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Top Official says US Committed to Helping Haiti Establish Stable Democracy - 2004-04-14

The top U.S. official for Western Hemisphere Affairs said that Washington is committed to helping Haiti as it strives to establish a stable democracy and prosperous economy. The State Department official gave an assessment of Haiti's prospects at a forum in Washington Wednesday.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega said Haitians have their best opportunity in a decade to break with "their terrible past," when their desires were smashed by corrupt leaders and an indifferent world.

"After waiting for more than 200 years, Haitians deserve democracy and a government that looks out for their interests," he said. "The Bush administration believes in, and will do our part in Haiti, and that Haiti will get the democracy that it deserves."

Mr. Noriega called the years under Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the former president who went into exile after a revolt forced him to step down earlier this year, a disappointing chapter in Haitian history, full of violence and corruption.

"I'm convinced that President Aristide himself is to blame for his own political demise," he added. "Had he not encouraged, and [instead] condemned political violence, he would have had much greater moral authority and political sympathy. Had he not corrupted the state and police force, his government could have withstood the challenge brought on by a handful of rebels."

After his recent visit to Haiti, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the government of interim Haitian President Boniface Alexandre and Prime Minister Gerard Latortue is off to a good start. Elections are planned for next year. A multi-national force is restoring security in Port-au-Prince. Talks on a U.N. peacekeeping force, in which Brazil hopes to take the lead role, are under way.

Mr. Noriega said U.S. plans for Haiti include involving the Haitian diaspora from such places as Miami, New York, and Montreal. He added that these people have development skills and know what Haiti really needs.

"That is maybe the secret weapon that we have in mind, is engaging these talented people, getting them back in, and giving them a shot," he said.

The White House also plans to send teams of advisers to every Haitian government ministry, including public finance, the judiciary and police. It also plans an urgent three-year program to create thousands of jobs, to improve cities, fix riot damage and show Haitians that their nation is building for the future.