Former President Carter denied Saturday that his visit here to monitor Haiti’s electoral process has upset President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, although he acknowledged asking if the Haitian leader means to be neutral in upcoming elections.
His “welcome couldn’t possibly have been warmer,” Carter told U.S. reporters before his final meeting Saturday afternoon with Aristide and his return to the United States.
Carter said Aristide thanked him for his role in negotiating the removal last fall of the military regime that had overthrown him in 1991, allowing his return to office.
Carter was responding to statements by Aristide aides and Cabinet officials that the Haitian government gave Carter a chilly reception during his three days here because of his perceived interference in the country’s political process.
“That is completely false,” Carter blurted out as he stood with the other members of his private mission, Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Forces Committee, and Gen. Colin Powell, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“I didn’t hear a single negative comment,” Powell said. According to Nunn, “this was about as warm a welcome as I can recall.”
Nevertheless, Haitian officials insistently if privately complained that Carter acted arrogantly and showed “a naive” attitude about Haitian politics, particularly in allegedly suggesting that Aristide remain “neutral” in future elections.
Their complaint, which centers on a perception that Carter wants to strengthen Aristide’s rightwing opposition in order to balance his overwhelming popularity, was seconded Saturday by an unlikely source: Haiti’s largest newspaper, which usually is stridently anti-Aristide.
“Did Mr. Carter ask Mr. Clinton to remain neutral in the U.S. congressional elections?” asked the lead columnist in Le Nouvellist. “Was Mr. Carter neutral” in congressional elections “while he was president?”