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Federal News Service - Hearing of the Subcom. on the Western Hemisphere of House Committee on International Relations on Haiti - Transcript

Location: Washington, DC

Federal News Service March 3, 2004 Wednesday
Copyright 2004 Federal News Service, Inc.
Federal News Service

March 3, 2004 Wednesday









REP. CASS BALLENGER (R-NC): First of all, let me apologize to the people that sat and waited. It really wasn't 45 minutes, it was only about 40 minutes. But before we get started, I'd like-I want to ask unanimous consent that all members of Congress in attendance today be permitted to join the members of the subcommittee up here on the dais, and without objection, it's so ordered. Okay.

Thank you.

I wish to announce some of the ground rules upon which both ranking member, Mr. Menendez, and I have agreed. First, members of the subcommittee will be allowed to offer an opening statement. Second, all members of the House will be allowed to insert their written statements into the record. Third, all members, time permitting, will be given five minutes to ask questions of the witnesses. And I would like to say to those of you that are here, we're going to be pretty strict on that five minutes or we'll be here all day.

Accordingly, I ask unanimous consent to allow all non-members of the subcommittee to speak when they are recognized by the chair to question witnesses, and without objection, it's so ordered. Alternating by party, priority will be given first to the members of the subcommittee, then, as time permits, to the members of the full committee, and finally, to members who do not serve on International Relations Committee. Fourth, in the interest of time, I'm going to be pretty strict on the clock so that each member will have the best chance of being able to say something.

Before I begin with my opening statement, I wish to remind everyone that this hearing will be lively and emotional, since we all want a full debate. And I also ask that everyone remain cordial and respectful throughout, if possible, and we have an obligation to uphold the dignity of our offices and this subcommittee. While we may disagree on some issues, we remain obligated to work together to discuss the important issues which face our nation and those of Haiti. In my considered opinion, we can and must work together in good faith to meet the challenges that we now face. And now my opening statement.

This afternoon we'll examine the situation in Haiti. This situation in Haiti is, as has been for some time, extremely challenging. The needs of the Haitian people for democracy, jobs, education, healthcare, and for such basics as food and clean water are as great as they've ever been. One can lay out terrible statistics, but they can't even begin to describe the situation of Haiti's impoverished citizens.


REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R-FL): Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman, and I'd like to thank you for holding this important hearing and allowing all of us the opportunity to speak on an issue that's of vital importance especially for my South border community, but indeed to the international community in their efforts to support through democratic and political reform in Haiti. So I commend you for having this hearing and addressing your commitment to the current situation and improvement in Haiti.

I'd like to also welcome our witnesses today. Ambassador Noriega has advised the president and Secretary Powell with a true sense of professionalism and understanding of the region and we welcome him back to our neck of the woods here in our subcommittee. To Administrator Franco, I'd like to thank him for his ongoing efforts and commitment to the humanitarian situation in Haiti. I know that you've been following it closely and it's important to note that this administration's contributions have even exceeded congressional funding. And I also am thrilled that one of my former staffers, Jose Fuentes (sp) is sitting behind you and working with you and USAID on these important issues.

And in concert with Assistant Secretary Dewey, I am positive that your offices and the staff of all these fine gentlemen are working extremely hard to make the current situation in Haiti less painful for the people of Haiti. And that is why we are here, Mr. Chairman, to discuss and learn about the current situation in Haiti and, more importantly, about the future of Haiti and a future that we hope is a bright one and a positive one.

The state of affairs in Haiti is changing and updated not only on a daily basis, on a hourly basis, but indeed every minute, it seems to alter. Most recently, the United Nations laid out its plans for Haiti where resolution 1529 called for a multinational interim force to work with Haitian political forces and the international community to restore a true, a lasting and a transparent democracy in Haiti.

Additionally, CARICOM nations are working on the CARICOM Action Plan. Under this plan, civil society, political opposition and the government each appoint one member to this council. And recent accounts, as we know, are troubling. Our own DEA agents indicate that Haiti has been a major transit point for narcotics into the United States. Statements by elusive narcotraffickers have shed light on Haiti turning a blind eye to drug trafficking. These drugs which infest the streets and the playgrounds of our neighborhood only bring tragedy to American families.

So at all levels the United States has taken a leadership role in eliminating this danger and are working in tandem with our regional international allies to create a stable and working government for the people of Haiti, a government responsible to its people and to the needs of the Haitian people. With the population exceeding seven million, we must come together to help the people of Haiti overcome the transition it is currently experiencing. The women and the children of Haiti sit in despair awaiting assistance, be it military or humanitarian. But let us not take our eyes off the target and remember that, at the end of the day, the children of Haiti are looking for international help and the U.S. will be there to help them.

Secretary Powell summarized our objectives while addressing EU ministers earlier this week and I quote, "And now we are there to give the Haitian people another chance and we will be working with Haitians to help Haitians put in place a political system and we will support it to the best of our ability. And I am pleased that the international community has responded so quickly with a unanimous U.N. resolution." And those are the secretary's words.

So as I sit here today with my colleagues discussing the current situation in Haiti, I cannot help, but ponder upon the suffering of a people and on the current situation of an island not too far from Haiti, my homeland of Cuba. But I strongly encourage this administration to work on promoting the security situation in Haiti. In supporting an independent government that enjoys true popular support and restores respect for the rule of law in Haiti, the U.S. has been and will probably always be Haiti's leading provider of economic aid. I encourage our colleagues here today to continue their support for the international financial loans.

Our country has been the shiny beacon for freedom and liberty for our Western Hemisphere neighbors. Haiti is currently in a situation where assistance is warranted and I call on my colleagues to make all efforts to bring stability and transparency to a people who, for so many years, have longed for it.

Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for this opportunity to hear from so many others.


REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you, gentlemen. I wanted to ask questions related to refugees and migration, as well as to the level of U.S. and international aid. When I first got elected to Congress I had the high honor of representing the area in Miami known as Little Haiti, and I was able to establish great communication with the leaders and the common folk in that community, and I've found them to be hardworking, law-abiding, a wonderful addition to the fabric that makes up our South Florida community.

And it breaks my heart to see the U.S. policy being one that repatriates individuals for a very difficult condition in their homeland, and that's why some of us have been advocating for TPS status for Haitian nationals living in the United States, temporary protected status, so that they're not sent back to a country that by all accounts, whether you're pro-Aristide or anti-Aristide, all of us can agree that it's a tumultuous situation of civil strife, no respect for the rule of law, we don't know when true democratic elections will take place, we're not sure who the leader is, although we have a constitutional leader there, and it breaks our hearts to see continued divisions of families. I wanted to ask you about, if there would be any change in the U.S. policy towards either repatriation and/or conferring TPS status to Haitian nationals who are otherwise very law abiding, productive, wonderful citizens of our community?

And my second question has to deal with the level of U.S. and international aid. How much military aid do you see forthcoming in the coming weeks, in the coming months? How much humanitarian aid? What will be the level of the international aid with CARICOM or U.N? How will it be supervised? Who will be there to make sure that the distribution is done in the correct way and will not be stolen by whoever happens to consider himself or herself the chief of the town? So I'm concerned about the free flow, supervised, of humanitarian aid so that it does get to the people themselves.

MR. NORIEGA: Mr. Chairman, if I may, I'll answer the first part on the security component and the current security mission, and then will ask Mr. Dewey and Mr. Franco to address the specific points you raised. The security presence that we have on the ground is primarily U.S. and French forces. Chileans are arriving very soon. We understand other countries will be joining. This is part of this initial phase of a multinational interim force to establish a certain amount of order so we can have a constitutional succession and begin to reestablish the institutions of government, starting with the Haitian National Police and the formulation of a civilian government.

The initial troop presence will be on the order of 3,000 or more soldiers. In the follow on mission under another U.N. mandate, a more traditional peacekeeping type operation contemplates the presence of several thousand. We've had a good number of countries in the hemisphere indicate their willingness to participate and contribute to that follow on mission, and it will carry out its work as U.N. missions usually do these sorts of peacekeeping operations. I'll ask Mr. Dewey to address the migration issue.

MR. DEWEY: We understand your concern on that issue and also we're concerned and watching that issue of temporary protected status very closely. The secretary of the Department of Homeland Security makes the determination on temporary protected status in consultation with the State Department. We are also checking people that we feel can give us good advice and input in terms of our advising the DHS. We talked to the office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, for example. And there is concurrence now at this point that it is not time to recommend that status, and the reason is that the situation is just too fluid. It varies day by day, and I think you can appreciate that. But we're not letting-relenting our vigilance in watching it.


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