Give Haiti's Cedras a Deadline For Leaving, Then Act on It

LET'S stop blowing smoke at Haiti. The United States has failed to act in timely ways to save lives in Bosnia and Rwanda. We should cease avoiding our humanitarian responsibilities in Haiti.

President Clinton needs to issue an ultimatum to the narco-junta that now rules Haiti: Either it vacates Haiti by a given deadline or we intervene. The arguments in favor of a US-led invasion are straightforward:

* We have promised to restore democracy to Haiti.

* President Jean-Bertrand Aristide represents legitimacy and democracy in his country. Only by returning him to the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince can Haiti resume its recovery from decades of dictatorship and misrule. And his return will only occur as a result of a humanitarian intervention.

* Democracy in the Caribbean, Central America, and the Western Hemisphere is strengthened if military and corporate elites are not permitted to reverse popular mandates. In Haiti the officers who ousted Mr. Aristide in 1991 were motivated by narcotics-smuggling profits, are unusually cruel and amoral, and delight in preying on their people.

* The sanctions imposed on Haiti in 1991 and recently strengthened have destroyed the country's economy and impoverished its people. But since the narco-junta cares little for its people and profits from smuggling, sanctions have not brought and will not soon bring the rulers to their knees.

* The tightened embargo has driven Haitians to flee by sea. The only way to stem the exodus is to restore the government that nearly 70 percent of Haitians elected in 1990.

The arguments against an American invasion are equally powerful:

* Haiti has for 200 years suffered from rapacious dictators and has no capacity for democracy. Restoring Aristide would prove only a temporary stopgap.

* Given absence of a political value system hospitable to democracy in Haiti, Aristide's return would entrap the US in a very long-term involvement in Haitian affairs. Haitians would look to us as the guarantor and enforcer of democracy. We would be enmeshed in a lose-lose political mess.

* Our 19-year occupation of Haiti, from 1915 to 1934, was a disaster. Why repeat it?

* Even a quick, successful Granada-like invasion of Haiti would condemn the US to long-term training efforts that might not prove rewarding or inexpensive.

* Aristide allegedly promoted violence against his opponents when he was in power. He might behave arbitrarily again, and his restored regime could embarrass us.

* Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana and many others assert that Haiti's future is of no vital interest to the US; Haiti has no oil, no minerals, and no strategic claims on us.

HAITI is both an easy and a tough case. Its crowded millions are desperately poor and oppressed as much by our embargo as by their dictators. The US has a responsibility as a powerful neighbor to alleviate Haiti's misery; that clearly means removing the junta to allow for Aristide's return.

Once Aristide is restored and democracy reestablished, the US and the free nations of the Caribbean will indeed have a long-term training and guiding role to play. There is no escape from continuing involvement with Haiti. After 200 years, however, Aristide's presidency represents the best vehicle for building an enduring democratic system there.

Strengthening democracy in Haiti demonstrates the US commitment to peaceful participatory government worldwide. That is among the most vital of our national interests.

In Bosnia and Rwanda we acted far too late to prevent human slaughter, ethnic cleansing, and refugee misery. Haiti could represent a turnaround case. The least the US should do is make it possible for Haitians to begin rebuilding their lives and their land.


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