ISSUE: A year and a half after the coup against Pres. Aristide, the de facto military government is still in power, human rights abuses, although less than before, continue, especially against Aristide followers, over forty thousand Haitians have tried to come here, and the OAS embargo, leaky as some of the refugee boats, still works its hardship mainly on the poor.
Opposition among the military and other elites to Aristide's return to power is as strong as the conviction among others that only he can save the nation; it is a bitterly divided society, socially and politically. The Church, regrettably, is not immune from these divisions, although advocates often over-simplify a complex reality.
THE EMBARGO: Together with the refugee issue, the economic embargo remains a highly contested policy option. Some call for its immediate and total lifting, as being a largely ineffective "blunt instrument" that inevitably wreaks greatest harm on the poor and civilian population. Others call for its tightening, including effective cut-off of all petroleum supply. Neither option seems likely at this time, although its progressive dismantling, as democracy returns, should play a role in an eventual negotiated resolution of the crisis.
U.S. POLICY: Much, probably too much, was expected of the in-coming administration, particularly with regard to refugee processing. The Clinton "blockade" has stemmed the flow some expected to burst on inauguration day and, at least temporarily, has created a new dynamic in the Haiti foreign policy crisis. That it is regarded as an important policy issue by this administration is reflected both in symbols and in a few small but substantive early actions.
The number of OAS observers is now up from 16 to 60 and should be about 200 by March, rising eventually to 400 or even 1,000. This is viewed as a clear signal to the de facto government that the OAS member states are not about to abandon their position out of frustration or fatigue. The visit to Port-au-Prince of Maj. Gen. Sheehan of SOUTHCOM further underscored the essential unity of all US actors; the Pentagon and the State Department appear to be reading from the same page. Rather than altering the embargo now, the US policy is to put increasing emphasis on the OAS observers, and on the diplomatic efforts of dialogue and political pressure, which some believe are beginning to show results. Political methods imply inducements; the assumption is that the business class, the police and military need to be shown that there is something in it for them to allow the restoration of the elected government. Among proposals being discussed are those of promising needed programs of "technical assistance", including institution-building and professionalizing the army and police.
According to OAS Secretary General Baena Soares, the observers can be expected to stay "for several years", probably through the 1996 transfer of power from President Aristide to his elected successor. All that can confidently be said about his actual return to the country is that it should be some time before the end of his term but, like the end of the embargo, it is not imminent.
USCC POSITION: The Conference continues to advocate strongly for more humane and realistic procedures for receiving and processing the refugees, knowing that many who have fully valid claims to political refuge have been forcibly returned. From Catholic teaching on the right of migration, we would argue as well that many of those who might not be able to substantiate their "well-founded fear of persecution" deserve on other grounds to be taken in and given help. MRS has proposed expanded in-country and third country processing and has offered, with other PVOs, to staff them.
We have argued from the start of the trade embargo that humanitarian assistance to the Haitian people must not be blocked and that it include the elements, such as seed and fertilizer, that allow for their survival as farmers; they must not become simply recipients of hand-outs. The US has agreed to this. Catholic Relief Services has also expanded its programs in the country.
We have condemned the illegal coup and called for the restoration of constitutional order. We have maintained on-going dialogue with the Church in Haiti through annual meetings between our two conferences, and have communicated the Haitian bishops' concerns to appropriate authorities. With them, we look forward to the eventual ending of the embargo and the restoration of programs of development and other assistance to the people of Haiti.