- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 3, 2004

House Democrats yesterday hammered State Department officials on their policies in Haiti and some accused the Bush administration of conspiring with opposition forces to oust Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Democrats on the House International Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere called the administration’s “inaction leading to Mr. Aristide’s resignation” an affront to democracy and denounced the negotiation process.

“Let’s be clear, we don’t get to choose who represents another country — we may like them, we may hate them — but we must support democratically elected representatives,” said Rep. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and ranking member on the subcommittee.

Several members of Congressional Black Caucus fired questions at Roger F. Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, and accused administration officials of kidnapping Mr. Aristide and colluding with rebel forces led by Guy Philippe, a former head of the Haitian police, to oust the president.

Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, said Mr. Aristide called her Monday morning and gave his account of being kidnapped at gunpoint by American soldiers and forced to leave his country in an apparent coup, and taken to the Central African Republic.

Rep. Donald M. Payne, New Jersey Democrat, said there were reports that the United States had shipped 20,000 guns to the Dominican Republic that ended up in the hands of the rebels and that Mr. Philippe had been trained by the U.S. military in Ecuador.

“The rebels have a lot of American weapons: M-16s and M-60 rocket launchers,” Mr. Payne said.

Mr. Noriega said he had no knowledge of such activity. He had little time to answer any of the accusations, undermined by stringent five-minute time constraints for questions and answers set by subcommittee chairman Rep. Cass Ballenger, North Carolina Republican.

Republican lawmakers said the accusations were “preposterous.” Several said the Aristide administration was murderous, corrupt and openly engaged in drug dealing.

“He was a brutal dictator, allowing children to be sold into slave labor and if we hadn’t gone in there, Mr. Aristide would be dead because the people would have killed him,” said Rep. Jerry Weller, Illinois Republican.

Mr. Noriega and his colleague Arthur E. Dewey, assistant secretary of state on refugees and migration, provided few answers about why Haitians fleeing for the United States seeking asylum from the chaos were being sent back.

Pierre Paquiot, president of the State University of Haiti, appeared before the committee in a wheelchair to tell his story of how his knees were broken by thugs under the control of Mr. Aristide.

“With all due respect to Mister Paquiot, how can you have him sit here before us and tell of atrocities committed against Haitians and then say there is no cause to offer temporary protective status?” asked Rep. Robert Wexler, Florida Democrat.

Mr. Noriega said that if there is sufficient evidence to show Haitians are in danger, then the administration’s policy would change. Several committee and audience members erupted in laughter.

Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat, who boasted yesterday that she could not wait to question administration officials, said Mr. Noriega’s testimony strengthened her belief that Mr. Aristide’s “ouster” was the plan all along.

“It is very clear to me, Mister Noriega, that we have been involved in destabilizing and undermining the government of Haiti for the past three years,” Mrs. Lee said.

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