Collision Course on Repatriations of Boat People?
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government may be on a collision course with the United States over what to do about Haitian boat people.
A treaty that allowed U.S. Coast Guard cutters to intercept Haitians in international waters has expired. Washington wants it renewed, but Haiti doesn’t.
``We do not intend to renew the contract concluded between the governments of Jean-Claude Duvalier and the United States which might permit the forcible repatriation of Haitian boat people,″ Yvon Neptune, a presidential spokesman, told the Haitian Press Agency on Friday.
But U.S. Embassy spokesman Stan Schrager said Washington ``would be interested in discussing the possibility of a new repatriation treaty.″
The growing dispute follows the April 8 repatriation of 138 Haitian boat people who had managed to get their overloaded craft within 25 miles of Miami Beach before the U.S. Coast Guard picked them up.
It was the first Coast Guard interception since the treaty expired in October. It was also a fresh reminder of the tens of thousands of Haitians who were intercepted off U.S. shores and returned home during the three years of military rule that followed the September 1991 ouster of Aristide.
The Haitian Foreign Ministry denied a U.S. statement that it had approved the latest repatriation.
``There were no negotiations or agreement with the U.S. government on the modality of this repatriation. The Foreign Ministry had simply been notified,″ it said, adding that it ``firmly and categorically″ opposes forcible returns.
But Schrager said that Foreign Ministry officials ``were aware of it, and they did not oppose it. They concurred in what we were going to do.″
One political observer suggested that with the Haitian economy in ruins and foreign aid slow in coming, the government may be using the possibility of a new wave of boat people as a bargaining chip with Washington.
``The government ... will make concessions concerning the flow of refugees if the United States makes political and financial concessions,″ said Michel Soukar, a popular local commentator.
In April 1994, while still in exile, Aristide gave six months’ notice he would repeal the treaty, which had been the legal foundation for the repatriations.
Duvalier signed the treaty in 1981, five years before he was forced into exile. Aristide was restored to power in October following a U.S. intervention.
Since January, more than 2,000 Haitians who were picked up before Aristide was restored to power have been forcibly repatriated from the Bahamas.