WASHINGTON — The Clinton Administration dismissed criticism of its "golden parachute" for members of Haiti's military regime Friday as "a minor blip" and said it had leased three houses from Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras for $60,000 a year because it was the only way to get the Haitian strongman out of the country.
Samuel Berger, Clinton's deputy national security adviser, said the Administration is moving to unfreeze $79 million in Haitian assets that were blocked during the political crisis over the nation. But he added that less than $1 million of that amount belongs to people linked to the Haitian military.
He said none of the frozen money belongs to Cedras, although exactly $1,000 belongs to Cedras' wife, Yannick.
Most of the frozen $79 million belongs to Haitian business interests that are not directly connected to the military, he said.
As for the three houses--Cedras' residence, his beach house and his mother-in-law's house--Berger said the United States government will sublet them, so they should not cost the taxpayer anything.
Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) denounced the Administration for "house-sitting for Cedras." And Randall Robinson, head of the lobbying group TransAfrica, complained that it is unseemly for the United States to be making payments of any kind to Haiti's deposed generals.
But Berger responded: "In the context of facilitating the departure of Gen. Cedras . . . so that President Aristide could return to an environment which was more unified and had less elements of friction, the notion of our paying fair-market rental for three houses for a year--which I'm sure we'll sublease--it seems to me is a minor blip."
Earlier, at the same White House news conference, William H. Gray III, President Clinton's special adviser on Haiti, said the houses are being leased because "the United States' government will be needing additional space" in Port-au-Prince.
Although they were standing at the same podium, Berger and Gray were unable to reconcile the apparent inconsistency in their statements.
Earlier in the day, Clinton attended a formal farewell ceremony for Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on the South Lawn of the White House.
"For three years, you have kept faith against all odds that one day a government of the people would be restored to your native land," Clinton said, addressing Aristide. "Tomorrow will be that day. You have survived decades of violence, terror, poverty with dignity, pride and hope. Now, you and your people will have the opportunity to make democracy work for yourselves."
Aristide offered "sincere and everlasting thanks" to Clinton, Congress, his supporters in the United States and U.S. troops providing order in Haiti. "Tomorrow, when we return home to Haiti, this will be our message to the nation: No to violence, no to vengeance, yes to reconciliation," he said.