NEW YORK TIMES
February 29, 2004
Bush Increases Push for Haitian to Leave Office
By DAVID E. SANGER and ERIC SCHMITT
WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 - President Bush dramatically increased the pressure on
Jean-Bertrand Aristide to resign as Haiti's president, authorizing a White
House statement on Saturday evening that the crisis "is largely of Mr.
Aristide's making" and adding that "his own actions have called into
question his fitness to continue to govern."
Earlier in the day, senior administration officials said the United States
did not want to seem to be pushing an elected leader out of office. But
after a meeting of Mr. Bush's national security advisers on Saturday
morning - run by teleconference from Camp David by Condoleezza Rice, the
national security adviser - the president concluded that Washington's strong
hints to Mr. Aristide that he needed to resign must be stepped up to a
During the meeting, officials said, Mr. Bush's advisers concluded that the
rebel forces holding in position outside the city were unlikely to stay
there for long. "If they go in and Aristide is still sitting there, it's not
going to be pretty," a senior official said Saturday evening. "So the
conclusion was that the only way to get to a political solution was to exert
more pressure, an evolution of what we've been doing all week."
But the official noted that the statement was "short of an outright call for
him to get out."
Mr. Aristide, facing anarchy, food shortages and rising pressure from
Washington as rebels closed in on Port-au-Prince, the capital, tried
Saturday to rein in armed supporters terrorizing the city. "We condemn
that," he said of the looting. "When it's not good, we have to say it's not
good," he added in a national television address.
He called for Haitians to stop carjackings and thefts that added to the
mounting disorder on Friday but to maintain barricades against any attack by
the rebels, now in control of half the country.
The motley rebel band of advancing former soldiers and gang members have
said they plan to continue their siege of Port-au-Prince for at least a few
more days before a threatened attack to oust Mr. Aristide.
The White House statement, issued under the name of Scott McClellan, the
press secretary, accused Mr. Aristide of coordinating the violence. "In the
last few days, gangs armed and directed by President Aristide have looted
and attacked people and property in Port-au-Prince," the statement said.
"These attacks have targeted innocent civilians, humanitarian programs and
international organizations trying to help the Haitian people. Mr. Aristide
must instruct his supporters to end this violence. Rebel forces approaching
Port-au-Prince must cease their acts of violence to allow for a political
Administration officials said that at this point, Mr. Bush remained
reluctant to send in American forces, noting that they neither wanted to
appear to be using the military to support Mr. Aristide's rule, nor could
they be in the position of ousting an elected leader.
But the statement on Saturday night all but abandoned any support for the
man who was elected the nation's leader in a process the United States
helped bring about.
"This long-simmering crisis is largely of Mr. Aristide's making," it said.
"His failure to adhere to democratic principles has contributed to the deep
polarization and violent unrest that we are witnessing in Haiti today. His
own actions have called into question his fitness to continue to govern
Haiti. We urge him to examine his position carefully, to accept
responsibility, and to act in the best interests of the people of Haiti."
Mr. Bush's aides fear, however, that a political solution is not at hand,
and they became increasingly concerned as Mr. Aristide telephoned CNN and
other news organizations to declare that he would remain for the rest of his
An administration official who is closely monitoring the Haiti crisis said,
"It's pretty clear that Aristide is directing these gangs with the intent of
targeting his political enemies in Port-au-Prince and creating a general
atmosphere of chaos." This official said Mr. Aristide was acting "with the
aim that he could still save himself if he could just drag the international
community into Haiti."
"What's going on in Port-au-Prince right now is indicative of how Aristide
governs," the official said, "and it's really hindering the international
community's ability to address what's wrong in Haiti."
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell spent much of Saturday working the
telephones, talking with leaders of several Caribbean nations, notably
Jamaica and the Bahamas, as well as with French and Canadian officials,
seeking a way to end the stalemate, the official said.
Pentagon and other officials said there were no imminent plans to deploy
additional American forces to help solve the crisis. "We're still at the
point where any kind of military security presence will have to be linked to
a political solution, and viable political solutions right now are looking
fewer and fewer," the senior administration official said. "That is why
Aristide must go."
Marines could be called upon to evacuate Americans and other foreigners and
provide other assistance if the crisis escalates, defense officials said.
The Web site for the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based at Camp Lejeune,
N.C., quoted Lt. Gen. Henry P. Osman, head of the Second Marine
Expeditionary Force, as saying last week that marines could be sent to
Haiti. "Things are bubbling right now in a nation in our own hemisphere,"
General Osman was quoted as saying. "You're the marines I'm going to be
looking at to possibly answer that contingency."
But with more than 25,000 marines now rotating into Iraq, and the Army badly
stretched between deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans, Pentagon
officials are reluctant to consider anything more than an evacuation
mission, and want to avoid being pinned down in another open-ended
Copyright 2004, The New York Times Company
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