U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee: Statement to House 2/24

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Statement of Congresswoman Barbara Lee

Regarding the Situation in Haiti

US House of Representatives

February 24, 2004

...Ms. LEE

Mr. Speaker, I rise tonight to ask the Bush administration why in the world our country appears to be allowing a violent coup d'etat to occur in Haiti. Through a wink and a nod, our administration is allowing this violence to occur, and we must not stand for it.

The democratically elected President of Haiti could be overthrown any minute. At risk, of course, is the safety of over 8 million lives in Haiti. We cannot play politics with rebels and with thugs. They are trying to change their government through the use of force, not by democratic elections. We do not allow coups to take place in the United States, and we should uphold that standard for neighboring countries, neighboring democracies, especially one in our own hemisphere.

Throughout Haiti's 200 years of independence, it has experienced 32 coups, but it seemed that the tragic cycle ended in 1991 with President Aristide's first Presidential victory. After a coup, the United States helped restore then-exiled President Aristide in 1996, and later he ran and was reelected in the fall of 2001. Tonight as we speak, President Aristide is warding off yet another coup attempt and a potential civil war, and democracy is under fire again in Haiti.

Two weeks ago now I wrote to Secretary Powell and asked the following questions:

One: Does the State Department support the democratically elected Government of Haiti? What practical steps is our government taking to support the democratic process?

Two: Is our country supporting and sanctioning an overthrow of the Aristide government by giving a wink and a nod to the opposition? There are also reports that we are covertly funding the opposition.

Third: Is it true that the Haitian opposition parties and leaders have received USAID funding?

Fourth: We understand the Haitian Government made several requests over the last 2 years for equipment and training of Haiti's police force. Why were these requests never responded to?

Secretary Powell said, and I quote, ``We cannot allow thugs and murderers to overthrow the democratically elected government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide,'' but now there appears to be a major disconnect between the Bush administration's words and actions. Their rhetoric says one thing, and their actions say something else.

This Friday, prior to the international diplomatic team traveling to Haiti, members of the Congressional Black Caucus asked the administration to act immediately and prevent the rebels from taking over more cities in Haiti. We are awaiting a response to both of these letters.

We are working to protect democracy in Haiti day and night, but unfortunately people in Haiti are still dying as a result of rebel attacks, hunger and the like. The ongoing negotiations to broker a peace plan are failing, and it is not at all a result of President Aristide. President Aristide has shown good faith by accepting the Catholic bishops' plan, the CARICOM plan and now this peace plan.

Haiti is embroiled in violence. Armed rebels are burning down jails and pillaging villages, toting M-16s and M-50s. Haiti only has 3,500 police for over 8 million people. It is only common sense that disarming thugs and murderers and forging a cease-fire go hand in hand.

The United States cannot sit back and watch a country especially in our own hemisphere spiral further down into a state of turmoil. Bush must show some leadership and speak out against the violence and the disregard for the rule of law in Haiti. President Bush should speak out in support of the democratically elected President of Haiti and provide President Aristide the assistance that he needs to promote peace on the ground, allow free and fair elections to take place, and to uphold the Haitian constitution.

How can we sit back and witness a violent attempt to overthrow a government? Is this part of the Bush administration's regime change policy?

Democracy in Haiti is in grave danger. Turmoil rages on the ground, in the streets, at the university, through the halls of government, and in the homes of Haitians. Haitians are dying, and it is apparent that the hope for peace is diminishing.

If we believe, if we truly believe in the power of democracy and the potential for global peace, we must not turn a blind eye to our neighbor and long-time ally. This is an urgent cry to our administration, specifically President Bush, to formally request a meeting of the United States Security Council with the hope of bringing the world community's resources to bear in support of the government of Haiti.

The United States must stop dragging its feet and answer the call President Aristide made again yesterday. He said, ``Should those killers come to Port-au-Prince, you may have thousands of people who may be killed.'' We need the presence of the international community as soon as possible.

Following letter read into the Congressional Record.

February 20, 2004

President GEORGE BUSH,
The White House,
Washington, DC.

DEAR MR. PRESIDENT: Thank you for your Administration's new initiative to resolve the current political crisis in Haiti. The Congressional Black Caucus agrees that we cannot allow ``thugs'' and ``murderers'' to overthrow the democratically-elected government of President Jean Betrand Aristide, as Secretary Powell stated on February 17, 2004. Additionally, we are pleased that the United States, France, Canada, CARICOM, and the OAS will meet with the Government of Haiti to discuss how we can work together to secure the country, stop the escalating violence, restore the rule of law, and take steps forward to implement the CARICOM proposal.

There must be an immediate cease-fire, and as these talks move forward, we hope that the United States insists that all parties lay down their arms and stop the violence. Haitians are dying every day, and the United States must do its part to guarantee a cease-fire, uphold democracy, and promote stability in a sovereign nation in our own hemisphere. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus agree that these emergency talks will be critical to ending the current violence.

We respectfully encourage you to invite experienced, independent observers to travel to Haiti to monitor and observe the meeting. Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We look forward to working with you to help resolve this crisis.


Barbara Lee; John Conyers, Jr.; Donald M. Payne; Bobby L. Rush; Sheila Jackson-Lee; Elijah E. Cummings; Maxine Waters; Diane E. Watson; Gregory W. Meeks

Following letter read into the Congressional Record.

Secretary of State,
Washington, DC.

DEAR MR. SECRETARY: Thank you for coming to the House International Resources Committee today. While we ran out of time before I could raise my questions in committee, I enjoyed speaking to you afterwards.

As you know, conditions in Haiti are rapidly deteriorating. People are dying, and our own commitment to democracy is under siege. We have a moral and regional obligation to help one of our closest neighbors. Furthermore, Article 17 of the OAS Inter-American Democratic Chapter requires that all OAS nations come to the aid of a democratic government under siege.

I must say, Mr. Secretary, that our failure to support the democratic process and help restore order looks like a covert effort to overthrow a government. There is a violent coup d'etat in the making, and it appears that the United States is aiding and abetting the attempt to violently topple the Aristide Government. With all due respect, this looks like ``regime change.''

This situation demands sustained U.S. engagement to promote democracy, yet disturbing reports indicate our actions--or inaction--may be making things worse. The opposition is well-funded and well-armed, even though President Aristide's pleas for resources to better train police forces have fallen on deaf ears. Yet, State Department officials have implied that President Aristide's departure could be an option in solving the current crisis. How can we call for democracy in Iraq and not say very clearly that we support democratic elections as the only option in Haiti?

Since I did not have the opportunity to raise the following questions in committee, I would appreciate it if you could provide a written reply so that I might have a better understanding of Administration policy toward Haiti:

1. Does the State Department support the democratically-elected government of Haiti? What practical steps is our government taking to support the democratic process?

2. Is our country supporting and sanctioning an overthrow of the Aristide Government by giving a wink and a nod to the opposition? There are also reports that we are covertly funding the opposition.

3. Does the United States support the CARICOM proposal, and will we work through the OAS to broker a peaceful solution, not an overthrow of the Aristide Government?

4. Is it true that Haitian opposition parties and leaders have received USAID funding?

5. We understand the Haitian government made several requests over the last two years for equipment and training of Haiti's police force. Why were these requests never responded to?

Thank you for your attention,

Member of Congress.

Jamila Thompson

Legislative Assistant/ Systems Manager

Office of Congresswoman Barbara Lee

1724 Longworth House Office Building

Phone: 202-225-2661

Fax: 202-225-9817