Human rights abuses in Haiti have become so flagrant that the State Department is withholding the annual certification required for release of government-to-government U.S. aid, department officials said yesterday.
More than $7 million of a $53 million aid package for fiscal 1986 is being held back by the delay in certification, which in recent years has been issued in mid-January. "As we look at the facts of what is going on there, I don't think those facts would support the determination right now," a senior official said.
The rest of the funds flow to poor Haitians through private voluntary organizations and would not be subject to the legal restrictions on aid to the government, according to a legal opinion obtained by the Congressional Black Caucus, which has taken a major interest in Haiti.
The caucus recently wrote to U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Clayton E. McManaway Jr. urging that certification be withheld. Under current law, aid is released only if the president determines that Haiti is continuing to cooperate in halting illegal Haitian emigration to the United States and in implementing U.S. aid programs, and is "making progress toward improving the human rights situation in Haiti."
"Obviously that third one is the obstacle in the present circumstances," the State Department official said. He stressed, however, that no final decision has been taken to deny certification, which could be made any time during this fiscal year, triggering the release of aid.
The delay is nevertheless seen as a strong signal to Haiti of growing U.S. concern that reforms be undertaken.
Demonstrators protesting against president-for-life Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier have clashed violently with government troops in the provincial cities of Cap Haitien, Gonaives and Les Cayes over the past several weeks. The department has warned Americans against traveling in those areas and has said it is "watching the situation closely," although no general advisory against travel has been issued.
Opposition politicians have accused Duvalier and his associates of raiding the treasury, putting millions of dollars into private bank accounts abroad, violently silencing critics and ruining Haiti's economy and agricultural base through mismanagement and corruption.
Options reportedly under consideration at high levels of the Reagan administration range from a hands-off approach that would "allow Duvalier to crash of his own weight," as one insider put it, to aiding opposition forces with both overt and covert funding.
The Haitian armed forces are reportedly divided in their support for Duvalier and some have allegedly indicated that they would welcome U.S. intervention, according to congressional and diplomatic sources.