THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR SAMUEL BERGER
3:08 P.M. EST
MR. BERGER: Thank you, Mike. As Mike indicated, the President will be traveling on Friday to Haiti. Let me talk to you briefly this afternoon about the trip and about the status of the situation in Haiti itself.
First, I'd like to put the present moment in a bit of context, then talk a bit about the President's day on Friday in Haiti. And third, talk about where we see the situation in Haiti both from a security, from an economic and from a political democracy-building standpoint five months into the mission.
Let me begin with brief context. Five months after the U.S.-led coalition was sent to Haiti, I think it's fair to say that our mission there is succeeding. A brutal military dictatorship is gone and a democratically-elected government has been restored. Haiti today is a nation where people are building roads to get to market rather than boats to escape terror. That is not to say that there are still not daunting challenges in Haiti -- plenty of uncertainties in the road ahead. But the fact is that Haitians today are rebuilding their new democracy and their shattered economy with pride and with hope.
There are three basic purposes for the President's trip on Friday. First is to express the deep gratitude of the American people to the U.S. troops who have served in Haiti over these last five months -- who are serving there today. They have done a truly magnificent job over this period. And the President wants to express the deep gratitude of the American people for the skill with which they have functioned during this period.
Second, he will meet with President Aristide and his government to congratulate them on the strides that they have made on restoring democracy and promoting reconciliation in that country.
And third, the President will be attending a transition ceremony in the afternoon whereby the U.S.-led coalition under General Fisher, will give way to the U.N. coalition under General Joe Kinzer. This has been an extraordinarily smooth transition between the U.S.-led coalition and the U.N. coalition that will assume authority on March 31st. It has gone as we have planned and hope for. And the President wanted to be there for that.
Of course, there still will be an American military presence during this phase of the 6,000 U.N. UNMI peacekeepers in Haiti -- about 2,500 will be Americans.
The itinerary of the day: The President will leave from Florida. He will go, fly to Port au Prince rather early. He will address the troops, including American troops, including some of those who are soon to depart. He will then give an address to the Haitian people from the steps of the National Palace. He will meet with President Aristide and members of the Haitian government and other Haitian leaders. He will participate in the transition ceremony that I mentioned. He will meet with the provisional Electoral Council that is responsible for holding the elections in June. And then he will meet with the embassy staff before departing late the same day back to Arkansas.
Now, let me just spend perhaps two minutes giving you an overview of what we see, both the situation in Haiti today and the challenges that remain. First, a word on the security side. Haiti today has generally been restored to a secure and stable environment. That fact has been attested to by our commanders there, as well as the United Nations Security Council in making the transition to the U.N. presence.
Political violence that was pervasive just five or six months ago has largely disappeared. There still is crime and street violence in Port-Au-Prince in Haiti, although at a level probably less than most other cities around the world and the United States. Roughly 30,000 weapons have been confiscated or purchased back. An interim police of 3,400 has been trained and is functioning under the supervision of about 800 international monitors. They will eventually be replaced by a new Haitian police that is currently being trained at a Haitian police academy at a rate of about 350 a month -- very impressive program. These have been very competitive to become part of the new Haitian police, and they will begin to come on stream and actually be patrolling in the spring and summer.
On the economic side, I think we have to bear in mind that Haiti is and has been a desperately poor country. It is the poorest country in the hemisphere. Per capita income of roughly $260. Its economy shrank 30 percent since the '90 coup. And so the situation President Aristide went back to was one that was barely functioning. But there has been progress.
There is a serious relief effort that is now ongoing -- the international community, and is feeding with the United States participation of a million people a day, providing health care or medical services for two million a day. There's been an immunization program since President Aristide returned, which has immunized about 90 percent of the children in Port-Au-Prince, and soon will be throughout the country.
The government has established an economic plan based on a free-market system. They've signed an agreement with the IMF. They've eliminated their arrears to the IMF. The international community in January in Paris pledged $1.2 billion to Haitian economic recovery over the next 18 months. That money is beginning to flow, and it's obviously going to be slow in the beginning, but there is a serious international commitment there.
In terms of the private sector, our Department of Commerce and OPIC have been spearheading an effort to try to get the private sector back into Haiti. OPIC has signed a $100-million facility with the Bank of Boston to provide some lending to assembly companies to go back in to Haiti. About 40 companies have returned. We hope eventually 200 will go back. That sector provided about 50,000 jobs before the military coup and before the sanctions.
And, finally, there is a serious privatization program that has been undertaken by the Haitian government, focusing initially on the electrical infrastructure, the electricity company, on the telecommunications sector, and on the infrastructure of the ports, et cetera.
Finally, a snapshot of where we are in terms of the political situation and democracy. The legislature, after President Aristide returned, reconvened. It functioned quite effectively. It passed an amnesty law; it passed a police law. Its term expired in January. The legislature is now not sitting. Elections have been called for June 4th, and a provisional Electoral Council has been established to hold elections basically not only for most of the legislature, but also roughly 2,000 local and municipal office holders. That is a daunting challenge for a country that has had only a few elections in its history.
We're talking about something like 2,500 registration sites, 9,000 polling places -- all of these things need to be done between now and early June. USAID has committed $11 million to help in that program. That will be elections under U.N. supervision with OAS monitors coming to the country to help supervise the election.
Let me just conclude and take a few questions. With this thought -- as we move here on Friday from one phase to another, I think we are very clear-eyed about the obstacles that lie ahead for Haiti. Haiti's turbulent history cannot be easily escaped. Political institutions are fragile, about as fragile as its electrical generators.
But I think this all needs to be seen in the context of the progress over the last five months. Perhaps the best perspective is provided by President Aristide himself, who has said on many occasions that the Haitians are moving along a path that leads from misery to poverty with dignity. And that has been the process that we have been assisting over this period, and will continue over the next phase.
Q There have been reports that as the election process nears, there has been an increase in homicides. Can you also say how much this operation has cost the U.S. so far?
MR. BERGER: With respect to the question about whether there's been an increase in homicides, there was a few weeks ago a spike of some violence during a two- or three-day period. Upon investigation, it appears that most of these incidents, if not all of them, have been situations involving common criminals and not political crimes. Obviously, there is still criminal activity and some violence in the country, and it's obviously a subject of concern until the Haitian police force and judicial system is really functioning really well.
With respect to the cost -- the cost of this since September has been roughly $900 million. I should note that we spent $400 million last year on Haiti during a period in which we were seeking to restore democracy. There is, in FY'95, roughly $200 million of economic assistance as part of that $900 million.
Q Does that include the cost of the U.S. military -- the $900 million?
MR. BERGER: Yes.
Q The New York Times today talked about the President and the business code of ethics. Some of the unions in the United States have been rather upset about American companies doing business in Haiti and now workers were paid per hour and lack of bathroom facilities. Are you trying to work with the American companies to get more humane --
MR. BERGER: We've worked very closely with the AFL-CIO and the labor movement. They have been very involved in Haiti, in Haiti democracy from the very beginning, for years. They have a very active presence there and we obviously want to see as the private sector is restored, we want to see that done in a way that is respectful of the rights of Haitian workers.
Q Sandy, what's the status of U.S. cooperation with the extradition request for Mr. Constant?
MR. BERGER: I'm not sure for certain where that stands. You know, Constant has left Haiti, but I'm not sure of the status.
Q Is he not in the United States?
MR. BERGER: I know he was at the United States at one time, but I don't know where he is at this point.
Q I understand we give $33 million a year to the AFL- CIO to carry on these projects overseas -- what we call for democracy. Why do we give the money to them to spend? Why don't we spend it ourselves if we're going to spend it?
MR. BERGER: Well, this is a little bit off the Haiti track, but there is, of course, the National Endowment of --
Q I'm talking about the general --
MR. BERGER: I understand. There has been a program supported by the --
Q Haiti is included.
MR. BERGER: That's correct. There has been a program, supported on a bipartisan basis, the National Endowment of Democracy -- actually created under the Reagan administration, if I recall correctly -- originally an idea of President Reagan -- that has funded both through Chamber of Commerce on the one hand and through the American labor movement on the other hand, the support of democratic institutions abroad. That's been something we support. Haiti is one of many places in which that functions.
Q Sandy, can we get one comment on peacekeeping?
MR. BERGER: Yes. By the way, we are going, in a moment, go on background and have a little more detailed briefing.
Q Well, just on the record, could you just put this in a broader context? We've gone in and out of Rwanda very quickly and cleanly. Here we've gotten in and out of Haiti relatively quickly and cleanly. Somalia, obviously, was a very different case. Can you comment on the development of U.S. ability to do these sorts of operations in a U.N. context?
MR. BERGER: Well, I think, you know, Haiti is a situation that we have been -- we planned for very, very carefully. I think from the very beginning, the President was very clear about the objectives -- the purpose of the American military presence was to return the democratic government, establish a safe and secure environment and then turn this over to a U.N.-led force of which we will still participate to maintain that secure environment. Clear exit strategy, that is, we will -- the peacekeepers will be gone in February '96, after the Presidential election. And I think, with clear goals and with a lot of planning, a lot of work so far, we're on track.
Q So do you think that all of this is worth spending $1,300 million on?
MR. BERGER: Thirteen hundred million?
Q Well, you said $900 million.
MR. BERGER: Nine hundred million was the total figure.
Q There was $400 million last year. Now, do you think it's worth it?
MR. BERGER: I think it is absolutely --
Q Have we gotten our money's worth?
MR. BERGER: Yes.
Q How so? By what, specifically?
MR. BERGER: I believe that today, had we not taken this action, we would have had an enormous Haitian migrant problem that would have cost us dearly. We would have seen on our doorstep the continued brutality of a regime that killed 3,000 people. For us to stand by and tolerate that, over time, would, I think, have diminished the United States.
America has kept the word of two American Presidents to help restore democracy in Haiti. And I believe the vitality and strength that Haiti will bring to the region and to our commitments, are well worth it.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END3:36 P.M. EST