Clinton Tests Tough Haiti Waters

To use force or to do nothing - both options draw criticisms for a frustrated White House

TWO and a half years after being deposed by military opponents, elected Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is no closer to returning to power than the day he arrived in Washington as a homeless exile.

Frustrated by the lack of progress and increasingly pressured by Mr. Aristide's American supporters, the Clinton administration is now trying to squeeze the Haitian junta harder. Nothing is ruled out, says the White House - not even use of the 82nd Airborne. (Brzezinski predicts US intervention, Page 3.)

``Haitian leaders should make no mistake about the President's resolve,'' said White House spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers May 4.

But many in Washington doubt whether simply tightening Haitian economic sanctions will succeed. And the prospect of United States troops in Haiti has sparked a spate of preemptive criticism from lawmakers and analysts who worry that talk of use of force will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

``This administration is moving itself toward the position where its only options are to invade, which would be very unfortunate, or to walk away,'' says Stephen Horblitt, coordinator of the Haiti Consultative Group.

Still, the dynamic of US policy to Haiti has clearly changed. Criticism from Aristide himself is one reason. He has denounced the continuing US interception and return of Haitian boat people as ``racist,'' and his American Congressional supporters have mounted a number of protest actions in front of the White House, the latest on May 4.

The continuing hunger strike in support of Haitian refugees of Randall Robinson, the widely respected Washington director of TransAfrica, has been a particularly effective method of publicizing the problem and prodding the White House to further action.

On Haiti ``the president seems to be influenced by images and symbols,'' notes Georges Fauriol, director of Latin American studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The first step in the administration's new Haiti approach - tougher sanctions - could come to a UN vote as early as today. According to a draft US resolution, the sanctions would immediately ban all noncommercial aircraft flights to and from Haiti. If the leaders of the military government, including Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras and Police Chief Michel Francois, have not stepped down in 15 days, the resolution would impose a total embargo on Haitian commercial trade.

An unproven tool

But sanctions tougher than those have yet to force Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Analysts say the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispanola with Haiti, would in all likelihood continue to provide an almost open frontier for the smuggling of gasoline and other crucial black market goods.

The rich would survive; sanctions will surely worsen the lot of Haiti's already poverty-stricken masses.

New sanctions ``are simply tinkering with the wreckage of what's already there,'' Mr. Fauriol says. ``They can only work if they are backed up by the threat of intervention.''

The administration, of course, is trying to leave just such a threat open, as Clinton on May 3 explicitly declined to rule out the use of force.

Some key lawmakers, such as Rep. David Obey (D) of Wisconsin, the new Appropriations Committee chairman, have backed the prospect of an invasion. But for a US president to send in the Marines over the protests of his immediate predecessor (George Bush) and the Senate Minority leader (Sen. Robert Dole), among others, would be an extraordinary act of very high political risk-taking.

Most analysts say no other nation in the region would join the US in military action. Once in Haiti, US forces would become police, administrators, bodyguards - the whole civil society in a nation that has little of its own. It might well make US policymakers long for an ``easy'' mission, such as Somalia.

A troubling friend

Then there is the problem of Aristide himself. An enigmatic man deeply loved by supporters and as deeply hated by opponents, he has become a troubling charge for US policymakers.

He is the symbol of Haitian democracy, yet many charge he himself is not democratic, and that he would abet, if not encourage, mob violence. The underlying premise of much worry about a US invasion of Haiti is that Aristide is not a man worth risking American lives for.

Peter Hakim, Washington director of the Inter-American Dialogue, says ``the US ought to separate out the notion of protecting human rights, and reestablishing some semblance of society in Haiti, from restoring Aristide to power.''

The Haitian military, which fears Aristide, would be much more likely to negotiate in good faith over such a policy, Mr. Hakim says.

He claims the US would receive much support from international organizations such as the Organization for American States.

The symbolic aspect of abandoning a duly-elected leader, however, might be difficult for US officials to accept.

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