THE United States keeps groping for solutions to the Haitian refugee crisis, but the only real way to end the refugee crisis is to end Haiti's political crisis. Not until democracy is restored in Haiti and economic sanctions lifted will thousands of poor and frightened people stop taking to the sea in leaky boats.
The slow strangulation of Haiti by the Organization of American States' embargo isn't working. The current embargo is too porous to subdue the military leaders who overthrew democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in September. So far, it has hurt mainly the poor.
To impose further short-term hardships on the Haitian people for long-term political benefits is a defensible policy. But the OAS and the US cannot go on pursuing a futile strategy.
To start with, the economic sanctions need to be made more effective. While members of the OAS are observing the trade embargo, other nations, especially in Europe, ignore it. The OAS may need to consider a naval blockade of Haiti. Before that drastic step, though, the US and the other OAS members should intensify their diplomatic efforts to win compliance with the sanctions. Thought should be given to including oil in the embargo.
Haiti's governmental and business elite needs to feel the bite of the sanctions more sharply. The US should cut back the visas that permit affluent Haitians to fly to Miami for business or pleasure.
Tightened sanctions will be effective, however, only in support of a political formula acceptable to most of the powerful interests in Haiti. The people's democratic choice must be given effect through restoring Mr. Aristide to the presidency. But many Haitians oppose the fiery populist.
A workable compromise was taking shape in February under OAS auspices, whereby Aristide was to be acknowledged as the president, while a prime minister trusted by business and political leaders laid the groundwork for Aristide's return from exile. The military scuttled the plan, though, refusing to let parliament vote on it. But the coup leaders, shaken by international isolation and fracturing within the military, now may be more willing to consider an OAS and US initiative. Negotiations to revive the e arlier plan are under way, and they may include the possibility of deploying international peacekeepers in Haiti as well.
The OAS has rightly discounted the military's attempt to legitimize its coup by the appointment of a new government headed by Marc Bazin, a political opportunist who finished far behind Aristide in the December 1990 election. Now the OAS needs to midwife and agree to help implement a better plan.