Haitians Get Around UN Sanctions Via Dominican Border
Sanctions busting is becoming a lucrative business for Haitian military smugglers
LA DESCUBIERTA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
DINAMITA, an entrepreneur in this small border town in the Dominican Republic, has converted his living room into a small gas depot. Five-gallon drums, funnels, and rubber hosing sit alongside the wicker rocking chairs. Leaking fumes of gasoline permeate the small, tin-roofed quarters.
Just cater-cornered from Dinamita's home, a car with Haitian license plates passes through the military checkpoint in the town. The soldier waves the car through and points to Dinamita's house. The driver pulls up, and the man who calls himself ``dynamite,'' because he does not want to use his real name, offers him a deal.
The driver calculates. La Descubierta is already 16 miles from the Haitian border. The nearest gas station is another 25 miles away. Gas is $4 per gallon at the pumps, and Dinamita is offering it for $6. A deal is struck, the tank is filled, and the driver moves on as another customer takes his place.
Not all gas-seekers attempting to beat the oil embargo imposed on Haiti by the United Nations need to travel this far, but the price here is the most economical.
An extremely well-organized black market for gas from the Dominican Republic is being conducted right in front of the Haitian border patrol.
Every day, small boats filled with gasoline containers row across the border lake, Saumarte, delivering the precious commodity to customers waiting just yards from Haitian immigration.
This past Saturday, business was booming until a group of foreign journalists showed up. Their presence attracted the military. Within hours, the Haitian military took control of the contraband and moved the center of delivery directly in front of their mustard-colored office.
``They [military] took the whole thing over in a matter of minutes,'' said a taxi driver who had come from Port-au-Prince in hopes of filling his 10-gallon container. ``I was prepared to pay $13 a gallon, but then the military bought up all the stock and parceled the gasoline off to `their' people. They're getting rich and I'm going home empty-handed.
``I want to speak in English,'' he confided, ``because this is very dangerous. I want the world to know what the Dominican government is doing.''
Dominican President Joaquin Balaguer Ricardo maintains that the embargo is being enforced from his side of the island, though he has flatly refused to accept UN observers at the border. When a group of foreign journalists attempted to enter the Dominican Republic for an afternoon, they were unnecessarily delayed for four hours, though a Haitian colonel without the proper visa was whisked through in 10 minutes.
``The press is going to write that we are breaking the embargo,'' said Victor Romero, an immigration officer for the Dominican Republic. ``Not a drop passes here. We are signatories to the UN - we can't let that happen.''
But while Mr. Romero was insisting that the embargo was being enforced, a young Dominican man straddled 10 gallons on his back and ran across one of the unpatrolled border patches just yards from the checkpoint. Quickly emptying the gasoline into a waiting vehicle, the young man ran back for a second round.
Legal access to the border on the south with the Dominican Republic is available on one of Haiti's newest and finest roads - a 30-mile, two-lane highway that is free of the trademark potholes that reduce normal highway traffic to an irritating crawl. Even closing the border, an option currently being discussed by the UN Security Council, would not stop contraband traffic, which passes freely on foot, by mule, and by motorcycle.
Gasoline from the Dominican side is sold to Haitian boat-owners for $10 per gallon and resold to the Haitian military for $15. In Port-au-Prince, the going rate is $25.
The embargo was intended to force the Haitian military to bend to international pressure and allow exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to return to power. But with a border patrol that is nothing more than a sieve, the effects of the embargo will at the very least prolong, if not completely undermine, the UN efforts.
``The embargo was meant to kick the military out,'' said a well-dressed Haitian, who was sheepishly filling his 25-gallon drum. ``But instead it has promoted this black-market business, and it is this very business that will allow them to stay in place.''
There is some attempt to enforce the embargo inside the Dominican Republic. Two young soldiers at a checkpoint just outside the border town of Jimani say that as soon as the embargo began last month they started to see an increase in contraband.
``There are many, many vehicles that try to cross the border with gas and pistols. We confiscate about five tanks a day, and then turn them in to the defense minister,'' one of them explained.
Meanwhile, the Haitian military took a less-than-kindly attitude toward the embargo. They made their political orientation clear when they yelled to journalists driving away: ``People who write bad things die a bad death.''