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Raising Stakes in Haiti

IT is heartening to hear that Latin American and Caribbean countries are telling Washington quietly that they will support military intervention in Haiti if economic sanctions fail to oust the military-backed government and restore President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power.

We hope such intervention proves unnecessary. The Clinton administration still has moves it can and should make short of armed force. But the increasing support for intervention is a signal to Port-au-Prince - as well as to the neighboring Dominican Republic - that dwindling patience with its intransigence is not peculiar to the United States.

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Not surprisingly, Haiti's more-immediate neighbors are among the most vocal in supporting eventual military intervention. Venezuela and Argentina also are said to back force if it becomes necessary. Others, such as Mexico and Brazil, so far refuse to support armed intervention.

Sentiment in the region is shifting for several reasons:

* A growing number of governments see that the US is trying to exhaust diplomatic and economic measures first - a perception that could help the White House if it finally calls for military intervention.

* While noting the differences between them and Haiti, these countries also are concerned that allowing the military coup in Haiti to succeed could threaten their fledgling democracies.

* And they recognize that if the US acts alone, it will undermine their efforts to engage Washington in the region through consensus rather than through the US wielding brute force.

Unfortunately, only now does the administration seem to have the potential to regain some tactical advantage in the standoff. Stiff sanctions affecting Haiti's wealthy pro-Army supporters should have been applied much sooner. Strictures applied last week - ending commercial flights between the US and Haiti and banning the transfer of funds between the two countries - need to be expanded to a ban on issuing visas to all Haitians.

The US and others in the region also should lean on the Dominican Republic to truly close its border, whose porosity has enriched Haitian and Dominican officials.

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One approach: Ensure a fair recount after last month's elections in the Dominican Republic. President Joaquin Balaguer Ricardo, considered by some to be one of the most corrupt leaders in Latin America, was re- elected last month in balloting widely deemed fraudulent. His winning margin: roughly 1 percent. His reformist opponent, Jose Fransisco Pena Gomez, is seen as more willing to help on sanctions.

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