Clinton’s Haiti Policy

I’ve got a big surprise for you, but I can’t tell you what it is. Don’t you just hate it when somebody does that? Someone builds up your hopes only to leave you hanging in mid-air.

I felt just that way after Bill Clinton’s first news conference as President-elect when he announced that he will change U.S. policy toward Haiti, but he didn’t tell how.  His words brought hope to hundreds of thousands of desperate people living within earshot of our shore.  However, the premature announcement could result in more loss of life for as many as 500,000 people are looking to the President-elect for a green light to seek refuge here in the United States.

A change in policy toward Haiti is needed.  However, Mr Clinton must be careful that his policy does not shift new burdens onto the backs of the American people.

Governor Clinton should begin by calling a meeting with our partners in the Organization of American States for the purpose of lifting the economic and financial embargo imposed at our urging after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown by the military in September of 1991.

Simply restoring Aristide to power will not bring relief or democracy to Haiti. Though he won a popular election in 1990, evidence suggests that he is a political despot in the classic Haitian tradition who used intimidation, fear, parliamentary vigilantism and class violence to overcome his political opponents.

On one occasion when he lacked a majority in parliament he suggested “necklacing” those who would not support him. This is an especially cruel form of murder where a tire filled with gasoline is placed around the neck of the victim and set afire. Many Haitians believe death by fire kills the soul as well as the
body.    In short, Aristide was elected democratically but did not rule democratically.

Though a real investment in Haiti may appear substantial, it pales when compared to the damage inflicted on this tiny country by our embargo. Also, this new and aggressive policy many discourage a number of other democratically elected figures around the globe who are tempted to use their power in an undemocratic fashion.

Haiti’s problems are extreme. There are no quick and easy solutions. But this tiny country’s proximity to our shore makes Haiti’s problems our own.  We have looked the other way far too long.

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