President Clinton, clearly frustrated by failed attempts to negotiate a return to democracy in Haiti, clamped new travel and economic restrictions on individual backers of the military junta Friday and called on the United Nations to impose worldwide economic sanctions on the impoverished Caribbean nation.
The immediate impact will fall on 100 or so wealthy Haitians who make up the economic, political and military backbone of the junta that ousted elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide 20 months ago. Clinton froze their assets in the United States, banned them from doing any sort of business with Americans and prohibited them from visiting this country.
At the same time, the President began consultations with other members of the U.N. Security Council on mandatory trade and economic sanctions to replace a largely ineffective embargo imposed by the Organization of American States immediately after Aristide was overthrown in September, 1991.
Those new measures, expected to block most commerce, including that in oil and other sources of energy, could shatter the island’s already beleaguered economy.
“The time has come to increase the pressure on the Haitian military, the de facto regime in Haiti, and their supporters,” Clinton said in a written statement.
The Haitian regime criticized Clinton’s action, saying that Haiti’s political tumult is “an internal conflict” and that sanctions will make things worse for the poor, the Associated Press reported.
Administration officials said Clinton decided to make the moves after the junta, headed by Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, reneged on a deal earlier this week that would have begun the process of restoring Aristide to power.
But the President’s action also is timely for U.S. political reasons. The situation in Haiti has been a hot-button issue for the African-American community, which overwhelmingly supports democracy in the island nation and has been urging the Administration to get tough with the junta ever since Clinton took office.
Coming less than 24 hours after Clinton angered much of the same community by withdrawing his nomination of law professor C. Lani Guinier to head the Justice Department’s civil rights division, the action against the junta in Haiti seems intended to placate a constituency that played a key role in Clinton’s November election victory but is becoming increasingly disillusioned.
Randall Robinson, executive director of TransAfrica, an African-American think tank, said that the President’s action on Haiti is “late but still a step in the right direction.”
But he added: “Nothing will atone for the shabby treatment of Lani Guinier. That’s just unforgivable.”
Administration officials admitted that the measures could not, by themselves, force Aristide’s return. Instead, they said, the steps are intended to pressure the military regime to reopen negotiations with U.N. and OAS mediator Dante Caputo and to abide by deals once they are struck.
Many of those targeted by the new travel and economic restrictions own houses and other property in the United States. Officials said about 100 people will be named. But when their families are included, several hundred people would be prohibited from entering the United States.
Under the terms of Clinton’s order, these people will be banned from using or selling their property or engaging in any other business with Americans or other residents of the United States. These individuals, many of them wealthy businessmen, are bitterly opposed to Aristide, who won Haiti’s only free and fair election on a populist platform of economic reform.
Acknowledging that many of the junta’s backers have expressed fear of retaliation if Aristide regains power, Clinton said, “The surest path toward the restoration of democracy in Haiti is a negotiated solution that assures the safety of all parties.”
He said the U.S. government will urge both Aristide and the junta to bargain in good faith.
In the early months after the coup, the George Bush Administration froze the assets in the United States of the Haitian government but not of individuals. It also suspended the visas of 29 Haitians accused of involvement in the coup. But the list was steadily reduced so that only one visa now remains suspended under the original order.
To supplement Clinton’s actions Friday, OAS foreign ministers will announce at a meeting next week in Managua, Nicaragua, that the OAS will tighten the generally ineffective regional embargo. Some teeth already have been added to the sanctions. At least two freighters heading for Haiti have been intercepted and turned aside by U.S. Coast Guard cutters, according to Haitian business sources.
But the Clinton proclamation and the OAS actions are seen as preliminary and largely symbolic gestures to warn the Haitian military and its civilian-front government that time is running out.
What is important is the expected action by the U.N. Security Council: a near-total economic embargo.
Described by diplomats as “a blunt instrument” designed to bludgeon the Haitians into accepting a negotiated end to the crisis, the sanctions would be enforced by a naval flotilla led by and composed primarily of U.S. ships.
If the U.N. embargo does take effect, experts in Haiti think it will take at least six weeks before the country feels the full measure of the sanctions.
A tanker arrived in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday with enough oil and gasoline for three weeks, adding to an existing stock of three weeks. In addition, the military and private businesses have been stockpiling their own supplies in recent weeks, making it possible to keep a minimal supply of energy for perhaps two months, the experts said.
Kempster reported from Washington and Freed from Port-au-Prince.