PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI — AFTER two and a half years of ambiguity, the international community is finally knuckling down in its attempt to remove the Haitian military from power.
On Friday, the United Nations Security Council voted to expand a loosely respected, seven-month-old oil and arms embargo to a near total embargo unless Armed Forces Chief Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, Chief of Police Michel Francois, and Army Chief of Staff Phillipe Biamby resign or leave Haiti by May 21.
President Clinton has raised the stakes by saying he would consider using armed intervention if the Haitian military does not comply. He also changed his refugee repatriation policy Saturday, agreeing to grant asylum hearings aboard United States ships or in other countries. Clinton was expected to outline more details of his Haiti policy yesterday afternoon.
But foreign diplomats here, Haitian politicians, and members of the elite who support the new initiative are skeptical the threat will budge the key leaders who hold a grip on power.
``The military has been living with threats for three years. They know what they're up against,'' says a former minister of the de facto government. ``They're enacting that famous Chinese proverb: If you're riding a tiger, you better stay on it or you'll be his next meal.''
The Haitian Army has ruled with impunity since it took power in a coup d'etat Sept. 30, 1991. Military leaders have not hesitated to call the international community's bluff.
The new sanctions, backed by exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, immediately cancel visas and freeze assets of about 600 Haitians - officers of the Haitian military, their immediate families, and backers of the 1991 coup d'etat that ousted President Aristide. Noncommercial flights and sea traffic will be restricted to humanitarian use only.
Should the international community resort to military force, it probably would not take much to unseat the ill-trained, under-equipped 7,000-troop military. What would be left behind, however, is a country void of infrastructure, a land robbed of its natural resources, and a people battered by military rule.
``Haiti has the least-developed institutional, organizational, and infrastructural capacity of any country in this hemisphere,'' said Stanley Schrager, director of the US Information Service. ``Haiti today is run by a trinity of terror - the Army, attaches [armed civilians], and FRAPH [a paramilitary group that emerged last fall]. The only institutions that work are those devoted to evil.''
Some analysts feel that removing the military leaders will break the thread that keeps the ``trinity of terror'' in power. ``Once you cut away the support system in the military, they will wither away and die,'' says Colin Granderson, head of the 38-member UN Civilian Mission monitoring human rights here.
Mr. Granderson expressed concern, though, that if victims of repression are given the opportunity, they may seek revenge on their persecutors. And there is no functioning legal system to handle retribution. Most judges are appointed as personal favors: Verdicts are correspondingly based on palm greasing. ``If the situation changes, Aristide will need to be extremely forceful, using moral persuasion and his popularity as president to keep victims from taking the law into their own hands,'' he said.
There has been no justice minister since Guy Malary was gunned down last October, two weeks before Aristide was scheduled to return as part of the UN-brokered Governors Island Accord that subsequently failed. There has been no functioning government since Aristide's prime minister, Robert Malval, resigned last December.
The only governmental body in operation is the Haitian parliament. But party-line divisions, coupled with aggressive political maneuvering, has reduced some parliamentary sessions to barroom-type brawls, complete with name calling and fistfights.
In the Upper House, the situation has reached such extremes that pro-Aristide and con-Aristide senators have not met for the last four months because pro-Aristide senators feel their life is in danger. There are two Senate presidents: a president elected in early October last year who is forced to work out of his home for security reasons and a de facto president who threatens weekly to invoke a Constitutional amendment that will permanently remove Aristide from office. Neither side has been able to gather a quorum.
``They are useless opportunists who have no vision for the future, only their personal political gain,'' said one foreign observer.
The Lower House of 83 deputies is headed by Robert Monde, a former card-carrying Tonton Macoute (the paramilitary force of the 29-year Duvalier dictatorship). His theory about the political stalemate is that Aristide would rather fight his political battles from Washington than the now-empty National Palace.
According to the 1987 Haitian Constitution, all parliamentarians, municipal council members, and county officials are up for reelection this fall. But there is the practical question of how to finance and organize elections.
The only way democratic elections could be held here is if Aristide names a new prime minister who would assist in appointing an electoral board. But Aristide refuses to nominate a new prime minister until General Cedras and Colonel Francois resign. And the international community refuses to renew international aid money until Aristide is restored to office.