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US Success in Panama Proves An Invasion Will Work in Haiti

President Clinton and his advisers need look no further than Operation Just Cause for a military prescription for solving the political crisis in Haiti.

The United States invasion of Panama in December 1989 dislodged a military dictator and brought peace to a nation in turmoil.

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No one should be more supportive of military action than former President George Bush, so his recent comments that military intervention in Haiti would be a ``tremendous mistake'' have a partisan ring to them. As president, Mr. Bush sent 10,000 troops to Panama (to join 13,000 already stationed in the Canal Zone) to capture Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega and install a civilian government. Bush and his military advisers faced the same objections now raised against military intervention in Haiti: the difficulty of getting the troops out; the effectiveness of tighter sanctions; failure of past interventions; weak political institutions and little democratic experience; the enigmatic character of the claimant to the presidency; and almost certain condemnation from Latin America and beyond.

Yet Bush acted decisively despite the risks, and a convincing case can be made that both Panama and the US have benefited. Operation Just Cause ended the corrupt military regime and brought General Noriega to justice. US troops installed Guillermo Endara Galimany, the apparent winner of the May 1989 election Noriega had annulled, and helped Mr. Endara abolish the Panamanian Defense Forces and create a new police force.

Then the troops withdrew. Panama has its problems, but the contrast to December 1989 is striking. The country has enjoyed three years of economic growth, and on May 8 Panamanians took the next step in building democracy by voting for a successor to Endara.

The case for intervention in Haiti is even more compelling, and the cause is no less just. We would be helping Haiti liberate itself from a reign of terror and restore the only democratically elected government in its history.

The level of violence is much higher in Haiti than it was in Panama. Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras and Lt. Col. Michel Francois, the two thugs in charge, make Noriega seem almost benign. Because of their egregious human rights violations and profiting from the misery of the Haitian people, Latin American criticism of any US action is likely to be short-lived. It was in Panama.

Militarily, it would not take much to dislodge the Cedras-Francois regime. The Haitian armed forces are poorly equipped and trained - certainly no match for the Panamanian Defense Forces. It is unlikely they would mount any serious resistance.

Politically, the situation is more clear cut in Haiti than it was in Panama. There is a constitutional government, recognized as legitimate throughout the world, which was removed in an unconstitutional and universally condemned manner. We might not select Jean-Bertrand Aristide as our president, but the Haitian people voted overwhelmingly (67.5 percent) for him.

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Once back in office, it is clear Mr. Aristide will need a peacekeeping force to maintain order and advisers to help build democratic political institutions. But the United Nations and the Organization of American States are committed to assisting in Haiti.

FINALLY, the US has significant national interests at stake in Haiti. Until a popularly elected government responsive to the needs of the people is restored in Port-au-Prince, Haitian refugees will continue to risk the perilous journey to south Florida, placing immense burdens on the US Navy, Coast Guard, and public and private social service agencies.

President Clinton is right to pursue military intervention as an option in Haiti. It worked in Panama. If the time comes, Mr. Clinton would be well advised to follow Bush's example and ignore his advice.

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