THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT TO THE TRANSAFRICA CELEBRATION OF THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE RESTORATION OF DEMOCRACY IN HAITI
Organization of American States Washington, DC
7:10 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary General. This marks the second time in two days I have been here. I promise I won't come back tomorrow and interrupt your lives. (Laughter.)
Madam Foreign Minister, to the distinguished Prime Minister of St. Kitts, and others who are here who were part of that remarkable coalition that restored democracy to Haiti a year ago. Let me say I was looking out at this crowd tonight, and when my friend of 25 years, Taylor Branch, told me that this event was going to come to pass, I redid my schedule just so I could come by here and thank so many of you for what you did.
I want to thank my longtime friend Bill Gray for agreeing to be pressed back into public service for the work that he did. I want to thank all the people in the United States who cared about Haiti, who wrote me letters and called me on the phone and came to see me about it and talked to me about what was at stake.
Randall Robinson even went on a diet for Haiti. (Laughter and applause.) Jonathan Demme wrote me letters that were even more eloquent than the films that he makes. (Laughter.) And many others did as well. I thank you all for your concern.
I want to thank our partners in the hemisphere. When the United States decided that if necessary we would use force to remove the military regime and to restore President Aristide and democracy, I was so determined that no one would think we were trying to revive any hemispheric imperialism. I have worked very hard to establish a new sense of partnership, a new sense of common bond, a new sense of common mission with all the nations of the Caribbean, of Central and South America.
The First Lady would like to be here tonight -- she is in Nicaragua as we speak on her way to a four-nation tour of Latin America. We care deeply about how other people who share our neighborhoods feel about the United States and that they understand that we believe we have a common destiny.
And so I don't think this operation ever would have worked as it should have worked had it not been for all the other countries who were willing to participate with us. Even though we had a United Nations mandate, what really made it go was all of our neighbors participating, sending their soldiers, sending their police monitors, participating, standing up for it. It made an enormous difference.
I want to say a special word of thanks to all the people within our administration who supported my action. And needless to say, it was hotly debated. And all the political polls said it was a dumb thing to do. And I said, well, I do a lot of things that the polls -- (laughter). But it seemed to be the right thing to do. Two of them are here -- the Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Sandy Berger; and people that aren't here -- Tony Lake and the Vice President -- were all very strongly in support of the action that our administration took. And I appreciate that very much.
And finally let me say to General Fisher and to everyone who was involved first in the multinational force and then in the United Nations force, I am very proud and grateful for the performance of the United States military in Haiti. They made all Americans proud. And they made this whole thing possible, and we thank you, too, sir. (Applause.)
One of the best things that's happened to me in the last year is a few months after the restoration of President Aristide, one of the military officers who was involved in the operation -- and I don't want to embarrass him, so I won't say his name -- but I was having a rather interesting conversation with him, and he looked at me and he said, you know, Mr. President, when you did this, I just didn't know. But, you know, that was a good thing we did. It was the right thing to do. And I was -- coming from a person of few words and high performance, I treasured that.
I thank Brian Atwood and the work that AID is doing in Haiti.
And all of you should relish this celebration for all of the work that all of you did and the contributions you made, all of the groups and the individuals. Tonight, I hope you will think about what we all have to do to make sure that this extraordinary endeavor succeeds.
The United States has worked hard in the last year to help to establish an electoral process which is proceeding. We have worked hard to try to establish a system of law and order which is making progress. But in the end, the Foreign Minister and all of the people in her government and President Aristide have to be able to prove that freedom and democracy can bring the benefits that we know it can bring.
And Haiti was plundered for a very long time. It has been environmentally ravaged. When I went back to Haiti for the first time since my wife and I went there in December of 1975, I was literally shocked to see the deterioration of the environment, the topsoil running thin and all of the things that had happened.
We all have a lot of work to do there. And in the end, we have to make it possible for the people of Haiti who are willing to work and learn and grow to compose a life, to stabilize their families, to live out their dreams. And we have a lot more work to do there.
So I ask you to celebrate this extraordinary evening by reaffirming your determination to help the people who live there keep their democracy alive and bring its benefits to ordinary citizens, to infuse new investment, to create new jobs, to develop a sustainable economic program while restoring the environment, to do all those things that they might have done for themselves had they had a longer period of time free of oppression.
I must say that when I went to Haiti, I was very moved by what I saw, by the spirit of the people and the openness to the possibilities of the future. But we all know that the future is not free of difficulties.
So if you are still today as firmly convinced as you were a year ago that this is the right thing to do; if you feel as deeply proud today as you did a year ago, then you have to make your convictions good by making sure that we do not fail in this common endeavor; that democracy ultimately triumphs; that freedom is ultimately the victor; and that there is some prosperity for those good people who have suffered too long, borne too much and now have to have our continued partnership to build the kind of future that all of us want for ourselves, our families and our children. I know we can do it but we must get about it, and we must stay with it until the job is done.
Thank you, good luck, and God bless you all. (Applause.)
END 7:19 P.M. EDT