CONGRESSMAN WALTER FAUNTROY DISCUSSES THE ISSUES
Note : Published in the Haiti Times, May 1987.
April 1997, Congressman Walter Fauntroy, photographed at the U.S. Ambassador's residence.
Photo © Jean-Pierre Cloutier
(HT STAFF) On Sunday, April 12, Democratic Congressman from the District of Columbia Walter Fauntroy arrived in Haiti for another of his fact finding missions. After having spent some time in the country side, he was back in Port-au-Prince where he met with a small group of journalists. Haiti Times' Senior Editor, Jean-Pierre Cloutier was present, and we feature an edited version of Congressman Fauntroy's views and opinions from the conversation that took place on April 15.
On the origins of his involvement in Haiti: Well after becoming increasingly distressed from afar with the only Black Republic in our hemisphere, having the reputation of creating a few millionaires at the top, and boat people at the bottom, I decided that if I was going to give some genuine leadership to our Congress and our people in relating to Haiti, the best thing for me to do was come to Haiti. To talk to as broad a section of people as possible and to get first hand at least what the people felt ought to be our policies toward Haiti. And every time I've come and talked to journalists, with religious leaders, with people in the countryside, with business leaders, with people in labour, with people in the government, I've come away with a better understanding what the people wanted. My last year's visit was particularly helpful. The result was that I got a very clear idea of at least what the people felt was the best way we could aid Haiti this year. So when the Administration's proposal came over, I noticed some things that were not tracking with what I'd heard here, and that's what my statement was. To the credit of the Administration, to the credit of my colleagues in the Congress, they made the adjustments. Less military aid, more economic support fund and development aid, less food aid. I feel grateful to the people of Haiti who felt free enough to say to me what was on their minds. So having done that, the big question in America was: "Were the people of Haiti serious about a new form of government and a departure from the kinds of policies of the past?" And as I've said to many people on this tour, many didn't believe it would happen. They said there would be no real change. There would be talk of change, but nothing would really happen. That the people are not bright enough to know the difference, and will not choose a good constitution. And secondly that if they are bright enough, they will not have the courage to go out and vote. And I can't tell you the joy that filled the hearts of millions of people in America when we saw what happened on March 29. From Miami, to New York, to Canada, Haitians were jumping up and down with enthusiasm. With the enthusiasm of what was happening. And we must pat tribute to them, but also to the media because you helped get it around, so that people could make a judgment. Well, let me tell you, that (March 29) spoke volumes. As I pointed out in my release, four days later, the Committee said: "Look, you're right, let's vote it." As I said, the credit doesn't come to me.
Support for increased aid: We're developing quite a network of supporters all across the nation for Haiti. I have a "Haitian Mission Team" composed primarily of Haitians, but it also includes a number of supporters from the black and white community who are right now approaching members of the Congress on the strength of this new enthusiasm saying: "Be sure to vote for this measure when it comes out to the floor." So on the basis of that I'm fairly confident that what I've outlined as $40 million for economic support fund, $40 million for development aid, and $20 million for PL 480 aid are going to go through. That will be available October 1 (1987). I've been telling people, however, that there are two more very important dates to shape whatever I've learned, and to make sure what's been put in next year's policy will go through. That's the July election (municipal) and the November election (presidential and legislative). Those two elections must be ones that are perceived to have been fair and enthusiastically embraced as was the relatively simple "yes or no" for the Constitution. So I'm hopeful, prayerful that the preparations to make sure that the people are 1) knowledgeable and 2) when they vote it counts, so that the feeling after both elections will be that "We have spoken, and we're going to pull together behind our government to do what the people want." That may sound utopian and over simplistic. But when it comes to relating to my colleagues in the Congress, and the people of the United States, it's just as simple as that. If it's going to be more of the same, in terms of the big fish eating the little fish, we don't want to support it. If it's what we saw on March 29, mainly people coming forward and saying "We want to participate. We want government to reflect us." I think I'll stand a better chance of shaping a policy for next year that will be even more reflective of what the people want. Then we'll have a government of the people which we will not have to circumvent.
American perceptions: I felt pressure from two groups. It was not easy. The only thing that made it easy was the 29th of March. On the one hand, I got it from the Left and the Right. From the Left it was: "They've had a revolt but not a revolution. More killing and more disorder has to go on." And my retort was "I don't want anybody to suffer. Haiti has suffered enough. If Duvalier is gone and there is an interim government, we have to make sure the transition goes." It was don't give any until there's an election. That was their attitude, and I resisted that because again, I've seen so much suffering in the past five years I've been here that there's no time to wait, I felt. And then on the other hand there was pressure from the other side saying "Look, WE (the U.S.) are an indebted nation. We're running a $200 billion deficit, and what money we give, we have to borrow to give. So wait, don't do anything." And my argument had to be that the people had by classic non-violent means of affecting this change, namely there was no killing and shooting and maiming in the streets, it was a classic non-violent "dechoukaj," they need encouragement, I said. And the best way to encourage them is suggest that democracy is a way, so let's double our aid. Not cut it back, not say "We are tight" and not give them anything. So there were those two pressures. I pushed ahead on ESF (Economic Support Fund), for public works and balance of payments assistance, jobs, administration of Justice reforms had to be made I felt. I pushed ahead for development aid increases so that there would be more work on irrigation, more work on reforestation, more work on assisting agricultural development. March 29 was a gestalt, because I said "See!" They saw the people and the people said "We're ready now to change this." And by the same token, those who were saying we shouldn't give anything began saying "I'm glad we did, and frankly, let's give more right now."
Military aid: I'd been down here four times, as of last year. I had often gone both to the government and its ministers, and also to the people who were hurting. I had strongly recommended not only a doubling of ESF and development aid, but also non-lethal military assistance. To, one, train people in the army to control people without killing them. Two, to have the interim government redefine the mission of troops of the army. Since the mission that we had been supporting pursuant to the government with which we had been dealing had been one in my view of protecting their interest and concerns in maintaining themselves as millionaires. So I supported the non-lethal military allocations on the proviso that first, they dismantled the "macoutes," took their weapons, and that they root out of the military those who were notorious for their role as oppressors and violators of human rights. When I did that, of course, there were those on one side who said "Don't give them anything." And there were those on the other side that were saying "Let's keep on giving them what we've been giving, because they need it now. More lethal weapons to protect against the Communists." So I thought I'd walk down the middle, and we got it. After a year of watching it, however, I came to the conclusion that because the restructuring had not yet taken place, and because I was not satisfied that Duvalierists in the military had been removed, that we might be attempting to train untrainable people. And so I changed my mind on providing that assistance for next year. But under our system of government, like in the Constitution you just approved, have an executive and a legislative branch. And while the executive and the legislative branch must agree on what the law should be, it is the executive which has to certify whether or not the goals of legislation are in fact being met. In this instance the administration has the role to certify whether or not human rights record was in fact improving and that they were worthy of another authorization and appropriation of funds to the military. As I said, I disagreed with that. In fact when the Administration called for a $4.5 million for the military, I opposed that not simply because of that but because I thought the money could be better used in development-type undertakings. The Administration saw fit to certify that the non-lethal training and non-lethal equipment that was coming should be allowed to be used. And so it is being used. I still have some question on whether the people who are going to be trained can convey the training to the troops they are going to train. But I'm more confident than ever, now, that the new government with the separation of police and army, with the restructuring and redefinition of roles, will be able to handle the concerns that I've had. To be sure, however, we did keep in the measure which passed the requirement that none of the money appropriated for this year, Fiscal 88, will be used until we have a duly elected government, and that it is in operation. So the money that will be available on October 1, 1987, will not be usable until February 1988. As for the $1.5 million however, it is being spent notwithstanding my reservations. It is being spent because it was the President's judgment (Reagan) that human rights were not being violated, and that it would do no harm to train "trainers" essentially. To train others in their role that you don't have to shoot people in demonstrations. There are other means of controlling crowds, which is important. Then of course the non-lethal equipment, the communications and vehicles I was convinced was needed because when I was here last time, I talked with some people in Pilate who were very much concerned that some of the "macoutes" up there were having a field day. And if the army wanted to get up there, they didn't have the vehicles to get up there quickly enough, or the communications. So that's why I supported it last time, because if you are going to protect people, and there is still the contraband question this year which convinces me that we got to have, the people of this country must have, an army that fulfils the role of protecting against outside invasion. Whether it's troops coming over the border, or it's contraband coming over the border. That's their role, and that's why we're so thrilled of the police force having a mission to protect citizens within, from one another, and the army protecting citizens within from outside invasions.
On de-Duvalierization: I believe the process has been set in motion. It's going to lead to either the conversion of those who were committed to the "Duvalier Way" or their expulsion from the armed services. I believe secondly that on the basis of what I've been able to pick up in discussions since two years now, that there are junior officers who really respect the Constitution and the people, and want to carry out that role. I was more fearful before March 29 that the "old order" might re-emerge than I am now. I am confident, and will be more confident after the July elections.
On the economy, sugar and contraband: I have hopes and fears about the economic situation. Let me say that from what I've heard, the situation is probably worse off now than has been for some time in the recent past. I'm hopeful. Believe me I understand the sugar thing because one of the negative effects of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) was the loss of the sugar quota for the Dominican Republic which meant that they could not sell as much sugar in the U.S., which in turn created a glut here. And I see what the effect of that is on the Haitian economy, which is frightening. The second factor with what the people's government is going to have to deal with is the fact that we, in the United States, have experienced in recent years a 40% reduction in exports to places around the world which are now growing their own food, which means there is a relative glut in the United States for such things as rice. So it's very difficult and it causes me to be fearful and concerned. So you understand my fears. My hopes are twofold. One, that with a genuine people's government that comes up with a "Haiti Plan" that judgments will be made as to whether we, for economic reasons, can minimize productivity in one area, and raise productivity in another area. What I mean by that is that if the facts are that there's going to be more sugar available at less cost to Haitian people from outside, it seems to me a good government will protect the people while a transition is going on. And that kind of judgment shouldn't be left to selfish profiteers who violate the law for their own selfish purposes, because they know what the economic forces are. In short, I do not believe in contraband. If it is the decision of the people, given the economic forces around the world, to accept lower priced sugar from outside, that will be a collective decision, and ought to be made in terms of what is our best interest so you can use sugar cane fields for something else, and give the time to make the adjustments. My hopes rest on the elections for the reason that while a great many Americans and people around the world are happy with investment, are also waiting for the elections. They are not coming in before the elections, I'll tell you that.
Further on contraband: Now on your immediate problem, I do have very serious mixed emotions. After going up to Gonaives, after talking to several people, groups of people, I fear that if you don't get on top of this NOW that two things will happen. One, people will learn very bad habits that make good governments impossible later on, if they learn a corrupt way of living and doing things outside the law. So you don't really want to do that. Secondly, I fear that if you wait too long on the sugar, and wait until a new government is in place, and wait too long on the rice, you will have a situation where in effect you become dependent upon the whims of the world market. Because you will have gotten out of the business of growing and refining sugar, and growing and refining rice. My guess is that the future suggests less cane growing and less sugar refining here, and probably more activities in other areas where we can attract investment and put people to work, because Haitians can be competitive not only within but with the outside. I know this is general and for that reason one of the things I intend to raise tomorrow is whether or not there ought to be an effort on the part of candidates who are seeking office and the interim government to reach some agreements on doing something about this. Lest the elected government will be overwhelmed by it. I've heard both sides of it. On one side "Look, this government is corrupt. They have to be booted out. Some of the people we know are involved in contraband are the people who have to go." And I've heard what you say, "It can't wait." And not being an expert, not having been here, and not having watched it as close as people who live here, I tend to agree with you. That some measure has to be taken to slow this up. I only suggest with you that my hopes of a government of the people could be jeopardized by a failure to act before the elections. I talked about it to Bishop Constant, and raised with him my same fears, and that discussion along with other discussions I had in the countryside led me to believe that you can't wait, you have this danger, and that there are probably people in the military who are profiteering and who are protecting their right to do that by such actions as you have described. Again, this is something that I think certainly the United States should not have any role in. But I'm repeating myself. The business people, the CNG, the would-be governors of this country must come together. It's an enormous problem, and if as I said chicken growers in America they don't need wings and backs at the McDonald's and at the Kentucky Fried Chicken, that's an economic fact of life, and you're going to have to factor that into your public policy and your economic policy for the country. We don't have much problems with contraband, except for drugs, in America. Our Coast Guard, U.S. army, Air Force and Marines are there to protect the American people from outside invasion. While the army (in Haiti) should have been doing this, it has been beating up people... But that's where it is. I think we're going to get there, I'm confident. The question is: Can we get to that in time. But really, some people have to sit down together and say "Look, this is our country. We can allow economic forces from about to destroy us, if we allow it." And out of that dialogue, something may come in the next few months.
On monitoring the future elections: I'm certainly going to make an effort to get as many people as I can in here to observe. One of the things I could parenthetically say is that when we had our "Haitian Mission Team" meeting just before I left, we had reports from some who had come down here to observe on March 29, and they were just ecstatic about the enthusiasm and the way it was carried out. We elected to get them on TV shows all over America, just talking about what they observed, with a view of heightening the consciousness of the American people. So I plan to do that, to encourage that, to get more observation.
On the electoral process: What I'm saying is that the key to the rest of this process is the role of the media generally, and radio in particular. I would hope that the spirit of March 29, which was nothing that observers did, they confirmed what happened, if the CASEC elections create some leadership, people have to understand that is what the purpose is. I think discussion of that over the next two months can be very important. Let me tell you what we do in America, what we do in the South. I was director of the Washington Bureau of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, with Doctor (Martin Luther) King. I organized the Selma-Montgomery march which gave us our voting rights act. And once we got the voting rights act, and we began to participate in the elections, there were people who were prepared to pay money for votes. So we told them "Take the cash and vote right." So guys would say "O.K. boss, you want me to vote that way. How much money?" and they would take the money and go vote against it. What I'm saying is that share croppers in Mississippi are anymore bright that the peasants in the countryside. So if you can just get out the "Take cash and vote right" thing, I think it's good.
Back to The Haitian Files Page
On this site: May 18, 1997