Haitian defiance stifles U.S. efforts to end crisis

February 06, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti -- The Bush administration's hope that a carrot-and-stick policy could induce a compromise to end the crisis here appears to have been crushed by nose-thumbing actions by both sides of the Haitian conflict, U.S. and Haitian observers say.

"They broke the stick a long time ago," said one source about the military and right-wing civilians who combined on Sept. 30 to overthrow Haiti's first democratically elected president, "and now they've eaten the carrot."

The Bush administration's strategy has been to blend a punishing economic embargo with the enticement of future aid and international legitimacy -- if the "moderate" army, political and business sectors agreed to restore ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

On the other side, the aim was to persuade Father Aristide, a Roman Catholic priest whose demagogic, anti-American and leftist policies made Washington uneasy at best, to accept a diminished role as the price for his return.

"I don't think anyone of either side was ever serious" about the U.S. plan, said one foreign official. "I think the chances for a negotiated settlement are dead."

From the beginning, the U.S. plan was stymied not only by the refusal of army, government and legislative leaders to carry out agreements but also sometimes by Father Aristide's reversal of promises to accede to proposed settlements.

The latest blow came yesterday when the government suddenly withdrew permission for the U.S. Coast Guard to continue repatriating thousands of Haitians intercepted while fleeing to America. The denial, based on a claim that Haitian officials were unprepared for the influx, came hours after a State Department announcement that the Americans planned to relax their economic embargo.

U.S. officials said later yesterday that the Haitians had changed their minds and would permit the return of refugees to resume today.

"But I don't think they had any problems with logistics," said one official.

"Everything went smoothly on Monday [when the repatriation began]. I think the Haitians were simply shoving it to us."

Others also saw it as a defiant gesture, underlining the belief by many Haitian military leaders and their supporters that the United States lacks the will to carry out its policy or does not want Father Aristide to return.

A major rationale for easing the sanctions, which had nearly destroyed Haiti's already ragged economy, was to induce authorities to negotiate seriously.

"I don't know about that," said Sen. Thomas Eddy Dupiton, an anti-Aristide leader, "but there are no plans for new talks" after Father Aristide's return.

That followed a statement by Father Aristide from his exile home in Venezuela bitterly attacking the U.S. refugee policy and a renewal of his demand that Army commander Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras be fired as a condition of his return.

General Cedras, viewed as a moderate by the U.S. Embassy, was the key to the success of the American plan.

It provided for General Cedras' continuing in command, in exchange for supporting the creation of a new, conservative government and a weakened role for Father Aristide.

The theory for the approach: That General Cedras, an honest and moderate man, represents elements of the army who oppose other military figures who are thugs and thieves more interested in running drugs and other contraband than in establishing a legitimate, professional military.

A close aide to the general told reporters yesterday that the Bush administration's plan to appoint Rene Theodore, a moderate anti-Aristide figure, as prime minister, with Father Aristide to return at an undetermined time, "is dead."

Further, he said, the United States no longer has any influence in Haiti:

"The Americans are caught in a pigsty and don't know how to get out."

This attitude is causing some officials to begin considering what many skeptics have said for some time -- that General Cedras has played the Americans for fools and has used his alleged differences with other more radical officers to buy time.

In this view, if General Cedras and his supporters hold out long enough, the world will accept the status quo and drop the idea of Father Aristide's return.

"There has never been any evidence that Cedras has ever intended to reverse the coup," said a Latin American diplomat.

"He may have rivals within the army for power, but that is personal and, in fact, I think he has reached an accommodation.

"They [the rivals] can control the drugs and the corruption in exchange for letting him have the glory and the titles," the diplomat said.

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