THE obdurate refusal of Haiti's de facto military government to abide by the Governors Island Accord, which calls for the restoration of democracy, has left the Clinton administration holding firm to a policy that liberals charge strengthens Haiti's renegade military and conservatives contend will only end in more bloodshed.
When Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras refused to step down as called for in the accord to clear the way for exiled President Jean Bertrand Aristide to return by Oct. 31, the administration and the United Nations reimposed economic sanctions. The United States also froze the assets of 41 top Haitian military leaders and backers of the coup.
Last week, US special envoy Lawrence Pezzullo told a House committee the administration plans to maintain that course, hoping it will force the military to comply with the accord. For many supporters of Mr. Aristide, that is viewed as a weak response to the military's flagrant defiance of the international community.
Forty-four black leaders called last week for the Clinton administration to impose a complete embargo to dramatically increase the pressure on Haiti's current leaders, many of whom were trained and equipped by the US. (The New York Times reported yesterday that a Haitian intelligence service set up by the US engaged in drug trafficking and political violence.) Several also called for military intervention to force the return of Aristide.
``The longer they stand with US arms in defiance of the US and the UN, they weaken the US. They weaken the UN. They destroy our ability to be a force to do good around the world,'' said the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Many conservative analysts also view the administration's current policy as wrong-headed, but for different reasons. Their primary concern is the administration's insistence on linking the return of democracy to the return of Aristide.
``I think we are making the mistake of promoting Aristide's interest over the interests of this nation. I think it's a mistake to equate him with the restoration of human rights and democracy,'' says Michael Wilson, an analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington.
Many conservatives point to a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report that questions Aristide's mental and emotional stability. The report also contends he incited violence during his seven months in office. (The credibility of that report was called into question when it was revealed the CIA paid members of the Haitian military responsible for the coup for the information.)
Mr. Wilson contends the administration's policy of supporting Aristide is radicalizing Haitian politics, and will only lead to more violence.
``It's important for them to realize Aristide is not going to return. The country is so polarized and there is this kind of gang mentality. There are no institutions that promote civilian control of the army, or promote democracy, or economic freedom,'' Wilson says.
The administration defends its policy of continuing to call for the implementation of the Governors Island Accord, precisely because it provides a framework for Haitians to build such institutions with the cooperation of the international community.
``In the end what Haiti needs first and foremost is not sanctions and not pressure from the international community. What it needs is an agreement by those who have participated in the Governors Island process to bring about a restoration of democracy,'' said State Department spokesman Mike McCurry at a briefing last week. He noted that Haiti would then become eligible for as much as $1 billion in foreign aid over five years.
But liberal critics of US policy contend it was naive for the administration to believe the Haitian military would abide by the accord in good faith. They also contend that it's foolhardy to think the coup leaders will act in good faith in the future.
``I think the Clinton administration, like the Bush administration, is hoping Haiti will disappear. They're hoping that over time the American public will forget about it, Aristide won't go back, the military will cool down some, and as usual, the Haitian people will be forgotten,'' says Amy Wilentz, who has written on Haitian history. ``That would not surprise me at all.''