THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY SPECIAL ADVISOR ON HAITI BILL GRAY
The Briefing Room
12:24 P.M. EDT
MR. GRAY: Thank you, Mr. President.
As the President has indicated, we are announcing two new steps in our efforts to restore democracy in Haiti. First, the President has signed an executive order banning private financial transactions between Haiti and the United States and, through the United States, between Haiti and other countries. Let me note that this ban does not apply to humanitarian activities, including the expanding programs to feed over a million Haitians daily. It also exempts remittances of up to $50 a month to individual Haitians who depend on such funds.
Second, the President has directed Secretary of Transportation Pena to instruct all United States and Haitian air carriers to cease scheduled services between our two nations. In order to allow those Americans and others who wish to leave Haiti to do so in an orderly fashion, this measure will take effect as of June 25th.
The new measures we are announcing today have been endorsed by the Organization of American States, the Friends of Haiti and President Aristide. Through these actions, we are sending a strong message to Haiti's military leaders that they cannot continue repressing their people and defying world opinion with impunity. Working with our international and Haitian partners, we will act to protect our national interest and hasten the day when Haitian democracy is restored and President Aristide can return to the people who freely elected him as their leader.
At this time I will entertain questions.
Q How effective do you think these new sanctions will be in restoring Aristide to his power?
MR. GRAY: Well, sanctions create an environment where we hope we will be able to have a diplomatic breakthrough. As you know, the sanctions under U.N. Resolution 917 were only imposed about three weeks ago, and they are having a significant effect. These additional sanctions are targeted in such a way to have a maximum effect upon the coup leaders and those who are their supporters. And it is our belief that they will further create that kind of an atmosphere where we can have a diplomatic breakthrough and a solution where the coup leaders step down.
Q How long is it going to be before you expect to see any kind of results from the additional sanctions? How long are you going to give it before you know if it works?
MR. GRAY: Well, we're going to be analyzing and reviewing the situation daily and weekly in Haiti to determine the effectiveness of these sanctions as well as those that are now in place and determining what our next steps should be.
Q Mr. Ambassador, does this mean that the military option, at least for now, is on hold?
MR. GRAY: As the President has said, all options are on the table. We are pursuing a multilateral policy with our allies in the region -- the Organization of American States that just met, and Brazil as well as the Four Friends of Haiti and the United Nations. We will continue to work in a multilateral way to apply the maximum amount of pressure and to use every option available to restore democracy.
Q There are reports today from within the administration that the sanctions already in place are beginning to take their bite. What evidence can you tell us today that the sanctions are beginning to have an effect?
MR. GRAY: Well, I think that we have information that there are some shortages, gasoline prices that had dropped early have now come back up a little bit. And we suspect that those sanctions that were put in place by U.N. Council Resolution 917 on May 21st are beginning to have an impact. These will heighten the impact rather dramatically, and we think that we will, hopefully, see some changes in the behavior of those in Haiti, and perhaps the coup leaders will do what they agreed to do in Governors Island, which was to step down.
Q If I could follow up please. Specifically, some administration officials are talking about the business elite that surround the military leaders in Haiti are beginning to feel the pressure of the sanctions. What kind of intelligence -- what can you tell us, can you share with us today about that aspect of the sanctions?
MR. GRAY: Well, I think there is significant evidence that they are feeling the bite of the present sanctions and that these will also have a significant impact on them. And I think you've seen statements in the news media coming from people in the business elite who have supported the coup leaders in their taking over democracy in Haiti. And we expect that these will have a significant impact, especially upon the business elite who have been supporting the coup leaders.
Q Mr. Gray, the Latin American governments are not in favor of the military intervention, nor seem to be the other friends -- the other three countries. You say all options on the table. Is the U.S. willing to go it alone if need be?
MR. GRAY: Well, first of all, I don't know where you get your information from with regard to Latin American countries and CARICOM countries. I have just been, in the last two weeks, traveling, meeting with all of the leaders of the CARICOM nations, also at the OAS nations and also at the Four Friends. The statement that none of them are interested in the possibility that you just described is not accurate at all.
Secondly, I think that what everyone is concerned about is applying the maximum amount of pressure to seek a diplomatic solution. I think there are mixed views with regard to the timing, as well as the tactics of other possible solutions.
Right now, our policy continues to be that of working with other nations to apply the maximum amount of economic pressure to have a diplomatic breakthrough. But the President has said, and we continue to make clear to our allies in the region, that all options are on the table. And those who would suggest that there has already been a vote or there is a consensus that all options are not on the table is not accurate, from my conversations with leaders throughout the regions.
Q you have figured out some plan whereby the United States, with all of this interfering on behalf of democracy, some plan to keep those poor children in Haiti from starving to death? You see pictures of that all the time.
MR. GRAY: Well, first of all, let me just point out that I'm glad you raised that question -- that certainly the economic sanctions that have only been in place about three and a half weeks did not create those pictures. In fact, it is U.S. policy that has helped to provide humanitarian aid in Haiti for some time. We are providing, right now, over $70 million of humanitarian aid. Right now we are presently feeding one million Haitians -- that's approximately one out of five.
So those who say sanctions should not be applied because somehow we're going to increase the suffering of children ignore the fact that our aid programs right now -- and have been over the past year -- feeding one out of every five Haitians in that country. We are planning to increase that assistance by another 300,000 who will go on the feeding programs. And we will be looking for an additional expenditure of PL-480 program money and humanitarian aid that will assist those who are suffering.
The suffering of those children is not a suffering caused by United States sanctions or world sanctions. The suffering of those children has been caused by a society that continues to ignore the needs of its majority citizens for the needs of the few. And if you're going to correct that situation, democracy is the first step in bringing about an economic prosperity that affects all of the people in that society. And so American policy is not simply to restore democracy and restore the dually-elected leadership, but we are also providing right now, over $70 million of humanitarian aid to those who are hungry, those who are suffering. And that is beside the aid that comes from the numerous nongovernmental agencies, humanitarian and missionary groups that are also there providing medicine and health and a variety of other things.
Q Mr. Gray, can you pull apart for us the financial aspects of what you're trying to accomplish? In the past, when the administration has tried to freeze assets, most of the assets have been gone. When you have tried to block the flow of money, it's proved to be very difficult. Who are you going to go after? Do you believe that there is anything to really get at this point? And what about other governments such as France, the Bahamas and Switzerland? Are we going after them as well?
MR. GRAY: Let me begin by starting at the rear of that question and moving backwards. Last Friday in a communique the Friends of Haiti of the United Nations issued a statement supporting this kind of action that President Clinton is taking today. Also last Monday in Brazil, the Organization of American States issued a statement supporting this same kind of action.
It is our expectation that other nations will be doing the same -- those nations where such actions can have an effect. For instance, not every airline in the world flies into Port-au-Prince. There are essentially five that do -- American Airlines, Air France, Canada, the Dominican Republic and the Dutch Airlines. And so, therefore, these actions have to be taken bilaterally by individual nations as opposed to an organization such as the OAS or the United Nations.
We expect that other nations will also join us in this activity with regard to isolating the coup leadership and the supporters in the Haiti situation. What it means is essentially this: When you ban American airlines from flying, that's approximately 65 to 75 percent of all the air traffic to Haiti. Air France, Canada has about another 25 percent, and we expect that they will be reviewing the recommendations that come from the Four Friends as well as the OAS in determining what they will do on this issue.
With regard to financial transactions, we are talking about the prohibition of hundreds of millions of dollars on an annual basis. That includes prohibitions such as carrying amounts of cash into the United States, wire transfers, trade financing such as letters of credit, dollar clearing, and a host of other types of activity. Since the United States dollar is an international currency that is very important in trade, we think it will have a very significant impact.
We expect, again, that other nations, particularly those who, like the Four Friends, as well as the OAS who voted just recently for these recommendations, will also be doing the same thing. So we think it will have a very significant impact. And even though someone may attempt to relocate their resources, after today it will be impossible --
Q Are you going after a new named list of individuals that goes beyond the group of roughly 600 that have been targeted before? Or are you doing it in a more general sense?
MR. GRAY: We are constantly evaluating the list of those who are subject to visa revocation, as well as the freezing of assets. To that list has been added, as you well know, those who are part of the front government that was set up by the coup leaders. And as we find evidence of those who are supporting the coup leadership and its unconstitutional government, their names will be also added.
Q? Mr. Gray, if these sanctions make sense, can you tell us why they were not imposed earlier, why it made sense to wait until now?
MR. GRAY: Well, I think that essentially, one, these restrictions that we're talking about here are restrictions that have to be applied primarily bilaterally. Again, as I said before, there are only five countries that have airlines flying into Port-au- Prince. And so, thus, a U.N. resolution, even though it is broad- based as 917, it leaves the possibility for other nations to take additional actions and restrictions.
We have worked in a multilateral way, and that is why this action is now coming upon the heels of a vote by the OAS and also by the support of the Four Friends. And so, these are really a continuation of U.N. Resolution 917. Prior to that imposition of 917, which was on the 21st, you had voluntary sanctions on arm embargo, or just oil. I think what the world community said was that after the coup leaders failed to live up to their previous agreements, especially the Governors Island Agreement to step down, that stronger steps had to be taken, and we joined the world community in doing that.
Q of the size of the assets that you're talking about? And if people have had a week to consider this, if the OAS has talked about this a week ago, by now certainly a prudent person would have already moved their assets or taken steps to cover it up. How do you counter that?
MR. GRAY: Where would you take your assets and where would you want them to be? What are the international -- what does the international marketplace respect in terms of currency? So, therefore, if you also get other countries to join in, I doubt very seriously you'll find too many places to run with those assets.
And then, also, when you talk about carrying out international transactions, the payment of trade bills and so forth, that payment is usually preferred in certain kinds of currencies, the United States dollar being the foremost. And so, yes, I think someone may have tried to take their assets and move them as a result of hearing what the OAS did on Monday. But eventually, if you're going to do business in the world marketplace, there are certain currencies that are the accepted currencies of the market. The dollar is one of them. So, yes, this will have a very significant impact upon those who are the elite and who have been supporting the coup leadership.
Q Last week, the Haitian government seized $12 million of U.S. AID funds. What is our response to that? Have we done anything?
MR. GRAY: What have we done? Essentially, they seized about $12 million of U.S. assets. Those assets were primarily for humanitarian purposes in deposit in order to carry out our feeding programs of the poor, of the children and the needy. And we have decided to continue those programs and to go on without that money at this time.
Q How will this measure on the cut-off of flights affect the OAS-U.N. human rights mission that's in Haiti now? And also, how will it affect the humanitarian aid programs, the workers in the country? Do you anticipate any kind of action --
MR. GRAY: Our conversations that we've had with the humanitarian groups is that this prohibition on airline flights is not going to cause them to leave. Their commitment is based upon a strong commitment to aid the poor, the hungry. There are those groups that do use air charter service to bring in supplies -- medical, as well as humanitarian aid. Those flights have to be cleared through a United Nations procedure. We are working with the United Nations now to come up with an expedited procedure mechanism so that there will not be delays for those who have medical supplies and other supplies -- missionaries, humanitarian groups -- that want to get them in.
And so we're hoping that we'll have an expedited procedure. We have worked already with regard to two requests of groups that have had that problem. But we do not see the banning of commercial airlines as somehow affecting the humanitarian aid programs that will be going on there.
Q But there were some aid programs that depended on commercial airlines, Mr. Gray.
Q If the Haitian military does not agree to these conditions by the time that your term expires, will you see these efforts essentially as a failure?
MR. GRAY: My term expires -- oh, my term expires after 130 days, but let me explain to you what 130 days means. It means the days that I work for President Clinton. And so, every day I'm not working for President Clinton. I still remain as the President of the College Fund and there are days when I am not doing this job. And so, therefore, those who think if you wait until October 1st Bill Gray will be gone, they may be surprised. (Laughter.)
Q Mr. Gray, what's the practical effect for those groups which did send in their humanitarian supplies, primarily medical, by commercial airliner? I know of at least two. What are they going to do?
MR. GRAY: Well, we will work with those groups to find a different way for them to get their supplies in. There are charter flights and there are other ways in which we can get those supplies in. But I don't think that we should take the position or imply that these additional restrictions are going to hurt the poor and humanitarian. In fact, what they hurt are those people who are the supporters of the coup who presently can now go and get on an Air France plane, go to Paris, shop and come back, or get on an American Airlines plane and come to New York. I assure you that not too many of the poor children or the poor people of Haiti are flying American Airlines, either economy or business or first class, coming to Miami or New York.
And so, therefore, the emphasis here is seeking to apply pressure to those groups that are supporting the coup leadership. And let me point out that most of the humanitarian aid that is going in, most of the medical aid is not going in by these commercial airline flights. And as I said before, we are willing to work with those groups that have used these flights through air cargo.
But we should also point out that if they can use air cargo, so can those who want to break the embargo use air cargo. So we will work with those humanitarian groups to make sure that there is no loss of humanitarian aid that will be going in to provide help for the poor or the needy.
Q Why do you think that these will work?
Q Mr. Gray, how does this impact people who have families in New York, in Port-au-Prince who wire money into people in to aid them?
MR. GRAY: Well, I'm glad you raised that question because one of the things that is a part of this whole set of financial restrictions is that we are providing for remittances of about $50 a month, which allows someone who lives in the United States who has some family members and would like to send small amounts to the poor there, up to $50 a month, they will be able to continue to do so.
And when you're talking about a society where the annual income is around $350, even though $50 a month may not sound like a great deal here in America, it is a significant amount. So, therefore, we think that these restrictions have been targeted and fashioned in such a manner that it will provide for the need of the neediest citizens and for those in America -- we have over one million Haitian Americans -- who will be able to provide some help for their families. So, therefore, there is a provision that allows remittances up to $50.
The question that was asked before -- and I'll conclude on the other question, and that is, why do we think these will work.
We believe that, joining with other nations of the world, we must restore democracy. Whenever the United States can influence a direction for democracy, it has the responsibility to do so, working with its neighbors. We have been working with our neighbors and been working with the nations of the world to bring about a change. We believe that the sanctions under U.N. Resolution 917 plus these heightened sanctions that have been announced today by President Clinton will create that kind of environment where we can have a solution to this crisis.
Sanctions alone don't solve any crisis. They didn't solve it alone in South Africa, and they won't solve it anywhere else. But what they can do is they can create an environment where those who are the coup leaders, those who took democracy away from the Haitian people at the point of a gun, can rethink their position and come to their senses. We're hoping that that will happen, that this will create the kind of situation where they will not choose to destroy their country or themselves. And certainly, these kinds of economic restrictions make that choice very clear to the coup leaders and to their supporters.
And that's why we think it is important to try every diplomatic arrow in our quiver so that we can restore democracy. And if we can restore democracy, we will end the huge number of Haitians who are fleeing as refugees, risking their lives. At the same time, we will be able to create an environment of economic hope with the other nations of the world to provide a long-term solution.
I want to make it very clear, the financial transaction prohibition, which is quite different from seizing and freezing assets, is extremely important because it is targeted specifically at those groups who have been the supporters of the coup leaders and of the coup leaders themselves. We think it's a positive step. Again, it is a step that has been supported by the OAS in its recent communique from Brazil and also by the Four Friends of Haiti at the United Nations.
Thank you very, very much.
END 12:45 P.M. EDT