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Congressional Democrats Step Up Criticism of Bush Administration on Haiti - 2004-03-11


In Washington, U.S. Senate Democrats stepped up their criticism of the Bush administration's policy toward Haiti at a hearing on Capitol Hill.

Some Congressional Democrats are seeking an independent probe of allegations made by former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide that he was ousted in a coup orchestrated by the United States and France.

The Bush administration insists Mr. Aristide, who is now in exile in the Central African Republic, left Haiti February 29 with U.S. assistance on his own free will.

At a hearing of the Foreign Relations' Western Hemisphere subcommittee, Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega dismissed Democrats' criticism that the administration should have done more to support Mr. Aristide's government. He said "the United States is not obligated to help bad leaders govern badly".

"Let me be clear. The history of Mr. Aristide's misrule in Haiti proved what we all know to be true: that a democratically-elected government can undermine its democratic legitimacy by the manner in which it governs," he said.

Republican Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota agreed. "Democracy needs honest governance, freedom of expression and assembly, protection of human rights. President Aristide fell short on all these measures and I believe the people of Haiti can do better," he said.

Assistant Secretary Noriega said the administration did not want to "create a doctrine where every poor, failed irresponsible leader can call on the United States and ask for U.S. marines to come and surround the palace to protect him."

"The decision we made was that merely propping up the Aristide government was not worth risking American lives," he said.

Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, the ranking Democrat on the committee, expressed concern about the implications of the administration's policy. "I am worried that that message being sent out is that losing political legitimacy means no longer that if you ask other nations to step up to your assistance if you are being threatened that we will not respond," he said.

One area where Democrats and Republicans agreed was over the need for more international troops in Haiti to stabilize the situation.

Mr. Noriega said that was a decision for military commanders on the ground. He said there is a 3,400 member international force currently in Haiti.

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