Giving Aristide His Due

SENTIMENT is growing on Capitol Hill for more direct American action on the shameful situation in Haiti. The demoralized Caribbean nation is in the grasp of a group of military leaders who might be more fittingly called gangsters. Led by Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, the junta forced a resoundingly elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide into exile in the United States, a move that so far has given him and the Haitians who elected him little hope for establishing a viable government.

Recently, a number of US representatives and senators have been pushing for more and stronger aid to the Haitians - and even for military action to drive out the generals and open the way for Mr. Aristide to take charge. More direct action is needed than the limp economic sanctions the Clinton administration has imposed - sanctions which have done nothing to faze the generals, but much to increase the parlous conditions under which most Haitians are trying to survive.

Rep. David Obey (D) of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has endorsed direct intervention, and a number of his fellow committee members have backed that policy. Rep. Bob Livingston (R) of Louisiana says the US should withdraw its support of Aristide, send an American force in to oust the military, and begin a process of forming a new Haitian government, a move that is premature, if not a nonstarter.

It is surprising that initiatives such as these were not broached earlier, since the military coup that robbed Aristide of the presidency took place more than two years ago. (He was overthrown on Sept. 30, 1991.)

Some observers attribute the lack of more forceful American reaction to chagrin over the USS Harlan County's retreat. On Oct. 11, 1993, the troop/cargo vessel, with more than 200 Canadian and US personnel aboard, was turned away from a Haitian dock, apparently to avoid a possible incident. It was seen as a signal that the US was not inclined to challenge the Haitian generals.

Recently, five Democratic senators have followed 90 House members in urging President Clinton to strengthen the economic embargo against the present Haitian regime.

Whatever the reason for US befuddlement over the Haitian situation, and in spite of arguments that it should not be North America's responsibility, the Haitians deserve a chance at true democracy. The generals must be made to give way and let the seeds of freedom sprout.

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