Among the Haitian VIPs mixing with President Bill Clinton on his visit to Haiti were some of the country's richest people. In U.S. Embassy circles, they are known as MREs - the morally repugnant elite.
"They control everything," said one veteran American official who asked for anonymity. He is involved in a dispute over U.S. policy toward a handful of mulatto families who for generations have bribed government officials while extracting millions from a society where the average worker is lucky to make $6 a day.
Haiti's economic aristocracy has amassed fortunes by avoiding taxes so that President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and previous governments have had little revenue to finance government services. For decades, Haiti has been almost totally dependent on religious charities and U.S. and other international aid to fend off hunger and epidemic disease.
According to experts on Haiti, the aristocracy today is at the core of "The Mix," the Haitian euphemism for corruption. The Mix has left most of the 6.4 million people without roads, schools, hospitals, housing, public transportation, electricity, sewage or a safe water supply.
Breaking the wealthy elite's grip on government and business may be Aristide's most dangerous mission. When he tried it before, the elite underwrote Gen. Raoul Cedras' 1991 coup, which sent Aristide into an exile that ended only when the United States restored him to power by force of arms last October.
Ironically, the aristocracy benefited from the U.S. invasion of 21,000 troops that has cost an estimated $1.5 billion. Piers, fuel storage tanks, warehouses and other property used by the U.S. military provided the wealthy who owned them with a windfall. …