Media Center



April 14, 2004 - Washington, DC

Mr. Chairman,

Thank you for this opportunity to speak to the Council. What more natural than that the Council should invite the Head of its Special Mission to report to it on developments in Haiti over recent weeks. I also bring greetings from Ambassador Denneth Modeste, Director of the OAS Office in Haiti and Deputy Head of the Special Mission. I note that you already have before you the Report of the Secretary General on developments since last November, and the intervention by the Assistant Secretary General one week ago.

I will speak to the situation as it evolved from the first few weeks of the year. But it is important to remember that while an acute crisis exploded in late February and March, that situation had been developing for some time. Without going back to the elections of 2000 and to the continuous successive efforts of the OAS and of CARICOM to mediate a political settlement on a consensual basis in Haiti, it does need to be recalled that there had been a marked worsening of conditions on the ground during 2003. Taking stock of the situation in December 2003, this body through its Chairman expressed its concern about the developments. At the same time it noted on the basis of a Report of the SG that the Special Mission had put itself in a position to carry out its mandates, provided that the necessary political decisions were taken in Haiti and the resource contributions were made by donors. The Mission had at that time made a number of suggestions for ways ahead and was working to elaborate them.

To underscore our respect for Haiti, a founding member state, the ASG and I both attended the Bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence, despite the urgings of some to stay away.

Unfortunately conditions worsened in the first weeks of 2004. Polarization deepened. Violence grew. Armed personnel infiltrated through the Central Plateau, moved North and joined up with the armed opposition controlling Gonaives, which for some time had largely escaped government control. By early February there was an atmosphere of severe tension, not to say fear, in the country, widely reported by the international press, which had arrived in droves. At the same time, however, the local press was reducing its presence; a number of radio stations went off the air or limited their news broadcasts. This meant that reliable local news and attitudes were more difficult to obtain.

Government presence in the north and center of the country also largely disappeared. By the third week of February, major embassies and international organizations were moving their people out. The Special Mission also reduced its personnel on the ground by just under half on February 27, though they were back within eight days. Management was there throughout.

Since early January, however, a major effort to kick-start political negotiations was underway, thanks to the initiative of CARICOM, supported by the OAS and a number of other international players from this Hemisphere and abroad. I need not go into the specifics of these proposals as they are well known to this body. But I should emphasize that, beginning in January, the OAS was deeply involved in pushing these efforts forward. On the ground, the meetings of the local ambassadors, including the Ambassador of the Bahamas, were held in the OAS offices under my chairmanship. They were instrumental in preparing the ground for the negotiations on February 20 with President Aristide and his Government on the one hand and the members of the Plateforme Démocratique on the other, all part of the preparation for the visit of the High-level Delegation on February 21. These efforts continued on the ground on February 23 and following days; and remained the stance of the OAS as the security situation declined radically throughout that week, leading among other things to adoption by this Council of Resolution CP/862 on February 26. By February 28 there were reports that armed groups could arrive in the capital at any point. The Mission was in constant communication with the Secretariat and the Secretary General expressed his concern in a release on February 28.

Turning to the weekend of February 28-29, it has been asked what did the OAS Special Mission have to do with the events of the Saturday and Sunday morning leading to the early morning departure of President Aristide from Haiti. The answer is, Nothing. We were not involved in any way at any point. We in the Special Mission, and I personally, knew nothing of what happened that night until we awoke in the morning and were told the President had during the evening decided to go because of the deteriorating situation, had written a letter of resignation and departed by plane for an as yet undetermined destination.

This news spread extremely rapidly. The results were an effective completion of the disappearance of governmental authority in Port au Prince, paralleling what had already happened elsewhere. And the appearance of groups who exercised street authority on their own—and in too many cases attacked individuals or groups of various persuasions, and stole or destroyed property. There were an appalling number of deaths—reportedly 300 during all these events-- and widespread looting and damage in this already desperately poor country. Security was most uncertain and tenuous. It was difficult to communicate by phone and dangerous to move around by vehicle (we told our Mission personnel to stay within their homes). Government figures departed quickly, with few exceptions. One important exception was the Prime Minister who, despite his home being burned and the violent threats to his life, remained at his post in the Primature to attempt to provide some form of continuity through this very difficult period.

In these circumstances, there were three key concerns of almost equal urgency: governance, security, and humanitarian assistance. The initial step was taken when the President of the Cour de Cassation, the appropriate person under the Constitution, was sworn in as provisional President on February 29. The same day he wrote to the UN Secretary General seeking support and, following adoption of the Security Council Resolution the same day, the initial elements of the MIF began to arrive.

During the next days, the Mission kept its remaining people at their homes, with the exception of a short coordination meeting of our key officials on most days. We also invited ambassadors involved in the political negotiations mentioned already to meet at the OAS offices to reflect together on next steps so as to try to avoid a deterioration of the extremely fragile and volatile situation with even more blood being spilled.

The conclusion was that in order to facilitate governance, several of the elements of the previous negotiations might be borrowed with a view to encouraging formation of an interim government. Security would be promoted through gradual increase in the MIF and by encouraging a strengthening of the Haiti National Police leadership, at least on an interim basis. Note that the HNP was badly harmed during these weeks: it was effectively reduced to an estimated 2000 persons; there was a loss of many commissariats and much of their equipment; and a heavy hit was taken to morale and reputation. Humanitarian steps would have to await the beginnings of progress on the other fronts, especially as the international community had greatly reduced its presence in Haiti and getting around the country was very chancy. It was acknowledged that the coming days would be risky.

In last week’s meeting the Assistant Secretary General explained what happened next. That explanation was circulated as CP/doc 3867 at the request of the Council Chair. So you are aware that we applied several key elements from the previous negotiations, with a view to paralleling those efforts to reflect the Haitian constitution in letter or spirit to the extent feasible under the decidedly unusual circumstances. We persuaded Prime Minister Neptune and the Democratic Platform to name individuals to a Tripartite Council, along with the Resident Coordinator from the UNDP for the international community. This ensured inclusivity in the trying circumstances of the time. That body, meeting with our technical help at the OAS offices, put together a seven person Eminent Persons Council drawn once again on an inclusive basis from a variety of social strata and political viewpoints, but not chosen to represent their organizations as such. This body, again with OAS financial and technical assistance, chose a nominee to put to the provisional President as Prime Minister. When the provisional President agreed, the Prime Minister selected his Cabinet in consultation with the Eminent Persons Council and in agreement with the provisional President. The Cabinet members are not to serve in the Cabinet to be formed after the elections to be held at dates to be chosen by an electoral council.

Since then the various bodies concerned have been proceeding about their work, although I must say that the Special Mission has been impatient to see faster progress in several areas. Security, including the crucial disarmament, has lagged for a number of reasons. Government has yet to reappear in most parts of the countryside, with implications for humanitarian assistance, for justice and human rights, and for electoral preparations.

It was for these reasons that we welcomed the invitation of the interim prime minister to accompany him to Gonaives, which had been a symbol of the difficulties for so long, in order to support a return to respect for human rights and democratic governance. As usual in Haiti, we had not been given a programme beforehand (I was later told there was none as such). Events on the day were confused. It was clear that the crowds were large and enthusiastic. But from our location within the security bubble it was not evident who was present. Nor could we hear what was being said on the podium at the large public meeting in the main square. The various speakers did not have prepared texts and were in the presence of an exuberant crowd. The OAS, and I personally, certainly did not “approve” (as a press article claimed yesterday) of what was reported in the press to have been said and done on that occasion. I left immediately thereafter for meetings here in Washington. But when I returned to Port au Prince I raised our concerns in very clear terms with the Prime Minister who underlined to me that he greatly regretted the damage done which he had not intended.

The SM continues to believe that it is vital over the next period that government be as neutral and independent as feasible, that it reach out inclusively for reconciliation and dialogue including to supporters of the former government, that in particular there be no witch hunts but that human rights concerns be addressed wherever they arise.

Other issues on which the SM has been putting emphasis are laid out in the SG’s Report and in the ASG’s statements of last week and today. These include assisting with the transition and working to prepare for the arrival of the UN Mission in coming weeks, as well as consulting with the donor community about how to re-engage with Haiti over the coming period. I would however in closing wish to emphasize three points.

The first is that we have an opportunity in Haiti to work our way through what I have called the political mortgages and, in the interest of the longsuffering Haitian people, actually bring about democratic political, economic and social change. It has to be done with the Haitians. And we must be conscious both of the need for a long-term commitment and to be ready to bear the risks that accompany such a process. There should be an overall vision that animates this work, into which the activities of the Haitians and the various international players are fitted on a unified, not just coordinated, basis.

Second, elections are a necessary gateway for success. They are where the problems from 2000 started and they are an essential, if insufficient, part of the solution. I hope that to this end the electoral council will be able to commence work very soon. Elections must be complemented by humanitarian and developmental assistance. In all of this the international community has an unavoidable responsibility to assume, in full collaboration with the Haitians both governmental and non-governmental.

Finally, the OAS has gained very valuable experience with many different Haitian groups over a number of years, on security including disarmament, on human rights, on justice, on governance, on elections. We should ensure that it is not lost, but rather that the lessons from this experience are learned and put to best use as the new arrangements for international involvement with Haiti are worked out with multilateral and bilateral actors in coming weeks.

Thank you for your attention. I would be happy to take questions.