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US Haiti Policy Needs to Rally Support in Haiti


REP. Lee Hamilton (D) of Indiana says a credible threat of force is needed to prod Haiti's military leaders toward democratic reforms and restore exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power.

Mr. Hamilton, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, says several steps should be taken before sending a multinational force into Haiti. Those steps should include tightening the trade embargo, seizing the assets of its military leaders, and restricting the leaders' freedom to travel abroad.

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At a Monitor breakfast meeting with reporters, Hamilton suggested one vital element is missing in both White House and Aristide policies toward Haiti. That is their failure to develop a political strategy to rally support inside that nation.

Mr. Aristide needs to broaden his base by reaching out to other democratic elements within Haiti, he suggests.

The possible use of military force came to the fore on Tuesday when President Clinton warned Haiti's current leaders that his patience had run out - and that military intervention was now a possibility.

Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia, the Republican House whip, responded yesterday morning that such intervention would be ``a major mistake'' at a time when the US defense budget was being cut.

Hamilton said force ``shouldn't be used at this time,'' but that it must remain a live option. Sentiment on Capitol Hill opposes force for the moment, he says. Militarily, the chairman says the biggest problem with intervention is ``you not only have to get them [the troops] in, you have to get them out.''

Eliminating armed resistance from the Haitian military would be fairly straightforward, Hamilton said.

But there is a danger that United States or United Nations forces, or those sponsored by the Organization of American States (OAS), could become bogged down indefinitely.

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Domestically, one of the most difficult aspects of US policy toward Haiti involves refugees. In most cases, the Coast Guard sends them back before they reach US waters.

Hamilton says this policy is not intended to be racist. Refugee policy was developed during the cold war and generally favors people fleeing communism (like Cubans), not military oppression (like Haitians).

He says the US needs other refugee options, such as directing them toward third countries. Allowing thousands of Haitians to land in Florida ``would create tremendous problems.''

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