President Clinton told Haiti's wealthy elite Friday there will be no more shopping sprees to Miami and New York until the ruling generals are replaced by a democratic government led by ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Seeking to undermine support for the military junta by the handful of wealthy and powerful Haitian families, Clinton tightened the economic squeeze on Haiti by barring U.S. commercial flights and most financial transactions with American banks."The message is simple: Democracy must be restored, the coup must not endure," Clinton de-clared.
The new sanctions are specifically intended to hurt Haiti's elite, who long have profited despite the nation's poverty and who fear retribution by Aristide and his supporters.
The Clinton administration hopes that the tightening economic vise will persuade them to force out the generals and that U.S. troops won't have to do the job.
Clinton, who badly needs a foreign policy success, has invested his credibility in the renewed effort to support Aristide, the democratically elected president who was ousted by the generals in 1991.
Clinton has deferred a decision about whether to use military force while sanctions take effect, but he is under considerable political pressure from some members of the Congressional Black Caucus and private groups such as Trans-Africa to take military action to return Aristide to Haiti.
The administration appears reluctant to have the current standoff drag on. But the Pentagon remains wary of the dangers of such an operation, and many Latin American nations have opposed military intervention in Haiti.
Events may yet force Clinton's hand if, for instance, there is an escalation of the violence directed at Aristide's supporters or if food riots break out. With hunger and hardship growing on the island nation, the United States is expanding its civilian feeding program by 300,000 to 1.3 million people a day. It also is establishing facilities in Jamaica and in the British-ruled Turks and Caicos Islands to handle refugees fleeing by boat.
The wealthy elite, used to decades of power and privilege, are believed to be making huge profits from virtual monopolies on the food items exempted from the international trade embargo on Haiti. They have stockpiled scarce necessities such as gasoline for their own use, and go on frequent shopping trips to Miami, New York and Paris.
For instance, the wife of Haiti's military ruler, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, made a number of such trips to Miami until her U.S. visa was finally revoked recently, said former Rep. Michael Barnes of Maryland, one of Aristide's advisers.
The new sanctions will bring that kind of travel to an end and add to Haiti's economic isolation.
"What they hurt are those people who are the supporters of the coup, who presently can go and get on an Air France plane, go to Paris, shop and come back, or can get on an American Airlines plane and come to New York," said William Gray, Clinton's special envoy for Haiti. "I assure you that not too many of the poor children or poor people of Haiti are flying American Airlines . . . to Miami or New York."
Clinton signed an executive order that will end U.S. commercial flights to Haiti and immediately bars most financial transactions such as credit-card purchases and wire transfers. Humanitarian aid is excluded, and poor Haitians could continue receiving up to $50 a month from friends and relatives living in the United States.
It wasn't immediately clear if other countries would follow the U.S. lead on the banking ban. Since the U.S. action been expected for weeks, rich Haitians have had time to move their money from U.S. banks.
The cutoff of commercial flight takes effect June 25, a two-week delay to permit Americans to leave Haiti.
Currently, American Airlines carries nearly three-quarters of the air traffic to Haiti, with the rest by four other foreign carriers: Air France, Canadian Airlines, a Dutch carrier and a Dominican Republic carrier, Gray said. Canada announced that it would suspend its scheduled flights.