Haiti's military expected to tighten grip on power

November 04, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration suspects Haiti's military rulers will act within the next two weeks to cement their grip on the island and brush aside the government appointed by exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a senior official said last night.

The scenario gives new urgency to the efforts of U.S. officials who are trying to help the United Nations arrange a new set of negotiations aimed at returning the ousted president.

Compounding the crisis is an apparent weakening on the part of Father Aristide's appointed prime minister, Robert Malval, who vTC "doesn't think he can endure endlessly," the official said.

Action by the military to remove the Malval government would add to pressure on the Clinton administration to escalate the United States' response so as to avert a new flood of Haitian refugees and heightened suffering among the nation's people.

While force has not been ruled out by the administration, "most people understand that option puts us in the position of being there for a long time to come" as an occupying power, the senior official said.

The senior official did not rule out that the Haitian military might agree quickly to the U.N.-sponsored talks or that it might relent later as sanctions are gradually tightened.

But either way, he predicted that the crisis would "come to a head" fairly soon.

Elsewhere in the government, officials predicted a prolonged impasse yesterday as Haitian military leaders continued to stonewall efforts by a United Nations special envoy in Port-au-Prince to bring representatives of Father Aristide and the nation's de facto government together for talks aimed at returning the ousted president.

And the Clinton administration reported only limited cooperation from other countries in efforts to tighten the financial screws on the military and its supporters among Haiti's wealthy elite.

"It's a standoff," said Maryland Rep. Kweisi Mfume, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, the main source of support for Father Aristide on Capitol Hill. "The key word is time."

Right now, he said in an interview, the Haitian military believes it has "stood America down and caused her to blink." But he voiced confidence that international pressure eventually would bring down the military, although he would not predict when.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill and within the Clinton administration, the view was more pessimistic.

"It's very discouraging," said one U.S. official, predicting that Haiti's elite would be able to hang on to power despite the pressure.

The caucus put on a show of support for Father Aristide at a Capitol Hill news conference with the Haitian leader at which Mr. Mfume urged President Clinton "not to rule out any options" to restore the elected president to power.

His statement seemed to suggest the use of force if peaceful measures prove unsuccessful. But Mr. Mfume cautioned later that force shouldn't be used until "every avenue that's available is exhausted." Neither Father Aristide nor the administration wants to use force.

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher seemed to distance the administration further from forceful action, saying the United States needs a national dialogue on how much attention to give "failed states" like Haiti and Somalia.

The caucus declined to endorse Father Aristide's call last week, reiterated yesterday, for a total commercial embargo on the impoverished nation, with Mr. Mfume saying that members didn't want to "dictate" administration policy.

The Clinton administration wants to give the current international fuel and arms embargo more time to work, fearing that a total blockade would impose unbearable hardship on Haiti's population.

The administration also hopes that other governments would follow the U.S. lead and freeze the assets of Haiti's military leaders and deny them visas.

Officials predicted that Switzerland and Belgium would join this effort.

But this still appeared to leave a number of other countries with bank secrecy laws that could be used to stash the Haitian military's wealth.

At the State Department, spokesman Michael McCurry said: "If there's a reluctance on the part of the military to participate in the talks that the special envoy has requested, they will continue to feel the increasing pressure to bear, the economic sanctions, and they know that the international community and the United States specifically has not ruled out additional measures."

The United States sent special envoy Lawrence Pezzullo back to Haiti yesterday to work with United Nations special envoy Dante Caputo in reviving the accord, reached last summer at Governors Island in New York, calling for Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, the military chief, and Port-au-Prince Police Chief Michel Francois to step down.

At its news conference with Father Aristide on Capitol Hill, the Black Caucus denounced a widely publicized CIA analysis that concluded the Haitian leader was unstable and would likely rule violently if he returned.

Mr. Mfume charged that false information was supplied by military figures on the CIA payroll, calling the analyses a "base insult."

"These analyses are obviously dispatches from the blind," he said.

Massachusetts Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, another strong supporter of Father Aristide, demanded that congressional intelligence committees investigate the CIA's role.

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