U.S. Action Needed for Haitian Democracy


September 19, 1993|By LUCY KOMISAR

Last weekend, Haitian businessman Antoine Izmery, a supporter of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was accosted by thugs while attending a mass, forced outside the church and shot to death. The mass had been commemorating the victims of a massacre at another church five years before.

When I visited Haiti in 1989 to videotape interviews for a program shown on the Public Broadcasting System, I met Mr. Izmery, an ebullient, middle-aged businessman of Lebanese decent who ran a large general store and was treasurer of the Chamber of Commerce. He declaimed passionately about the failures of the Americans and what we owed to the Haitian people.

"Everybody is awake now," he said. "All the problems we are facing here mostly come back to the American government. For the 30 years, the American government has been supporting the Duvalier regime, and nothing has been done to promote Haiti.

"To make real change happen, you have to push those of the old regime out. Now we have a Duvalierism without Duvalier. . . . We know that without the Americans, nothing will happen here."

Officially, Mr. Aristide is president, and Haiti's military rulers in July signed an accord that accepts his return on Oct. 30.

But the Duvalierists are still there, inside the military and police and in the bands of thugs who killed Mr. Izmery. Two days before his murder, men in civilian dress attacked Port-au-Prince Mayor Evans Paul as he tried to reclaim his office, and the day before that, there was an assassination attempt on Mr. Aristide's minister of information.

A few days before his death, Mr. Izmery commented, "We all know that armed civilians would not be able to circulate if the army wanted to prevent it," that, in fact, "they are all auxiliaries of the Haitian army." It is evident that the military rulers of Haiti are opposing by their acts the agreement they signed.

Now, Mr. Aristide has repeated a call for the immediate removal of army commander General Raoul Cedras and police chief Michel Francois. A State Department official told me, "There's no doubt Francois is part of the problem, that he's behind a lot of this violence."

But he would go no further than to say the United States would press for the implementation of the accords, which call for Mr. Cedras and Mr. Francois to leave before Mr. Aristide returns. Washington has said their continuation in office would help keep the military under control. But the killings prove otherwise.

The nearest thing to protection Haitian democrats have are the United Nations "technical advisers" who will be sent to professionalize the military and police. But of the 1,000 troops from Canada and French-speaking Africa promised in the July accords, only 30 have arrived. And though they are armed, they are not authorized to use their weapons. Even so, if the full complement were there, some could have been deployed around the church and perhaps deterred the killing which occurred as Haitian police watched.

Unfortunately, the sluggish U.N. bureaucracy has delayed matters during an assessment to figure out how much the "blue helmet" deployment will cost. A State Department official said it would be a few weeks before they could arrive.

Rep. John Conyers, Jr., of Detroit, who participated as a member of the Aristide delegation in the July talks, has asked President Clinton to consider urging the United Nations to reimpose sanctions against the Haitian government, to suspend U.S. police and military aid and to seek the immediate removal of Mr. Cedras and Mr. Francois.

Those are good recommendations. The United States also ought to reimpose the personal sanctions against the people it knows are behind the current killings by revoking their visas and freezing their assets. It previously did so against 20 individuals, but that number was so small as to be largely symbolic; this time, it should target the 100 to 200 people widely known to be responsible for the continuing violence.

Furthermore, the U.N. "blue helmets" need to be in Haiti not simply to train whatever members of the police and army are deemed to be worth keeping, but to protect the democratic opposition and to break a terrorist operation which looks horribly like the army-sponsored death squads of El Salvador. Or President Aristide will return to preside over a killing field.

The United States has a moral obligation in this matter. It was the United States which nearly eight decades ago helped put Haiti on the road to its history of violence and repression.

One president followed another, but America's political influence in Haiti continued. Francois Duvalier -- known as "Papa Doc" -- took charge in 1950 and ruled through the terror of the hated tonton macoutes, his private army. The United States supported him and his successor, his son, Jean Claude.

Only in recent years has Washington changed sides. Mr. Izmery was right; without the Americans, nothing will happen.

Lucy Komisar is a New York journalist who writes on foreign affairs. Barry Rascovar, whose column usually appears on this page, is on vacation. His column will return next week.

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