December 5, 1991
As the chairman of the Committee on International Policy of the U.S. Catholic Conference, I write to you with a sense of urgency about the deteriorating situation in Haiti.
On Nov. 21, the Catholic bishops of Haiti issued a major statement on the crisis their country is experiencing, with special emphasis on the human suffering caused by the trade embargo. Enclosed is a copy both of the original French and our translation.
The coup and the embargo which followed are severely impacting the most vulnerable sectors of the population. A basic sense of compassion demands that effective action be undertaken to alleviate this suffering.
I believe we are all agreed that the solution to the crisis is to be found in the restoration of the democratic process through effective negotiation between the duly elected and the de facto powers in Haiti. All sectors in Haiti must work to reach agreement to preserve the constitution and to relieve the suffering of the nation.
Actions by the international community, especially by the Organization of American States and by our country as part of the OAS, can well be appropriate means to encourage this negotiation process. No matter what measures are adopted, however, humanitarian concern for the most innocent and vulnerable, for the children, the elderly, the infirm, must be a part of any just policy.
Mr. Secretary, I recognize that the presidents executive order of Oct. 28 mandating the embargo allowed for humanitarian exemptions, especially regarding food, medicine and medical supplies. Nevertheless, the harsh reality of Haiti today is that even food-relief programs such as those administered by Catholic Relief Services and other non-governmental organizations are barely able to function, only in the cities, and are quickly coming to a standstill.
Thousands are daily put at greater risk, and if ways are not found very soon to overcome the obstacles to distribution of such aid a major human tragedy looms before us. Having put the trade embargo in place, the community of American states, and especially our own country, must now take steps to assure that the humanitarian exemptions can in fact be realized.
We must also redouble our efforts to guarantee respect for the Haitian constitution and for genuine democracy as we seek to support the negotiations and ensure that the coup and the embargo give way to full respect for political and human rights in Haiti.
We urge you to join with the foreign ministers of the other American states in crafting an appropriate inter-American response to this crisis, one that protects democracy without causing unnecessary suffering to the innocent people of Haiti.
With gratitude for your attention to this critical matter, I remain,
Most Reverend John, R. Roach