Originally: Statement before House Western Hemisphere Affairs Subcommittee
Haiti testimony of a leading U.S. scholar and opinion-maker in the Democratic Party,
Arturo Valenzuela, former Latin America national security adviser to President Clinton.
From testimony to House Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, September 28, 2005.
Followed by comment by James R. Morrell, executive director of Haiti Democracy Project, for this web page.
Finally, in Haiti the unwillingness of the administration to engage the daunting
problems of the island and its personal distaste for the elected leader contributed to the
severe deterioration of public order and the forced ouster of another elected president,
setting back the unfinished if limited progress that country made in struggling to establish
institutional order. When Haiti was overrun by rebels associated with the remnants of the
disbanded Haitian army, Secretary of State Colin Powell correctly argued that the
solution to the Haitian crisis required a respect for the constitutional order and the
legitimacy of its elected president. But the State Department?s efforts to mediate the
crisis were half-hearted at best and when the opposition refused to accept its terms the
administration made it clear that there would be no support for the beleaguered president
from the international community thereby encouraging his ouster in 2004. ?I am happy
he is gone. He?d worn out his welcome with the Haitian people,? proclaimed Vice
President Dick Cheney.
By turning its back on Haiti the administration also turned its back on the
Organization of American States and the efforts by other Caribbean states to mediate the
political conflict on the island. The departure of President Aristide and his replacement
with an ad hoc government rather than resolving the problems of the country only made
them worse. By encouraging the removal of a figure, however flawed and controversial,
who was the legitimate head of state and continues to command strong allegiance
Washington aggravated the polarization of the country and made more difficult the
restructuring of a semblance of institutional order.
It is one thing to make a mistake, another to cling to it to the very end in a vain attempt to redeem it. The attempt with Aristide was perhaps worth making, considering his 1990 electoral legitimacy and the bleak alternatives at the time, but once it had gone bad, the United States needed to move as quickly as possible to the sort of democratic transition, with U.N. assistance, that is now being attempted. Optimally this should have been done under Clinton, and under the very able guidance of Arturo Valenzuela himself at the National Security Council! But at the very least, by the first years of the Bush administration. To wait, as did Bush, until the situation completely unraveled was to insure that the men with the guns would prevail. It also gave too much time for armed gangs to spread like a cancer into the fabric of a society that had been, at the popular level, one of the most peaceful in the world.
There is a valid critique of the Bush administration’s policy to be made, but Valenzuela has not made it here. His rejection of the struggling transition is very dangerous both for Haiti and for the capacity of the Democrats to assume a factually-based and morally sympathetic position. The example is not far to find. It is Bill Clinton himself during 1992-94.