The U.S. military hopes it won't have to deal with huge numbers of Haitians fleeing their country under President Clinton's latest policy but stands ready if necessary, officials say.
About a half-dozen Navy ships are already in waters around Haiti to enforce U.N. sanctions, but no other military craft are being sent in, a military spokesman said Monday."We are ready to do whatever is required of us," said Capt. Jeff Zakem, a spokesman for the U.S. Atlantic Command, which is responsible for the region.
In 1991, U.S. Coast Guard cutters and Navy ships plucked thousands of Haitian boat people from the seas as they fled the country in the aftermath of the military coup that toppled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Some attempt was made to process the Haitians on board, but the ships were overwhelmed and the refugees were instead taken to Guantanamo.
The base was used as a Haitian refugee camp until federal courts ended the practice.
Now the Clinton administration says it will screen refugees on ships at sea and is seeking assistance from other nations to help. In general, refugees seeking asylum because of political persecution can be eligible, but those trying to get to the United States because of poor economic conditions at home are not.