International Policy Report - September 1993
By James Morrell
The signatures were those of a Haitian army general and the elected president. To a critical extent, however, the Governors Island agreement was a deal between the traditional, irresponsible elite of Haiti and an American president who had finally lost all patience with that elite's misrule--especially with its generation of a seemingly unending stream of refugees. In return for removal of the oil cutoff which the Clinton administration had promoted within the United Nations, plus an ample transition period, the army agreed to the return of President Aristide, the installation of a consensus government, and replacement of the army high command.
The terms of the accord provided that the sanctions would not be suspended until the elite-military alliance had let the parliament confirm Aristide's choice of prime minister. Typically, the elite waited until the oil virtually ran out in mid-August before finally letting parliament vote, and truckloads of soldiers assaulted demonstrators who tried to post pictures of the returning president. There remained an acute question of whether the army and rich families, who had routinely violated their previous commitments, would honor the Governors Island accord. The accord puts the United States in the unaccustomed position of backing a populist Latin American leader against the ancien regime, which under the usual pattern might be expected to receive unreserved U.S. support. President Clinton inherited a U.S. Latin American policy that had instigated coups from Guatemala to Chile, culminating in a decade of ruinous wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua. That he was able to rise above this ideological legacy and take a practical view of U.S. interests will rank as one of the more notable accomplishments of his administration. It led him to his first foreign-policy success, in an arena in which his predecessor had conspicuously failed. * * *
BACKGROUND TO THE GOVERNORS ISLAND CONFERENCE
The 1991 coup
The September, 1991 coup had itself been evidence of the elite's profound instability and indecision, for after a bewildering series of regimes and coups in the late 1980s the army had allowed the 1990 presidential elections to go forward without serious incident. The Haitian masses turned overwhelmingly to Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had emerged as a symbol of principled opposition to the dictatorship and had survived two assassination attempts. ln a field of twelve candidates Aristide won 67 percent of the vote.
He took over a state administration that served chiefly as a device for enrichment of the top families. When he moved to trim ghost workers from the payroll, enforce customs collection, and end monopolies, the families staged their coup. Only the intervention of U.S. ambassador Alvin Adams kept the petits soldats from killing Aristide, who was bundled off into exile.
The coup was highly unwelcome to a Bush administration that was trying to restore some semblance of order to the Central American-Caribbean region, where it inherited two ideological wars and a wayward dictator in Panama who was ousted by an American invasion. Staging free elections and letting the results stand had long been part of Washington's rhetoric, to be observed as convenient, but when Washington's favorites won elections in El Salvador and Nicaragua the rhetoric became useful working policy. At the Santiago meeting of the Organization of American States, group action against coupmakers was even pledged. The Haitian coup, even if perpetrated by the familiar army and elite that was Washington's usual Latin American partner, too flagrantly violated the Bush administration's attempt to impart consistency to its foreign policy. President Bush received President Aristide in the White House and said, "This coup will not stand."
Soon, however, others in and around the Bush administration began to undermine the president's policy. The former assistant secretary of state Elliott Abrams, noted for his ideological zeal, organized the American assembly plant operators in Haiti to petition for exemption from the OAS-declared embargo. This pulled the rug out from under OAS negotiations. An accord reached in Washington in February, 1992 only extracted a vague promise from the regime to let Aristide back at some unnamed date, in return for his appointing a political opponent as prime minister. Convinced that they had nothing to fear from the Bush administration, the regime violated even this anemic accord within days. The refugees
For a decade the flow of refugees from Haiti had been increasing as the selfish elite turned that country into a social and ecological disaster. During Aristide's seven months in office the flow slowed to a trickle, as he briefly gave the people hope. With his ouster it turned into a torrent: some thirty thousand set sail in the first half of 1992, and one poll found 90 percent of Haitian respondents ready to leave.
But the Bush administration was now too paralyzed to move against the source of the problem. The regime had hired lobbyists in Washington and mounted an intense character-assassination campaign against Aristide that skillfully hit all the right Republican buttons, and gained increasing currency in the U.S. mainstream press. The price of admission to any Bush administration council on Haiti was the ability to roll one's eyes upward at the mention of Aristide, even while acknowledging that the policy was still to return him. This attitude precluded effective action. As thousands of refugees arrived in Florida, in May 1992 the Bush administration fell back on the technical expedient of forced repatriation, violating a longstanding American tradition of due process for those claiming political asylum.
Clinton encounters the Haiti issue
The American presidential campaign, meanwhile, pitted a centrist Democrat against a centrist Republican, leaving them with practically nothing to argue about on foreign policy. Forced repatriation gave Bill Clinton one of the few issues on which he could differentiate himself from Bush. He promised to stop the practice immediately. Once safely elected, he reversed himself. But the cost to his credibility was not merely with the American people, who had grown used to such behavior by their politicians. It also cost him credibility with the Haitian generals, who concluded that election rhetoric notwithstanding, it would be business as usual in Washington. They could outwait Clinton as they had Bush.
But here they had miscalculated, for Clinton, even while conveniently discarding his campaign position, never forgot its underlying rationale: that the real solution was not sending people back by force, but returning the elected president who had given them hope and so had stanched the refugee flow. This was not as easy a position to stick to as it sounds, however, for shortly after winning the election Clinton was handed a CIA psychological profile of Aristide which put in technical garb the U.S. national security establishment's deep distrust of a Third World populist leader. Aristide was depicted as unstable and untrustworthy; could Clinton base U.S. policy on so uncertain a vessel? The CIA response threatened to plunge Clinton into the same indecision that had paralyzed Bush.
But Clinton and his advisers set the CIA report aside, convinced that a solution to the Haiti problem had to be found and that Aristide, as the elected president, offered that solution. The specter of tens of thousands of poor, black refugees landing in Florida kept Clinton riveted on the realities of Haiti.
Against the CIA's counsel of despair the Clinton team was receiving more positive assessments from Capitol Hill and the public. The Center for International Policy's Robert E. White, the former ambassador to El Salvador, had been advising President Aristide since 1991 and submitted a Haiti action plan, to the Clinton transition team. A memo emphasized that Aristide's restoration offered the only permanent solution to the dilemma. While several of the specific suggestions in the memo have been since overtaken by events, the essence of White's plan was that Clinton could win without the use of military force. But he would have to show his utter determination to resolve the Haiti crisis, and to devote the necessary resources to it.
This recommendation and others in a similar vein arriving from the Congressional Black Caucus were consistent with the mood of Clinton and the advisers he had appointed to the National Security Council, among them Samuel Berger, Richard Feinberg, and Nancy Soderberg. They grew even more determined to set a new course on Haiti when faced with having to continue Bush's refugee policy.
The Congressional Black Caucus lost no opportunity to remind Clinton of his commitment. The senior members of the caucus, men like John Conyers, Jr. and Charles Rangel, had attained prominent committee positions. Rangel might be at the White House on tax matters related to his duties on the Ways and Means Committee, but he always brought up Haiti. Conyers rode on the airplane with Clinton to his home city of Detroit and discussed Haiti at length. Clinton takes the initiative
Clinton's first move was to have the lame-duck Bush administration and his own transition team bring the United Nations in to assist (and largely supplant) the OAS: its worldwide reach would be needed to make sanctions effective, and only it could send armed peacekeepers. The United Nations named former Argentine foreign minister Dante Caputo its special envoy to Haiti. The United States joined Canada, France and Venezuela in forming the "Four Friends of the Secretary-General" on Haiti.
First fruit of this formidable grouping was the regime's seeming acceptance in February, 1993 of a human-rights-monitors mission to be sent by the United Nations and OAS to reinforce the sixteen OAS monitors virtually imprisoned in a Port-au-Prince hotel. When the regime then reneged on the agreement, as was its normal practice, Clinton appeared publicly with visiting Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney, who spoke of the need for "hard action." Clinton said, "I share the prime minister's determination." The regime admitted the monitors. A pattern of pressure and response was set. White House meeting
Then Clinton took the decisive step of identifying himself publicly with Aristide by having him visit the White House on March 16, 1993. At the meeting Clinton and Vice President Gore insisted on the need for maximum reassurances to Aristide's enemies. Clinton did most of the talking (something that is easy to do at any meeting with the highly reticent Aristide).
More important, however, than this pressuring and channelizing of Aristide, which would form an invariable part of all of the Clinton administration's contacts with him, was Clinton's publicly stated resolve to restore Aristide to the presidency. With one stroke he shook off the whispering campaign against Aristide and based U.S. policy on him.
Attending the White House meeting was former ambassador to Nicaragua Lawrence Pezzullo, whom Clinton had just named as his special envoy for Haiti. Both the presidential audience and the appointment of Pezzullo signified a high-priority drive by the administration. Pezzullo's appointment added impetus for two reasons. First, he was a foreign service professional who had gone head to head with both Somoza and later the Reagan administration's Latin American ideologues. Pezzullo was not forced out immediately but left after all his efforts to negotiate the differences between the Sandinistas and Washington were thwarted by the Reagan people, who, in Pezzullo's words, were "only interested in shooting down negotiations."
Second, Pezzullo would displace holdover Assistant Secretary of State Bernard Aronson as the day-to-day manager of U.S. policy toward Haiti. Aronson had begun resolutely in 1991 by seeking to implement President Bush's call for Aristide's restoration, but soon found himself deprived of resources and White House backing, especially as the regime's conservative supporters found an ally in Vice President Quayle. This had forced Aronson to piece together unworkable compromises. By 1993 he was thoroughly identified with the approach of undermining Aristide while seeking to restore him. Pezzullo brought a new decisiveness, a determination to get a deal, and a confidence in his White House backing. Abortive negotiations
The high-profile support of Aristide bore immediate fruit. Days after the White House meeting, Caputo proceeded to Haiti and obtained the coup makers' agreement "in principle" to yield power and allow the president to return.
Aristide himself remained skeptical. In a late March meeting with White, the ousted president said the regime was continuing to violate human rights and would violate this seeming agreement. True to form, the regime stonewalled Caputo at two subsequent meetings in April and May. Pezzullo accompanied Caputo at the May meetings and so was able to experience the rejection firsthand.
The Haitian military and elite remembered the decades of American military aid and trainers (always justified to Congress in Pentagon briefing books as "professionalizers" of the Haitian military). That the seeming stability this army offered by repressing the population was more than offset by the political chaos and massive refugee flow it generated never occurred to the coup leaders. Against Washington's periodic scoldings there had always been the trainers and the CIA to tell them, "Watch what we do, not what we say." They knew that behind the scenes in Washington, they still had a powerful protector. And most of all, there was easy money to be made in preying on the population. Clinton persists
But Pezzullo had the full backing of President Clinton and persisted in his course. In May, he convinced Clinton to make available U.S. soldiers to serve under United Nations blue berets in Haiti in a planned construction battalion that was intended both as a sop to the Haitian military and a buffer force. That Clinton overrode the Pentagon's traditional reservations about putting American soldiers under foreign command was a further indication of the priority he was giving the Haiti issue. But both Aristide and the regime responded skittishly to the plan, each fearing to give the other the nationalist card.
More important, after his and Caputo's failed mission in May, Pezzullo enlisted U.S. support for an oil embargo through the Security Council. This would be a serious enforcement measure, unlike the OAS embargo that the Europeans had widely violated for eighteen months. It was a major diplomatic push, for there was widespread reluctance in the United Nations to apply Article 7 of the charter dealing with threats to the peace to the Haitian situation. The record of Caputo's failed missions, however, left no other choice.
The adoption of sanctions was effective. It immediately undermined the civilian facade that had been patched together by Marc Bazin, the de facto prime minister. The military had put in Bazin to get the sanctions lifted; instead, they were being strengthened.
Bazin's departure in June created a vacuum. He had been a key to the survival of the de facto regime as the only one with an international reputation. His departure left the regime with no spokesman. Caputo astutely took advantage of the situation by proposing a U.N.-mediated conference of Aristide, coup leader Lieut. Gen. Raoul Cedras, and the Haitian politicians to work out a solution. The coup leader first dismissed the invitation, cheekily saying that the Haitian constitution barred his involvement in politics. But the pressure of sanctions convinced the top families that the time had come to deal. Cedras agreed to come. The context of Aristide's decisions
Aristide symbolized the Haitian people's struggle to throw off one of the most brutal and stifling military dictatorships in the hemisphere. He and the other popular leaders had survived repeated attempts on their lives. In that cruel context, one advanced by struggle and determination, not by compromise. And Aristide and his allies always suspected the hand of the United States behind the local oppressors. In exile, he was in the highly awkward position of having to rely on that same United States to restore him to power.
Aristide was confronted with a constant struggle between his instincts, born of the cruel realities of Haiti, and his objective circumstances in exile. He had signed the vague, OAS-brokered Washington accord in 1992 with infinite reluctance, and at the first sign of backing off by the Bush administration, he publicly exempted the coup leaders from the amnesty he had agreed to. He had gone along when Clinton asked him to urge the Haitians not to set sail, and had endorsed Caputo's series of futile missions. But he was alert to any slights to the legitimacy he embodied as the first freely elected president. When in May the United Nations proposed a peacekeeping force for Haiti, Aristide rejected it on nationalistic grounds, even though its chief function would be to protect him. To help him maneuver in the unfamiliar Washington context-one that was made even more baffling by the Bush administration's vacillations- Aristide relied on White and former Maryland congressman Michael D. Barnes, his legal counsel. Having the benefit of their advice, however, did not exempt Aristide from having to make crucial decisions. A particularly wrenching decision came in late June after word came of Cedras's agreement to come to New York.
Invited to the conference by Caputo, Aristide publicly set conditions befitting his role as legitimate president, beginning with the immediate stepping down of the high command. Caputo found the conditions unrealistic. In convening the conference he had already set conditions highly favorable to Aristide: making Cedras recognize Aristide's legitimacy and the need to arrange his prompt return. Aristide would have to be content with these conditions and rescind his own.
Aristide's advisers huddled with him in the small Georgetown apartment. Most wanted the conditions to stay. But Barnes and White believed that Aristide could ill afford to quarrel with his benefactors, the United Nations and the Clinton administration. Aristide had a clear choice between two contrasting courses. He chose cleanly and decisively: the conditions would come off. He would cooperate with the United Nations.
Reviewing the episode, a senior United Nations official said of Barnes and White, "Mike and Bob have saved Aristide from disaster." It was true that Clinton had made a commitment to restore Aristide. But the commitment was highly qualified, based on Aristide's seeming flexibility. Had Aristide persisted with what appeared to Clinton as obstinacy, he might well have gone the way of Lani Guinier.
THE GOVERNORS ISLAND CONFERENCE
Negotiating with Cedras
Arriving, Cedras put on a tough front: he was there only to obtain removal of the sanctions and get amnesty. Caputo spent most of June 27 with him and found him difficult, even insulting. Why should Aristide even return? Cedras argued. Why should he, Cedras, resign?
Cedras said that for the process to begin, Aristide should appoint a prime minister from his opposition to be confirmed by the parliament with members elected on January 18, 1993-an illegal election, in the eyes of Haiti and the United Nations. Then the sanctions should be lifted and police and military aid started. Cedras and the high command would not resign. That would violate the constitution, he said. They would receive Aristide back in the country but only after six to eight months, and a precise date could not be set. It would depend on the circumstances.
Caputo told Cedras that he was playing with fire. He threatened to denounce him to the press for his lack of political will. He found the general's defiance baffling after the letters accepting the agenda and his arrival on the same island as Aristide. Representative Rangel, who was visiting Aristide on the island, asked Pezzullo about it. Pezzullo said he had never seen people who could "belly up to the table and belly back" like the Haitians.
The meeting with Cedras looked to be a repeat of the pattern in Port-au-Prince, when every time the military had said they were ready to deal they proved to be intractable. Caputo brought Cedras's position over to Aristide, saying he knew Aristide would have to reject it, as would the four Friends. Caputo promised he would make clear to the press that Cedras was the reason for the conference's failure. He would describe to the press Aristide's willingness to come without preconditions and accept the agenda. U.S. pressure applied
Thus, the Governors Island conference was on the verge of breaking up before it really began. One of Cedras's last demands, however, had been to meet with the Four Friends. On the second day of the conference, June 28, he got just that: a day with the blunt-spoken Pezzullo. Pezzullo reviewed Cedras's situation and told him that his position was weak. If there was no commitment to build a democratic society and live together, he said, then no agreement emerging from Governors Island could work.
Cedras now insisted that the military was committed to working with every sector for the transition to a democratic society. It wanted a political truce and, a period of social peace. The political parties would have to give the new government room. And the military wanted Aristide back.
As for himself, Cedras told Pezzullo, he wanted to see the planned professionalization of the military begun. He wanted to be in on the beginning of that process. Then he would bow out.
Pezzullo saw Cedras the next day and ran a test of his apparent new flexibility. He reminded him of what he had said about working for the transition to a democratic society, but deliberately left out the part about wanting Aristide back. As soon as Pezzullo finished, Cedras added, "And we want Aristide back." Pezzullo was encouraged. There was movement.
The general further shifted his negotiating position under this pressure. Now, he said, he didn't care who the prime minister would be. Nevertheless, the military high command must stay in place. It would commit itself to the prime minister and Aristide's return. He, Cedras, would resign before Aristide returned. They would have to get police chief Col. Joseph Michel Fran_ois out at the same time, or he would be strong enough to take over. The sanctions should be lifted, the sooner the better, and the international force should come in. The political parties should meet and declare a truce.
Pezzullo now believed that he and Caputo had material to work with. Cedras wanted assurances of the continuity of the army, just as the Salvadoran military did in the last stages of their talks. Cedras was interested in the professionalization of the armed forces, the training, and the money. If this were taken care of, there could be a deal.
Cedras had acted tough, had come under strong U.S. pressure, and could now tell the hardliners back in Haiti that he had yielded to force majeure. On the third day of the conference, June 29, he went before the cameras and said, "We are here to discuss the conditions of Aristide's return. . . and the security of the sectors of the country." Only hours after that press appearance, Caputo reengaged with Cedras and hammered out the outline of the Governors Island agreement. Caputo squeezed considerably more out of Cedras. The six to eight months with no precise date of return he compressed to four months with a precise date. From the illegal parliament confirming the prime minister he got to a legal parliament. From the immediate lifting of sanctions he got to their lifting only after parliamentary confirmation of the new prime minister. Adding to that Cedras's willingness to take early retirement and his agreement that Fran_ois had to go as well, Caputo believed he had a deal. Selling the plan to Aristide.
Caputo knew that the four months' wait would not be welcome to the Aristide side. Going in to broach the plan with them on June 30, he brought formidable help: Marrack Goulding, head of world-wide peacekeeping for the United Nations. Goulding said it would take four months to find, recruit, and deploy the United Nations police that would act as a buffer force. That "technical" fact forced the timetable for Aristide's return.
The four months came as a shock to the Haitian delegation: it was too far off and the cohabitation with the military dangerous. Six weeks had been the time given all spring as the time needed for deployment of the international dissuasive presence. Now it had been extended to four months. Robert White pointed out that this technical underpinning to the return date put the Aristide camp in the position of arguing against a "fact." It was decided to concentrate on compressing the date.
Pezzullo saw Aristide and began the process of selling the agreement. "It was a golden moment " he said. The international community had come together in a most unusual way to bring it about. The Haitian people would see their own leadership, now in conflict, come together under some compact that worked. Aristide responded noncommittally, as was his wont.
White believed that the deal was the best Aristide could get, yet feared that Aristide would reject it because he profoundly doubted that a legitimate government could form under the guns of the same army that had destroyed it two years ago. White believed that Aristide's congressional supporters, while sympathetic to these doubts, would accept the necessity of the deal. He got on the telephone to Capitol Hill. Soon Rep. Joseph Kennedy, II was on the Battery Park ferry on the way to Governors Island to see Caputo and Pezzullo. Representative Conyers, meanwhile, went directly to see Aristide in Manhattan.
Pezzullo's central point with Kennedy was that they had achieved with the military the four points they had come for: setting a date for the return, restoring constitutional government, replacing the high command, and ensuring a peaceful transition to a durable democratic framework. Caputo contrasted Aristide's position to that of Chile and Argentina. After seventeen years under Pinochet, Chile was building a viable democracy, Caputo said; yet Pinochet was still there. In his own Argentina they would have accepted virtually anything to get rid of the military. Aristide after twenty-one months would be the first president in the Western Hemisphere to be restored to office after being removed in a coup. And restored with $1 billion in assistance, a precise date, and political guarantees.
Kennedy, satisfied that Caputo had got the best deal possible from Cedras, went to see Aristide in Manhattan. He said that whatever Aristide's decision, he would stand with him. So would Conyers, Rangel, and a number of others. But not the majority.
Aristide was getting similar messages in calls from Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Venezuelan president Carlos Andres Perez, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and others. But Kennedy took Aristide and his inner circle through the various scenarios, including the penalties for re_ection. Efforts to improve the accord
On July 1 Aristide sent Barnes and White to meet with Caputo and Pezzullo in a last-ditch effort to improve the terms of an accord which, once it was finally wrung from Cedras, was presented to the Aristide camp as a fait accompli. Aristide had with him on the island a large entourage of Haitians, including many of his cabinet ministers. But he believed the two Americans were the ones best equipped to squeeze more out of Caputo.
Timing. Barnes and White made a major effort to shorten the timing. Six weeks had long been the estimate for the police deployment; now it was being raised to four months. Pezzullo insisted it had been four months all along.
The other reason for the four months, Caputo said, was that he could get no earlier date from Cedras. At best he could get him to move it up one or two weeks in exchange for Aristide's calling at Governors Island for the sanctions to be lifted immediately.
Sequencing. Barnes and White argued strenuously for simultaneous actions. Aristide should not be asked to let the coupmakers in the high command be part of constitutional government. They proposed having the prime minister confirmed on the same date that Cedras resigned.
Caputo said he could not obtain the simultaneous Cedras resignation. Furthermore, one of his stated goals was a peaceful transition. He would not recommend doing everything at once. It was too dangerous. They could not reject the feelings of some in the army who wanted a transition.
Caputo denied it was power-sharing. In four months the president was back. Barnes said power-sharing was too generous a word. The army would have all the power. Caputo said he could not erase the army.
If it could not be done simultaneously, White said, then there should be precise dates for the resignation of the high command and police chief. Caputo said that he didn't want to put dates in the middle. In the Haitians' political way of thinking, it could mean something else. He said he could get a side letter from Cedras committing himself to retire shortly before Aristide returned.
Altogether, Caputo and Pezzullo refused to budge on the timing and sequence. In the overall proposal, they said, they reached all the goals they had committed themselves to with Aristide.
Verification. The two sides found complete agreement, however, on U.N. enforcement of the accord. White first made the suggestion: "One of the ways Aristide could accept this agreement is to write a letter to the secretaries-general who would reply that the sanctions come back on if the army violates this."
Caputo said that the U.N. and OAS secretaries-general could sign a very precise document with President Aristide laying out the criteria of the agreement. The document would have all of the president's concerns formulated as elements of verification. It would be made known to the other side. They would have to know that if they moved five centimeters off what they had agreed to, the sanctions would come back on.
In that document, Caputo said, the international organizations and Aristide would have important flexibility. It would not be dependent on the military.
And they would have the weapon of going to the Security Council if the military did not comply. The secretary-general would go in twenty-four hours, Caputo pledged.
Penalties of nonacceptance
If Aristide refused the deal, Caputo said, the international community would nevertheless see that it was a reasonable one and would lift the sanctions anyway. This was not a threat, but a fact.
Francesc Vendrell, a senior U.N. diplomat, said that the sanctions would merely be suspended until October 30. Caputo said that they would be automatically reimposed on November 1 if Aristide were not back. Vendrell said that he had originally had his own doubts about the overlong time period, but it was the best that could be obtained and Aristide should take the agreement.Recommending the agreement
Although the formal negotiations would go on for two more days, this dramatic meeting marked the end of any real grappling over the issues. Barnes and White returned to a meeting with President Aristide Thursday afternoon. They recommended he take the agreement. The pragmatic wing of Aristide's group of Haitian advisers concurred, chief among them publisher Robert Malval (soon to be named prime minister), Port-au-Prince mayor Evans Paul, and physiologist Micha Gaillard.
The terms Caputo and Pezzullo laid out in the Thursday discussion were the ones signed by Cedras and Aristide two days later. The intervening time was taken up mostly by Aristide's American lawyers and the United Nations composing the verification criteria.
* * *
PERSPECTIVES ON THE ACCORD
Whether the military will grossly violate the Governors Island agreement, as it has every previous one since the coup, only time will tell. Five weeks after the accord, the U.N.-OAS Observers' Mission warned that executions had risen to an "alarming" level. At the end of August it further warned of kidnappings and disappearances aimed at terrorizing pro-Aristide organizations.
Pezzullo, well before the Governors Island conference began, had been deeply concerned about the danger of a new coup by rebellious subordinates. He found Cedras the most reasonable member of his delegation, but White doubted that Cedras had much power. The "dissuasive" force
The United Nations staff had been equally worried about the disintegration of institutions in Haiti, which led it in April to conceive of the idea of the police and military buffer force. This was a United Nations initiative, not a U.S. one.
To the United Nations, it was not a question of restoring democracy in Haiti. One could not restore something that had never really existed. Given the lack of democratic institutions in Haiti, there was a real risk of chaos that might trigger a U.S. intervention. Such an intervention might return Aristide to power, or so the U.N. staff considered, but Aristide would be wounded politically. Needed rather was a multilateral force of peacekeepers to protect the president and keep the two sides apart. Only the United Nations could provide such a force.
Once the plan was broached, both Haitian sides wanted the force, but for different reasons: Aristide understood the need for protection; the army foresaw aid, training, and reidentification with the U.S. military. Both Aristide and the regime opposed it publicly. In the Governors Island accord, it is merely mentioned as a form of police aid. But it will become a major factor in the months ahead.U.S. goals at Governors Island
Going into the conference, the Clinton administration's goal was a peaceful transition of power from the military to a civilian constitutional government. A new prime minister, replacement of the high command, and the return of President Aristide were the key elements of the transition. In contrast with U.S. policy in Central America throughout the 1980s, these were also the goals stated in United Nations resolutions and by most members of Congress.
The administration's fear was that lower-ranking military would stage a coup or otherwise block the process. It saw the most dangerous moments as at ( 1 ) the resignation of the high command, and (2) Aristide's return.
This fear of a coup led the Clinton administration to seek various forms of reassurance to the Haitian military: institutional guarantees, amnesty, military aid and training, and a buffer force. But the most questionable reassurance was its desire for a bridge period between the restoration of constitutional government and the changeover of the high command. This bridge period became the central issue with the Aristide camp.
Pezzullo's model of the Haitian army as a grouping of rebellious subordinates was miles away from how Aristide and his aides saw it: they knew Haiti as a rigid hierarchy in which the top families and officers gave brutal orders which were carried out, and they in turn would respond to a putative "phone call" from the White House. Americans like Pezzullo and Ambassador Alvin Adams were naive to think that the petits soldats could act on their own, they said.
Given what it saw as a political vacuum, the United States wanted the restoration of constitutional government to come as soon as possible. It believed that if the high command were removed at the same time-the simultaneity Barnes and White strove for in the meetings-while the dissuasive presence had not yet been deployed, there was great risk of triggering another coup. So it wanted an interval between the coming in of the government and the departure of the coupmakers-what Pezzullo on the island called a "nice, slow transition."
Dangerous bridge period
Depending on from which side of the prism one looks at it, the bridge period was a necessary concession to power, a prudent precaution against a coup or a reckless derogation of President Aristide's legitimacy. For he indeed subjected himself and Haiti to great risk by lending legitimacy to a government that must form under the guns of a corrupt, brutal army.
Ironically, however, it was the elite-military cabal that shortened this transition period by one- half. By procrastinating on the parliamentary confirmation of the prime minister for nearly two months, they reduced the danger period-the time they would share power with Aristide's government-to two instead of four months, thus handing the Aristide camp a victory it was unable to attain at Governors Island. A victory for the United Nations
If it holds, the Governors Island accord will rank with the Contadora, Arias, and the U.N.'s El Salvador peace plans as a signal accomplishment of hemispheric peacemaking. It will also stand as an example of how much more effective the United States can be if it works with the U.N. machinery rather than opposes it.
Contadora arose to fill the vacuum created by the Reagan administration's total opposition to negotiations. The United Nations made peace in El Salvador also over considerable objections by the Bush administration, although the