THE time may be at hand for the United States, with moral and diplomatic support from concerned governments of the Western Hemisphere, to take a more direct hand in attempts to end the inhuman travail of the people of Haiti.
The fabric of the Caribbean nation's society, always fragile, has in recent months been torn beyond endurance. When the duly elected leader of a supposedly democratic nation is deprived of his office and forced into exile by a corrupt military establishment, the world's other democracies must respond. So far, support for Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has been clear, but restrained. Haiti's military leaders retain illegal control of the government reins and the means to maintain such control, and are likely to continue to do so unless outside forces intervene.
Although powerless at this point, President Aristide has shown that he can be as adamant as his adversaries. In fact, he is not shy about taking an unbending posture in dealing with those who would seem to hold his future as Haiti's legitimate leader in their hands - particularly the United Nations and the US.
US Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who has made little apparent headway in getting Aristide to be less unbending in finding a way out of Haiti's strife, was supported last weekend by UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who also has made little progress in nudging Aristide toward any compromise.
The Haitian president is likely to be a better judge of the possibility of reasoning with the generals than are his friends in Washington and at the UN. Recent evidence graphically exposes the horrendous conditions under which Haitians are being forced to live. The suffering of the nation's children, to some extent muted earlier in the crisis, has in recent weeks been more apparent to the outside world. Pictures and accounts that have surfaced indicate an unbelievable callousness toward the young and helpless on the part of the military government. Yet Aristide himself is not above asking Haitians to accept the hunger and other hardships of a total trade embargo in the attempt to oust the generals and their followers.
Without intervention by the democracies, the generals are likely to prevail, and the Haitian people will continue to be caught in a political and economic crossfire.