U.N. votes to impose near-total embargo on Haiti

May 07, 1994|By New York Times News Service

UNITED NATIONS -- The Security Council voted unanimously yesterday to impose a near-total trade embargo on Haiti to try to force its military rulers to permit the return of the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power as president.

The sanctions were those long demanded by Father Aristide himself but rejected for months by the Clinton administration out of concern that they would deepen the economic hardship of the Haitian people with no guarantee that the steps would persuade the military to change.

The Security Council decision gives Haiti's rulers until midnight May 21 to comply with a peace agreement negotiated last summer at Governors Island in New York, under which the military agreed to hand over power to Father Aristide.

The only exceptions to the embargo are to be imports of food, medicine and certain supplies such as books, newspapers and visiting journalists' equipment.

Haiti, which has one of the lowest living standards in the world, has been subject to a mandatory oil embargo since last fall, enforced by aninternational flotilla of warships, and a voluntary trade embargo by the United States and other Western Hemisphere countries.

As a result, electricity has been scarce, unemployment is at 70 percent and it is estimated that most of the country's factories and stores have been shut. These conditions are expected to worsen under the newly enacted embargo.

Yesterday's vote for sanctions came after rising political pressure from congressional supporters of Father Aristide, as well as from those dissatisfied with President Clinton's failure to reverse former President George Bush's policy of sending back Haitian refugees fleeing by boat.

The administration signaled last week that it would change track and agree to more stringent measures on Haiti, and this week Mr. Clinton and his aides have made a point of not ruling out possible military intervention to oust the junta.

In Miami, the Immigration and Naturalization Service is preparing to release a group of 411 Haitians who have been detained since the Coast Guard rescued them from an over crowded boat late last month.

The release promised yesterday, plus another one promised soon, is the latest sign that the Clinton administration has begun modifying its Haitian refugee policy. Immigration officials, however, say there has been no formal policy change.

Some members of the administration have said in Washington that they are under no illusions that the new sanctions will achieve their goal. Despite the widespread hardship, the ruling elite of Haiti is said to have largely escaped the worst effects of the sanctions already in place.

The fuel embargo, for example, is being circumvented through imports from the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

The near-total trade ban, if it goes into effect, will be similar to those the Security Council has imposed on Iraq as a result of its invasion of Kuwait and the rump Yugoslav federation of Serbia and Montenegro for stirring up civil war in Bosnia.

In each case the United Nations has been forced to organize a huge aid effort aimed at relieving the distress caused by the sanctions.

Sir David Hannay, Britain's ambassador to the United Nations, acknowledged that the sanctions would likely cause further suffering among the Haitian people.

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