Friday, October 17, 2008

"Haiti: Affirmative Engagement or Malign Neglect?"

"Haiti: Affirmative Engagement or Malign Neglect?"
Donald Steinberg* in the Haitian Times, 9 October 2008

In December 2000, just before a newly elected George Bush took office, former National Security Advisor Anthony Lake and I went to see Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Port-au-Prince. Haiti was still in a state of confusion following flawed elections, tarnishing the mandate under which Aristide would return to the presidency. Already, Jesse Helms had publicly warned Bush that Aristide had surrounded himself with “narco-traffickers, criminals and other anti-democratic forces.” Helms’ aide, Roger Noriega, slated to become US ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), had a visceral hatred of Aristide, whom he frequently derided as a “defrocked psychopath.”

Our message to Aristide was simple: to have a shot at a reasonable relationship with the new Bush team, he had to commit publicly to restore democracy to Haiti and address American concerns about illegal migration, human rights abuses and drug trafficking.

Aristide got it. He quickly wrote to President Clinton and pledged to redress the faults of the flawed elections, bring opposition members into his government, invite the OAS to oversee political negotiations, permit international monitoring of human rights, work out an economic reform package with the IMF and World Bank, and cooperate with the US to stem the flow of boat people and cocaine across the Caribbean to Florida. See rest of commentary at

* Donald Steinberg, deputy president of International Crisis Group, served as the State Department’s Special Haiti Coordinator from 1999-2001.