February 18, 2004
WASHINGTON, Feb. 17 ? The Bush administration on Tuesday ruled out sending American troops or police to quell the political violence in Haiti, while Canada and France said they would deploy their police only as part of a political settlement there.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell acknowledged that the administration, already stretched thin in the Middle East and elsewhere, had no appetite for sending forces to Haiti. Violence among Haitian gangs and political allies and foes of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has killed more than 40 people.
“There is, frankly, no enthusiasm right now for sending in military or police forces to put down the violence that we are seeing,” Mr. Powell said. “What we want to do right now is find a political solution, and then there are willing nations that would come forward with a police presence to implement the political agreement that the sides come to.”
The United States sent 21,000 American troops to Haiti in 1994 to oversee the reinstatement of Mr. Aristide as president after he was overthrown in a coup in 1991.
Supporters as well as critics of President Aristide have expressed disappointment with his tenure since then, saying he has done little in 10 years to reconcile the nation or ease the hemisphere’s worst poverty.
Mr. Powell said the administration had sent a team of experts to assess the crisis. Anti-Aristide partisans and thugs now control a major town, Gonaïves, and are threatening to impede the delivery of badly needed food and other relief supplies. The Organization of American States also has representatives on the island. “We have a serious humanitarian problem there now,” Mr. Powell said.
Richard A. Boucher, the State Department spokesman, said that there was no evidence that Haitians were seeking to leave the country as refugees, but that officials were monitoring the situation closely and had taken steps to intercept boats at sea. After the coup that ousted Mr. Aristide, the United States Coast Guard interdicted 41,000 Haitian refugees.
Mr. Powell called on Mr. Aristide to help defuse the situation by putting in place a political agreement, brokered with other Caribbean nations, to disarm his loyalists, reform the police and welcome political opponents into a new governing council.
Mr. Powell said the United States would not support Mr. Aristide’s removal in a coup.
“We cannot buy into a proposition that says the elected president must be forced out of office by thugs,” the secretary said.
Trying to put pressure on all sides to reach a political deal, Canadian and French officials said Tuesday that they were ready to augment Haiti’s 4,000-member police force once the violence stopped.
France’s foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, held an emergency meeting with advisers and said his government was prepared to provide police officers or troops to help maintain the peace once it was restored. Mr. de Villepin spoke with Mr. Powell and counterparts from Canada, Mexico, Germany and Brazil on Tuesday, officials said.
“We are working with all these countries to consider the feasibility of a peacekeeping force that would deploy if the conditions allowed because of an end to the fighting,” Mr. de Villepin said.
In Ottawa, the Canadian foreign minister, Bill Graham, said his country would be willing to send about 100 French-speaking police officers to Haiti if the violence subsided under a political deal. For that to occur, Mr. Graham said, President Aristide must make political concessions, including the appointment of a new prime minister, and his opponents must disarm.
“Canada will go forward if there is a political solution,” Mr. Graham told reporters. “Aristide must accept some conditions; the opposition, too.”
But some observers argue that the situation may already be too polarized ? or chaotic ? for a settlement and that the United States and other governments might be compelled to send forces to bring peace under less than ideal conditions.
“The question is: how much suffering and violence and disorder in Haiti can the U.S. tolerate?” said Peter Hakim, the president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a forum of hemisphere leaders.
He said it was “almost inevitable” that the United States would have to find some way to intervene, whether with Caribbean nations or the Organization of American States.