U.S. starts embargo on Haiti Move sparks panic in Haitian business circles.

October 11, 1991|By Boston Globe

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The United States, responding swiftly to an appeal from the Organization of American States, has begun a full-scale economic embargo against Haiti in hope of reversing the military ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Haitian business leaders, already beginning to panic, caucused around the clock yesterday. Several industrial groups appeared likely to agree to support Aristide's return under a number of restrictive conditions.

The Bush administration also urged all non-essential U.S. government employees and dependents to leave Haiti, encouraged other Americans to do the same and began shutting down its large aid mission in the hemisphere's poorest nation.

U.S. diplomats said the United States planned to seize the assets of any "sanction busters," or individuals found to financially support the provisional government installed Tuesday, which U.S. Ambassador Alvin Adams called "a travesty."

"Certain people need to get this message," Adams told a group of reporters yesterday.

He said the United States intended to copy its 1989 embargo against Panama, during which it seized foreign accounts of individuals who backed Gen. Manuel Noriega.

In a parallel move likely to have an especially fast and devastating impact on the economy, Venezuela and Mexico have announced that they are cutting off oil shipments to Haiti, which depends on those countries for virtually all its oil.

In addition, the OAS said Wednesday that it would send a large international civilian team to Haiti to monitor human rights, preserve political peace and try to stimulate dialogue with military and civilian leaders on permitting Aristide's return.

Several leading businessmen said they believed the economy would collapse within three weeks if a complete embargo was imposed. But diplomats said it might be easy for businesses to skirt the sanctions in a country where commercial contraband was a way of life.

Most members of Haiti's tiny elite strongly oppose Aristide, a radical priest who champions the poor and chastises the rich. But with their livelihoods at stake, some industrial groups said they might be willing to accept his return.

"We have to think in the long term," said Raymond Lafontant, executive director of the National Association of Haitian Industries. "If we are to work with Haitians, we want them to be relaxed, not always thinking about Aristide, if the country is to move ahead."

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