Brunt of Embargo Hits Haiti As US Joins Sanctions Today
Some Haitians see turmoil; others, democracy restored
THE United States embargo on Haiti that begins today may hit this impoverished country hard economically, but its ultimate effect will be positive, predicts the Rev. Yvon Massacre, a friend and supporter of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide."It will be good for Haiti," says the Roman Catholic priest. But just how the Organization of American States (OAS) trade embargo will help Haiti is not yet clear. And its first impact may be severe, judging by the long lines for basics, such as fuel, and the stunned reaction of Haitian businessmen after last week's announcement that the US would join the sanctions. Those sanctions - the first under a new OAS mechanism permitting it to confront the overthrow of democratic governments in the region - are aimed at reinstating Mr. Aristide. Haiti's first freely elected leader was deposed in a Sept. 30 coup. "A lot of us did not believe this would happen," says Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Gerard Bailly. He acknowledges that the private sector has had, in the words of one Western diplomat, "a rude awakening." The US and the other OAS members could come to regret "provoking a social and economic catastrophe... in one of the hemisphere's most vulnerable countries," Mr. Bailly warns. The outlook is particularly grim for Port-au-Prince factories that assemble garments, sporting goods, and electronic parts for export to the US. These companies yield 40 percent of Haiti's meager $650 million annual hard-currency earnings. About 65 percent of Haiti's imports come from the US, and 85 percent of exports are US bound. "The assembly sector will disappear on Dec. 5," says Albert Herry, the French manager of a garment factory. That is the cutoff date set by the US for reexporting goods assembled from raw materials already in Haiti. After that day "all our clients will take their orders elsewhere, and they won't suddenly switch back to Haiti when the embargo is lifted," he predicts. "I no longer understand the Americans," says a factory owner, pointing out that the assembly sector was the only business group to call publicly for Aristide's reinstatement, albeit with strings attached.