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Remarks and an Exchange With Reporters on Haiti

October 23, 1993

The President. I wanted to give you what I think is a more precise answer to your question. I was, of course, aware of the allegations; they were reported today in the press. But the question of whether he was fit to serve seems to me was reinforced by the personal experience that Ambassador Pezzullo, my Special Envoy on the subject had, plus everyone else in the administration in working with him, plus the fact that during the time when he served as President, political terrorism and abuses went down in Haiti, not up. So based on the personal experiences of the people in the administration who worked with President Aristide, we felt that they were a more valid indicator than the allegations that were reported.

Q. Mr. President, you aren't saying the allegations aren't true?

The President. No one knows whether they're true or not. They were allegations. We don't know if they were true or not. I'm just saying based on the personal experiences of a lot of people in this Government and before me even, before I became President, we had sustained experience—that the experiences of the people who were working with Aristide, plus what is the evidence that we have at least of the conduct of the administration when he was in office, tended to undermine those reports.

Q. What sort of credibility does the CIA report have then, the one that's been circulated on the Hill?

The President. Well, they were required to do what they had to do, which is to report whatever information they'd been given. And the CIA would be the first to tell you that they get a lot of information—it's not always accurate, but they have to give what they have to the intelligence committees, just as they do to the President. That's the law.

Q. Well, Mr. President, what do you think it's going to take for this to go away as far as the public is concerned and even Capitol Hill?

The President. What do you mean, for what to go away?

Q. For this whole issue about his mental stability and his mental——

Q. Jesse Helms says he's psychotic and——

The President. Well, but you know, some of those guys, they like the Government they got, I think. Sometimes some of the opposition here may come from people who were satisfied with this whole sad, recent history of Haiti. What's their alternative?

We tried to find a political solution which basically would allow democracy to return to Haiti and which has a guarantee of a more stable government by bringing in Mr. Malval, whom everybody admits was a nonpolitical business person, someone who had the best interest of his people at heart and other people who could be real stabilizing factors. The security and personal safety of the leaders of the army and the police were guaranteed. The Governors Island Agreement provided for French-speaking forces to go in and retrain the police force to make them a real police instead of an instrument of political oppression and for Frenchspeaking Canadians and the United States to send in people who could in effect convert the army into an army corps of engineers, help them rebuild the country. And they're not seriously threatened. So I think that—and all those steps were supported by Aristide.

So when you look at the record and you look at—I would remind you—you look at the threat that we were all facing, that we continue to face, the previous administration faced from people trying to get on their boats and come to the United States, hundreds of whom have drowned in the effort, it would seem to me to—and the clear evidence that the—at least for as long as I have been President—that the hope of a return to democracy and Aristide's return was the biggest incentive for the Haitian people to stay home.

I think that we have done the right thing with our policy. We always knew there was a chance that the forces of reaction in Haiti would break the deal, but—or people in this country to try to justify the abrogation of the Governors Island Agreement based on what are now very old charges that have very little to do with the government that's operating there or with the actions of the last 9 months, I think is not very persuasive.

Q. The blockade now, according to a missionary, a British missionary, quoted yesterday as saying the blockade is actually hurting the people of Haiti more than it is the regime there.

The President. It always hurts the people first. The regime has access to monopolies, and they have lots of money. But the blockade is what got the Governors Island Agreement going. The blockade finally hit the regime and the elites, and in the end, they suffered, too. I think even a lot of people that have some money there must be worried about the conduct of the police and some of the military in the last few weeks.

Q. How long do you think it's going to take for it to——

The President. I don't have any idea. I don't know. But I just know that that poor country has been plundered on and off for nearly 200 years now. And the people finally thought they were going to get a shot at democracy, a chance to be embraced into the world community. It's probably the most environmentally devastated nation, at least in this hemisphere. And there are a lot of real opportunities for the people to return to a normal life and for all the people in the army and the police to find some reconciliation in a legitimate and lawful society. It's very sad.

But I would remind you that with regard to the embargo, the sanctions, that's what we were asked to do by the Government of Haiti. The government supported the return of the sanctions. But I imagine that it must be very discouraging to the people. They thought they were on the brink of having a normal government, a normal life, free of corruption and oppression, and it's frustrating to them.

I know what people are saying about Aristide; you could look at the alternatives. And we have to go based on the evidence, the conduct of people. And so far we have no—he's done everything he said he would do. And he's been more than willing to reach out to others. And he made strict guarantees as to the security of the—that his former opponents, something that they weren't willing to do, and certainly something they haven't practiced. And we even said if—the whole U.N. process was set up to reinforce that.

Q. Having said that about Mr. Aristide, is there a compromise candidate somewhere, someone who may not be Mr. Aristide but who may be a compromise with the regime there now to normalize things in Haiti?

The President. Our position is what our position is right now. Our position is we have sanctions on, because the Governors Island Agreement was violated. They have a—and he was elected to a term of office. And that's my position.

Q. When do you think Aristide may be back in Haiti? When might you get him back in there?

The President. I was hoping he'd be back on October—like I said, that country has suffered a long time. We've seen a lot of evidence, even from Haitian-Americans that the people there do not want to leave. And a lot of people who live elsewhere might go home if they just had a decent place to go home to, if they didn't have to worry about being beat up or bribed or oppressed, have a real decent chance to make a living. And that's what the world community, that's what the countries in this hemisphere wanted to help Haiti achieve. And it's unfortunate that the people down there decided they'd rather keep a stranglehold on a shrinking future than play a legitimate part of an expanding future. That's a decision they're going to have to make.

NOTE: The exchange began at approximately 8:30 a.m. on the South Lawn at the White House. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

William J. Clinton, Remarks and an Exchange With Reporters on Haiti Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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