Haitian Policy at a Standstill

April 23, 1994

The administration policy of using limited means to force change on Haiti has failed. It either must raise its means or reduce its goals.

After a review of policy, the administration claims to have decided to increase the pressure on Haiti's military goons to relinquish power to the elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The U.S. will seek to persuade the United Nations to extend the current embargo on weapons and fuel for Haiti to all products except food and medicine. And it will try to persuade the Dominican Republic to stop the flow of oil across the border.

Yet critics of the administration say it has really reduced its goals. They charge that it assigns a low priority to Haiti, is content to see President Aristide complete his term in exile, and press him to install a prime minister acceptable to the military.

Father Aristide went so far as to charge all this in a press conference, biting the hand that feeds him. More important, six members of Congress got themselves arrested picketing the White House illegally. Notable among them was Rep. Kweisi Mfume of Baltimore, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. They do not undertake such symbolic behavior lightly.

Most charges of "racist" policy have to do with President Clinton's returning boat people to the desolate island without a chance to seek political asylum. Terrorism by the military rulers of Haiti and their thugs against dissidents, refugees and supporters of President Aristide is widely reported.

It would be nice if the administration's half-turn of the screw on Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras et al worked. There is little confidence that it will, and little doubt that the defiance of U.S. dictates by such as General Cedras, General Mohamed Farah Aidid of Somalia, President Saddam Hussein of Iraq, President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and dictator Kim Il Sung of North Korea reinforce each other.

While pressure for U.S. military action to restore President Aristide is growing among normal opponents of U.S. interventions, the administration ought to achieve more forceful policies short of that. It should unequivocally support President Aristide's restoration and assist the exile of General Cedras and the brutal police chief, Lt. Col. Michel Francois.

Humanitarian imperatives call for the U.S. to reopen asylum opportunities for Haitians. The U.S. has uncritically accepted far more Cuban exiles than ever would come from Haiti, on the ground that the Cubans were fleeing communism and Haitians only poverty. Too many Haitians are being murdered after they are sent back.

A more forceful inter-American pressure on Haitian overlords should succeed, but only if the administration does not waver. The usurpers of Haiti believe their own will is stronger than President Clinton's. He should stop giving them reason to think so.

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