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U.S. APPROACH TO HAITI IS CRUEL



Published: Sat, February 15, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



U.S. APPROACH TO HAITI IS CRUEL

Miami Herald: The federal government, in a recent report, acknowledged that the Haitian government had "failed demonstrably" to fight drug trafficking. The report noted that President Jean-Bertrand Aristide even failed to remove several police officers linked to drugs who were identified by U.S. anti-drug agents. The report is just the latest sign of Haiti's failed political system.

Nevertheless, the U.S. government continues to insist that the dysfunctional Aristide government cooperate with the United States in the fight against drugs. That's not going to happen without a different approach that includes helping the government overcome its ineptness.

The same can be said of the Bush administration's policy toward Haitian asylum seekers. The policy is designed to discourage people from leaving the island. But the White House does little to change the conditions that force Haitians to flee their country. Thus, in both instances, the administration's goals are at odds with its actions.

Violent political turmoil

Despite Aristide's early promise as a populist, democratic leader, his government has slipped into a familiar pattern of violent political turmoil that has been the hallmark of nearly every government since Haiti achieved independence almost 200 years ago.

The signs of political unrest are everywhere. Political violence dominates every aspect of Haitian life, from cradle to grave. In a report released Thursday, "Refugee Policy Adrift," the Women's Commission for Refugee Women & amp; Children says that U.S. policy is making Haiti's bad situation worse. The report documents the slow collapse of Haiti's fledgling democracy, marked by an escalation in recent years in political violence and human-rights abuses. The upheaval is creating a crisis that could lead to an exodus of Haitians from the island, warns the report.

Yet, U.S. policy punishes Haitians fleeing the violence with interdictions, arbitrary and lengthy detentions, expedited hearings and denial of full access to the U.S. asylum process. The report notes that Haitian women and children refugees have often been subjected to the same harsh treatments as men. Floridians already are familiar with the details that support the report's conclusion. More than 200 Haitians picked up since December 2001 remain in detention; only a handful have been granted asylum.

At the same time the White House refuses to offer Haitians or the Haitian government anything other than token assistance. In addition to being the wrong approach, the U.S. policy is discriminatory. No other asylum seekers are subjected to the same treatment as Haitians.

It's true that some refugees may be fleeing Haiti because of its desperate poverty. But political violence has increased dramatically, and many refugees flee for fear of government persecution, just as they do in Cuba, Venezuela and other countries.

The U.S. policy is cruel, duplicitous and wrong. Congress and the Bush administration should review and fix the policy so that it matches U.S. goals for transparency and democracy.




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