U.S. Reacts to Haiti Refugees’ Unrest : Caribbean: Pentagon hopes to prevent repeat of riot at naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by relieving boredom.
The Clinton Administration, conceding that there is “growing unrest” among Haitian refugees held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, announced measures Tuesday aimed at avoiding a repetition of a weekend riot there.
Pentagon officials said efforts are under way to provide more soccer facilities and educational opportunities to help Haitians relieve their boredom and frustration. And the Army is rushing civil affairs experts to the site to help deal with the unrest.
The developments followed the Defense Department’s belated disclosure Monday that 750 of 15,000 Haitians now housed at Guantanamo climbed over barbed-wire fences Saturday and peppered U.S. military police with rocks, injuring 20 MPs and 45 Haitians.
In a separate move, Reuters news service reported that the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, has agreed to permit U.S. officials to transport as many as 2,000 Haitians through its territory so they can travel to the United States. About 800 Haitians already have been approved for refugee status.
The Haitians had been unable to leave Haiti because of opposition from the country’s military government and because of a U.N.-imposed economic embargo that has blocked all commercial flights into and out of Haiti.
The frustration among Haitians at Guantanamo Bay recalls a similar occurrence during the George Bush Administration. The problem was resolved then, as officials are trying to resolve it now, when the Haitians were provided with more to do.
Clinton Administration officials said the military had been preparing to provide many of the same services when the violence erupted but was unable to get necessary equipment to the base in time.
The Administration has set up the facilities in Guantanamo to serve as a “haven” temporarily housing Haitians who have tried to flee their island but who do not have permission to immigrate to the United States.
Under the Administration’s latest policy, the only way Haitians can obtain such permission is to apply in Haiti. Those picked up by authorities at sea are afforded protection in a haven but are not given refugee status.
Authorities said the discontent among Haitians is intensifying because there are 15,000 or so of them in the enclave. During the Bush Administration, the total was only about 6,000.
Dennis Boxx, a Pentagon spokesman, conceded Tuesday that “what you see is just a growing unrest that has boiled over, and we are trying to contend with that.” He said there had been a similar incident July 31 but that no one was injured then.
Despite Saturday’s disturbances, Boxx ruled out any suggestion that the military would seek to impose more discipline in the enclave. “This is a temporary safe haven--it is not a jail or a prison,” he said.
The impact of Saturday’s riot was heightened because the incident was not reported to top Administration policy-makers until late Monday, after reports had begun to show up in the media. The disturbance lasted about four hours--from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Boxx said Defense Secretary William J. Perry, who was kept in the dark about the Saturday melee, was “very unhappy” about the military’s failure to inform top officials and sent word down the chain of command.
Meanwhile, the United States said it has temporarily closed its refugee centers in the provincial cities of Cap-Haitien and Les Cayes until facilities are set up for sending Haitians who have been approved for U.S. residency through the Dominican Republic.
Separately, Nicaragua’s top general, Humberto Ortega, announced Tuesday after a meeting with a U.S. envoy in Managua that his country would be willing to take part in a multinational peacekeeping force in Haiti if the junta there is ousted but would not be part of an initial invasion force.
The session was part of an effort by the Administration to muster an international coalition to provide peacekeeping troops in Haiti once the junta has been toppled. Although no decisions have been made, U.S. forces would launch any initial invasion.
The U.N. Security Council has authorized an invasion of the island to restore exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power. U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said Tuesday that he will delegate an envoy to warn Haiti’s military rulers to step down voluntarily or face a U.S. invasion. Boutros-Ghali spoke in Moncton, Canada, where he was attending the 10-day Acadian World Congress.
The Washington Post reported U.S. officials as saying the envoy will not negotiate with the officers, but neither will he immediately deliver a deadline for them to leave.
In discussing Saturday’s violence, the Defense Department said two of the 20 MPs injured remained hospitalized Tuesday for treatment of cuts while the 18 others had been released. The injuries to the 45 Haitians were described as minor.