A tale of two crises: US dealings over Dominican-Haiti border
Santo Domingo.- Haiti’s political crisis in October 1994, which led to general Raoul Cedrás’ exile had as a key element that Washington allowed president Joaquin Balaguer to remain in power after causing, with his control over the Central Electoral Board, an elections “which had been stolen by means of fraud.”
The revelation is in the book “The electoral crisis of 1994” by Canadian ambassador John W. Graham, then delegation chief of the Organization of American States observers and one of the main mediators in the ensuing conflict pitting then Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) candidate Jose Francisco Peña Gomez, who denounced a fraud against him in the May 16, 1994, polls.
In his book Graham gathers revealing testimonies by Michael F. Skol, then State Department deputy secretary for Latin America and assigned to the Haitian crisis which began in 1991, when Cedrás ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Skol told Graham that State Department deputy secretary Strobe Talbot, “was attracted to Balaguer’s tactics of exchanging Dominican support to cover the porous border with Haiti, thus isolating Cedrás’ military regime in Port-au-Prince even more.”
“In exchange for Dominican cooperation in the border, Talbot’s idea was to provide the tacit American willingness to allow Balaguer to consolidate his victory in the tainted elections,” according to Skol.
Washington’s then foreign policy towards Dominican Republic is reflected in editorials of The New York Times.
In May, 24, 1994, the newspaper stated that the United Nations sanctions to restore democracy in Haiti only could work if they were strong and were applied. “(…) But while smuggled gasoline flows freely through the border with the Dominican Republic, the United Nations embargo against Haiti exists only in name.”
It stressed that: “Mr. Balaguer seems to be ready to snatch as he did after the last questioned 1990 elections, and wait for the controversy to disappear. There’s no doubt that he expects that the United States, in its desire to preserve some semblance of stability in the island will not make much noise on electoral fraud.”
The New York Times had published a first editorial on May 20 to question Balaguer’s “doubtful” victory. It said the elections were watched “very closely” due to the Haitian crisis. “Both countries share the island of Hispaniola and a contraband that hasn’t been prevented to cross the common border between both countries, has resulted in that the oil embargo imposed by the United Nations against the illegal military regime in Haiti hasn’t been effective.”
Skol, who had been United States embassy commercial attaché and had direct contact with Balaguer, narrates how the Secretary of State in Bill Clinton’s administration was more “than worried” in his attempts to obtain a solution to the Haitian political crisis. He affirms, that in that context, for Talbot, the priority was Haiti and “he fell in the trap sprung by Balaguer.”
He makes it clear that he, as well as his colleagues were disappointed with the Talbot’s position which sought to construct Haiti’s democracy, jeopardizing Dominicans: “You could say that the majority of us were much more familiarized with the surprising capacity of the old blind man to exit a crisis through his enchantments and lies.”
In that context, the United States allowed Balaguer to remain in power. “We were given free reign (and for Balaguer more helicopters, money, etc. For use in the frontier),” Skol tells Graham.
In fact the El Nuevo Diario editorial of August 12, 1994, quoted by Graham, Could be a reference to the determination of Washington’s will in both crises:
“Firs the crisis forced us to move more than half our Army toward the border with Haiti. And the President ends up signing an accord which permits the American military presence in the vigilance of the frontier line.”
Skol headed the United States delegation which met with Balaguer, who was told that the Clinton administration was aware of the fraud and which was detailed in a internal report by Jorge Tirado, a Puerto Rican computer expert of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).