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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sanctions Hurt Haiti, but Not Rulers

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Just as the Clinton administration planned, its virtually total embargo is destroying Haiti's formal economy, winding the clock back to the time when there was no electricity, refrigeration or medicine, and few jobs outside of working in the fields.


What the U.S.-led sanctions have not done is oust Haiti's intransigent military leaders.


The Clinton administration expresses optimism that the sanctions will force the upper classes to push Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras and his two top aides aside, but business leaders familiar with Haiti's unique economy and culture say the result could be otherwise.


The poorest country in the hemisphere, they say, seems designed to resist sweeping international sanctions that could crush richer nations.


"If all this is to force the business class to force out Cedras, it ain't going work," said Mickey McLaney, owner of the now-shut Royal Haitian Hotel and one of the last American businessmen left in Haiti.


U.S. officials say the military and its backers also seem prepared to allow the misery to continue. "Yes, the sanctions are destroying the poor, the children, but there's no sign of the military crying uncle," said a Haitian economist. "For the majority of Haitians, it's been one meal a day. Now it's one meal every other day. Haitians have had time to get used to this; they've been living like this for months."


Economists and business leaders in Haiti, who never thought the country's economy could last this long, are now saying Haiti may be able to struggle along for months.


Part of the reason is that at least 70 percent of the work force is in the "informal sector," including subsistence agriculture and the military's smuggling of fuel and other contraband.


In the "formal sector," the World Bank has estimated that 1 percent of the Haitian population controls 50 percent of the country's wealth.


"Washington just doesn't get Haiti," said a wealthy businessman here. "Most of Haiti doesn't need gasoline. It doesn't need factories. The army can hang on for months, maybe longer. They'll run the place on mangoes and bananas before they let Aristide come back."


Haiti's most wealthy families are hurting. Their U.S. bank accounts frozen, their traveling days ended by visa cancellations, a ban on commercial flights, and their export factories closed, the elite are feeling the squeeze. But everything is relative.


The French champagne, salmon fillets and imported cheeses still pile atop their tables. Their homes have generators. Their Land Cruisers have full tanks. Haiti's wealthiest families have proven resilient.


Many of them remain fanatically opposed to the return of Aristide, who they contend would unleash mob violence against them.


U.S. officials here say they never intended the sanctions to cause mass riots, but a behind-the-scenes prodding by the powerful. But members of the middle class and the elite say that even if they desired to force the military leadership to step aside, they are powerless to do so.


"We agree the middle class doesn't have the influence it once had because the military has used the last three years to enrich themselves," said U.S. Embassy spokesman Stan Schrager. The days of stipends from the wealthy to the military, for example, are over, he said.


Still, "the effect of the current embargo on the economy has been catastrophic," said an American economist here.


During the weaer embargo from 1991 until 1993, Haiti is said to have lost 100,000 jobs in the private sector. Since the stricter sanctions began in May, the country may have lost another 30,000.


The military-backed government of de facto President Emile Jonassaint is spending almost all of its money on salaries for 45,000 civil servants.


Inflation is taking its toll. Last year, it ran at 35 percent, and U.S. officials predict the rate will hit 60 percent this year.


Despite the economic catastrophe, widespread starvation is not yet being reported. Money from the international community and the United States is being used to provide a million meals a day, six days a week, for the poor.