Putting the Squeeze on Haiti

June 23, 1993

Supreme Court approval of the Bush-Clinton policy of forcing NTC Haitian refugees back to their native land without a hearing places a high moral obligation on this country. The U.S. has to make sure a United Nations oil embargo taking effect today will force Haiti's repressive military regime to its knees. The time for real pressure is now.

For the first time, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, head of the illegal junta, has agreed to negotiate directly with Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti's first popularly elected president, who was overthrown in September 1991 and sent into exile. The general has even called the deposed leader "president."

But considering the way the ruling elite has defied world opinion for 21 months -- months of murder, torture and upheaval for Haiti's suffering masses -- cooperation on the part of General Cedras has to be proven, not proclaimed. In anticipation of a U.N. embargo, his regime has stockpiled oil, ordering dealers to dole out only one ninetieth of their supplies daily. He apparently wants to wait out the present crisis, hoping world attention will again shift elsewhere.

President Clinton, to preserve his own reputation, cannot let this happen. During his campaign for the White House he labeled President Bush's decision to intercept Haitian boat people on the high seas as "cruel" and "unjust" and "illegal." But on taking office in January, he reversed his position to prevent an armada of small boats from bringing 40,000 Haitians to Florida's shores.

Mr. Clinton clearly felt he could force President Aristide's return without strong measures. He was wrong. Not until this month did he freeze the personal assets of junta leaders in anticipation of the U.N's new embargo -- an embargo, incidentally, that lacks specific enforcement powers. Plans to impose an American-French-Canadian naval blockade under United Nations were blocked by Brazil -- just one more instance of growing Third World wariness about big power domination.

American diplomacy has been thwarted by a military regime that was able to tap an estimated $500 billion in drug trafficking profits to finance oil imports and day-to-day operations. But Haiti has now received its last oil shipment from abroad. The coming squeeze may give President Clinton a chance to redeem the promises implicit in his campaign oratory. It will not be enough just to restore President Aristide to his rightful office. The U.S. clearly owes the Haitian people aid and vigilant watchfulness in support of its fragile democracy.

As for mass immigration, that is out of the question for Haiti and dozens of other countries whose citizens would like to emigrate to this land of plenty. The Supreme Court has acknowledged reality.

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