Cuba crisis puts Haiti on back burner

THE US is delaying plans for an invasion of Haiti because of the crisis over Cuban boat people.

Senior US officials meet Caribbean leaders in Jamaica today to discuss their contributions to a 15,000-strong largely American invasion force. But an invasion to displace the military government of Lieutenant-General Raoul Cedras will not now take place until the crisis in Cuba has ended, which may not be until after November's congressional elections.

'No one ought to assume that there's been any decline in the urgency of dealing with the situation,' said a White House spokesman. 'A timetable has been set, but I can assure you that we are moving to increase the pressure.'

The administration still hopes that the threat of an invasion and tight economic sanctions will force the Haitian military to leave power voluntarily. But the willingness of the White House to further delay its plans to restore the exiled President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, may convince General Cedras that the threat is empty.

In Port-au-Prince paramilitary gunmen, suspected of working for the government, killed a well- known priest loyal to Fr Aristide. Jean-Marie Vincent was ambushed at his house by gunmen.

Despite Washington's visible reluctance to invade, President Bill Clinton may find he has no alternative policy. Ian Martin of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who formerly headed the human rights monitors in Haiti, said: 'I'm inclined to think that the administration cannot back away from an invasion without admitting total failure. I still think that Clinton will find himself on the brink between invasion and humiliation.'

The Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbot, who has advocated swift action in Haiti, heads the US meeting with Caribbean foreign and defence ministers in Jamaica today. The Caribbean officials are expected to back an invasion and contribute 200 troops as a symbol of their support.

Although the US is militarily prepared for an invasion - two warships with 1,800 troops on board are off Port-au-Prince - the UN has been less successful in getting foreign governments to join a peace-keeping force to be installed after the invasion. Out of more than 40 countries approached only 10 have promised to send forces totalling 2,000 men out of a proposed 6,000-strong UN force.

OTTAWA - Canada believes the US should lift its embargo on Cuba and allow for political change to come about internally, Canadian officials said yesterday, Reuter reports.

Ottawa, which never agreed to US pressure to break with Cuba, wants to see internal reform turn Cuba into a social democracy, preserving health and education polices adopted since the revolution.

(Photograph omitted)