The President’s News Conference

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Spoken by

William J. Clinton

Haiti

The President. Ladies and gentlemen, during the past few days, we have witnessed a brutal attempt by Haiti’s military and police authorities to thwart the expressed desire of the Haitian people for democracy. On Monday, unruly elements, unrestrained by the Haitian military, violently prevented American and United Nations personnel from carrying out the steps toward that goal. Yesterday, gunmen assassinated prodemocracy Justice Minister Malary.

There are important American interests at stake in Haiti and in what is going on there. First, there are about 1,000 American citizens living in Haiti or working there. Second, there are Americans there who are helping to operate our Embassy. Third, we have an interest in promoting democracy in this hemisphere, especially in a place where such a large number of Haitians have clearly expressed their preference for President. And finally, we have a clear interest in working toward a government in Haiti that enables its citizens to live there in security so they do not have to flee in large numbers and at great risk to themselves to our shores and to other nations.

Two American administrations and the entire international community have consistently condemned the 1991 military coup that ousted President Aristide. In response to United States, Latin American, and United Nations sanctions and pressure, Haiti’s military rulers agreed with civilian leaders on a plan to restore democracy. That plan was reached under the auspices of the Organization of the American States and the United Nations. It was concluded on July the 3d on Governors Island here in the United States.

Yesterday the United Nations Security Council, upon the recommendations of its special negotiator for Haiti, Dante Caputo, voted to reimpose stiff sanctions against Haiti, including an embargo on oil imports, until order is restored and the Governors Island process is clearly resumed.

Those sanctions will go into effect on Monday night unless Haiti’s security forces put democracy back on track between now and then. I will also be imposing additional unilateral sanctions, such as revoking visas and freezing the assets of those who are perpetrating the violence and their supporters.

The United States strongly supports the Governors Island process, the new civilian government of Prime Minister Malval, and the return to Haiti of President Aristide.

I have today ordered six destroyers to patrol the waters off Haiti so that they are in a position to enforce the sanctions fully when they come into effect Monday night. I have also offered and ordered an infantry company to be on standby at Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba just a short distance from Haiti. The purpose of these actions is this: to ensure the safety of the Americans in Haiti and to press for the restoration of democracy there through the strongest possible enforcement of the sanctions.

The military authorities in Haiti simply must understand that they cannot indefinitely defy the desires of their own people as well as the will of the world community. That path holds only suffering for their nation and international isolation for themselves. I call upon them again to restore order and security to their country, to protect their own citizens and ours, and to comply with the Governors Island Agreement.

Q. Mr. President, you warned yesterday about maintaining the safety of the provisional government in Haiti, and yet there was this assassination yesterday of the Justice Minister. You talk about the personal safety of Americans in Haiti, is there anything the United States can do to ensure the safety of President Aristide’s Cabinet? Are there any steps that you can take to help this fledgling democracy?

The President. Well we’ve had discussions with Prime Minister Malval. The Vice President talked to him yesterday, as well as to President Aristide. We have, as you probably know, a significant number of security forces there that we’ve been working to train, and there may be some things that we can do. But let me say this, we’ve had discussions with him. We’re in constant communications with him, and we are working with him. He has been very forthright in his asking us to reinforce the sanctions strongly and to do whatever we could to try to remind people that there is no other way out for Haiti but democracy. But what we do with regard to his safety, I think, in some ways is going to have to be decided as we go along and with his heavy involvement and support.

Q. Mr. President, are the naval ships going to stop merchant ships going in and out of Haiti and maybe board them to make sure that their embargo is being complied with?

The President. That’s what they’re going to do. They’re going to have a very wide berth to enforce the embargo, or the sanctions, very strongly. And we intend to use the six ships. One of them will be off the coast of Haiti within about an hour. They will be around Port-au-Prince by this evening, and they should all be in place by tomorrow.

Q. Mr. President, what if this embargo induces a new wave of immigrants who say they’re political refugees? And what if these refugees come upon the U.S. destroyers, how will you handle that?

The President. Our policy has not changed on that. We still believe that we should process the Haitians who are asking for asylum in Haiti and that that is the safest thing for them. So we will continue to pursue the policy we have pursued for the last several months. But the purpose of these destroyers is different. These destroyers are going there to enforce the sanctions and to do it very strongly.

Q. But if they come upon refugees, how will they handle them, though? Will they just let them go by? Will they turn them back?

The President. We have no reason to believe that what we have been doing won’t work there. And I want to emphasize that our policy has not changed, and we will continue to adhere to our policy with regard to refugees as we work with Haiti and the Prime Minister and the President are restored, the democratic government. But the purpose of the destroyers is to strongly enforce the sanctions.

Q. Mr. President, are you prepared to evacuate American citizens from Haiti if the security situation there does not improve?

The President. As I said to you, we are moving an enhanced infantry company into Guantanamo so that we can be in a position to deal with whatever contingencies arise. I have taken the steps that I think are appropriate at this time. And at this time I have not made a decision to evacuate our personnel. But there are 1,000 Americans there. There are also 9,000 people who have a dual nationality. The 1,000 Americans, most of them are working. There are a handful of tourists there, not many. And there are 140 Embassy personnel there.

Q. Mr. President, since you’re dealing with people who agreed to the Governors Island accords in the face of sanctions and then reneged on their promise, what in your view will be sufficient indication of compliance and future compliance so that the embargo and other sanctions will be able to be lifted?

The President. Well, I can tell you one thing that would clearly show a fundamental change, and that is if all the United Nations forces that were supposed to be there to try to help retrain the police and to retrain the army were permitted to do so in a clearly safe atmosphere where they could also be protected. That would be some evidence that we had fundamental change. Keep in mind, this is a different mission than Somalia, different from Bosnia, different from any of the existing U.N. missions.

The purpose of these people—the reason we could not even think about landing the United States forces that were there a couple of days ago is that primarily they were Seabees going there for the purpose of, in effect, helping the Haitian army to become like the Army Corps of Engineers in this country. They were helping them transform their whole mission, not to be fighters anymore but to try to rebuild one of the most environmentally plundered and devastated lands in the entire world.

So if we were seriously proceeding, evidence of that would be all these French-speaking countries being able to bring their folks back in and retrain the police force to be a professional and ordinary, not a renegade, police force and having the French-speaking Canadians and the United States in there showing the army how to build a country instead of tear up the fabric of the society.

Q. President Aristide is asking that the administration increase the Marine contingent at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince in order to protect the people in his government. Is that under consideration at this point? And if, let’s say, members of his government should flee to the American Embassy, would the Embassy provide protection for them?

The President. The answer to your first question is that that is certainly something that I have not ruled out. I have not ruled out anything that I have spoken, just because I haven’t spoken about it today. We had a good, long meeting this morning with Admiral Jeremiah and General Shalikashvili and others, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense. And I am very concerned about the security and safety of the Americans there and the very brave Prime Minister and his government.

Again, I would say to you, whatever specific things we do with regard to the Prime Minister and his government, I would rather come out of statements they make, because I don’t want anything I say to upset the balance of forces in Haiti now. But I wouldn’t rule out a change in the deployment around the Embassy.

Our first obligation, after all, is to protect the Americans there. But I think what I have done and the announcement I have made today, based on the facts that we have as of when I came out to speak to you, is sufficient as of this moment.

Q. I’m wondering, sir, if you have thought about and considered the possibility that you might need to have some kind of police force on the ground there in Haiti, much as has been necessary in Somalia in light of the fact that the place has been so violence-prone for so long?

The President. One of the discussions that we had when the gang showed up on the dock was the question of whether the protection for our Seabees, who were after all, as I say, not delivering food, not—their whole goal was to retrain army personnel to rebuild the country. And the agreement under which they were going there was that they would have sidearms and access to rifles—was to whether that was adequate or not. That question will obviously have to be revisited depending upon the developments in the next few days. I wouldn’t rule that out, Brit [Brit Hume, ABC News], but I think we ought to—let’s see what happens over the next few days.

Q. Mr. President, how does this differ from the word “blockade,” which you the other day mentioned as a term of art associated with a declaration of war?

The President. Well, in a literal sense, a blockade would physically stop all traffic going in and out of the country, in this case by water. The United Nations resolution and the sanctions attempt to stop virtually all commercial traffic that could be of some commercial benefit. It does not render illegal every single entering into or exit from Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haitien, or the country in general. So there is a legal difference in that sense.

But if you use the word in the commonsense parlance, we would block any prohibited materials and goods and anything subject to the sanctions from going into the country. That is our goal.

Q. Mr. President, today was the day that Colonel Franc¸ois and General Cedras were supposed to resign their posts—went past. Are there any conversations between the American Embassy people and General Cedras and Colonel Franc¸ois going on? Has there been any attempt to have communications from both sides?

The President. Well, as you know, Mr. Pezzullo went back yesterday. And our Ambassador, Mr. Swing, is down there now. And they are working hard to make sure that everyone in the country knows that the United States is determined to see the democratic process restored. I think they’ve made their position clear.