Dodd Uses Personal Experience To Make Case For Haiti With AM-Haiti, Bjt
WASHINGTON (AP) _ As a young Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic, Sen. Christopher Dodd came to know Haitians as a people deeply committed to independence, despite a brutal political history.
″Haitians will tell you, ‘We may have had dictators, but they’ve always been our dictators’,″ Dodd said in a recent interview. ″There is a sense of having a hand in their own destiny.″
So began Dodd’s lifelong interest in Haiti.
Now, the Connecticut Democrat is a staunch defender of President Clinton’s deployment of American troops there.
Since a 1991 military coup deposed Haiti’s elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Dodd has tried to convince official Washington that Haiti - with its miserable poverty, unique history and U.S. ties - should matter to America.
After months of pressuring the Clinton administration to squeeze Haiti’s junta through tougher economic sanctions, Dodd strongly defends the military mission as something that, at least, has given Haiti a shot.
″We can’t guarantee freedom, we can’t guarantee justice, we can’t guarantee that they’ll be no violence,″ Dodd said Thursday during Senate debate on a resolution urging the speedy withdrawal of troops.
″But we are at least ... creating the opportunity for that freedom... creating the opportunity that these people may just have a chance to live without the threat of violence, torture and murder of innocent civilians,″ Dodd said.
Dodd’s supporters and detractors agreed he, among other lawmakers who strongly backed Aristide, helped drive U.S. policy on Haiti.
″I think he bears a lot of responsibility,″ said Lawrence Pezzullo, who was at odds with Aristide over the U.S. policy on Haiti and, in April, resigned as the State Department’s senior advisor on Haiti.
The lawmakers ″assumed Aristide’s agenda, which was always that we had to intervene militarily, to take out the military, that Aristide need not do anything on his own behalf,″ said Pezzullo, who wanted Aristide to reach out to opposition forces to broaden his political base.
Others opposed to military intervention applaud Dodd for not abandoning the issue once troops were committed. Dodd flew to Haiti last weekend, arranged meetings between Aristide and senators and lobbied hard against a precise deadline for withdrawal.
″He recognizes as much as anyone else that it could all fall apart and be a real tragedy for our troops and the president of his party,″ said Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan., who serves with Dodd on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Three years ago, Dodd introduced members of Congress to Aristide, who had just been overthrown after seven months in power.
In March, Dodd went to Haiti to meet Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras and other military rulers, returning to urge tougher sanctions and critical of the administration for pressuring Aristide instead of the junta.
For his part, Dodd believes Aristide has been vilified as an ungrateful, unstable man with violent leanings who lacks ample support to govern effectively.
A CIA report, which surfaced last year, alleged Aristide had once been treated for mental illness, which he denies.
″Whether you like or do not like President Aristide is not our business,″ said Dodd, a frequent traveler to Haiti. ″The people of that country chose him. He has a right to go back and complete his term, and we ought to be supportive of that.″
On Thursday, Dodd argued that the United States should help Haiti just as it supported the dismantling of apartheid, drawing comparisons between Aristide and South African President Nelson Mandela.
But others disagree.
″Mr. Aristide has some serious problems,″ said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H. ″There is no comparison.″
Dodd has long held that Haiti should not be lumped together with other trouble spots - and certainly not with Somalia, which opponents of the military mission held up as proof that troops cannot build democracy.
By contrast, Haiti is an old, independent country, where 26 presidents have been overthrown in coups d’etat since 1804, when it became the second country in the Western Hemisphere to break free from colonial rule.
Moreover, there is a strong national interest in preventing a Haitian refugee flood, as it is already costing $20 million a month to house 15,000 Haitian refugees at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Dodd added.
″I think real men do fight for democracy,″ he said. ″I still remember the days when presidents and Congresses thought democracy was worth fighting for.″