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Press Briefing by Samuel Berger, Deputy National Security Advisor

March 21, 1996

The Briefing Room

1:50 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: The Deputy National Security Advisor, Samuel Berger, who has been attending the meetings President Clinton has had today with President Rene Preval of Haiti, is here to advise you further on the status of those deliberations. They were warm and productive, I am sure. Or can I be so sure?

MR. BERGER: Thank you, Mike. Let me just say a few words briefly at the outset and then respond to any questions you might have. President Clinton met today for roughly two-and-a-half hours for a working meeting and lunch with President Preval of Haiti. It's the first meeting the President has had since the democratic transition of power in Haiti in February from President Aristide to President Preval, the first democratic transition of power in the 200-year history of Haiti. So, truly, an historic moment.

I must say I was very impressed by President Preval. He is clearly someone who is very bright, very focused in a practical way on both his immediate goals and his long-term goals for his people, very strong. And the meetings with the President and President Preval were very productive. Needless to say, I was also impressed by President Clinton, as well.

Q: Was he very bright, very focused? (Laughter.)

MR. BERGER: The President thanked -- President Preval thanked the American people and President Clinton for the role that we played in the restoration of democracy to Haiti, expressed a gratitude on behalf of the Haitian people.

In turn, the President expressed his admiration for what the Haitian people have accomplished over the last 18 months --restoration of democracy; a series of peaceful elections producing a parliament and representatives around the country; dismantlement of the FAHD which was, of course, hated and feared in the country; the creation of a Haitian national police indigenous and trained by international police academy; and generally an environment of much greater hope and security.

The focus of the discussions were largely on the economy. President Preval said essentially he had campaigned on the theme, It's the Economy, Stupid. And most of the discussion was on what needed to be done now as we transitioned from the security issues to the very, very challenging economic issues.

While there has been progress in Haiti -- inflation is down from about 50 percent to about 17 percent, there is actually real growth in the economy last year of about 5 percent, first time since before the coup in 1991 -- there are enormous economic challenges facing Haiti with an unemployment rate of roughly 70 percent, an infrastructure that has been decimated by the plundering of the past several years and the neglect and problems with the provision of basic services.

President Preval indicated very strongly that he believed that the Haitian economy needed to undertake structural reform, that he believed very firmly that they needed to proceed ahead with privatization, they would move very rapidly with respect to the first parastatal, the cement and flour sectors that he was interested in resuming and accelerating negotiations with the international financial institutions so that an agreement could be reached fairly promptly for assistance from the international community. And he, obviously, as he undertakes these very difficult adjustments within his own economy, is looking to the international community to remain engaged and to remain active in Haiti.

For our part, the President has requested $100 million in FY '97 for assistance for Haiti, economic assistance, and we will be working very closely with the Congress in order to obtain that assistance. President Preval will have several meetings and has had on the Hill while he is here.

Let me say a word on the security side. Of course, as you all know, American forces are largely gone from Haiti. The last American combat forces will be gone by April 15th on schedule, in the timetable that the President laid out for the American people when we engaged in this operation -- mission accomplished for our military.

The UNMI, itself, the U.N. mission has been extended for four more months with Canadian leadership. There are 5,000, as I said, Haitian police that have been trained, and they are well-trained, but still quite inexperienced. President Preval indicated he now needed to focus essentially on supervisory personnel. He has placed new people in charge of the Haitian police, who I think most people believe are very strong and solid at the top.

But he indicated that the problems that they now face were less political in nature in terms of security than simply an environment of economic deprivation which creates incidents and creates problems and frustrations that erupt from time to time. He needs and was -- hopes that the international community will still remain involved in training, in providing some equipment, minimal equipment to the police so that they can continue to progress as a Haitian police force -- something that Haiti has not really had as opposed to a Haitian military strong-arm presence.

Let me just conclude by saying I think there was a strong convergence of views between President Clinton and President Preval. Haiti has traveled an enormous distance with U.S. support over the past 18 months. The challenge now shifts to, in some ways, even more difficult economic issues of trying to assure that the benefits of democracy flow to the Haitian people and are seen by the Haitian people. And, finally, President Clinton made very clear that we wanted to continue and we intended to continue to be Haiti's partner as we move ahead -- no longer with the American military in the lead, but their partner in trying to help them build their economy and solidify their democracy.

Q: Did the question of the confiscated documents come up -- documents confiscated by the U.S. military a year ago? President Preval indicated this morning that Haiti really wants those documents back.

MR. BERGER: It did not come up in the meetings with President Clinton and President Preval, but we are taking steps to return those documents.

Q: You announced three months ago that those documents would be returned. What is the explanation for that not having been carried out?

MR. BERGER: Well, a very large amount -- number of these documents are ready to be handed over right away. With respect to the others, there are some assurances that we are seeking with respect to assuring that they will be used in an appropriate way. But I think those will be worked out very soon.

Q: What kind were they, and why were they picked up?

MR. BERGER: Well, as I said, this issue did not come up in the meetings between President Clinton and President Preval. These were -- back at the time when the American intervention took place, and when the military went into, for example, these FRAPH headquarters, they seized guns, they seized boxes, you know, they seized, I think in the normal course of things, things that were there, some of which included documents which, as I say, we want to get back to them.

Q: Will you be redacting those documents or giving them back intact?

MR. BERGER: I think there is some intent to protect some -- names of Americans, but to provide some mechanism by which -- if there was some law enforcement reason why the Haitians needed those names, they could have them.

Q: Do you want the names to be deleted or you want guarantees from Preval that the names won't be used in a way that you don't like?

MR. BERGER: We want to provide some protection in terms of those names. But as I say, this is not, after two-and-a-half hours, an issue that was even raised by President Preval.

Q: Was the issue of Haiti's recognizing Cuba an issue that came up during this meeting?


Q: The President didn't express his concern about that?

MR. BERGER: No, this was a meeting focused on the future of Haiti. We have invested an enormous amount in trying to bring Haiti back to democracy -- 23, 000 Americans were deployed to Haiti in September of 1994, as you know. Haiti has gone through an enormous transition. There's an enormous set of challenges ahead, big challenges, that have to do with whether or not the Haitian economy can be restored; whether private investment will go back to Haiti; whether there will be an environment of investor confidence; whether Haiti will move forward with privatization, as President Preval indicated; whether there will be continued support for the Haitian police. And those are the things that matter to the lives of Haitians and should, I think, matter to us as well.

Q: Did the President expand on Strobe Talbott's raising the issue of investigating the political killings in Haiti?

MR. BERGER: As you know, the Haitian government has established a special investigative unit to conduct investigations of political killings that have taken place. There was some brief discussion of that. President Preval reported on that. He clearly seems committed to assuring that that unit proceed and do so in a fair and just way. And we have in the past indicated that we're prepared to provide some technical assistance if they desire.

Q: Based on that, is the President or is this administration in a position to certify to Congress that earnest investigations are underway in Haiti, so that money that is being held back from Haiti would go forward?

MR. BERGER: Well, I think the way -- I think that that judgment needs to be made in April, and I think it probably would be unwise to make it either from me, from this podium, or before April.

Q: I'm not up on this. Which international financial institutions is Haiti talking to? The World Bank --

MR. BERGER: It's the IMF, the World Bank, and the International Development Bank. And there is a -- kind of an interrelated cluster of agreements that need to be signed in order for a fairly significant amount of international aid to flow. Those have been delayed during the political season in Haiti, during the elections, during the transition.

President Preval made it very clear that he seeks to resume those negotiations promptly, to complete them promptly, and that he believes, himself, that privatization, modernization, structural reform of the Haitian economy is what the Haitians need. So I think those negotiations hopefully should go rather well.

Q: Is the $1.6 billion that Mike was referring to, is this the package of -- how big is the package of --

MR. BERGER: That's roughly -- I don't have the exact number of what it is.

Q: You said, International Development Bank. Do you mean the Inter-American Development Bank?

MR. BERGER: Excuse me, Inter-American Development Bank. Thank you very much.

Q: Is there an idea that privatization will go ahead as previously planned, or is he looking for a different kind of --

MR. BERGER: Well, he indicated that there have been a quest for bids to privatize two sectors: the cement sector and the flour sector. That he would move ahead with those two sectors rather soon. And that he would then be looking at other sectors down the road. At the same time, there was some -- obviously, that kind of structural reform has its economic consequences, and President Preval hopes that the international community will be of assistance to him as he seeks to help those people who may be dislocated by that economic change.

Q: And the service industries? I mean --

MR. BERGER: We didn't get into an industry-by-industry discussion. I think what was important here was his very clear, very clear intent, very clear understanding that this was what was necessary for Haiti and for the Haitian people.

Q: On the documents in question, is the U.S.'s only concern protecting the names of Americans who may have had contacts with the military; or is there another concern here, as well, about how -- you know, what the government would do in terms of their own --

MR. BERGER: The concerns have been, A, Americans and B, assuring that the documents and any names in those documents would be handled in a judicious way, and now there's a new government -- I think we'll resolve this problem very quickly.

Let's remember there's been a political transition here, there's been two elections. President Preval has been forming his government, parliament has been established. He simply has been in office for two or three weeks, so there really hasn't been an interlocutor here to deal with.

I have a very clear sense, after the last two-and-a-half hours, that Haiti has a very dynamic president, very clear in his focus, and someone who will be a very good partner for the United States to work with together.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 2:04 P.M. EST

William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Samuel Berger, Deputy National Security Advisor Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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