Most Haiti sanctions are lifted by Clinton

September 27, 1994|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau of The Sun Sun staff correspondent Gilbert A. Lewthwaite contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton lifted most U.S. sanctions against Haiti yesterday to ease the pain of its people and begin rebuilding the country before President Jean-Bertrand Aristide resumes power next month.

His action, announced to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, will remove a series of U.S. penalties imposed on Haiti over the past 16 months, including bans on air flights, financial transactions and certain foods.

It came as U.S. defense officials said the U.S. occupation is approaching a difficult two-week period as armed power ebbs from the Haitian military and police, and impoverished Aristide followers eagerly anticipate his return from exile in the United States.

In response, the United States has begun a crash program to import humanitarian supplies and begin rebuilding Haiti's wrecked economy and utilities, starting with its electrical system. Maintaining tight sanctions could have impeded this work.

Mr. Clinton said the United States would work speedily to "restore health care, water and electrical services, construction materials for humanitarian efforts, and communications, agricultural and educational materials."

He also noted that Father Aristide had called for the immediate easing of sanctions "so that the work of rebuilding can begin immediately."

Still in force are sanctions against 600 Haitians -- members of the military and their close business associates -- whose U.S. assets have been frozen and who have been denied visas to enter the United States. But others will be able to resume air travel on both regularly scheduled and charter flights once the Port-au-Prince airport becomes available, and to transfer money into and out of Haiti.

Haitian-Americans will also be able to send money to relatives inside the country.

The lifting of sanctions will be a boon to members of the wealthy Haitian business class who, while not directly linked to the military, may have at first supported the coup that drove Father Aristide into exile. Some of Haiti's richest families, who have reconciled themselves to a restoration of the Aristide government, are positioned to profit by supplying land and facilities to the U.S. occupiers.

The United Nations-imposed commercial embargo remains at least technically in place. But the president's action yesterday means it will be interpreted loosely, with broad exceptions for supplies that can be construed as humanitarian.

Already, fuel and food are flowing again across the border from the Dominican Republic, a frontier that the United States had tried to seal in the weeks before the invasion, a senior defense official said yesterday.

"Logically, it makes no sense to have an embargo on a country that we occupy," said a Washington lobbyist with ties to Haitian interests.

Mr. Clinton's move will spread the benefits of the U.S. occupation beyond the impoverished slum-dwellers, who are now boisterously tasting freedom, to the middle and upper classes.

This, in turn, may erode support for the military regime among these wealthier groups, who remain deeply suspicious of Father Aristide, and make them more accepting of his return.

The week-old U.S. occupation is entering a tense transition period with sometimes conflicting U.S. objectives. The U.S. military wants to keep the Haitian military and police cooperating and performing routine police work so U.S. troops won't sustain casualties in the streets.

At the same time, officials want to reduce the supply of weapons in the hands of military, police and paramilitary forces to remove any possibility that Haiti's dictators will cling to power and also to allow Father Aristide's government to start building a civilian police force and a downsized army.

This difficulty was exposed after Saturday's firefight between U.S. Marines and Haitian police in the northern city of Cap-Haitien that killed 10 Haitians. Afterward, the other Haitian police in the city disappeared, creating a security vacuum that U.S. soldiers had to fill.

U.S. officials in Port-au-Prince continued to defend the Marine unit that opened fire on Haitian security men at the police station in Cap-Haitien.

Giving an official account of the incident, Col. Barry Willey, the U.S. military spokesman in Port-au-Prince, said one of the Haitians raised his Uzi machine gun with "clear, hostile intent."

"It is clear our Marines acted in self-defense," he said, adding that the loss of 10 Haitian lives was "deeply regretted."

"When the Haitians raised the weapons in a threatening manner, the Marines fired. It is impossible to tell how many shots were fired. Combat is chaos. Trying to sort out who shot whom, where, and what they were doing is extremely difficult."

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