Md. lawmakers wary of Haiti invasion

September 11, 1994|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Most members of Maryland's congressional delegation oppose a U.S. invasion of Haiti, with even those who have pushed the Clinton administration to take stronger action against the Haitian military junta stopping short of endorsing military action.

"Apparently, all the public options have been played," said Rep. Kweisi Mfume, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, which has urged President Clinton to be more aggressive in trying to restore democracy in Haiti.

"Seemingly, we have crossed a threshold," the Baltimore Democrat continued. "But I don't want to say I'd be supportive of a military invasion until I have had a chance to be briefed so I'm convinced that all options have been expired."

The reluctance by members of the Maryland delegation to back military action in Haiti reflects the broader mood in Congress, where members are divided on the prospect of military action and few have openly embraced the idea.

"I don't think we have any business there," said Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a Baltimore County Republican who is running for governor. "The vital interest of the United States is not at stake. . . . Let 'em resolve their own problems. That's been my position on all the civil wars overseas."

Rep. Albert R. Wynn, a Prince George's County Democrat and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, countered that the United States has legitimate interests in Haiti but stopped short of endorsing an invasion.

He pointed out that reasons for possible intervention include restoring democracy in Haiti, stamping out the island's illegal drug trade with the United States, stemming the number of Haitian refugees coming to America and keeping the Caribbean region stable.

The right time for an invasion, Mr. Wynn added, may be nearing. "The situation has deteriorated to the point that if the coup leaders don't step down, an invasion is almost inevitable."

The Clinton administration has said as much.

In the past week, the president has reviewed options for a U.S.-led invasion of Haiti to restore the democratically elected president, the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who has been in exile since being ousted in a 1991 military coup. In July, the United Nations Security Council authorized an invasion of Haiti.

Previously, the administration had held out hope that the international trade embargo against Haiti would force its military regime to loosen its grip. But the nation's leaders have shown no signs of stepping down.

Consequently, the administration has raised the possibility of a military invasion as it has hardened its rhetoric against Haiti's military rulers. But even as the president reviews military options, members of Congress remain skeptical.

A bipartisan group of 139 House members last month sent a letter to President Clinton, urging him to seek congressional approval before launching an invasion of Haiti.

But administration officials have said they do not believe congressional authorization is necessary.

In any case, several members of Maryland's congressional delegation said Mr. Clinton would have a difficult time winning congressional support for an invasion.

"He has failed to articulate to Congress or the American people a vital national interest for invading Haiti," said Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican. "There is minimal support for this in Congress and in the country."

Rep. Constance A. Morella, a Montgomery County Republican, agreed: "I don't think he has made a convincing case to the American people about the need to do this."

Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes, who are both Baltimore Democrats, said the president should consult Congress before moving ahead with any military action.

"Certainly no one, as I move around Maryland, has been supportive of invading Haiti," Ms. Mikulski said.

"What gets us in? And what are the criteria for getting us out? And who's going to pay for it? If the president can outline that, he might have the support that he needs."

A spokeswoman for Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore Democrat, said he opposed military intervention.

Efforts to reach Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, of Prince George's County, were unsuccessful.

Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, an Eastern Shore Republican, also opposes an invasion.

"We are not going to solve the problem there unless you expect American troops or other Caribbean troops to be there for a long period of time," he said.

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