US to send military team to assess Haiti security
A small team of military experts from the U.S. Southern Command will head to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to assess the country's security situation amid continuing violence, Defense Department officials said Thursday.
The small team of about four people from Southern Command personnel based in Miami, Florida, will travel to Port-au-Prince in the next few days, officials said.
Officials strongly emphasize the team will focus on the ambassador's request that the team look at security for the official delegation.
Along with embassy security, officials said the military experts would also look at other issues such as security for Americans living in Haiti and continued monitoring for possible Haitians who might try to flee ongoing violence there and try to sail to the United States.
There is no indication yet the Bush Adminstration is changing its current policy of not becoming involved in Haiti.
One defense official said the Pentagon is questioning U.S. national security interests in Haiti. However, the military would, as always, be prepared to evacuate Americans if necessary from the country. There are 20,000 Americans in Haiti according to the State Department.
The Red Cross estimated Wednesday that more than 50 people have been killed since the rebellion first erupted February 5 in Gonaives.
Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has faced criticism from opponents at home and abroad since his election in 2000, which has been called fraudulent. Opposition parties accuse his supporters of using violence to intimidate them.
Former Aristide supporters have joined with their once sworn enemies -- paramilitary and military leaders who had supported the former military dictatorship -- to oust Aristide. These forces returned from exile in the neighboring Dominican Republic just a few days ago and are believed to be heavily armed.
The rebels are thought to number no more than 100 in Gonaives. But they repelled a police attack to retake the city last week in fighting that killed 30 people, mostly officers, according to the Haitian Red Cross.
The Aristide government has called the uprising a "coup" and the rebels "terrorists" and has appealed for international aid, but none was immediately offered.
During a speech Thursday, Aristide indicated that he intends to remain in office. "I am ready to give my life if that is what it takes to defend my country," he said, according to The Associated Press. "If wars are expensive, peace can be even more expensive."
Political solution proposed
The United States on Thursday was to present a new plan for bringing about calm in Haiti to government and opposition parties there as early as Thursday afternoon, the State Department said.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the plan for a political solution was worked out in a conference call Thursday morning among representatives of the United States, France, Canada, the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and the Organization of American States.
Boucher said the plan is similar to a proposal already offered by Caricom. Under the Caricom plan, Haiti would have to comply with Organization of American States resolutions regarding Haiti; rules would have to be negotiated for demonstrations and the release of political detainees; enjoyment of fundamental freedoms and the effectiveness of police would have to be ensured; strong-arm groups would have to be disarmed; and both the government and opposition parties would have to support an independent electoral commission.
Jackson calls for U.S. action
U.S. civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson on Thursday said that by refusing to intervene in Haiti, the United States is giving tacit support to armed groups there who oppose Aristide.
"It's a contradiction to allow one [democracy] in Iraq but to deny one in our own hemisphere," he said at a news conference.
The United States and European Union said they would not intervene until Aristide's government reached a settlement with his opponents.
Jackson accused Bush of withdrawing support for a "democratically elected government."
Three days ago, Jackson and his Rainbow/Push Coalition sent a letter to President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell, asking that the United States resume economic and medical assistance, send a high level official to Haiti and persuade the insurgents to come to the negotiating table.
"We have an international crisis in our hemisphere, here in Haiti ... in part induced by this government that cut off economic assistance," Jackson charged.
"Secretary Powell cannot be idle. ... We must send in forces. ... We must honor Haiti's democracy."
Powell said earlier this week that the United States does not expect to send military troops to stop the violence. He suggested other countries may send security forces, but only after the Haitian government and opposition reach a political agreement.
Jackson said the United States should persuade the insurgents to support a Caribbean community plan that has been accepted by Aristide. The plan calls for a new prime minister and an interim governing council, democratic elections within nine months and disarmament on both sides.
The opposition has said it will not accept the proposal unless Aristide steps down.
On Wednesday, police and armed Aristide supporters manned barricades in Cap Haitien, fearing rebels who have taken over other towns were headed their way.
The rebels have cut off Haiti's second largest city, on the north coast, from much of the rest of the poverty-stricken Caribbean country, the Red Cross reported Wednesday. Humanitarian aid sent after floods in December remains on the docks in the capital, Port-au-Prince, the relief agency said.
Aristide's turbulent past
Discontent has grown in Haiti, home to 8 million people, since Aristide's party swept the legislative elections in 2000. Opposition politicians refuse to participate in new elections unless the president steps down, but Aristide insists he will stay until his term ends in February 2006.
Aristide, a priest who preached revolution to Haiti's poor, swept 1990 elections to become the country's first freely elected leader. He was ousted in a coup in 1991 and was restored to power when the United States sent 20,000 troops to Haiti in 1994.
Nearly 40,000 Haitians fled the country after the 1991 coup. Many of those risked death to attempt the 600-mile passage to Florida in small, overcrowded boats.
Aristide disbanded the army in 1995. In its place, the country has a 5,000-member police force that is outnumbered and outgunned by the rebels in outlying posts.