Sanctions drive brings Haiti to the edge of ruin: Patrick Cockburn in Port-au-Prince found the army has reason to publicise the plight of the poor

ON the Massacre River that divides Haiti from the Dominican Republic more than 1,000 people earn their living by swimming from one bank to the other every day. On each trip they make a small profit by smuggling a gallon or two of petrol in a plastic container into Haiti, where the United Nations embargo designed to bring down the military government has forced up prices.

Four months after it was introduced the embargo is biting hard. Few parts of Port-au- Prince have more than a few hours of electricity a day. In provincial towns it is impossible to make a telephone call. Almost all factories are closed.

Sanctions, imposed on 18 October after the military government refused to allow the return of President Jean- Bertrand Aristide, are enforced by nine naval vessels, including six American, which stop and search ships suspected of carrying contraband. The UN Security Council is likely to introduce even more stringent sanctions in the next few weeks, blocking Haiti's few remaining exports, freezing the assets of military leaders and limiting commercial flights.

Both big business and up- country peasants have no doubt that the embargo, and above all the lack of fuel, is having a devastating effect on the economy. Jean Baker, whose factories used to sell clothing to the US, says that out of 50,000 jobs in assembly plants three years ago, only 6,000 are left today. Some foreign-owned businesses have already set up new factories in Mexico or the Dominican Republic. Even the rum distillery works only every second day.

In the main Port-au-Prince hospital staff were on strike at the weekend in protest at not being paid since December. Haiti has long been the poorest country in the western hemisphere, but malnutrition is now becoming common. In Le Pretre, a mountain village in the south-west, the number of malnourished attending the local clinic has risen from a handful a few years ago to 500 .

Lack of fuel hits peasant farmers badly. They often cannot afford paraffin for their lamps. Tap-taps, the gaily- painted minibuses which are the main method of transport for the poor, now cost four or five times what they did six months ago. Smuggling ensures there is some petrol, at a cost of about dollars 12 ( pounds 8) a gallon, and a few are making money out of the shortages. A businessman who needed 3,000 gallons found a man who had bought a school bus, ripped out the seats and replaced them with 60 oil drums which he filled up in the Dominican Republic. Payments for smuggled goods are cash down, leading to a shortage of large-denomination notes.

Dominican officials take a big rake-off. One told a smuggler, who complained of the size of the bribe demanded, that he was planning 'to build a house out of the profits of the Haitian crisis'. The US is pressing the Dominicans to stop the leaks in the embargo but the UN naval blockade cannot prevent small coasters moving fuel along the Haitian coast to ports such as Jacmel and Cap Hatien.

Will the embargo force political change? The top 100 army officers are probably the last Haitians to suffer from fuel or food shortages.

But they are not totally immune to the economic collapse. Big business, a critical ally of the military and which largely supported the overthrow of President Aristide, now wants a compromise. Petionville, a suburb above Port-au-Prince where most of the elite live, is short of water because there is no electric power to pump it up the hill.

A curious aspect of the embargo is that the army, not normally much concerned at the poverty of the mass of Haitians, now finds it in its interest to publicise their suffering and blame the embargo.

WASHINGTON - After days of pressure from the Clinton administration, President Aristide has agreed to meet a group of visiting Haitian parliamentarians who have a plan to resolve the country's political crisis, Reuter reports.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
ESPN footage showed a split-screen Murray’s partner Kim Sears and Berdych’s partner Ester Satorova 'sporting' their jewellery
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee