In Haiti, the Gunboats Take On the Generals
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI — AS the United Nations' oil and arms embargo clamped into place around Haiti, the country's military rulers continued to ignore demands that they step down and allow the country to return to democratic rule.
Six warships from the United States are circling Haitian shores, ready to enforce the sanctions. Ships from Canada, Venezuela, and France will also take part in the embargo.
President Clinton has frozen all foreign assets held by Haiti's Army leaders and their associates. He ordered the US warships ``to move closer to the shore, so they will be in plain sight.''
The UN is counting on the sanctions to force the resistant military to return to the process agreed to in the UN-negotiated Governor's Island Accord. The 10-point transition program allows for exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to return to Haiti Oct. 30.
``Sanctions brought the military to the bargaining table in July,'' said Stanley Schrager, director of the US Information Service in Port-au-Prince. ``Now it has a double effect. It demonstrates the strong commitment of the US to see this through and enforces the embargo.''
Haiti's military leader, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, who also led the military coup that ousted Fr. Aristide in September 1991, is calling for more negotiations. In a television interview shortly before the embargo was implemented, General Cedras said, ``I think we must quickly get together and see where the problems are with the continuation and application of the accord and what the measures are that must be taken to [meet the Oct. 30 deadline]. You talk about troops landing, and I'm telling you it's not the right solution.''
In an interview broadcast Sunday on CNN, Cedras said that he was in favor of Pope John Paul II intervening in the present peace talks. The Vatican was the only state to formally recognize the de facto government after the coup.
At present, there is no contact between Cedras and either the Aristide government or UN Special Envoy Dante Caputo.
``There's no reason for us to speak,'' said an adviser to the prime minister. ``General Cedras knows what his responsibilities are. So far, he's given no indication he will step down.''
The deployment of the Navy vessels may not have a visible effect on the military, but their presence evoked a wave of panic among civilians. Last weekend, roads here were filled with pickup trucks packed with city dwellers fleeing to the countryside. Nervous buyers bustled through supermarkets, though an adviser to Prime Minister Robert Malval indicated that the sanctions will not be felt here for at least a month.
Still, parents are worried and have kept their children home from school. Eight bodies were found in the capital streets Sunday morning alone.
``It is impossible to live,'' said a woman who owns a travel bureau. ``We have business, lots of it - because everyone wants to leave the country. But who wants to work in these conditions?''
The Canadian and Belgium governments have already sent their citizens home. The US has urged 1,000 of its citizens to register with the Embassy. There are 8,000 others in Haiti with dual US-Haitian citizenship. Security at the Embassy has been beefed up by deploying an additional 30 Marines.
IRONICALLY, those holding the country in fear are few, but they have the advantage of arms and the backing of the military. They rule the street by brandishing weapons during the day and shooting them off at night.
Emmanuel Constant, secretary-general of one of the Army-backed civilian groups, Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAP), says, ``The solution of Haiti is in the hands of Aristide. Either he resigns or asks for reconciliation.'' FRAP demands have included the departure of the UN's mediator, Mr. Caputo, whom they resent for what they see as meddling in Haiti's internal affairs.
The UN has withdrawn nearly 300 members of the Civilian Mission that has monitored human rights, and it has withdrawn the initial deployment of UN military technical advisers. Caputo, however, remains in Haiti, protected by heavily armed security guards.
Although both Cedras and FRAP leaders have insisted US citizens are not at risk in Haiti, President Clinton, in a press conference Oct. 18, said that he intends to hold the Haitian military to their word about protecting the lives of Americans. He also expressed concern about increasing the likelihood of another mass exodus of Haitians to Florida.
Clinton said that he would not give the Haitian military a green light and ``let them think they got the best of both worlds - the sanctions lifted and then they broke their agreement on the Governor's Island agreement.''