The Congressional Black Caucus, using unusually blunt language, called on President Clinton yesterday to abandon his policy toward Haiti and support a caucus plan for tougher action to restore President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power.
"We are upset, we are indignant and we are declaring war on a racist policy," said Rep. Major R. Owens (D-N.Y.), head of a caucus task force on Haiti and whose district includes a large concentration of Haitians. Owens said the "war" would involve mobilizing churches and engaging in civil disobedience, including a national day of protest at federal facilities. "This is a serious matter," he said.
Caucus members also called for the resignation of the administration's special envoy to Haiti, Lawrence A. Pezzullo, saying he had been ineffective.
In a letter to Clinton and in legislation introduced yesterday, the caucus outlined 11 steps it said the administration should take. They include a commercial and trade embargo on Haiti except for food and medicine, severing all air links to the Caribbean nation, denying visas to Haitian military leaders and freezing their assets, urging deployment of a multinational border patrol between Haiti and the Dominican Republic to crack down on violations of existing sanctions and halting the interdiction and summary repatriation of Haitian refugees.
The State Department responded that Haitian military dictators -- not administration policies -- are responsible for the continued unrest in Haiti. "They are the ones that are blocking the implementation of accords that have been agreed to and they are the ones responsible for the conditions that now exist ... for the citizens of Haiti," said spokesman Michael McCurry.
There have been reports of murders, widespread torture and rapes of civilians by the military.
Also, responding to criticisms that U.S. policy for accepting Haitian political refugees was "racist," McCurry maintained that few countries had more refugees to emigrate legally to the United States than Haiti during the last 14 years. According to another official, of the 119,482 refugees brought into the United States last year, the overwhelming majority were from the former Soviet Union and Southeast Asia; 2,814 were from Cuba; 2,651 from Eastern Europe, and 1,307 from Haiti.
The administration has urged Aristide to name a prime minister to represent him in Port-au-Prince to establish a broad-based government to pave the way for his return. Aristide has rejected that approach because the proposal does not include a date for his return and because he fears his political foes will take advantage of that situation to undercut his authority.
Black caucus members and other Democratic lawmakers concerned about Clinton's Haitian policy were scheduled to meet yesterday with the president, but the meeting was postponed. At a news conference yesterday, caucus members were uncharacteristically biting in their criticism of Clinton over Haiti. Some suggested the administration could pay a political price for not taking more decisive steps to remove Haiti's regime.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), citing efforts by CIA officials to paint Aristide "as unstable," said she had this message for the administration: "We have no faith in you. As a matter of fact, we're suspicious of you."
"We are hoping that the White House understands on this issue that the Congressional Black Caucus speaks with one voice," said Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), the caucus chairman. "We're not prepared to wait any longer."