Booting Out Haiti's Bad Guys

PRESIDENT Clinton promised two black congressmen from Texas that he would tighten sanctions against Haiti only if they voted in favor of his budget. But will tougher sanctions restore democracy in Haiti?

Until late last month, the United Nations confidently believed that the military junta, which overthrew freely-elected Haitian President Jean-Bertrande Aristide in 1991 could be persuaded to step aside, restore the elected president, and approve the arrival of 500 lightly-armed UN human rights monitors.

The UN negotiators threatened stepped-up sanctions, a tight embargo on imports of refined petroleum products, and increased economic misery - plus the carrot of an end to existing sanctions and $100 million of new aid. The people of Haiti are in such desperate economic straits that the offer could hardly have been refused. But it was. In desperation, Mr. Clinton has frozen the American bank accounts of 83 leading Haitians, barred them and their families from entry into the United States, and indicated th at a petroleum embargo might be next.

The military rulers of the country have been little affected by sanctions. Nor will Clinton's latest initiative bother them much. The smuggling of contraband, drug running, skimming of humanitarian aid, and oppression have lined the pockets of the officers as well as members of the commercial class.

Tighter sanctions will squeeze the poor even more dramatically. But the junta and the elite reckon that they will still be able to make a living from whatever economic activity continues, especially smuggling. The junta and the elite fear President Aristide's return, and they want no human rights monitors who could exert a countervailing authority or some contrary legitimacy. Yet Clinton and the UN are together determined to restore democracy to embattled Haiti. The arrival of a small, well-armed force o f blue berets, preferably drawn from French-speaking countries, could be the surgical instrument.

A force of about 5,000 could be adequate. Haitians would welcome deliverance from oppression, especially if Aristide returned at the same time to provide legitimacy and at least nominal authority.

The poorly-trained and lightly-armed Haitian army/police would be no match even for a comparatively small multinational force supported by US ships and aircraft. The occupying force would need to secure no more than key points in Port-au-Prince and a few outlying cities. If the Haitian officer corps were confined along with renegade soldiers, the occupying force would face no greater problems than the US discovered during its first few months in Somalia.

A UN-occupying force would therefore have a comparatively easy time. Its hard task would be to set Haiti back on a very gradual road to complete home rule and democracy. An intervening period of tutelage, with Aristide in charge but advised by UN officials, would help.

Because Haiti has never known democracy, and because the values of participation, tolerance, dissent, justice, and sharing have never been central to Haitian public or private life, the transfer of democratic principles will be exceedingly difficult.

Returning Aristide to power will be much easier than creating a state in which he and his successors could govern honestly and without brutality. But tougher sanctions and generous aid will not do the job on their own.

If Haitians are to enjoy basic human needs and rights, and if they are to begin to make something of their own country, the UN and the US must recognize and then live up to an enduring responsibility.

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