Obstruction in Haiti


Haiti is not Somalia. Instead of clan anarchy, it has government. In fact, it has two -- one legitimate, the other of military usurpers. Instead of peace-keeping, the role agreed upon for U.S. troops is humanitarian. Instead of being remote, Haiti is near Florida and Puerto Rico and is a source of unwanted immigration whenever hunger and atrocity get out of hand. There is a clear U.S. national interest in Haiti's well-being.

The few dozen Haitian armed thugs who prevented the landing of North American noncombat troops from the U.S.S. Harlan County at Port-au-Prince, and who previously assassinated and terrorized political adherents of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, are "attaches." They are today's equivalent of the "Tontons Macoutes," who long terrorized the country for its brutal rulers. They take orders from Lt. Col. Joseph Michel Francois, the national chief of police and boss of the port, who helped plan the 1991 coup that drove the president into exile.

Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, the army commander, is calling the shots. The use of the "attaches" to prevent the troop landing and intimidate U.S. diplomats was General Cedras' way of wrecking the agreement for transfer of authority back to President Aristide. General Cedras signed that agreement in New York under U.N. auspices on July 3. A U.N. Security Council assets freeze and oil embargo, beginning June 23, encouraged that agreement and was suspended Aug. 27, two days after the Haitian parliament approved President Aristide's choice, Robert Malval, as prime minister.

The dispatch of 196 U.S. and Canadian soldiers on engineering and training missions aboard the Harlan County was part of the international support contemplated in the July 3 agreement for President Aristide's return to authority on Oct. 30.

If the troops cannot safely land, General Cedras is reneging on his agreement. If he does not resign by Friday as promised, he will have welshed on that agreement. And if President Aristide cannot safely return on Oct. 30, the general will have destroyed that agreement.

Two-thirds of Haitian voters elected President Aristide in 1990 and want him back. There is no reason to think that the "attaches" represent any Haitians except Colonel Francois and General Cedras, who are emboldened by events in Somalia and their effect on American public opinion.

The U.N. Security Council has no choice but to reimpose the sanctions that in early July had such benign effect. Renewed sanctions should be focused, in Secretary of State Warren Christopher's words, on those most responsible for obstructing the agreement. These sanctions work.

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