Latin American Leaders Shift toward Going along with a US Invasion of Haiti

Article excerpt

WHEN he was asked in a press conference last week why Haiti was important to the United States, President Clinton responded with words that have usually sent shivers down Latin American backs: "We have an interest in stabilizing those democracies that are in our hemisphere."

For more than a century such lofty words have been invoked by US presidents to justify unlofty behavior: at least a dozen military interventions, some appended by harsh occupations, undertaken to advance the US's own interests in the hemisphere. In a sign of changing times, Latin American leaders appear to be taking the words of the current US president at face value. As Mr. Clinton sizes up the next possible US invasion in the hemisphere - to topple Haiti's military junta - the opposition that would once have been reflexive in Latin America has given way to ambivalence.

"History says no, but the reality of the situation is that we may have to accept it," says a senior diplomat at the Organization of American States of military intervention, now considered likely, to restore exiled Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The dilemma the Haitian crisis poses in Latin America was highlighted on July 31 when Argentina voted in favor of and Brazil against the UN resolution authorizing a US-led invasion of Haiti.

On one hand, Latin American leaders have lost patience with the Haitian junta, whose subversion of democracy sets a bad precedent in the hemisphere. On the other hand, few Latin governments wish to see a precedent for later US intervention, even in the name of preserving democracy and human rights.

On one hand, Latin Americans have historically thought in terms of solidarity against their powerful neighbor to the north. …