YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

NEWS ANALYSIS : Haiti Needs World's Help in Rebuilding : Caribbean: Global trade sanctions aided Aristide's cause and ruined an already weak economy.


LAFFITEAU, Haiti — The mammoth silo slouches forlornly by the seaside, its concrete foundation crumbling to dust, its machinery frozen by rust, its guts ripped out by vandals, its floors knee-deep in goat droppings. It is a near-perfect symbol for the state of the Haitian economy.

The structure was once the pride of Haiti, a government-owned and operated mill that was to provide Haiti with all the flour it needed. But years of mismanagement, waste, misuse and, finally, an international economic embargo, have left the mill a useless hulk.

It is much the same with the country's economic structure. The roads and piers, the telephone, water and electric systems, the factories all are a shambles.

The consequence is a population reduced to begging or, in many cases, stealing to survive.

"We are no longer a modern civilization," said a wealthy merchandiser in Port-au-Prince, the capital. "Hell, we're not any kind of civilized."

This primeval state is what faces the new government appointed by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide as he prepares for his Oct. 30 return from two years of forced exile.

It is also what confronts the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the United States and the rest of the international community that during those two years, using trade sanctions to pressure the military regime to restore Aristide, have squeezed the life out of what already was the Western Hemisphere's most pathetic economy.

According to one diplomat's estimate--one seen as optimistic by some Haitian economists--the cost of building an effective economy here will run into the tens of billions of dollars, with $1 billion in international aid needed just to get Haiti through the next 12 months.

And, added one of the doubting Haitians, "If it can be done at all, it will have to be planned, carried out and paid for by the international community."

The concept of world responsibility to help rebuild Haiti stems from the economic damage resulting from international intervention to punish Haiti's military and civilian elite.

After Aristide, the country's first democratically elected president, was chased from the country in September, 1991, by a military coup staged on behalf of Haiti's rich elite, the OAS--which includes the United States--imposed an economic embargo.

When that proved largely ineffective and the Haitian military refused to negotiate Aristide's return, the United Nations last June 23 ordered a total worldwide boycott, particularly on petroleum.

That worked. The army coup leaders have agreed to resign by mid-October, and pro-Aristide businessman Robert Malval took over Monday as prime minister and installed his Cabinet on Thursday.

While Aristide's restoration is seen as a triumph for democracy, it remains unclear whether the next step, economic restoration, can or will work.

The first shadow of doubt is cast by the uncertain availability of international funds.

"There won't be any real private investment, that's for sure," said one Haitian economist. "No one in his right mind will put money here until political stability is assured, and that won't be established for years."

More important, at least for the next few years, will be the availability of international aid.

The United States and Canada have promised to release immediately about $30 million in emergency aid, and other countries have promised lesser amounts.

The United Nations is coordinating a development program that theoretically totals nearly $1 billion. But much of that money remains unappropriated by contributing countries and, in any case, covers such non-economic matters as police and military training.

Even if political stability can be maintained and the economy cranked up, there is little that Haiti, with its 7 million poor, illiterate and untrained people, can offer in markets or as a source of materials and services.

What had been the country's most promising industry before the coup--assembly plants that had converted imported raw materials into finished products for export--was nearly wiped out by the embargo.

"We used to employ 45,000 workers," said one assembly plant official. But those jobs shifted to other Caribbean and Central American countries, he said. "I doubt that we will employ more than 15,000 now."

Building a new infrastructure is the most daunting, if not an impossible, task.

Roads have not been maintained for years. The existing stock of vehicles, always scarce and in poor condition, was devastated by the embargo on fuel and spare parts.

Telephone service is a cruel joke and will require hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs and new equipment.

Electricity, even in Port-au-Prince with its nearby dam, is available only four to six hours a day. "A lot of these shortages are the result of the embargo (which ended last Friday)," said an international economist, "but even with fuel and spare parts, the damage was so great, so far gone, that the plants are beyond repair."

Even tourism, that last economic resort of poor, underdeveloped nations, looks beyond repair, at least for several years.

"People had stopped coming here anyway," said the owner of a beach resort about 45 miles north of Port-au-Prince. "There were too many coups, too many stories of AIDS, too much violence."

Los Angeles Times Articles