Originally: The State Department tells American citizens they should leave. A team of diplomats, meanwhile, plans an emergency peace mission.
PORT-AU-PRINCE — The U.S. State Department Thursday urged all private U.S. citizens to leave Haiti while flights are still available, as Washington, France, Canada and Caribbean nations prepared to send envoys for an emergency visit to push President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to help end a bloody revolt.
The Pentagon’s U.S. Southern Command in Miami announced it will also send in a team to advise the U.S. Embassy on the security of the mission, its staff and American citizens amid a revolt against Aristide that has left at least 60 dead.
More than 10,000 people turned out Thursday in the port city of Gonaives, the largest town controlled by the anti-Aristide rebels, for a rally featuring one of the main leaders of the revolt, Butteur Metayer, who vowed that Aristide would soon be driven from power.
When Metayer, the self-proclaimed provisional president of the surrounding Artibonite region, arrived he was wearing a white suit and gold -im glasses. He ran to the front of the crowd, hands in the air like a boxing champion, as the crowd roared.
With hip-hop music booming through the loudspeakers, Metayer later led the crowd in a march through the streets of Gonaives as followers chanted, “Whatever you say, Aristide must go.”
Late Thursday the Organization of American States adopted a resolution designed to add to the international pressure on Aristide and his political opposition to negotiate, disarm gangs and end the violence.
Earlier, the State Department issued the warning for all Americans to leave, although there has been no word of any plans to cancel flights to Port-au-Prince, which has escaped the violence in other parts of the country. About 80 Peace Corps volunteers were also being withdrawn, a State Department official said. More than 20,000 Americans, at least a quarter of them missionaries, are believed to live in Haiti.
Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham said Thursday that the multilateral mission to Haiti will prod Aristide to keep the promises he made to the Caribbean Community during recent negotiations to ease the political side of the crisis.
”There are concerns” that Aristide is not living up to his promises to release political prisoners, appointing a prime minister who would be independent of the presidency, and reforming the police,” Graham said.
The OAS resolution, authored by Brazil, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean nations, offered ”firm support for the government of President Aristide in its efforts to restore public order” but also urged him to abide by his commitments to CARICOM,
John Maisto, U.S. ambassador to the 34-member hemispheric body, reiterated recent Bush administration statements opposing Aristide’s overthrow. But he criticized the Haitian leader, saying the current crisis was “due in great part to the failure of the Haitian government to live up to its commitments.”
Maisto, speaking at the session before the resolution was adopted by consensus, accused the Haitian police of ”corruption and narco-trafficking” and said “human rights abuses and press intimidation have escalated.”
Aristide, meanwhile, told a Port-au-Prince gathering honoring police officers killed during the revolt that he would not leave office before his term ends in 2006. ”I am ready to give my life if that is what it takes to defend my country,” he said.
Aristide became Haiti’s first democratically elected leader in 1990 but was ousted eight months later in a military coup. A U.S. military intervention restored him to power in 1994. He later disbanded the army and was reelected in 2000.
Tensions building since legislative elections in 2000 branded as fraudulent by the opposition erupted into a revolt Feb. 5 with attacks on more than a dozen towns by a former pro-Aristide gang. The group turned against him after one of its leaders was assassinated.
In Miami, Southcom spokesman Steve Lucas said the ”security assessment team” ordered to Haiti was requested by U.S. Ambassador James Foley as “the best military advice on the security situation of the embassy and the protection of its American personnel and American citizens in Haiti.”
He declined to provide its size or travel dates because of security considerations, but said it would be less than a dozen officers. A U.S. official in Washington said the U.S. Marine guard at the mission has not been reinforced as a result of the violence.
Asked if the Southcom team would also assess the strength of the armed Aristide opposition, Lucas added, “There are other channels for assessing that.”
The anti-Aristide gunmen have chased police from more than a dozen towns and cities, some in central Haiti but mostly in the north, cutting off deliveries of most food, medicines and fuel.
Foley issued a formal declaration of a humanitarian disaster in Haiti Thursday, clearing the way for the U.S. Agency for International Development to send in 15 emergency medical kits worth $87,000 that can serve 10,000 patients each.
Herald staff writers Frank Davies in Washington and Nancy San Martin in Miami contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Miami Herald and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.