Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere
Affairs Roger Noriega on Nightline with Ted Koppel, ABC TV
The following is an excerpt of an interview
with Noriega on Haiti, March 1, 2004
Chris Bury: Joining us
now is Roger Noriega, the assistant secretary of state for
Western Hemisphere affairs. I just got off the phone with
Congresswoman Maxine Waters. She claims that she spoke to
President Aristide this morning and that he claimed he was
taken against his will, and the words according to Congresswoman
Waters, Aristide said that he had been kidnapped.
Roger Noriega (Assistant Secretary of State
for Western Hemisphere Affairs): Well, that's of course
nonsense. He approached our ambassador. He made the decision
to resign. He chose the destination. And he could or could
not have decided for himself whether to get on that plane.
Aristide has had his decade of deception and we would have
hoped that now he would put the interests of his people
first and foremost. He did resign. It's time for move forward.
You know Haiti, you know Haitian people, you understand
that these people can do a lot if you give them a chance
and they deserve that chance now.
Bury: So you encouraged him to go?
Noriega: We asked him to do the thinking
about his situation. At the very last moment it was his
decision. I found it rather remarkable that he decided to
leave, and throughout the evening on Saturday I wholly expected
that he would change his mind because he has proven to be
erratic and unreliable. And by virtue of some of the statements
he's quoted as saying, assuming we can trust the interlocutors,
he has proven once again he's not a reliable figure.
Bury: But at the same time, for of all
his flaws, Aristide is a democratically elected president
and there was a power-sharing agreement that you helped
to negotiate. Why not enforce that with the help of US Marines
or forces if necessary?
Noriega: Well, we've done--we did that
Bury: You didn't send troop this is time
on Aristide's behalf.
Noriega: No, we certainly didn't. It was
a conscious decision not to do that. There was a good agreement
that I went down to Haiti to try to sell to the opposition,
but quite frankly, the level of distrust for President Aristide
was so high that these people were unprepared to join in
that process, and quite frankly, the level of distrust for
the international community by Haitians who believe that
the international community has looked the other way as
Aristide has violated 10 years worth of commitments to respect
human rights or to respect the rule of law, 10 years of
commitments to the international community to govern responsibly
and honestly and nonviolently. And so this had built up
so much scar tissue that it was not possible to make that
power-sharing arrangement stick.
Bury: Would you know accept President Aristide
into the United States to live in exile as he did once before?
Noriega: Well, he has to make a judgment
about that. I'm not a consular officer. He does not have
a valid visa into the United States.
Bury: You seem to say he wouldn't be welcome.
Noriega: I'm saying what I'm saying, which
is I'm not a consular officer; I'm not authorized to make
any judgments on whether he could be eligible to come to
the United States. His wife is an American citizen, so are
his children, so they could come here. He'd have to apply
like anyone else, but he doesn't have a valid visa to come
to the United States as this point.
Bury: You mentioned the thuggery on the
part of Aristide's supporters. Some of the rebels who are
vying for power also have thuggery in their backgrounds.
One of them is a former alleged leader of a death squad.
What is the United States doing to prevent them from acquiring
power or control?
Noriega: Well, we've said that these people
should lay down their arms. Some of them have been convicted
of crimes, as I understand it, and they will eventually
be held accountable, I assume, under Haitian law by Haitian
authorities. But they have no business staking a claim to
power in Haiti. This is not a time for violence. It's a
time for a democratic leadership to be given a chance, and
these people should lay down their arms and go home. They
have no part of a peaceful solution in Haiti.
Bury: How long do you foresee American
military having a presence in Haiti?
Noriega: It will be a fairly brief presence.
Bury: Weeks? Months?
Noriega: The resolution
calls for, I believe, a three-month presence--no more than
a three-month presence. But what we found very heartening
in our contacts with the international community, there
are a good number of countries from this hemisphere and
outside this hemisphere prepared to put forces on the ground,
to stay for years as part of a UN-mandated mission. The
United States doesn't have to play that role. There are
others that are willing to do so. We'll do our part through
our regular aid program, through technical assistance, particularly
with the Haitian National Police and with the government
institutions. We'll do our part, by all means.
Bury: The main criticism from the Congressional
Black Caucus and others is that by handling the situation
this way the Bush administration has undermined democracy,
undermined a democratically elected leader.
Noriega: Well, first off, I hesitate to
refer to all of these people as a block, the Congressional
Black Caucus. They don't all act alike, as far as I'm concerned.
Some of them know Haiti very, very well. Some of them supported
Aristide initially and now they have grave doubts. Their
concerns are that we didn't send troops in--
Bury: Early enough?
Noriega: ...to bail out Aristide. We--we--we
sent troops in pretty darn quickly once it became clear
that there would be part of a sustainable political solution.
President Aristide has demonstrated, and I refer to 10 years,
because there was a period of time where he wielded real
power from behind the scenes, has demonstrated that he's
not a responsible interlocutor. He's demonstrated in the
last few hours that he's not a reliable person.
We provided him an exit, a humanitarian service, really.
It was more or less a service to the Haitian people. And
his response has been to accuse us of violating his rights--very
irresponsible. Again, that time is over.
We, the United States, has an obligation--have an obligation,
I believe, to respect constitutional order, but we do not
have to do that in a blind way. The fact that Aristide was
a constitutional president, elected--there is a question
about that--but constitutional president, there's no doubt,
that's one fact, but it does no--is not a fact that relieves
us of making other value judgments about Haiti and about
The fact is he governed very irresponsibly, violently until
the very last minute, and it was a judgment that it was
not an effective, viable use of American military force
to put someone into Haiti just to prop up Aristide, if that
were the sole aim--10-year track record proved it was not
a viable, effective use of that very precious resource.
Bury: Assistant Secretary of State Roger
Noriega, thank you very much.