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Economic sanctions vs. human rights.

IT HAS BEEN almost three years since Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president of Haiti in the country's first free and honest presidential election since independence in 1804. After seven months in office, he was overthrown by the military in September, 1991, and went into exile. Since then, there have been protracted negotiations--first by the Organization of American States and then by the United Nations, which took over joint UN-OAS negotiations--to work out the conditions for Aristide's return. The principal means relied upon to pressure the military government have been economic sanctions, including the suspension of aid, freezing of Haitian accounts, cutoff of trade, and an arms and oil embargo.

During these negotiations--although two accords have been signed (the first under UN-OAS in February, 1992; the second and most recent under UN-OAS in July, 1993)--there have been continuing police and military attacks on Aristide's supporters. These actions, resulting in hundreds of deaths, caused the OAS to renew its efforts toward a settlement in order to end such human rights violations. However, the failure of its civilian observer mission led the OAS to turn to the UN in December, 1992.

The joint UN-OAS negotiation effort, led by Dante Caputo, resulted in the accord signed in July, 1993. The 10-point agreement includes the following major steps: working out by all parties in Haiti of a political truce; nomination of a prime minister by Aristide; approval of his nominee by the National Assembly; suspension of the OAS and UN embargoes and sanctions; resumption of foreign aid; a presidential amnesty for those involved in the 1991 coup; creation of a new police force; retirement of Gen. Raoul Cedras, Commander-in-Chief; and Aristide's return.

Many have heralded this accord as a great victory for multilateral diplomacy as well as the efficacy of economic sanctions. Others have maintained that the agreement is a breakthrough for the restoration of democracy and the protection of human rights in Haiti. These claims certainly are premature and exaggerated, for the implementation of the accord will be very difficult.

Some important questions need to be raised. Are the principal parties and their respective supporters really committed to the agreement? Are the threats of continuing the sanctions and renewing the UN's oil embargo credible and sufficient to keep the process on track? Are the inducements of lifting the sanctions and resuming foreign aid along with granting political amnesty enough to assure the cooperation of the military? Is the promise of Pres. Clinton to arrange a $1,000,000,000 assistance package a credible incentive for Aristide to fulfill his commitments?

There is little reason for optimism concerning the implementation of the July accord, and the use of economic sanctions in the negotiation process deserve criticism. They contributed to arriving at an agreement along with great pressure applied by the Clinton Administration to both sides, but the cost has been the destruction of the Haitian economy. The political and economic future of Haiti is in serious jeopardy. The further polarization of Haitian society is another result of OAS negotiation efforts.

When the OAS decided to invoke economic sanctions as the means to achieve a political settlement, certain factors were not considered. Ignored when the OAS was acting upon the basis of the 1991 "Santiago Commitment to Democracy" (which required an OAS meeting to decide upon action following a military coup) was the undemocratic conduct of Aristide and particularly that of some of his supporters. For example, he publicly intimidated and threatened those who opposed or criticized him or his policies. This resulted in his followers resorting to vigilantism--attacking and killing critics and bombing newspaper offices and radio stations. Aristide remained silent about these acts, thus contributing to his overthrow.

Another OAS mistake was that sanctions were applied to the entire economy. Ironically, the brunt of the sanctions fell upon the majority of poor people who had elected Aristide. Among the first casualties of the embargo were the approximately 100,000 Haitians who worked in the assembly-for-export industries, mainly U.S. companies, who lost their jobs when those firms had to close. The business community and the military, however, had access to funds and savings, and some took advantage of the high prices on the black market. When the UN took over the embargo, it became more effective against the military government, but by then most of the damage had been done to the economy.

Haiti's economy already was the poorest and most vulnerable in the Western Hemisphere. If Aristide does return to resume the "transition to democracy," he will find a country in economic ruin. The "promised" aid package of $1,000,000,000, presented as a negotiating incentive, certainly will turn out to be less. Moreover, it will not be available for a while, and it will take years of major effort to bring Haiti back to where it was before the sanctions. Thus, the claim about the success of sanctions must be viewed as a Pyrrhic victory.

A re-examination of the employment of economic sanctions as an instrument to negotiate a political solution is in order. Instead of asking about the lessons learned by Aristide, Cedras, various political groups and parties, and the members of the National Assembly, the question should be what was learned by the OAS, U.S., and UN concerning the use of economic sanctions to achieve a political settlement?

Publisher's note: As this issue went to press, assassinations, violence by Aristide's enemies, and Cedras' refusal to abide by the terms of the July accord led to a re-imposition of economic sanctions.
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Title Annotation:failures of the OAS negotiated settlement to return Jean_Bertrand Aristide to the Haitian presidency
Author:Wilson, Larman C.
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Column
Date:Nov 1, 1993
Words:923
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