Daily Breeze

February 26, 2004

Waters predicts 'bloodbath' in Haiti

DIPLOMACY: South Bay lawmaker says the U.S. and other nations should consider sending peacekeeping forces.

By TOBY ECKERT
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- Following a weekend trip to strife-torn Haiti, South Bay Rep. Maxine Waters called for a stronger U.S. response to quell the unrest and "a multinational effort" to stabilize the country.

Predicting a "bloodbath" if rebels seeking the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide enter the capital of Port-au-Prince, the Democratic lawmaker said Wednesday that with a concerted international effort, "We think it can be avoided."

The Bush administration has backed a power-sharing plan that the rebels have so far rejected. On Monday, a detachment of Marines was sent to the impoverished Caribbean island nation to protect the U.S. Embassy.

Waters said the United States and other nations should send material assistance to bolster Haiti's small police force and should also consider dispatching peacekeeping forces to the nation. She introduced a resolution Wednesday condemning the violence and calling on the international community to provide assistance to Aristide.

"What's most important now is to have a multinational effort to stabilize Haiti," she said.

President Bush said Wednesday that "incident to a political settlement, we will encourage the international community to provide a security presence."

"We still hope to be able to achieve a political settlement between the current government and the rebels," Bush said.

But White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the administration has no plans to contribute troops to any international force that is assembled for Haiti.

"What we are prepared to do is to assist the international community in those efforts," he said.

"Our efforts right now remain focused on the diplomatic side," McClellan added. "We continue to deplore the violence that is going on in Haiti, and we will continue to work with all parties to bring about a peaceful solution to this situation."

Some opposition leaders, including prominent business and civic groups, have called for the peaceful ouster of Aristide, whom they accuse of using violence to maintain power and turning his back on Haiti's impoverished populace. But armed rebels have seized a large swath of territory.

Waters has called the rebels "thugs" and "criminals" and praised what she called Aristide's "progressive economic agenda" and health care and education policies. She appeared at a news conference with Aristide at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince on Saturday.

"The people who are heading the opposition were involved in the coup d'etat before," she said in the interview Wednesday.

Waters was referring to the 1991 military overthrow of Aristide, who was Haiti's first democratically elected president after decades of dictatorial rule by the Duvalier family. Aristide was restored to power in 1994 with the aid of U.S. troops.

Five months later, Aristide disbanded the Haitian army, replacing it with a small police force.

Aristide has warned that the latest unrest in Haiti threatens to send another wave of refugees to the shores of the United States.