Black Caucus Split on Invasion; Many Express Reservations

From a Times Staff Writer

Exercising its legislative clout, the Congressional Black Caucus succeeded last spring in persuading President Clinton to focus more aggressively on restoring democracy to Haiti. Since then, however, Clinton has been less successful in persuading the caucus that Haitian democracy is worth the loss of American life.

It is one measure of the lack of congressional support for a U.S. invasion of Haiti that even the 38 members of the Black Caucus, who earlier criticized Clinton for not acting forcefully enough to oust the Haitian military junta, are now almost evenly divided over the invasion.

The traditional anti-war sentiment of many of its members, strong opposition by many of their constituents and the fear--shared by most members of Congress--that restoring democracy to Haiti will entail a long and costly commitment by U.S. forces instead have convinced many caucus members that the President has “embraced our cause somewhat too enthusiastically,” according to one member who requested anonymity.

“The caucus is united on restoring democracy to Haiti but is divided over how to do it,” said Dan Wilson, a spokesman for Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), the group’s chairman, who says that an invasion at this time is premature. “A few members are still undecided, but right now it’s close to being an even split.”


Opponents include Rep. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Oakland), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and one of the caucus’s most liberal members, and Rep. Gary Franks of Connecticut, its only Republican and most conservative member.

Members acknowledge that, after criticizing Clinton for ignoring Haiti, their failure to support him now has exposed the caucus to criticism from the President’s allies. But there has been much less of that than they feared, largely because Clinton’s decision to invade has so little support on Capitol Hill.

“Like everyone else, I fear that it will be hard to get out of Haiti once we get in,” said caucus member Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). “My constituents are concerned about the violation of human rights there, but the great majority of people calling in from my district are also saying, ‘Don’t send our young men in there.’ ”