No Golden Parachute

NEGOTIATED accords haven't worked. The jury is still out on whether stricter economic sanctions, which take effect after tomorrow, will work. So why not try a ``golden parachute'' to encourage Haiti's military rulers to leave?

The Clinton administration apparently is considering such an option as it works, along with other countries in the region, to restore Jean-Bertrand Aristide as the nation's president. Mr. Aristide was elected overwhelmingly in December 1990 but was ousted in a coup the next September.

The golden parachute - in one scenario ``offered'' by wealthy Haitians themselves - appears to be part of an overall strategy designed to squeeze the top brass between its wealthy civilian supporters, the targets of the tighter sanctions, and what appears to be a growing number of dissenters within the military. The administration is trying to widen the fissure by suggesting that the bulk of the police and Army would remain if Aristide returns, rather than be replaced with a scaled-down force, as previously proposed.

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This approach should be allowed to run its course; it could obviate the need for military intervention, which must only be used as a last resort. Yet no one should proffer a parachute. Even if the money comes from within the country, softening the landing for the military leaders is hard to justify. These are people who have spent nearly four years brutally repressing Haitians and mocking the country's fledgling democratic process. In the meantime, several top leaders are suspected of having amassed personal fortunes from drug-trafficking and from flouting the existing economic sanctions.

As it is, holding out an olive branch to the Army and police is tricky. Even if their ranks could be retrained in ways that led to a respect for the rule of law instead of the rule of the rifle, it is difficult to see how the people would accept as their protectors the same people who months before were repressing them.

Following the example set by the US approach to Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986, the Clinton team is clearly looking for exile without retribution for Haiti's junta. Yet it was not just a cut-off of US support that prompted ``Baby Doc's'' departure, but his own concern about his personal safety. The challenge today is to approximate that discomfort level without making the country endure the level of violence it experienced in 1986.

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