The day after former President Jimmy Carter helped negotiate the agreement to avert a U.S. invasion of Haiti, The Los Angeles Times described him as a person with "a preternatural patience and an unshakable faith in his fellow man."
But in the eyes of President Carter and The Carter Center, another factor was at work. The situation in Haiti exemplified how nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like the Center can work with a government to prevent violent conflict and to promote peace and human rights.
"President Carter was able to help the U.S. avert a war in Haiti because of the Center's long history of involvement there," said Marion Creekmore, director of programs at The Carter Center. "We try to be available to assist countries that are struggling to build democracy."
In September 1994, President Carter was asked by Haitian Gen. Raoul Cedras to try to mediate the government crisis and avoid a U.S. military invasion of Haiti. President Carter relayed this information to President Clinton, who asked him to undertake a mission to Haiti with Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell. But it was The Carter Center's seven years of work in Haiti that laid the groundwork for that trip.
The Center's Role in Haiti
In 1987, members of the Center's Council of Freely Elected Heads of Government, an informal group of 25 current and former leaders from the Western Hemisphere, met to discuss the electoral process in Haiti. A presidential candidate had been assassinated, which threatened to undermine the entire process. President Carter, Prime Minister George Price of Belize, and Robert Pastor, director of the Center's Latin American and Caribbean Program (LACP), decided to fly directly to the island and try to steer the elections back on track. They succeeded at the time, but in December, the military intervened and prevented the election.
In July 1990, after a successful election-monitoring experience in Nicaragua, President Carter and Dr. Pastor visited Haiti and were invited by then-President Ertha Pascal-Trouillot and opposition leaders to monitor the election. In this effort, the Council joined the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and visited the country several times in advance of the Dec. 15 election. Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti's first free and fair election in its history.
Barely seven months later, President Aristide was overthrown by the military, and from that moment in September 1991 until the Carter-Nunn-Powell mission three years later, The Carter Center was actively involved in assisting the international community to restore constitutional government to Haiti. Prime Minister Michael Manley of Jamaica and U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali visited the Center in December 1992 to discuss possible U.N.-OAS involvement in Haiti, and President Aristide visited the Center the next month as well. Indeed, President Aristide remained in continuous contact with President Carter and Dr. Pastor and participated in many discussions at the Center on how to restore democracy to Haiti. Many of the ideas discussed bore fruit when the Carter-Nunn-Powell team met with Gen. Cedras in September 1994.
Negotiating the Haitian Agreement
"The three delegation members were a spectacular team," Dr. Pastor said. "They followed President Clinton's instructions and conveyed them in a way that permitted a peaceful, cooperative agreement to emerge from the most intense negotiations I have ever witnessed."
The delegation met with Gen. Cedras and other Haitian officials. They also met with Mrs. Cedras. "Gen. Powell and President Carter appealed to their sense of honor, their sense of dignity, their sense of obligation, their sense of wanting to protect their country," Sen. Nunn said. The delegation finally reached an agreement by late afternoon on Sept. 18--five hours past the noon deadline set for them by the Clinton administration. By then, U.S. troops were on their way to Haiti.
President Carter said he felt discomfort when Haiti's army chief, Brig. Gen. Philippe Biamby, accused the U.S. delegation of "acting" as peaceful mediators at the same time U.S. paratroopers were en route to Haiti.
"They refused to go any further with the talks," President Carter said of the Haitian leaders. "I made a very emotional address because I thought we had lost."
The impasse ultimately led to a meeting with 81-year-old Haitian President Emile Jonassaint. "He told me that Haiti chooses peace," President Carter said. Soon thereafter, President Jonassaint and Gen. Cedras signed an agreement to step down and restore Mr. Aristide as president by Oct 15.
As part of the agreement, 15,000 U.S. troops were sent to work with the Haitian military to assure the peaceful transition to an Aristide administration.
That night, President Clinton addressed the United States regarding the Haitian agreement. "As all of you know, at my request, President Carter, Gen. Colin Powell, and Sen. Sam Nunn went to Haiti to facilitate the dictators' departure," President Clinton said. "I have been in constant contact with them for the last two days. They have worked tirelessly, almost around the clock, and I want to thank them for undertaking this crucial mission on behalf of all Americans."
"We believe that with the United States forming a partnership with Haiti, the most poverty-stricken nation in our hemisphere will grow into one based on economic progress, democracy, freedom, and respect for human rights," said President Carter, who has now visited Haiti eight times. "That's our dream."
NGOs Can Play Vital Role in Crisis Negotiations
"When a crisis erupts, we would like governments to have the option of turning to The Carter Center, or Harvard University's program on conflict negotiation, or some other nongovernmental organization (NGO) to find an alternative way to communicate and understand each other," former President Jimmy Carter said.
The recent negotiations between Israel and the PLO are an example of how NGOs sometimes can help. Before the September 1993 peace agreement, researchers with Norway's Institute of Applied Social Sciences (FAFO) and officials of the Norwegian Royal Foreign Ministry facilitated unofficial talks that resulted in a declaration of principles between the PLO and Israel.
Last May, The Carter-Menil Human Rights Foundation awarded a $100,000 prize to FAFO for its role in the peace process. The Tony Smith sculpture "Marriage" also was dedicated to the people of Norway for their peace efforts. The sculpture was a gift from philanthropist Dominique de Menil, who established the foundation with President Carter to promote peace and human rights.
There are other examples as well. Last year, The Carter Center hosted a meeting with the Sudan People's Liberation Army United (SPLA-United) to explore possibilities for reconciliation with the SPLA, another southern Sudanese faction. This past June, President Carter met with North Korean President Kim Il Sung, who pledged to reopen nuclear talks between the United States and North Korea just weeks before his death. President Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, were invited to North Korea as representatives of The Carter Center.
" President Kim and leaders in Haiti and Bosnia wanted to have someone who would listen to them and talk to them," President Carter said. "I'm not excusing the crimes that might have been committed by these men. But we had to open the avenue of communication. These are the kinds of things The Carter Center will continue to do in the future."
In the News: Haiti
"In undertaking a special mission to Haiti for President Clinton, Jimmy Carter is showing once again that a former president can be a unique diplomatic resource. ... Mr. Carter has not flinched from risk-taking and has played a crucial role as an honest broker, most notably in spurring nuclear talks with North Korea but also in civil conflicts in Ethiopia, the Sudan, and Liberia."
--The New York Times, Sept. 18, 1994
"We owe Jimmy Carter a debt, not just for peace in Haiti, but for the dramatic reminder that difficult goals can be reached with persistence and determination."
--USA Today, Sept. 21, 1994
". . . the violent invasion was averted in part because these men (President Carter, Sen. Nunn, and Gen. Powell) were willing to risk their lives for the sake of peace. The invasion no doubt would have been launched had it not be for Carter's insistence on one last round of negotiations and his stubborn refusal to give up the search for a nonviolent solution."
--from an editorial in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sept. 26, 1994
A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showed "an overwhelming 71 percent of Americans say they have positive feelings toward the role (President Carter) played as Mr. Clinton's envoy last weekend."
--The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 21, 1994
"In the recent instances of North Korea and Haiti, the outside world got a good glimpse of the techniques Mr. Carter has been honing elsewhere for years. He comes in with a promise of bringing fresh ideas and impetus to an encrusted conflict. ... In North Korea, he diverted a gathering confrontation into broad negotiations centering on the nuclear threat. In Haiti he got American troops ashore peacefully, without an armed and opposed invasion, to start a climb toward democracy."
--The Washington Post, Oct. 2, 1994
"Overseas, Carter and other people from the Center have monitored elections in many Latin American and African countries to make sure they were not rigged. His friends say Carter has intervened personally and very quietly to protect the human rights of the oppressed around the world. The consensus view: He has been a superb ex-president."
--Time Magazine, Oct. 3, 1994
"Bob Pastor played a very important role in our success in Haiti. I am very pleased to commend him from the floor of the U.S. Senate for his service to our delegation and our country."
--Sen. Sam Nunn in the Congressional Record, Sept. 26, 1994