Exemptions designed to help the suffering poor here survive tougher U.N. sanctions that 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 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,” said an official of a large private relief agency, “because they now control the import of the food exempted by the sanctions.”
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-Joseph 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 currency exchange, an American 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 Aristide. But the sanctions, instead, have hurt the 95% of Haitians who live in extreme poverty.
The sanctions have enriched army officers and their civilian allies through government 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 who are supposed to be punished are being allowed to get even richer.”
A diplomat noted: “Keep in mind, Haiti now imports most of its basic food needs, even rice, beans and sugar, and the Mevs (and) Brandts . . . have been careful to establish their control over these products, which include the importation of normal fresh and packaged foods to be sold commercially here. So, even if the embargo shuts down everything else they operate, they still get rich.”
Under the new sanctions, the military-supporting elite “may not be able to fly to Miami,” another official said. “But I don’t think they care.”
To illustrate how the rich get richer by flouting sanctions, Haitian experts, American officials and other diplomats pointed to the activities of civilian front men for Francois, who controls the smuggling of gasoline and other fuel oils.
They said a major gas smuggler is Gerald Caroli, who lives in the southern seaside town of Jacmel and is a longtime associate of Francois and other military officers.
Caroli, they said, has been responsible for smuggling millions of gallons of fuel from the 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%, experts said. They said he has restored 40% of the fuel supply used by Haiti before the coup.
Closing the Dominican border is crucial to enforcement. But this is a doubtful prospect, U.S. Embassy officials say. Even if it happens, several army officers, financed by civilian allies, have purchased small ships to continue smuggling gas and other banned items.
“They are betting that these ships will be small enough and run close enough to shore to escape detection or capture,” one Haitian expert said.
Caroli’s major clients include the U.S. Embassy, which has bought so much black market gas for its generators and vehicles--including private cars of American diplomats--that its budget is at least $300,000 in the red, State Department officials in Washington said.
“The situation is so serious,” an official here said, “that (they) may be forced to cut the size of the embassy staff.”
American sources said the huge bills reflect excessive, possibly abusive use of gas from the black market. It supplies almost all who drive here--including foreign journalists--since the only non-government humanitarian groups, such as National Catholic Relief Services and CARE, are exempt from the sanctions.
“When the problem was one of availability, (embassy staffers) were told they could have almost no gas for personal cars and very limited amounts for home use (in generators),” a source said. “Much of the embassy was dark. But since the smuggling made it available, the only problem was cost"--about $10 to $12 per gallon.
“There were senior officials who were running their home generators as much as 16 hours a day,” the source said, adding that “diplomats were permitted 10 gallons a week for their personal cars. There was a mini-scandal around here.”
Embassy spokesman Stanley Shrager said he would investigate the allegations of abuses of black market fuel, but after four days he had offered no response.