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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

March 5, 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 all before.

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 Aristide.

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.

Noriega: Thank you very much.




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