THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR SAMUEL BERGER The Briefing Room
1:05 P.M. EST
MR. JOHNSON: Good afternoon and welcome to the White House briefing room. To start off today's briefing, we are going to have the Deputy National Security Advisor, Samuel Berger, to brief you on tomorrow's visit by a presidential delegation led by Madeleine Albright for the inauguration of President Preval in Haiti.
MR. BERGER: Good morning -- afternoon, I guess. Let me say a few words at the outset about the significance of the events tomorrow -- the inauguration of President Preval to be the new President of Haiti. And as David indicated, a delegation led by Ambassador Albright will represent the United States at that ceremony.
Tomorrow represents an historic day for Haiti, and a day in which I believe Americans can take some pride in what we've accomplished over the past 18 months. Tomorrow there will be the first peaceful transition of power from one democratically elected president of Haiti to another in Haiti's history. That establishes the basis for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, as the President indicated back in September of 1994 when we began the action in Haiti.
President Preval has asked the U.N. to extend the U.N. mission for another, roughly, six months. That will be discussed at the U.N. during the month of February and we hope that will be approved, something perhaps at the 1500 to 2000 level. The United States will not participate in that phase of the security operation. U.S. combat forces will be departing -- in fact, they already are beginning to depart and will be departed from Haiti by mid-March. Some remaining support forces will be gone by early April. At that point there will be a -- hopefully, if the U.N. mandate is extended -- a 1500-to-2000 U.N. presence, largely Canadians and Pakistanis.
We intend to have a vigorous ongoing policy with respect to Haiti. We would hope that there would be a small military liaison office there, as we have in most countries in Latin America -- perhaps 50 or so; occasional exercises, civic action programs by the military -- obviously, a very vigorous AID and economic program; continued heavy diplomatic involvement, as well as our efforts in helping to continue to train and upgrade the Haitian police. But we will not be part of the security force.
Now, the second point I want to make is that an enormous amount has been accomplished since September, 1994 -- September 19, 1994, to be precise -- when 23,000 American soldiers began to land in Haiti. The de facto regime that had ruled Haiti brutally since 1991 departed peacefully. The Haitian military, much feared, was disbanded and demobilized, also peacefully.
There have been a series of elections in Haiti for local and parliamentary and now presidential elections that have been conducted, largely peacefully. There is a new legislature that is operating with a good degree of vigor and independence. There is a 5,000-person Haitian national police force that has been trained with the help of American and Canadian and other outside assistance that is operating. We have trained during this period about 400 justices of peace through Haiti to help begin to improve their judicial system.
And the economy, which remains very, very poor, is showing signs of some revitalization, it grew about five percent last year. The assembly sector has restored about 12,000 of the, I think, roughly, 35,000 jobs that existed there before the coup and before the period during the coup.
And, finally, I would say that the level of political violence in Haiti, which involved perhaps 3,000, 4,000 political murders during the period of the coup leaders from 1990 to 1994 has been dramatically reduced. We estimate that perhaps since the American involvement there, there may have been roughly 20 or so killings that can be attributable to perhaps some political motive.
Now, let me say finally that I think we need to recognize that enormous challenges remain for Haiti. It is the poorest country in the hemisphere, it is one of the poorest countries in the world. It does not have a deep and long tradition of democracy, it has weak governmental institutions, but it is moving along the path towards democracy and towards recovery.
I think the final thing I would say is that all along over the last two years, the doomsayers with respect to Haiti have been wrong. They predicted widespread violence after the American intervention, widespread opposition to the American intervention; that did not materialize. They suggested that Aristide was not a Democrat and would seek vengeance and not reconciliation; in fact, President Aristide not only spoke continually of reconciliation, but practiced it as well. They indicated all along that Aristide, of course, would never step down for power, would never peacefully turn over his power to another democratically-elected regime, which, of course, he's done.
So at each step of the way, I think Haiti has defied the conventional wisdom, it has moved along the path towards democracy, and we hope that we will be part of that enterprise for years to come.
Let me try to answer your questions.
Q Is President Carter going to be a part of this delegation since he was so instrumental in bringing about this peace?
MR. BERGER: I don't believe President Carter will be at the inauguration, but there will be an American delegation, including members of Congress and others.
Q Why would the U.S. support an extension of the mandate, the U.N. mandate, at the same time refuse to keep its troops there? Isn't there a contradiction here?
MR. BERGER: No, the President indicated very clearly in September of 1994 when we introduced the American force that we would be there through the election of a new president and the inauguration of a new president. That is happening tomorrow, and consistent with that commitment to the American people, the remaining American forces will be withdrawn.
Just to give you a perspective here, we were initially at 23,000. We drew down very quickly. In March of 1995, we were only about 2,500, which is what we are at now. Nonetheless, the Preval government, the new government has asked for there to be some continued transition, continued U.N. presence as the Haitian national police in particular gains in maturity, gains in experience, the Canadians, the Paks and others have indicated they're prepared to do that, and I think we welcome that.
Q When does the U.S. intend to return the thousands of pages of documents that the Haitians -- say are quite incriminatory toward the U.S.?
MR. BERGER: At the time of the intervention, there were a number of documents and other things that were taken at that time. We very much would like to return all of that material to Haiti, to the government of Haiti, and have indicated to them that that's our intention.
There are some procedures we would like to work out with the government with respect to some of the documents -- some, for example, that may have names of American citizens in Haiti that we would like to make sure receive adequate protection. We have not yet been able to work out all of those procedures with the government of Haiti. We will continue, after the transition with the new government, to discuss that with them. But our hope and expectation is to return the documents subject to adequate procedures.
Q What will President Aristide be doing now and what is his influence on the government at this point?
MR. BERGER: Well, President Aristide has indicated that he intends to remain active in Haitian affairs. His commitment to his people is manifest and deep and abiding. He has some ideas with respect to literacy programs and other private activities that he's talked about engaging in. I expect, certainly he is a figure of great respect in Haiti and he will be a not-so-senior statesman.
But I also anticipate that President Preval will function as the real president of Haiti and that President Aristide will play a role as a private citizen.
Q So you do not believe that he'll be the power behind the throne when --
MR. BERGER: No, I don't think so. And, again, I think this may be another one of these conventional expectations that President Aristide once again defies, that he will somehow seek to be the president while not being the president. He and President Preval have been close through the years. President Preval was a prime minister in his earlier government, before the coup. I suspect that he will be an advisor, but I also expect that President Preval and his government will be the authorities that operate and run the government in Haiti.
Q You mentioned that the U.S. would be part of what you called the enterprise in Haiti for some time. Given the economic conditions, the ecological environmental degradation there, what's it going to take to keep the situation from deteriorating again to the point where the people start coming into the United States again and create the same political problems that led to this intervention?
MR. BERGER: Well, I think there has to be steady economic progress for there to be an enduring transformation in Haiti. Obviously, the most important thing that can happen is the higher level of foreign investment in Haiti. I think as this transition takes place peacefully, as we have now a new democratically elected government, I think that the environment in which business can operate in Haiti, I think they will have a greater confidence that we're through this period and there will be greater levels of investment.
There obviously is also still a role for international financial institutions and for bilateral economic assistance. We would hope that we could continue to assist Haiti, both through the international financial institutions and our own bilateral programs so that this growth that has begun to resume last year continues.
Q What is the current aid level, and how do you -- do you anticipate it will go higher or --
MR. BERGER: In FY '95 the level was about $162 million -- excuse me, it was about a total of $235 million, that was '95. In '96, the planned total is $115 million but, as you know, budget expenditures for FY '96 are a little irregular due to the nature of our budget battles. And so I'm not sure whether it will spend out at that level. And it is important that we continue to maintain the support in Congress for a continued level of assistance for Haiti. I think it's extremely important that we work with Haiti now to consolidate this extraordinary transformation that has taken place.
We no longer have a situation of mass brutality in Haiti, we no longer have a situation of thousands of people in boats heading for the United States. We have a democratic government, and I think we have an obligation to try to assist it.
Q Do you have any reasons to believe that Preval's policy and attitude will be different from Aristide's with regard to the economy? Aristide refused to implement this program of economic -- which led Congress, in fact, freeze part of U.S. aid -- do you think that Preval will have a different policy, or will he keep the same direction?
MR. BERGER: Well, he has indicated that he wants to work with the international community, he wants to work with the World Bank and other institutions to try to maintain their engagement and involvement in Haiti, and I believe he will do that.
Q Aristide said the same thing -- blocked the policy, so --
MR. BERGER: President Aristide had a good deal on his plate over the last year and a half, and I think a lot of progress was made. Not everything was done during this period, but I think there's been a steady trend line here, and we would expect President Preval to continue the process of economic development.
Q If the economic policies do not change -- what do you think the impact will be with Congress? Do you think he will still keep his freeze on U.S. aid, or how are you going to work with that?
MR. BERGER: We hope to continue to work with the new government of Haiti to encourage them to adopt economic policies that are both -- that are principally in the interest of the Haitian people, both in the short term -- that is in terms of the dire kind of situation that exists in parts of Haiti and in longer term as well, so that there is an economy in Haiti that is beginning to have a kind of structural reform that will enable it to build into a stronger economy. So we will continue to work both with the Congress and with the government of Haiti to try to encourage them along that path.
END 1:23 P.M. EST