House on Fire: America's Haitian Crisis
By Mark Danner
and for "Peter Jennings Reporting"
July 27, 1994
PETER JENNINGS, ABC NEWS How can it be that America is on the verge of invading a country already burdened by catastrophe?(interviewing) What does it take to get killed here?
PAULA HAGOPIAN It takes very little to get killed here.
PETER JENNINGS There are deep divisions in Washington about supporting the man President Clinton is ready to fight for.
ARISTIDE SUPPORTER He's a priest He's essentially non violent.
BERNARD SANSARICO, HAITIAN SENATOR Aristide was Constitutionally elected in Haiti. So was Adolf Hitler.
PETER JENNINGS For some Americans, the Haiti crisis is about too many black refugees.
RANDALL ROBINSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF TRANSAFRICA FORUM Race is a major determinant of our policy towards Haiti.
RICK SEIDERMAN We in south Florida don't want any more Haitians to come here.
PETER JENNINGS But what about the thousands who want to come here for fear they'll be killed at home? Tonight we'll make the dangerous journey with 121 refugees on one tiny boat. America and Haiti- how the weak defy the strong.
SEN JESSE HELMS, (R), NORTH CAROLINA I don't think that situation is worth even one American life.
PETER JENNINGS And yet any day now, President Clinton may send 20,000 American men and women to invade this tiny nation.
ANNOUNCER Peter Jennings Reporting- 'House on Fire: America's Haitian Crisis.'
PETER JENNINGS Good evening. I'm Peter Jennings. Tonight, 600 miles from the US, there are more than a dozen American ships surrounding Haiti. They are there to enforce an economic embargo designed to force the generals who are running Haiti out of power. The ships are also there to stop the boat people fleeing Haiti from reaching the United States. And on some of them are US Marines, ready to storm ashore and occupy Haiti if President Clinton gives the order. How did we reach this pass? How did the most powerful country in the world get itself involved in a high stakes game of chicken with a country so poor it depends on food hand outs to survive? It was Jean Bertrand Aristide, the deposed Haitian president who's waiting in Washington, who referred to his country as 'a house on fire.' Tonight we will address whether America should send its young men and women to put that fire out.
ANNOUNCER Peter Jennings Reporting- 'House on Fire: America's Haitian Crisis.' (Commercial break)
ANNOUNCER 'House on Fire: America's Haitian Crisis' continues.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) We have come to know them only as 'boat people.' In the last six weeks, dozens of boats like this one have left Haiti's shores in search of dreams, more than 20,000 desperate people. But here is how some people talk about them in the land they are risking everything to reach.
RICK SEIDERMAN Let me tell you, that cesspool - and that's Haiti - is a cesspool. I don't want anything to do with Haiti. I don't want-
PETER JENNINGS (VO) Rick Seiderman is a morning talk show host in Miami.
RICK SEIDERMAN We in south Florida don't want any more Haitians to come here. Haiti is not a national interest of the United States.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) In Washington, where he is in exile after being overthrown by the military in 1991, Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide. (interviewing) And if you listen to some American politicians, they wonder out loud why a single drop of American blood should be shed in order to put you back in office. Of what value are you to the United States?
JEAN BERTRAND ARISTIDE, PRESIDENT OF HAITI We are men. Because we are men, it's a question of human values. Secondly, how will you solve that crisis of the refugees without my return to Haiti? We want to stay in Haiti because we are proud of being Haitians and you would like to see the refugees staying in Haiti. That's good. So let's restore democracy and we have it. We solve it.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) In an ABC News poll conducted for this broadcast, just 39 percent of Americans favored military action to restore democracy. But when asked if they would support military action to stop the flow of refugees, more than half of those questioned - 56 percent "“ said they would. The flood of Haitian refugees clearly has Americans concerned. Edner Oguiles and Fednel Derisma are among those who have decided to leave their homeland. We followed them on their month long search for a boat.
EDNER OGUILES (through interpreter) My problems are not economic. I'm a driver. I can stay behind the wheel of my car and make money. My problem is that if I stay, I will be killed.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) This spring, the government issued warrants for their arrest, accusing them of distributing posters of President Aristide.
FEDNEL DERISMA (through interpreter) When the arrest warrants were sent to our homes, we did not go to court. We want to take a boat, instead, because we know that if we appear in front of them, they will arrest us and we will die.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) For Edner and Fednel, one attempt to flee ends when there aren't enough people to pay the boat maker for a boat that will never return to Haiti. They try again. Finally, they find what they are looking for and they book passage on the Michu. They leave in darkness, without celebration or ceremony. They leave without any possessions. ABC News producer Mark Atkinson, who paid $200 for this trip, went along with a camera.
MARK ATKINSON, ABC NEWS I had no idea that 120 people would manage to cram themselves into this very small boat. People are climbing over bodies, trying to get a space on the ledge of the boat. There's a guy who's got a knife, a long knife, out and is flailing this knife at people to try to make space for himself. And, I mean, there's crazy- Edner and Fednel are not jumping to get on this boat, at this point. I mean, I think even they are a little bit shocked and afraid that this is- this is one of these voyages that's not destined to make it.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) By the next morning, they have reached the Windward Passage between Haiti and Cuba. This is a 24 foot fishing boat meant for a crew of 10.
MARK ATKINSON You can see the dimensions of this boat and how people had managed to burrow themselves in the hold, in the stern or bodies had managed to sort of squeeze themselves under other bodies. An enormous number of people are getting sick. They're really uncomfortable physically and- particularly those that are buried in the bottom of the boat. These guys knew what they were doing, in one sense. In the other sense, in any significant sea, you know, one good wave and the boat would have been- been capsized.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) The boat people are risking everything to leave slums like Cite Soleil, where the economic embargo has left people without a way to survive. Even more than the steeply rising prices, however, and the shortages of fuel, is the violence, for here a war is being fought, a war between those who see President Aristide as a hope for the future and those with guns, who want to keep things as they have always been. (interviewing) Are you afraid?
(VO) 'We're terrified,' this man says. 'There's gunfire here all night. We hide in our houses and cannot sleep.' But another man interrupts us. 'We can't answer these questions,' he says. 'It is too dangerous.' (interviewing) What does it take to get killed here?
PAULA HAGOPIAN It takes very little. It takes very little to get killed here.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) Paula Hagopian and Ettore DiBenedetto investigated acts of political violence for the United Nations civilian mission in Haiti until the Haitian government expelled the mission two weeks ago.
PAULA HAGOPIAN Putting up leaflets, being somebody's family member, giving refuge to somebody in hiding because the other person is being persecuted- it doesn't take very much.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) We met Florence Guillaume as she wept over the body of her murdered husband. Both of them had been supporters of President Aristide. Last month, she says, armed men broke into her house and raped her and her 13 year old daughter. Last night, she says, they came back. (interviewing) Who do you think killed your husband?
FLORENCE GUILLAUME (through interpreter) It was these same guys who broke into my house and raped me, these guys from Frappe.
PETER JENNINGS The military organization that was created a year ago to destroy any vestige of President Aristide's own political movement Frappe. Terror intensifies when there is any suggestion that Aristide may be coming back. Even the president of the Haitian senate, Bernard Sansarico, who is a close adviser of army commander Raoul Cedras, concedes that the para military groups do terrorize the slums.
BERNARD SANSARICO, HAITIAN SENATOR I talked to the general about it. Those para military groups military organization that was created a year ago to destroy any vestige of President Aristide's own political movement. Frappe terror intensifies when there is any suggestion that Aristide may be coming back. Even the president of the Haitian senate, Bernard Sansarico, who is a close adviser of army commander Raoul Cedras, concedes that the para military groups do terrorize the slums.
BERNARD SANSARICO, HAITIAN SENATOR I talked to the general about it. Those para military groups should be eliminated. Perhaps the general feel if he does it right now, he will have split in the army because there are some radical officers in the army who are backing up those para military groups, because they fear if there is the return of Aristide, all hell is going to break loose in Haiti and we will have civil war.
PETER JENNINGS Senator Sansarico tells us that you choose the unity of the army rather than stop human rights abuses.
LT GEN RAOUL CEDRAS, ARMY COMMANDER (through interpreter) Neither the United Nations civilian mission nor Senator Sansarico have any proof of this accusation. PETER JENNINGS Are you saying, General Cedras, that the Haitian army which you command commits no human rights abuses?
LT GEN RAOUL CEDRAS (through interpreter) Every time we are aware of a violation, the soldier who is guilty of that violation is punished. You know, on this earth, there is no just society.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) In Haiti every day, followers of President Aristide are abused. At the funeral of four who had been murdered, we met Jasmine Pierre. Jasmine and her husband had been members of a local peasant movement.
JASMINE PIERRE (through interpreter) On April 16th, four soldiers came to our house. They raped me in front of my husband and my children and then they took my husband away. I haven't seen him since.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) Jasmine decided to apply for political asylum at the US consulate in Port au Prince. Of the thousands of Haitians who apply here, four out of five are not even given an interview. Less than 5 percent are granted asylum.
RANDALL ROBINSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF TRANSAFRICA FORUM Clearly, the bar to Haitian refugee admission to the United States is much higher than it has been to Soviet Jews, to Laotians, to Vietnamese, to Cubans. We have an entirely different standard.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) Randall Robinson is a Washington lobbyist who says that race is the major factor in America's policy toward's Haiti.
RANDALL ROBINSON We would not have allowed a band of thugs to hijack a democracy in this hemisphere and descend fleeing into the waters thousands of people, fleeing this tyranny, and to have our own ships scooping these people up like pond scum in a dragnet, throwing them back into the killing field of that country. Clearly, if this were a white country, that would not have been tolerated.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) When they applied for asylum, Florence and Jasmine were not even granted interviews, even though both women told the US consulate they had been raped by men working for the government. High in the hills above Port au Prince, the possibility that Aristide may be restored to office by American military power deeply worries many Haitians, particularly the well to do. We met a group of Haiti's young professionals. (interviewing) I want to try to understand what it is about him that either upsets you or frightens you or makes you angry?
RICHARD WIDMAIER, JOURNALIST Yeah. Mr Aristide was preaching the righteousness of class violence, which was a major problem and which I understand many people could not tolerate.
MEREILLE BERTIN, ATTORNEY You know, you don't need to have money to be frightened or threatened by Aristide. You just have to speak French or to be a professional and a hard worker, but you not living in a slum. And he makes you feel bad because you not living in a slum and I don't think it's-
PHILLIP DODART, ARTIST Myself, as a citizen, I didn't feel security, you know, in the way he speak and the way he acts.
PETER JENNINGS We met a lot of people in Haiti whoa re just afraid, who are afraid that given the history of Haitian politics, that you will return to the island under whatever circumstances and seek revenge against those people who opposed you.
PRES JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE Well, you have some people afraid- I mean, some people afraid. But we have this huge majority dying for my return, so they are not afraid. PETER JENNINGS (VO) But until Aristide is back in Haiti, his followers are afraid. Somewhere between Haiti and Cuba, Edner and Fednel, aboard the Michu, are praying for a rendezvous with the US Coast Guard. But what they do not know as they anxiously scan the horizon for a Coast Guard cutter is that President Clinton has changed his refugee policy. Now when they are picked up, they will be sent to safe havens, but they will not make it to America.
REP CHARLES RANGEL, (D), NEW YORK, CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS You haven't heard of America saying, 'If you're politically persecuted, we will interdict you, stop you on the high seas, interrogate you and then send you to a foreign country.' You know, why bother?
PETER JENNINGS (VO) Charles Rangel is a powerful member of the Congressional Black Caucus. In May, the caucus was influential in getting President Clinton to reverse his policy of automatically sending boat people back to Haiti. But Rangel and others are angry now about the president's latest directive, which says that Haitians can only get asylum if they apply to the consulate in Haiti.
REP CHARLES RANGEL It's better than nothing. I mean, it's better than saying, 'We believe that some of you are political refugees, but most of you are economic refugees, but we really don't have the time to find out, so what we're saying is all of you stay in Haiti, okay? And for God's sake, stay off of television.'
PETER JENNINGS (VO) But the images of these boat people are very powerful and they now serve as a vivid symbol for all those who would hope to influence President Clinton's Haiti policy. Late afternoon in the Windward Passage, 14 hours after leaving Haiti. The US Coast Guard cutter, called the Escape, appears on the horizon.
MARK ATKINSON They use the term 'Hamilton- Hamilton, Hamilton.' Hamilton is the name of the first Coast Guard vessel ever to intercept a Haitian sailboat. They don't even know the word 'Coast Guard,' actually, but they- you know, the conversation is all about when Hamilton is going to show up.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) Within an hour, Edner, Fednel and 300 other boat people are being taken on board the Escape. They still believe they are going to the United States. They are wrong. They will be taken instead to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and held there along with almost 20,000 other Haitian refugees- in limbo.
MARK ATKINSON People are- have gone in bare feet, one outfit, and they've brought maybe a change of a shirt with them. This is not like the wave of immigrants, you know, in the- at the turn of the century from Europe,who brought trunks with all their belongings, you know, knowing that they're going to make a new life. I mean, these people are escaping. They're taking two things and- and something that proves who they are and they're running away from their country.
PETER JENNINGS Edner and Fednel are still waiting at a refugee camp in Guantanamo Bay. They face a difficult choice: whether to trust the Clinton administration's promise to send them to a 'safe haven' - a refugee camp somewhere else in the Caribbean - or to return to the country they fled. How did Haiti become a house on fire? That story in a moment. (Commercial break)
ANNOUNCER Peter Jennings Reporting, 'House on Fire: America's Haitian Crisis,' continues.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) Revolution, assassination, coup d'etat- nearly two centuries of violent change. President Clinton speaks of restoring democracy to Haiti, but democracy never had a foothold here. Ruler has given way to ruler, dictator to dictator, tyrant to tyrant. Violence has been the engine of succession. And beneath the turmoil stagnation, a society that, since the time of the French rulers, had been brutally divided between rich and poor, city and country, Catholic and Voodoo, a land still divided the slaves. (on camera) This is the national palace in Port au Prince. Haitians have fought to rule from here for 190 years now. Since 1804, when the slaves rebelled and created the world's first independent black republic, more than 40 different Haitians have managed to run this land- for a while. Once they reached the palace, one of the first things they did was to crush their rivals, who rarely respected their authority and who understood that if they wanted to live in the palace, they, in turn, would have to seize it, as well. And so most of the occupants who lived her, to put it mildly, left against their will.
(VO) The revolutionary leader Dessalines, Haiti's Georges Washington, was ambushed and bayonetted by his own officers. Then came King Henri Christophe who, facing a rebellion, shot himself, so the legend says, with a silver bullet. King Henri left as his legacy enormous fortresses, which he built to guard against the return of the French,, they, in turn, would have to seize it, as well. And so most of the occupants who lived her, to put it mildly, left against their will.
(VO) The revolutionary leader Dessalines, Haiti's Georges Washington, was ambushed and bayonetted by his own officers. Then came King Henri Christophe who, facing a rebellion, shot himself, so the legend says, with a silver bullet. King Henri left as his legacy enormous fortresses, which he built to guard against the return of the French, who had moved quickly to isolate their former colony. Most countries refused to recognize Haiti, including the United States.
ROBERT ROTBERG, HISTORIAN As soon as the Haitian revolution occurred, slave holders in the American South panicked. If slaves could rise up and kill their masters and succeed, they could obviously do the same elsewhere- in the United States.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) In their isolated land, the former slaves tried to build a new society, but the first 100 years of Haiti's independence were dominated by a constant struggle for power. Only one president left the palace voluntarily. And then, in July, 1915, the United States intervened. Washington said it wanted to restore stability. Haiti's eighth president in seven years had just been torn to pieces by a mob. But Washington also wanted to make sure the Haitians continued payments to the New York bank and to prevent the Germans, then fighting World War I, from gaining a foothold in the Caribbean. For Haitians, the US invasion was a catastrophe: the return of white rulers. Among Haiti's military leaders today, the bitterness is still obvious.
LT GEN CEDRAS (through interpreter) Do you know your country has occupied mine for 19 years? What have you left behind? You have tried to change our culture. You have massacred our peasants. And when the American people started to learn about these things, you had to quickly abandon my country.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) You can still see in General Cedras what the Americans left in Haiti: an army that believed it should be in charge and a fiercely nationalist people. And then came Francois Duvalier. The peasants called him 'Papa Doc.' He was a country doctor turned politician who was determined never to be overthrown. Duvalier ruled through terror. It was called the 'nightmare republic' by many. He created the Tontons Macoute, a militia loyal only to him. And in the time he ruled, tens of thousands of Haitians were killed and hundreds of thousands fled the country.
REPORTER It has been written that your people are afraid of you. Do you believe they are?
FRANCOIS DUVALIER The people, the Haitian people, is closely with their leader, Duvalier.
REPORTER They believe in you?
FRANCOIS DUVALIER They believe in me and only in me.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) By the mid 1960s, the height of the cold war, one aspect to Duvalier's philosophy had convinced Washington to leave him alone: he was no communist. By the time Francois Duvalier died in 1971, his power was such that he could bequeath to his Haitians, like a parting insult, a new dictator, a dull-eyed, obese teenager. Papa Doc's son, Jean Claude, was 19 when he took over Haiti as its 'president for life.' If Papa Doc's passion had been terror, his son's was greed. Together with his wife, Michele, Jean Claude siphoned off hundreds of millions of dollars. His regime quickly became dependent on American aid. But by the mid '80s, the rot in the system had begun to tell and a popular movement inspired by Catholic liberation theology took shape. By 1985, the country was in all out rebellion and on February 7th, 1986, the young Duvaliers accepted the inevitable. They boarded an American jet and flew into exile in the south of France. Haiti exploded in celebration- and retribution. After three decades of repression, the people seized the chance to apply street justice to the Duvalier henchmen. The army struggled to re-take control. In April, 1986, when Haitians staged a demonstration outside a notorious Port au Prince prison, soldiers opened fire. Six people were killed and more than 50 were wounded. On the radio that day, a young Catholic priest named Jean Bertrand Aristide described the massacre most vividly. Aristide was one of those young Haitians determined that their country would be rid of dictatorship forever.
MICHAEL BARNES, ATTORNEY FOR ARISTIDE Every Sunday in his church, he would get up and give sermons attacking the evil of the society, the dictatorship and the corruption.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) But those who had the power fought back. In 1987, during what was supposed to be Haiti's first free election, thugs attacked voters with machetes and automatic weapons. The soldiers stood by. Finally, in the fall of 1990, another campaign began for an election that would be overseen by the international community, and above all by the United States. On the last possible day to register, Father Aristide said he would run.
PRES JEAN BERTRAND ARISTIDE I didn't want to become a candidate. I had to say yes after consultation, after listening to the voice of this huge majority, and I said yes.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) His campaign slogan: 'Take Haiti from misery to poverty with dignity.'
MICHAEL BARNES In a country like Haiti, where people were so miserable, to have somebody with honesty saying, 'What we're going to do, with dignity, is lift you from misery to poverty'- it was a thrilling moment for the people of that country.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) He won in a landslide and the day after the election, to the shock of many in the Haitian establishment who had pegged Aristide as a communist, the United States recognized his victory. But Haiti hadn't changed that much. First, Roger Lafontant, Duvalier's former strongman, seized the palace.
ROGER LAFONTANT (through interpreter) The presidential election was a bloody insult. We have decided to wash out the stain made to six million Haitians.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) Aristide's followers poured into the streets. Throughout the capital, there was a rampage of retribution. They burned their opponents. They intimidated prominent Aristide critics, including the archbishop, and set fire to the ancient cathedral. It was a demonstration of raw power. The army thought it wise to arrest Lafontant. Many of his followers were not so lucky. February the 7th, 1991- Jean Bertrand Aristide's inauguration day. From the podium, he dramatically announced he was retiring the army's most senior generals and the next day, he welcomed the country's poor onto the palace grounds for a meal, with the president himself helping to serve. No one could doubt things had changed. Georges Sassine, a Haitian businessman, remembers the optimism among his workers when Aristide was elected.
GEORGE SASSINE On that Tuesday, when I opened my factory, all my workers came dressed in their Sunday best and they told me, 'Boss, you don't even have to ring the bell anymore. This is our country. We know now how much we have to work for it.' So I said to myself, 'Long live Aristide,' okay?
PETER JENNINGS (VO) But it was not okay. Aristide symbolized the hope of those who had almost nothing, but to those with something to lose, he was a threat.
REP CHARLES RANGEL He started talking about taxing the rich. They've never been under tax under any government that they've had. He was talking about ending corruption, the drug trafficking.
PETER JENNINGS During the time you were actually president, and in office and effective, what were the best things you did?
PRES JEAN BERTRAND ARISTIDE Providing security to every single citizen- full political stability. That was the first time in our history the Haitian people could go to the streets by day, by night, without feeling what they used to face- fear, oppression, Tontons Macoute with guns, killing people.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) By the summer of 1991, with many of his initiatives blocked in more and more to his followers in the streets. At the trial of Roger Lafontant, who'd tried to prevent him from governing, the crowd gathered outside the court house, brandishing tires and gasoline, a clear threat to 'necklace' the judge if he was too lenient. In August, when parliament tried to impeach Aristide's government, the mobs gathered again.
BERNARD SANSARICO People with tires outside, gasoline, matches, with name of every senator on tires, okay, waiting for us outside, to burn us. Where was democracy then?
FATHER ANTOINE ADRIEN, ARISTIDE ADVISER I would like anybody - anybody - to give me one example - I will be satisfied with one example - of one bourgeois person who has been killed or harmed because he was a bourgeois under Father Aristide. One.
LESLIE DELATOUR, FORMER HAITIAN FINANCE MINISTER If we refer to actual facts, the record is fairly clear. There was no necklacing while Jean Bertrand Aristide was in the palace.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) But to many of the rich and powerful in the country, it was Aristide's rhetoric that frightened them and it was one famous speech that, more than anything else, the army and the well to do remember. He made it on September 27th, 1991, just after returning from the United States. He was at odds with the parliament. He had alienated many of the well to do and the rumors were rife that the army was preparing to move against him. At the palace, he seem
PETER JENNINGS (VO) But to many of the rich and powerful in the country, it was Aristide's rhetoric that frightened them and it was one famous speech that, more than anything else, the army and the well to do remember. He made it on September 27th, 1991, just after returning from the United States. He was at odds with the parliament. He had alienated many of the well to do and the rumors were rife that the army was preparing to move against him. At the palace, he seemed to clearly preach violence, threatening his opponents with necklacing.
PRES JEAN BERTRAND ARISTIDE (through interpreter) If we catch one, do not fail to give him what he deserves. What a nice tool. What a nice device. It smells good. Wherever you go, you feel like smelling it. I was coming from the United States and the coup started before I arrived in Haiti. If now some people are using the weapons through a coup to stop a process of democracy, and the president, instead of answering by weapons uses words, which one of them is violent?
PETER JENNINGS Could you see the coup coming, though?
PRES JEAN BERTRAND ARISTIDE I could feel something. I could feel something. But I decide to continue respecting the army, respecting the Constitution, respecting law.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) But his enemies were not impressed. To them, he had uttered a threat and, within days, they would move to overthrow him. (Commercial break)
ANNOUNCER Peter Jennings Reporting, 'House on Fire: America's Haitian Crisis,' continues.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) Political change in Haiti. After working to secure Haiti's first free and fair elections, the United States saw it all unravel in 31 weeks. In September, 1991, men with guns came and seized President Jean Bertrand Aristide. The Haitian president was hustled aboard a plane and sent into exile. Even before he was out of the country, the Haitian military began attacking his supporters.
FATHER ANTOINE ADRIEN They would come to the slum and shooting with machine gun, like that, without any- any consideration of who would be killed.
PRES GEORGE BUSH We're very interested in the restoration of democratically elected government in Haiti.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) Washington declared its commitment to restore Aristide. A delegation from the Organization of American States went to try reasoning with the military. Bernard Aronson represented Washington.
BERNARD ARONSON We were meeting in a small room with the entire high command of the military and about 100 soldiers arrived at the airport and they just ran amok. They were shooting and shouting and- and, frankly, what everybody thought was they were going to come in and shoot everybody to death.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) Shortly thereafter, the OAS imposed economic sanctions on Haiti, but these were not seriously enforced and they did little more than hurt the poor. Economic hardship, together with the military's continuing repression, soon caused a surge of boat people bound for America. The Bush administration sent them back, maintaining that political repression in Haiti was not a problem.
MARGARET TUTWILER, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT POKESWOMAN (November 22, 1991) We do not have any evidence to date from our embassy personnel or from other relief organizations that operate there in Haiti of any types of fear and persecution.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) This was the middle of the presidential campaign and Bill Clinton was attacking President Bush's policy as cruel and illegal.
GOV. BILL CLINTON I have been opposed to returning the refugees, to risking their lives, and to treating them differently from other political refugees. I consider the Haitians to be political refugees, not economic refugees.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) Mr. Clinton's promises were heard loud and clear in Haiti and soon after he was elected, new boats were being built along the Haitian coast Thinking they were now welcome in the United States, Haitians were eager to leave.
RADIO ANNOUNCER Welcome to the Voice of America!
PETER JENNINGS (VO) But then Bill Clinton changed his mind.
PRES BILL CLINTON I urge Haitians to remain in Haiti and not to leave by boat.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) And even before his inauguration, Bill Clinton decided to continue Mr Bush's policy of automatically sending the Haitians back. It was the first in what would be a series of stunning reversals by the Clinton administration. Even as Mr Clinton seemed publicly to be going back on his promises, he was assuring President Aristide that he would work to put him back in office.
MICHAEL BARNES It was understood that President Clinton had made a commitment to move swiftly to restore democracy in Haiti and President Aristide accepted that and cooperated and remained silent.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) In June, 1993, President Clinton tightened sanctions on Haiti and he succeeded in getting General Cedras to negotiate with President Aristide. They went to Governor's Island in New York City and when it was over, the general and Aristide had signed an agreement providing that sanctions would be suspended, Cedras would step down and be granted amnesty and President Aristide would be restored to office. But each party left with strong doubts about the agreement. For one thing, Aristide had refused to meet the general face to face.
LT GEN CEDRAS (through interpreter) Can you imagine two people signing an accord without ever meeting? Can you imagine, after signing the accord, they have not shaken hands?
MICHAEL BARNES We thought the military would not fulfill its commitments, but President Aristide, under great pressure from the international community, with assurances that this deal would be maintained, signed it. I remember him telling me at the time, 'If I sign this, Haitians will die.'
PETER JENNINGS (VO) Aristide did sign and Haitians did die. The most blatant act of brutality was the murder of Antoine Izmery, President Aristide's wealthiest and most prominent supporter.
REP CHARLES RANGEL They walk into the church, the military people, grab him out, drag him outside in the front of the church, where a United Nations observer is parked in a car, have him to get on his knees, blow his head off and then beat on the car and point to the corpse, to show their defiance.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) Yet in the White House and in the State Department, officials continue to insist that the military would keep its word.
MICHAEL BARNES I think there was a certain naivete in parts of the Clinton administration about the willingness of the Haitian military to cooperate. Frequently, I was told by people in very high levels in the US government, 'Don't worry. We've got them in our pocket. They'll do what we tell them to do. They'll leave. They'll keep their commitments.' And I would sort of say, 'Well, I hope you're right, but they don't give any sign of that.'
PETER JENNINGS (VO) And then came the incident of the Harlan County. In early October last year, the USS Harlan County arrived off Port au Prince carrying 200 American and Canadian military advisers, as provided for under the Governor's Island agreement. But as diplomats and journalists went to the port, they were confronted by a hostile of armed thugs. This made Washington very nervous. At the time, Lawrence Pezzullo was President Clinton's special envoy to Haiti.
LAWRENCE PEZZULLO You must remember - and this is key to the whole thing - that a week before Harlan County, we had that terrible- that terrible scene in Somalia, when one- one American soldier was dragged around through the streets. That, I think, was very much in the minds of people in the Pentagon and in the minds of the people who came to the docks that day. They talked about Somalia. They said, 'No Somalia here.'
PETER JENNINGS (VO) An emergency meeting was convened at the White House.
LAWRENCE PEZZULLO I was asked to speak first and what I said, simply, was that we're faced with a bit of theater on the docks. We shouldn't let that put us off. But the assessment was it wasn't theater. This was more serious.
PETER JENNINGS Who argued that position?
LAWRENCE PEZZULLO Well, this came from the agency-
PETER JENNINGS The CIA?
LAWRENCE PEZZULLO -the intelligence community. This is much more serious and, in effect, we were putting our soldiers in harm's way.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) After a day and a half, President Clinton ordered the Harlan County to leave.
LAWRENCE PEZZULLO It was a major debacle for us. I called it a hemorrhaging. We lost the international presence. We lost the respect of the Haitian military, which was key. And I think we lost the respect of Aristide.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) For the Clinton administration, it turned out to be the single most humiliating moment in the entire Haiti crisis.
REP CHARLES RANGEL Since when does the leader of the free world, president of the United States, commander in chief send a battleship with international troops to the port Port au Prince in Haiti in order ce. We lost the respect of the Haitian military, which was key. And I think we lost the respect of Aristide.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) For the Clinton administration, it turned out to be the single most humiliating moment in the entire Haiti crisis.
REP CHARLES RANGEL Since when does the leader of the free world, president of the United States, commander in chief send a battleship with international troops to the port Port au Prince in Haiti in order to carry out an international mandate and have a bunch of clowns jumping up and down on the dock and chase us away?
PETER JENNINGS (VO) Even as President Clinton ordered the Harlan County to retreat, he insisted he was still committed to returning Aristide to power. But within days, the CIA released a damaging psychological profile of Aristide to members of the Senate.
SEN JESSE HELMS, (R), NORTH CAROLINA This man is a killer! He is a demonstrable killer and I don't want one life of one soldier or sailor from the United States of America to die in the interest of that man. He is a psychopath. Now, the news media'll say, 'Oh, good God, did Helms say that?' Well, Helms said it, yes, but so did the CIA!
PETER JENNINGS (VO) Lyn Garrison, a former Canadian Air Force officer, who since the coup has been an adviser to the Haitian generals, says he provided damaging information about Aristide to the CIA.
LYN GARRISON Much of what they have came from us.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) Garrison claims to have found a wide variety of anti depressants and tranquilizers in Aristide's residence.
BARNES The CIA conceded they never checked it, they never checked to see if there any physicians who had prescribed these drugs or any drug stores where President Aristide had gone and bought these drugs or somebody else had bought them for him or- they conceded they never checked any of these allegations.
PETER JENNINGS The CIA profile which got such wide distribution- how difficult do you think that has made life for you?
PRES JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE In a personal basis, no. I even laughed because I knew it was false and I knew it was character assassination.
LAWRENCE PEZZULLO Nobody had any illusions about Aristide, but he's certainly not some sort of psychopathic case. And to put that out, have it come out of our own administration right in the middle of a negotiation is terribly disruptive and, you know, it really raises questions about the capacity of an administration to- to make policy.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) In effect, President Clinton's policy was being undermined by his own CIA, which was opposed to restoring Aristide to power. What's more, in April a State Department cable was leaked from the US embassy in Port au Prince alleging that President Aristide and his supporters 'consistently manipulate or even fabricate human rights abuses as a propaganda tool.' (interviewing) Do you want to reconsider at all the famous April cable in which you said that the Aristide supporters made up human rights abuses?
WILLIAM SWING, US AMBASSADOR TO HAITI I have said several times that in re reading it, I wish that I had read it more carefully. I wish that we had chosen our words more carefully, that we had- we had used more prudent language. And I have since discovered that there were some errors in the report, which I've corrected.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) But the damage was done. Down playing human rights abuses, turning back refugees without hearings, the Clinton policy soon came under fire from powerful political figures in Washington.
RANDALL ROBINSON The policy is cruel, patently discriminatory and, lastly, in effect, profoundly racist The hunger strike to which I have committed is a small part of this larger collective effort.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) Robinson's hunger strike, along with pressure from the 39 member Congressional Black Caucus, moved President Clinton to change the policy yet again.
PRES BILL CLINTON I am announcing certain changes in our migration policy toward Haiti.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) On May the 8th, he announced that Haitian refugees would not longer be summarily returned, that they would be interviewed aboard ships and granted asylum if judged to have a 'well founded' fear of persecution. The president imposed tighter sanctions, designed to hurt the military. He replaced Lawrence Pezzullo with William Gray, who has publicly taken a much tougher stand towards Haiti's military. This is what he told us.
WILLIAM GRAY This time, there won't be any negotiations. You must step down and you must leave power and you must allow democracy to return.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) Yet so far, the tough words have had little effect. But if tighter sanctions didn't force the generals out, they did lead many other Haitians to flee. Between mid June and mid July, 20,000 Haitians took to the sea. President Clinton had another major crisis on his hands and, earlier this month, he was forced to reverse course again.
WILLIAM GRAY Those who take to the boats will not have resettlement possibilities in the United States.
PETER JENNINGS (VO) Either wait in refugee camps or go back to Haiti. For the boat people that was the choice. As for the United States, there appears to be no choice. (on camera) After more than 18 months, all that remains of Mr Clinton's Haiti policy is a blunt threat: Either the generals get out or the US Marines will go in and kick them out. And the administration is doing everything it can, from staging practice invasions to stationing Marines off the coast, to convince the generals that Washington means business. What choice there is, then, would appear to be in the hands of General Cedras. As for President Clinton, he appears to be drifting towards either another humiliating reversal or taking the one step he most wants to avoid invading Haiti. (Commercial break)
ANNOUNCER 'House on Fire: America's Haitian Crisis,' continues. Once again, Peter Jennings.
PETER JENNINGS If history does repeat itself and the US invades Haiti as it did 79 years ago tomorrow, the president will say that he's done so in order to restore democracy and protect innocent lives. But as we have seen, much of the policy has been driven by fear that a flood of poor Haitians will engulf the United States. The truth of the matter is Haiti is too independent and its history too complicated to absorb democracy easily from the barrel of an American gun. If the president does send America's young soldiers to invade, which may mean to risk their lives, will the US also take on the responsibility to make things better? The answer is not encouraging. Mr Clinton may kick out a few generals and fly Aristide home, but he's doing everything he can to hand off to other countries the long term challenge of helping Haitians build a genuine democracy. Until Haitians are content to live at home, America will always have a Haitian problem. This is Peter Jennings reporting.
ANNOUNCER This ABC News Special will continue in a moment. (Commercial break)
ANNOUNCER This has been Peter Jennings Reporting- 'House on Fire: America's Haitian Crisis.'