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U.S. should abandon namby-pamby policy, get tough on Haiti.

Oct. 30, the day exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was scheduled to return to Haiti, passed in ignominious inactivity, as if the U.N.-brokered agreement for the restoration of democracy had never happened. Port-au-Prince goons and generals crowed in triumph, the Clinton administration continued to vacillate, and once again the rest of the Haitian people were left to their frustration and terror.

Haitian military leaders first scorned the U.N. agreement, then declared it dead because Aristide did not return. Right-wing politicians called for new elections to replace Aristide. The paramilitary thugs who chased U.S. troops out of Port-au-Prince harbor Oct. 11 celebrated by adopting that date as their group name. The Clinton administration, after first calling for tougher U.N. sanctions, settled for freezing the assets and revoking the visas of about 40 key players in Haiti.

Washington said it opposed the sweeping sanctions Aristide has called for because they might do more harm than good by hurting the poor. Of course they would hurt the poor. Nearly everything does. But tougher sanctions might also put more internal pressure on Haiti's brutal and corrupt rulers and at least show them that the United Nations is no pussy cat.

Moreover, Clinton does not appear to be concerned about the well-being of the Haitian poor when the United States intercepts them at sea and sends them back to political persecution and possibly a violent death. As a presidential candidate, Clinton called that policy "cruel" and promised he would not send the refugees back without a fair hearing for political asylum. He should have kept that promise.

Instead he is taking the same namby-pamby approach that has characterized too much of his foreign policy. No one is impressed, least of all Haiti's drug-running rulers. Although that drug connection has been well established, Washington ignores it in most public statements about Haiti. Why?

Is the CIA somehow involved in the Haitian drug trade, as it was in Laos in the 1960s, Nicaragua and Afghanistan in the 1980s? That would at least help to explain why it leaked misinformation about Aristide in an attempt to smear him, rather than working against the tyrants who overthrew his democratically elected government.

It turns out the CIA got much of that information from Aristide's enemies. Some of the same murderers now getting rich trafficking cocaine and blocking the return of Aristide were on the CIA payroll (shades of Manuel Noriega). So the CIA based its character assassination of Aristide on the kind of "intelligence" that had him being treated for mental illness in Canada at the time he was actually teaching in Israel.

Aristide was elected by nearly 70 percent of his people and they want him back. A murderous military coup forced him from office and his followers have been brutally oppressed. All this only a short plane ride from Miami. If this country still believes in anything it has claimed to believe in, that injustice must not stand.

Catholics bear a special shame here. Only one Haitian bishop has spoken out against the violence and terror. The Vatican is the only state in the world that recognizes Haiti's illegal government. Last week, leaders of 23 Catholic organizations in the United States and Canada issued a public apology to the people of Haiti for the Vatican's complicity. The statement called upon the pope to go to Haiti and stand with its people in their "hour of crucifixion."

Some have already done that (see page 2). Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, for example, traveled to Port-au-Prince with the first wave of Pax Christi Cry for Justice volunteers at the end of September. In what was clearly an act of courage, Gumbleton celebrated Mass in the church where Aristide supporter Antoine lzmery had been abducted and executed a few weeks earlier.

Yet, bleak as the situation seems, the world should continue to work for a nonviolent solution. An all-out embargo should be imposed immediately, as Aristide has requested. And the United States should begin accepting Haitian refugees again. It is a small and morally right price to pay for the delay in restoring democracy to Haiti.
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Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Nov 12, 1993
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