti and the Dominican Republic on cross-border narcotics issues.
Over the past 5 years, the number of illegal migrants leaving by boat for the U.S. has declined and remains relatively low. The U.S. Coast Guard interdicted 67,140 Haitian migrants at sea from 1992-94; by contrast, in 1999, there were only some 1,039 such interdictions. We will work with the Haitian police to identify and prosecute individuals involved in alien smuggling operations, and continue monitoring trends that may indicate the potential for renewed large-scale migration to the United States. We will also encourage potential immigrants to use legal means of entry, noting that some 16,000 immigrant visas were granted to Haitians in 1999.
Building on Past Cooperation
We look forward to enhanced cooperation with this committee to help ensure Haiti remains on a democratic path. We will continue to promote U.S. interests by strengthening democratic institutions, promoting respect for human rights and transparent and responsive government, laying the groundwork for sustainable economic development; disrupting the flow of illegal drugs, and preventing illegal migrations.
With critical elections approaching, Haiti is at an important crossroad. We and our international partners have helped Haitians make prompt, credible elections possible. We strongly hope Haitian leaders, themselves, will demonstrate their commitment to the consolidation of Haitian democracy by ensuring these elections take place in the coming weeks in a free, fair, and peaceful manner. Moreover, the U.S. and international community must remain engaged, resisting the easy solace of fatigue and frustration. Already we have made a foothold in supporting an increasingly confident civil society, a free and active press, improved respect for human rights, vocal political opposition, decreased population growth, and increased literacy and access to basic health and population programs. Building on these accomplishments, we hope to help Haitians move their country forward toward more responsive and democratic governance and away from a long history of oppression and severe underdevelopment. Thank you.
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