After six months as guardians of Haitian order, U.S. forces Friday formally turned over peacekeeping duties to the United Nations, opening a new and risky chapter in the Caribbean nation’s fitful experiment with democracy.
Before a flag-waving crowd at the Presidential Palace, President Clinton joined Haitian President JeanBertrand Aristide in hailing the U.S. military’s success in displacing a dictatorship and setting a democratically elected government on its course.
With the arrival of 20,000 U.S. troops last September, “the water of violence was transformed to the wine of peace,” declared Aristide, as he and Clinton stood partially shielded by bulletproof panels.
The two leaders’ appearance in front of the whitewashed French Colonial-style palace in a color-splashed crowd of youths and adults made a striking tableau. Despite their mutual congratulations, lingering divisions floated near the surface, and there were repeated references to the instability of a country chronically torn by upheaval during its 191-year history.
“The task ahead will not be easy,” Clinton said. “Democracy does not flow naturally like the rivers.”
Democratically elected in 1990, Aristide was forced into exile by a September, 1991, coup, and was restored to power only after the military leaders were forced abroad or underground by the American invasion last fall. Friday’s ceremonies will give peacekeeping authority to a 37-country, 6,000-soldier U.N. contingent that is scheduled to remain on duty until February.
Clinton gently prodded the Aristide government to do more to include the opposition in the nation’s new institutions.
“You must move forward together, with tolerance, openness and cooperation,” Clinton said.
Later, to underscore the point, Clinton met with conservative opposition members who are part of the newly formed commission set up to organize elections in June and December.
The official transfer of power came in an afternoon ceremony outside the palace. U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali accepted U.N. responsibility, as soldiers from some of the 37 nations looked on.
Clinton’s visit was the first by a U.S. president to Haiti since July, 1934, when Franklin D. Roosevelt officially marked the end of the Marines’ 19-year supervision of the nation. It also is the first time in 148 years of U.S. troop deployments in Latin American that the United States has backed a leftist-populist regime.
In a private chat with Aristide, Clinton brought up Tuesday’s slaying of a former anti-Aristide spokeswoman, Mireille Durocher, which some witnesses have linked to Aristide’s interior minister, Col. Mondesir Beaubrun.
Durocher’s slaying has raised alarms about increasing crime and has divided the Haitian administration and some U.S. officials, who have pushed Aristide to move quickly to investigate Beaubrun.
But Clinton strongly defended Aristide on Friday, saying that “as soon as the incident occurred, President Aristide asked for help.”