Originally: Daily Press Briefing
Richard Boucher, Spokesman
February 10, 2004
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Haiti. Of some 42 people dead, by latest count — do you — it’s, obviously, a tough situation. Are you expecting some surge of Haitian refugees? Where — what is the U.S. doing about all this at this point?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I don’t know whether there will be a surge in refugees or not. Certainly, we’ll watch that situation closely and try to handle that with the interest of safety of the people involved. But I think you all know our policy on refugees from Haiti, that we don’t want to open up the gates or invite people. That’s not the solution to Haiti’s problems. There is — violence in Haiti has been terrible recently.
We condemn the violence from all the groups and all the sides that have been perpetrating it. This kind of violence only leads to more violence and retribution and instability for the nation as a whole. There has been all together too much violence in Haiti’s history. At this point, we are pushing very hard for an end to violence, for all the parties to take steps to calm the situation and end the violence and to try to see political progress.
The opposition has maintained a stance of peaceful demonstrations and pushing for peaceful democratic change. They’ve worked with the CARICOM representatives to try to reach agreement. We’re encouraging all parties including them and the government to work through that process and to accept the efforts of CARICOM to help reach a political solution.
There needs to be a political solution and that’s only going to be gained by dialogue, negotiations and compromise. It’s also going to involve some rather thorough going reforms in the way that the government is run out there, the way that Haiti is governed. But in the end, we think that’s a solution to calming the situation and ending the climate of violence that has grown up over the past few years and which is seen so horribly in these most recent events.
As far as the situation itself, we understand from press accounts that police have reasserted control over the Port of Saint-Marc. We believe that the city of Gonaïves remains under the control of the armed gangs that seized it on February 5th. The government’s attempt to retake Gonaïves over the weekend was repulsed. Perhaps as many as 15 police officers were killed.
There have been attempts to take over government buildings in a dozen or more towns in other parts of Haiti, according to the press, but we haven’t been able to confirm that. But we still have no reports of injuries to American citizens. The embassy has issued a Warden Message yesterday to warn Americans about the heightened security risks.
As far as diplomatic efforts, we’ve been in close touch with other governments. The Secretary spoke this morning with Canadian Foreign Minister Graham about the situation in Haiti. We’ve been in touch diplomatically with other governments about the situation of Haiti.
This morning, the new Haitian Ambassador presented his credentials to the Secretary, so he came by, and the Secretary used that opportunity to press the Ambassador, and through him the Haitian Government, to accept the efforts of CARICOM and to seek a political solution to the troubles in Haiti.
We think it’s vital that the government take steps to end the climate of violence that’s been created by these gangs and to reach a political settlement to Haiti’s troubles.
QUESTION: To the extent that there are no talks, which side is — which side is refusing to go to the bargaining table, so to speak?
MR. BOUCHER: I think there are certainly questions about whether the government has accepted the CARICOM proposals, but we think both sides need to focus on reaching a political settlement and maintaining a peaceful dialogue to reach a negotiated solution. So we’re trying to get that message to everybody.
QUESTION: Richard, are you suggesting that the people who have taken over these towns are not bona fide opposition, political opposition?
MR. BOUCHER: The political opposition has not been associated directly with these gangs. The origin appears to be in other groups and sometimes groups that in the past were supported by people associated with the government. So the opposition needs to maintain a peaceful stance, needs to continue to disassociate itself from these gangs and the violence, and to continue to seek a peaceful and negotiated solution.
The gangs themselves have, you know, many origins and different members, but I think this whole climate of violence that’s been created over time in Haiti has contributed to this kind of outburst that we’re seeing now.
QUESTION: Richard, do you have a dollar figure on how much the U.S. has put into Haiti in the last ten years?
MR. BOUCHER: Don’t have it handy. I’d have to look for it.
QUESTION: Would you take the question and get that, please?
MR. BOUCHER: Have to look for it. Yeah.
QUESTION: And more substantively, can you talk about whether the Administration is happy, unhappy — whatever word you want — with President Aristide?
MR. BOUCHER: Our goal has been to make clear to President Aristide that he needs to take the opportunity to make peace, take the opportunity to reach a political settlement. That was made very, very clear during the meetings that the President and the Secretary had with him as part of the CARICOM group when they met in Monterrey earlier this year. Both the President and the Secretary were very explicit that it’s time to take the opportunity and reach a political settlement.
We have continued to convey that message to President Aristide that that’s the best thing for his country and that’s the best thing for democracy in Haiti as well.
QUESTION: Do you have a position on whether he should stay in office?
MR. BOUCHER: Other than to say that we recognize that reaching a political settlement will require some fairly thorough changes in the way Haiti is governed and how the security situation is maintained. The actual sort of formulas and mechanisms for that would have to be worked out, we hope, through peaceful negotiation using the efforts of CARICOM as a basis.