BY RON HOWELL
March 1, 2004, Newsday
The departure of Haiti’s Jean-Bertrand Aristide is a victory for a Bush administration hard-liner who has been long dedicated to Aristide’s ouster, U.S. foreign policy analysts say.
That official is Roger Noriega, assistant U.S. secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, whose influence over U.S. policy toward Haiti has increased during the past decade as he climbed the diplomatic ladder in Washington.
“Roger Noriega has been dedicated to ousting Aristide for many, many years, and now he’s in a singularly powerful position to accomplish it,” Robert White, a former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador and Paraguay, said last week.
White, now president of the Center for International Policy, a think tank in Washington, said Noriega’s ascent largely has been attributed to his ties to North Carolina Republican Jesse Helms, an arch-conservative foe of Aristide who had behind-the-scenes influence over policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean before retiring from the Senate two years ago.
“Helms didn’t just dislike Aristide, Helms loathed Aristide because he saw in Aristide another Castro,” said Larry Birns, director of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs, which has been strongly critical of the Bush administration’s policy on Haiti.
Working hand in hand with Noriega on Haiti has been National Security Council envoy Otto Reich, who, like Noriega, is ardently opposed to Cuban leader Fidel Castro, say analysts such as Birns. Washington diplomats have seen Aristide as a leftist who is often fierce in his denunciations of the business class and slow to make recommended changes such as privatizing state-run industries.
“On a day-to-day basis, Roger Noriega [has been] making policy, but with a very strong role played by Otto Reich,” Birns said.
Reich is a controversial Cuban-American criticized by some who have lingering concerns about his contacts with opposition figures who plotted a short-lived coup against Venezuela’s leftist president, Hugo Chávez, two years ago. Reich also is linked to the Iran-contra scandal of two decades ago that was part of President Ronald Reagan’s policy of defeating Marxists in Central America.
Noriega’s involvement with Haiti dates back more than a decade. In the early 1990s he was an adviser at the U.S. mission to the Organization of American States. Between 1994 and 1997, he served as a senior staff member on the House of Representatives’ Committee on International Relations. Then, in 1997, he went to work for the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations as a top aide to Helms.
Helms was passionate in his dislike of Aristide and tried mightily to stop President Bill Clinton from sending troops to restore Aristide to power in 1994 after his violent ouster three years previously. In an attempt to forestall that military action, Helms released a now-discredited CIA report purporting to show Aristide was “psychotic.”
Helms found a like-minded official in Noriega, who fed the senator’s hostility toward Aristide, said Robert Maguire of Trinity College in Washington.
“Roger Noriega always sought to have a long leash when it came to Haiti, and Helms was more than happy to accommodate anti-Aristide feelings,” Maguire said.
In 2001, with Helms’ strong backing, Noriega, a Kansas native of Mexican descent, was appointed U.S. permanent representative to the Organization of American States.
In their various foreign policy postings during the past several years, Noriega and Reich became behind-the-scenes leaders of “a relatively small group of people” who developed strategies toward Haiti, Maguire said.
Reich and Noriega had no comment. State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said Noriega “likes to stick to the business of the department,” and requests for comments from Reich made by fax to Fred Jones, a National Security Council official, were not answered.
Who will rise from the chaos?
The departure of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide leaves a power vacuum in Haiti. Here are some of the important players in the country’s future:
PRESSURE at home and abroad forced him to flee
Supreme Court Chief Justice Declared yesterday that he is now in charge. He is next in line under the Haitian Constitution after approval by parliament, but most legislators terms expired earlier this year. A longtime jurist, Alexandre has a reputation for honesty.
The most Outspoken leader of the opposition coalition that has pressed for Aristide’s ouster but says it is not aligned with rebel forces.
Leader of a motley band of rebels controlling the northern half of the country.
Joined the rebellion from neighboring Dominican Republic, where he fled in 2000 amid charges he was plotting a coup.
Rebel leader, former army sergeant and leader of notorious death squad blamed for murder, torture and maiming of hundreds of Haitians. Fled to the Dominican Republic when U.S. troops intervened in 1994. Returned to Haiti two weeks ago to join the rebellion.