Deepening Woe in Haiti: The Haitian people's struggle with destitution and despair looked fierce last January, as the new Clinton Administration had the Coast Guard and Navy continue enforcing a blockade aimed at preventing boatloads of refugees from fleeing to the United States. And their lot looked equally hopeless in December, after a year of international pressure had failed to restore ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power. Aristide--the country's first-ever democratically elected leader--was forced to flee by a September, 1991, military coup, and despite his apparent willingness in the spring to grant an amnesty to the coup leaders, they balked at allowing him to return. In June, an exasperated U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to impose tough sanctions on oil and arms deliveries to the nation and to impose a financial embargo intended to hit not only the military regime but also its backers among the Haitian elite. Within a month that tactic seemed to have been effective: A week of negotiating on Governors Island in New York Harbor produced an agreement between Aristide and military ruler Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras specifying that Aristide could resume office by Oct. 30. But that promise proved illusory. Indeed, when a shipload of U.S. and Canadian advisers arrived in the capital in mid-October, port officials refused to allow it to dock. As the year ended, the United States and the United Nations continued the blockade of nearly all oil products and other strategic goods but had withdrawn active diplomatic involvement in settlement efforts.
Big Chill in El Salvador: Although officially over, the 12-year civil war in El Salvador continued to cast a chill over events there. In March, a U.N.-appointed Commission on Truth issued a scathing report identifying prominent military and Establishment figures as perpetrators of assassinations, massacres and other atrocities during the war. To take one example: The report singled out Gen. Rene Emilio Ponce, who had just resigned as minister of defense, as the officer who ordered the murders of six Jesuit priests in 1989. But at the urging of President Alfredo Cristiani, the National Assembly, dominated by Cristiani's right-wing party, passed a sweeping amnesty law that pardoned all such crimes, and the first men to be freed under the law were two army officers convicted in those murders. In July, Cristiani did complete a purge of the army, as required under the terms of the peace accords ending the war. But in late October, former rebel commander Francisco Velis was assassinated, and his murder raised fears among the left and among U.N. peacekeepers that death squads similar to those that terrorized El Salvador during the 1980s are once again operating--bent on eliminating opposition in advance of nationwide elections scheduled for March.
Closure in Colombia: After escaping from a luxury prison in July, 1992, Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar had been on the run for 16 months. But security forces finally caught up with him in December in his hometown of Medellin, and he died in the resulting shootout. During the previous decade, Escobar had waged a ferocious war with the government in the course of building a cocaine empire that funneled billions of dollars' worth of drugs into the United States and Europe. Tens of thousands of Colombians were killed in that conflict, including judges, journalists, leftist leaders and four presidential candidates.
Crisis Mode in Nicaragua: For nearly a week in August, a double-barreled hostage drama gripped Nicaragua--but it ended without bloodshed. At one point, two sets of kidnapers--rearmed Contra rebels in the north and retired Sandinista soldiers in the capital, Managua--held nearly 80 people captive, including several lawmakers and the vice president. But the two bands of gunmen released their hostages gradually until all were freed. Still, President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro emerged from the episode weaker than ever. She had to turn to former President Daniel Ortega and Roman Catholic Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo to negotiate with the hostage-takers, and both groups were allowed to escape unpunished. Also, she remained unable to count on aid from the United States. That was suspended earlier in the summer, after an explosion underneath an auto body shop on the outskirts of Managua revealed a huge cache of weapons, including antiaircraft missiles, stockpiled by Salvadoran guerrillas in violation of the peace accords that ended El Salvador's civil war.