Sanctions on Haiti

November 01, 1991

The Bush administration, having proclaimed that economic sanctions would force Iraq out of Kuwait and then that they would not, has now staked its prestige on the efficacy of similar sanctions slapped Tuesday against Haiti. Canada was following suit. Venezuela cut Haiti off its oil supply right after the Sept. 20 coup that overthrew the constitutional government. France is withdrawing all technical advisers. Probably, this will work; but if it does not, it will fail very visibly.

The privates who organized the coup, the general who took it over, the rich Haitians who apparently financed it and the judge who was installed as interim president know perfectly well what the Organization of American States requires: the restoration of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the overwhelming choice of the poor Haitian people in a fair election last December.

Father Aristide, the populist firebrand who was overthrown for threatening the privileges of the soldiers and the rich, is not without blame. He whipped up violent support, justifying ''Pere Lebrun,'' or assassination by torch and gasoline, as a ''legitimate expression'' of popular will. But his decisive election in December is the only legitimacy that modern Haiti has known. The answer to human rights lapses on his part would be the kind of pressure that the OAS is bringing to restore him; not to overthrow the fragile constitution.

President Bush's trade embargo on Haiti cuts off 85 percent of Haiti's exports and 65 percent of its imports. It threatens to shut some 160 companies in the light assembly business in textiles and electronics and sporting goods that employ 32,000 workers and provide what modern economy Haiti has. There is some question, however, about whom the embargo hurts. Not the rich, who live on tourism and foreign investments of their own. Not the soldiers, numbers of whom moonlight in crime and drugs. Of the 160 firms serving the U.S. market, some 40 percent are U.S.-owned and another 30 percent are Haitian-American joint ventures. The workers made jobless are followers of Father Aristide, and quite a few support sanctions.

An OAS mission is due back in Port-au-Prince next week. It will deal from strength with interim president Joseph Nerette, General Raoul Cedras and those who stand behind. They cannot talk about new elections, only about restoring the rightful president. The OAS no doubt can also convince President Aristide to govern with magnanimity once foreign efforts have restored his authority.

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