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Flexibility on Haiti

HAITI'S military forces still have the upper hand while the Clinton administration seeks more flexibility from both President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and military leaders led by Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras.

The exiled president, a Roman Catholic priest elected by a majority of almost 65 percent of Haitian voters, should by rights be presiding over the impoverished Caribbean nation. But this is not what the Haitian generals and police want, and they show no sign yet of turning from force to reason and reconciliation. This has prompted the Clinton administration this week to threaten a wider embargo if Mr. Aristide is not returned to power by Jan. 15.

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Ordinary Haitians continue to endure acute shortages of the most basic human needs - from food to civil rights.

Fortunately, church-related and other relief agencies from other countries continue to provide some aid. But many people are barely hanging on as conditions continue to worsen, and there is no doubt that without an end to the military-political standoff, the situation will deteriorate.

The Clinton administration - working with the United Nations - has sought help from and is being supported diplomatically by Canada, France, and Venezuela in its attempt to return Haiti to some semblance of a viable nation.

In addition, Lawrence Pezullo, US Ambassador to Haiti; Dante Caputo, special envoy for the UN and US; and (until recently) Prime Minister Robert Malval have kept communication lines open between the Army and Aristide, who has demonstrated courage but also inflexibility throughout this series of events. Whether or not Aristide develops an ability to compromise to a degree that makes it hard for his adversaries to brand him as hopelessly intransigent remains to be seen.

Clearly, Mr. Malval felt that the president was not flexible enough to provide room for meaningful dialogue with his adversaries.

Aristide must learn that there are times when a strong leader needs to bend in order to reach a worthy goal. He has only two years left in his five-year term; constitutionally, he cannot serve consecutive terms. Establishing democracy and improving Haiti's fragile economy are challenge enough for anyone. That cause is not well served if Aristide tries to match General Cedras's duplicity with an equal level of obstinancy.

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