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'Too much freedom.' (human rights in Haiti ) (Editorial)

Eighteen months have come and gone while Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti's popularly elected president, remains in exile. As negotiations drag on between the United Nations and the military thugs who have taken over the government, ordinary Haitians endure a reign of terror. The majority of Haiti's people celebrated in the streets when Aristide was elected in December 1990. Now they are afraid to admit openly that they support their exiled leader. Soldiers beat journalists, raid citizens' homes, and harass, incarcerate, and kill people suspected of disloyalty to the military regime (see "Revenge of the Tonton Macoute," May issue).

What can the United States do?

The Clinton Administration's response to the crisis in Haiti has been to do everything short of inconveniencing itself. President Clinton's upbeat promises to hammer out an accord between Aristide and the coup leaders who deposed him have been ineffectual at best.

Although the United States is still officially upholding a trade embargo on Haiti, a hole in the sanctions allows U.S. plants to continue farming out assembly work on the island. And the State Department has quietly reinstated the visas of the Haitian elite, who were intitially barred from entering the United States during the coup. Worse, the U.S. Government has been unwilling to recognize and come to the aid of victims of political persecution in Haiti. The New Yorker recently reported that repression of the press may be at an all-time high, as agents of the de facto government arrest and beat journalists, destroy presses, and make it illegal to report news in Creole, the language of most Haitians. Yet, according to The New Yorker, the American Embassy in Port-au-Prince has responded to the situation by issuing a statement condemning the press for being too opinionated: "Principal media representatives now recognize that failure to maintain an objective stance destroys journalistic credibility and - worse yet - makes journalists more vulnerable to attack by activists on both sides."

This is just the sort of dodge that allows the abuses to continue in Haiti. As long as the United States pretends that the battle in Haiti is between two sets of extremists, it can maintain its "neutral" pose, looking the other way as the military makes a mockery of democracy.

The United States can do more for the Haitain people. First, we must recognize the clear moral imperative of returning a democratically elected president to power. To bring this about, we must get serious about sanctions. We should rescind the visas of Haitians associated with the military regime, freeze the assets they keep in U.S. banks, and offer aid to the thousands who are desperately setting sail for our shores.

The current plan to install a "compromise" government - one part legitimate, elected leadership. one part illegitimate, military force - is no solution. Until the military is removed from power and held accountable for its human-rights abuses, there will be no justice and no peace in Haiti.

Finally, we must dissociate ourselves from the sentiments expressed by the American Embassy, and put more succinctly by Lynn Garrison, a Canadian aide to the regime in Port-au-Prince, who told The New Yorker, "There is too much freedom of the press here." If America's democratic ideals mean anything. there is no such thing as "too much freedom." or too much democracy, in Haiti or anywhere else.
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Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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