Sanctions and Sabers

. Neither force nor embargos offer a way out for Haiti.

The United Nations needs to understand that sanctions don't work with countries that don't have anything to export but cheap shoes and hapless refugees.

They rarely work at all, unless followed by a liberal dose of bombs. But in the case of Haiti, the sanctions voted into effect last Friday will hurt the very people the U.N. wants to help--and do little to restore democracy to the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

The sanctions consist of a travel ban on members of the Haitian military and their families, the possible freezing of assets and a ban on non-commercial flights in and out of Haiti. If the junta does not step down by May 21, a total ban on both imports and exports will go into effect.

The sanctions might have some sort of positive effect, however small, if Haiti were the only nation on the island of Hispanola and could be blockaded by U.S. warships. But the shared border with the Dominican Republic makes the sanctions essentially fruitless, except for smugglers.

The current embargo on arms and fuel has created a lucrative black market that now lines the pockets of military and government officials on both sides of the Haitian/Dominican border. Under the expanded embargo, there will simply be more goods to smuggle in and more money to replace that which was frozen in Zurich.

But ordinary Haitian people will feel the effects. "I'm afraid that experience has shown that sanctions applied to totalitarian military regimes invariably do result in suffering for ordinary people," remarked David Hannay, Britain's ambassador to the U.N.

What he failed to add is that experience also shows that sanction have never brought down a totalitarian regime. Sanctioned leaders from Baghdad to Havana can attest to that.

The search for a solution goes on in Washington as well, with less caution and more saber-rattling. The calls from members of Congress for a full scale invasion are as disturbing as the sanctions are useless. "We ought to go in with a large enough force to take them literally overnight, put those thugs in jail," said Rep David Obey (D-Wisconsin), in a gross miscalculation of how long it would take to subdue and pacify a nation of over six million people. Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Maryland), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said he is pleased that President Bill Clinton has put the military option "on the table." He may be pleased that Clinton is paying lip service to affirmative military action, but it gives the rest of the nation, especially the President cause for worry.

An invasion of Haiti is about as attractive a prospect as a rusting Pinto. Unlike our last Caribbean military adventure, Club Grenada '83, there will be actual fighting with many American deaths, and there will be a conspicuous lack of pretty medical students to run up and hug the 82nd Airborne when they "liberate" the island.

Instead, we will have a glut of collateral damage, thousands of sick and starving people, and the unenviable task of creating a democracy in a land that is notorious for its hostility toward and lack of experience with the concept. We would have to station a large force for an indefinite time in hopes of achieving a nearly impossible goal. Not exactly the stuff mid-term election dreams are made of.

Ironically, in their helpless diplomatic flailing to improve the situation, the U.N. has managed to achieve something very difficult; they have made life in Haiti worse. Clinton should resist those in our own land who would have us do the same.

Edward F. Mulkerin III's column appears on alternate Mondays.

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