WASHINGTON - Despite heightened repression and an upsurge in Haitian boat people, the Clinton administration contends more time is needed to allow economic sanctions to bring Haiti's military leaders to heel.
Secretary of State Warren Christopher faced questioning on the Haiti policy at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today.
And yesterday, Defense Secretary William Perry played down talk of a U.S. invasion to restore democracy in Haiti, which has been under military control since elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted by a coup in September 1991.
"I think the pressure on the Haitian military leaders is increasing very substantially as a result of the increased sanctions that we've taken," Perry said at a news conference.
"I think we should continue to believe that we should give some time to see that process work itself out and I think we may see some very substantial results from that," he said. "The conventional wisdom is that sanctions cannot be effective, that they cannot force governments to change their actions. This may be a counter-example."
The administration tightened the international sanctions yesterday by revoking the visas of most Haitians hoping to travel to the United States. The move was largely symbolic, however, because President Clinton banned commercial air traffic between the United States and Haiti late last week.
In the meantime, the administration is struggling against a tide
of Haitians desperate for U.S. asylum, and Clinton is housing them at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Hundreds of Haitian boat people were diverted yesterday to a new tent city at Guantanamo, and hundreds more fled their troubled Caribbean nation.
Over the past six days, Coast Guard cutters and Navy warships have intercepted more than 3,300 Haitians fleeing economic collapse and political repression in their army-run country.
The upsurge in boat people was touched off by Clinton's decision to give fleeing Haitians a chance to apply for political asylum for the first time since President Bush halted the practice in May 1992.
William Gray, U.S. special envoy on Haiti, said yesterday that about 20 percent to 30 percent of applicants are being granted refugee status, up from less than 10 percent in earlier months.
He attributed the increase in successful applications to "a continuing deterioration of the human-rights situation."
Gray also blamed human-rights problems for the increase in refugees.
The Senate, after a five-hour debate yesterday, rejected a proposal to require Clinton to obtain advance authorization from Congress before taking any military action in Haiti.
The Senate instead approved a non-binding resolution that said the president should consult with and seek the approval of Congress before committing U.S. troops in Haiti.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said it had refused permission for an Air France jetliner to fly over American air space to Haiti, but the French airline denied the claim.
FAA air-traffic controllers in Atlanta received a request from the airliner Tuesday to pass through U.S. air space over Puerto Rico.
Officials in Washington "were unwilling to make that happen," FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said.
The flight, Air France 8442 from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe to Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, was reportedly forced to detour around Puerto Rico to stay in international airspace, delaying its arrival nearly an hour.
Air France, however, denied it was refused the right to fly over American air space or that it was forced to make a detour. Spokesman Mathieu Dousset said the plane was delayed 90 minutes "because the Americans were slow in giving their accord."
State-owned Air France, which operates three flights a week to and from the Haitian capital, is the only commercial airline that has refused to go along with the travel ban.