Haiti sanctions reportedly aid rich

May 13, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Exemptions designed to help the suffering poor here survive tougher United Nations sanctions that will take effect soon already are being subverted for "enormous profits" by the very targets of the international crackdown, diplomats and humanitarian aid experts say.

Among the unintended benefactors are some of the richest, most powerful members of the Haitian elite. They supported the 1991 coup that overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and have financially backed the military since.

"The people the embargo is supposed to drive out of power are already getting rich and will get even richer because they now control the import of the food exempted by the sanctions," said an official of a large private relief agency.

According to a U.N. Security Council resolution passed last Friday, the only trade that will be allowed here, starting May 21, will be in food and humanitarian-related items. And while the resolution calls for freezing assets and banning international travel for the military and its civilian allies, there are no provisions to prevent them from importing items exempted from sanctions.

Diplomats and other foreign officials identify the Mev family, one of Haiti's richest and the most powerful allies of those who led the coup, as controlling the import of sugar, vegetable oil and much of the propane permitted for cooking.

It has already been disclosed that they are involved in the cement business with Lt. Col. Michel Francois, the national police chief who played a crucial role in the 1991 coup and who has been named by U.N. officials as being responsible for severe, large-scale human rights abuses.

The Brandt family -- identified by the United States as major supporters of the coup -- "dominate the import of nearly all the wheat and rice brought into the country" as well as controlling the currency exchange, a U.S. official said.

Haiti has been subject to various levels of sanctions since the coup, all measures aimed at driving out the military regime and restoring Father Aristide. But the sanctions, instead, have hurt the 95 percent of Haitians who live in extreme poverty.

The sanctions have enriched army officers and their civilian allies through corruption and their control of the extensive smuggling, particularly in gasoline, that has grown out of the usually weak, incomplete measures imposed on Haiti by the international community.

In theory, the tougher sanctions ordered last week by the U.N. Security Council will end such profiteering by shutting down all trade, except for food and humanitarian aid. "These items are exempt," said an official of one of the largest private relief agencies, "so the very people are supposed to be punished are being allowed to get even richer."

To illustrate how the rich get richer by flouting sanctions, Haitian experts, U.S. officials and other diplomats pointed to a Michel Francois associate, Gerald Caroli. They say he has been responsible for smuggling millions of gallons of fuel from neighboring Dominican Republic since U.N. sanctions on importing gas in Haiti took effect last October. His gross profits from his operations since then have gone as high as 400 percent, experts said.

The United States just completed a huge military exercise that simulated an invasion of Haiti, the Boston Globe reported today.

The two-week exercise involved 44,000 military personnel, including Marines and Army Special Forces, as well as jet fighters, helicopters, amphibious vessels and a submarine, the paper said, citing unidentified military sources.

The newspaper noted that U.S. military exercises in the Caribbean are relatively routine. But unidentified military sources told the Globe that the operation had been planned with Haiti in mind.

An unidentified White House official told the newspaper yesterday that the Clinton administration had not yet decided whether force was necessary.

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