OAS Tightens Trade Embargo Against Haiti
The Organization of American States, angered and frustrated by the defiance of Haiti’s military government, voted Sunday to tighten its embargo against the tiny Caribbean nation as punishment for its continued failure to end dictatorial rule and permit the return of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
The action came during a special meeting of OAS foreign ministers called to deal with the failure of the Haitian and Peruvian governments to meet requirements that the organization has set for democracy.
But while the group’s unanimously passed resolution bolsters a previously imposed economic embargo in a move to further isolate the Haitian regime, there was doubt about the measure’s effectiveness in obtaining its final objective--the return to power of Aristide. The latter’s populist government and inefficient administration triggered a coup against him last year.
The key points in the Haiti resolution were decisions for tighter enforcement of the existing maritime trade embargo and an urgent suggestion that all members keep embargoed goods off commercial airline flights bound for Haiti. Specific measures mentioned in the resolution include a call for members to close their ports to any ship that picks up or unloads cargo in Haiti.
In addition, the resolution strongly urges non-OAS members, particularly European countries, to respect the embargo.
After the Haiti vote, the foreign ministers took up the far more controversial problem of Peru, although full consideration of the Peruvian case was delayed until they hear an appeal from Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, who unexpectedly flew here Sunday to address the session. His address, originally set for tonight, is now scheduled for Tuesday.
Fujimori decided to come here, OAS sources said, after meeting Saturday in the Peruvian capital of Lima with a special committee sent by the organization to work toward a compromise in the Peruvian crisis that developed April 5.
On that date, Fujimori suddenly suspended the country’s constitution, dismissed the national legislature, ordered the arrest of most leading opposition political leaders and imposed a form of martial law.
At the time, the OAS condemned what was called “a self-coup” and urged Fujimori to return to full democracy or face unstated diplomatic and economic sanctions.
After refusing these demands on grounds that his actions were necessary to overcome a devastating leftist rebellion, Fujimori told the OAS mission over the weekend that he would be willing to negotiate some crucial points.
The sources said the Peruvian leader would agree to call for the prompt election of a “constituent national assembly” to amend the constitution and for a later referendum on a new constitution. All members of the suspended legislature and opposition politicians would be eligible to participate, the sources said.
Until Sunday, Fujimori had refused demands that delegates to such an assembly be elected, saying only that he would hold a plebiscite July 5 to let country vote “yes” or “no” on whether it approved of his course and that he would convene a constituent assembly within 12 months.
OAS Secretary General Joao Baena Soares said that Fujimori’s reported concession, “if it proves correct, is a key first step” toward settling the Peruvian crisis. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleberger told reporters, “There clearly has been movement . . . and the (expected) statement (from Fujimori) is clearly significant.”
But other U.S. sources said that more specific actions would be demanded of Fujimori, and Eagleberger indicated that a solution to the Peruvian issue might take time.
And the chances of Fujimori’s gaining OAS acceptance of his latest proposals were damaged even before he flew out of Lima at mid-day when a leading opponent there denounced his proposals.
Maximo San Roman, elected as Fujimori’s first vice president and proclaimed to be Peru’s legitimate chief of state by a rump session of the outlawed legislature, declared in Lima that the plan Fujimori was bringing here “doesn’t constitute an effective process toward constitutional normalization.”
Sources here said that Fujimori decided to make concessions when he realized that if he did not do so, Peru would face loss of significant bilateral economic aid as well as several hundred million dollars in loans and other assistance from the World Bank and other international lending institutions.
Speaking of the Haiti situation, Eagleberger, leading the U.S. delegation here, told reporters that he would personally discuss with European leaders the OAS appeal that they join the Western Hemisphere’s embargo against the military-backed regime in Port-au-Prince.
Senior U.S. officials said: “There is a lot of frustration . . . (because) Europeans have done too little. We hope this will have an effect of European governments.”
The original embargo, imposed by the OAS last October in the days right after the coup, has had mixed results. While it has cut trade with Haiti and caused hardships there, it has been broken by constant shipments of petroleum products from Europe as well as some food and other consumer products.
In addition, smuggling from elsewhere in the region, including the port of Miami and that city’s airport, has taken the edge off the boycott, at least for Haiti’s wealthy sectors.
So, while much of the country’s poor--who constitute 90% of the population--suffer serious hardships because of the sanctions, the armed forces, their puppet civilian government and elite sectors of society that supported the Sept. 30 coup have survived quite well.
Although OAS officials and Eagleberger said they thought Sunday’s resolution would be effective in forcing change in Haiti, the realities as expressed by some of these same people privately make it doubtful that Port-au-Prince will accept Aristide’s return.
Even at the outset of the initial embargo, before European ships began showing up with oil and other products, the military appeared to be willing to accept every kind of sanction, including the near-disappearance of oil, rather than let Aristide return to power.
This was mainly because of a belief by the military and its allies that the countries of the hemisphere, particularly the United States, would weaken their position and that Haiti could somewhere find sources of oil--all of which occurred.