Haiti - a Test Case for Hemispheric Peacekeeping

By , Rep. Lawrence J. Smith (D) of Florida is a member of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.

IT is time to do "the right thing on Haiti," as George Bush would have it. We should do what we should have done immediately after the coup: Give Haiti back to the Haitians.

A human rights tragedy is under way in Haiti. Since the coup, the Haitian military has been systematically terrorizing the Haitian people. International human rights organizations estimate that 1,500 Haitians were killed in the months following the coup. That is a conservative figure.

Even slight support for deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide can be lethal. Two weeks ago, businessman Georges Izmery, brother of prominent Aristide supporter Antoine Izmery, was shot to death by gunmen believed to be linked with the Haitian military.

Recommended: Where does Haiti stand three years after its 7.0 earthquake?

The security problem has been magnified by Haiti's reversion to a police state, which President Aristide had worked hard to shut down. The Duvaliers' secret police, the Tonton Macoutes, were released by the de facto regime, and once again are in control.

The Haitian crisis has reached a critical phase. The rank-and-file of the Haitian military are becoming restive. They reportedly have not been paid for two months. The upper echelons of the military could face a fearsome sergeants' revolt if they do not satisfy their lower strata. If pro-Aristide supporters simultaneously decide that enough is enough, a catastrophe could ensue.

In February, I introduced an amendment, which the House of Representatives passed, calling on the president to ask the United Nations or the Organization of American States (OAS) to dispatch a peacekeeping force to Haiti to provide security and protect human rights. I had previously asked the administration to take such a measure.

Diplomacy has not resolved the Haitian crisis because the Haitian military does not respond to diplomacy. They do not care about international opinion or the suffering of the Haitian people.

But an international show of resolve with UN "blue helmets" would compel the Haitian army of 7,000 to accept a return to democracy. The first step toward a solution in Haiti thus should be the establishment of an international security force on the island under the auspices of the UN and the OAS.

We must make the militaries of this hemisphere understand that any usurpation of a democratic nation's sovereignty, including coups d'etat, will not be tolerated by the nations of the Americas.

Opponents of such an international peacekeeping force claim it would violate international law. While the OAS Charter supports the principle of nonintervention, it just as strongly proclaims that member nations must defend representative democracy.

The OAS position, on defense of democracy has evolved recently. In June 1991, the OAS passed the "Santiago Commitment to Democracy," which stated that protection of human rights and representative democracy were "indispensable conditions for the stability, peace, and development of the region."

Several OAS member nations with fresh memories of military regimes support the use of force to reverse the overthrow of a democratically elected government. The United States should join these countries in a new OAS effort in defense of democracy.

The hemisphere-wide embargo of Haiti is making the poor of Haiti despairingly poorer, hungrier, and sicker. The rich, meanwhile, are stockpiling healthy inventories of luxury items and oil, compliments of our European friends.

Meanwhile, President Bush's election year anti-immigration directive turns away refugees without enabling them to claim persecution. Even worse, it threatens the entire international system to protect refugees.

This wrong policy can be easily righted. Asylum claims could be processed more quickly if more Immigration officials were sent to Guantanamo Bay. Refugees not qualifying for asylum would be returned to Haiti, making room available for incoming people. When the political crisis ends, the immigration crisis will subside.

In 1989, Secretary of State James A. Baker III told the OAS, "We have it in our power to create, here, in the Americas, the world's first completely democratic hemisphere." Only an adequate enforcement mechanism can take us beyond this rhetoric to a genuine hemispheric defense of democracy. Haiti is an important test case.

Rather than stand on the sidelines, the nations of the hemisphere should act collectively now to restore democracy in Haiti. Let's really do the right thing on Haiti: Send the peacekeepers.

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