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Haitian Policy Pendulum Keeps Swinging, Analysts Say : Caribbean: U.S. officials worry about the lack of clear-cut and consistent goals. One calls the operation 'the Haitian Shuffle.'

October 07, 1994|KENNETH FREED | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — "I call it the Haitian Shuffle. You take three steps forward, two back and one to the side. You've moved ahead, but you're slightly off course."

This analysis came from an intelligence source inspired by a Latin dance tune playing on the radio as he discussed the problems and successes of the U.S. military operation here.

"The successes? Well, no Americans have been killed, there is relative order in the streets, and we've convinced the military and their friends that they're through and that (exiled President Jean-Bertrand) Aristide is coming back.

"The problems? There are too many domestic (U.S.) political considerations driving the policy, and some of the assumptions the planners used proved false or misleading. This has meant that each time we do the Haitian Shuffle, we've had difficulty in keeping the real goal in sight."

To this analyst and other sources--including some U.S. officials here who spoke on condition of anonymity--that goal is not just the return of the president but also the establishment of a genuine democracy, one that could survive any repeat of the Sept. 30, 1991, coup against Aristide.

"There should be more to our approach than just getting rid of the (Haitian military) high command and bringing Aristide back and even keeping Haitians from killing each other," the source said.

"We have to build democratic institutions, an effective Parliament, a working justice system, a working bureaucracy. In the rush to meet domestic concerns, we're losing our focus."

"The prospects do not look good," a U.S. official said, "not good at all."

A prime example is the current Parliament and its efforts to deal with an amnesty bill that is supposed to protect the military in exchange for accepting Aristide's return.

Riven with jealousies and competing blocs and considered almost totally corrupt--"You can't buy Parliament," goes a Haitian saying, "but you can certainly rent it for a long time"--the Parliament has struggled with the amnesty issue, despite pressure from all three major outside forces--the military, Aristide and the United States.

An amnesty bill did win unanimous approval from the lower house of Haiti's Parliament late Thursday. But even after the vote, lawmakers were split on what they thought the bill could do. The bill must still be approved by the upper house.

The legislation would most likely simply authorize the president to issue an amnesty as he sees fit on a limited basis, not a general immunity edict that protects the military for all its actions since the coup.

"If we can't get this, with everyone saying they want it," the U.S. official said, "the failure won't bode well. Parliament is out of control. It doesn't represent anything. We have no leverage. There is nothing we can take from them."

Parliament "has to function if this (the American intervention) is going to work," the intelligence source said. "If it doesn't function . . . there isn't much we can do."

Beyond the dismal outlook within Haiti, the major concerns of Haitian and U.S. experts are the narrow and brittle parameters set by what they see as shortsighted American political considerations driving U.S. policy here.

A U.S. official called the domestic emphasis "the hand-off theory. We have to hand off Haiti as quickly as possible to the United Nations, to internationalize Haiti . . . even if it isn't ready."

"President Clinton is fighting opposition in Congress and a skeptical, if not disapproving, public," a Haitian political scientist said. "It is clear he wants to get in and out as quickly as possible, to pass on responsibility to the U.N. and claim that he solved Haiti."

The false assumptions under which the U.S. went into Haiti, according to a U.S. official, included the belief that U.S. commanders would be able to operate with the cooperation of the Haitian military and police, leaving law and order to local authorities.

"This was a . . . change from the basic assumptions we had worked on for several months, at least back to May," the official said.

At that time "the approach had been hard," the official continued, toward the three key Haitian leaders, commander in chief Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, army chief of staff Brig. Gen. Philippe Biamby and Port-au-Prince's police chief, Lt. Col. Michel-Joseph Francois. "They were thugs, stooges, killers," the official said.

"That all changed with the Carter agreement," he said, referring to an accord arranged by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter here on Sept. 18 that called for the resignations of Cedras, Biamby and Francois by Oct. 15 and the subsequent return of Aristide.

The Carter agreement made the U.S. operation "almost a partnership" with Cedras, the official said. "Cooperation sounds good, but it didn't work."

Instead, the Haitians continued the same brutal tactics that had marked their three years of power. This forced the Americans to focus on the short-run problem of ordinary police work, such as crowd control.

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