Haiti's Poorest Feel Ache of Embargo Some Fuel Relief through Black Market Diesel

Article excerpt

AT A STRIP Haitians call "Kuwait City," hundreds of people selling fuel wave tin funnels along both sides of a rutted road and shout at cars and trucks streaming through.

We must drive this gantlet to buy diesel fuel because of the U.N. oil embargo. What we find is Haiti's only booming industry, black-market oil.

What we discover, too, is what the French-speaking people here call "chien-mange-chien" - a "dog-eat-dog" world.

"It is very hard here, but I do what I need to do," says Gayda DeRois, 27, a mother of two. She will take home $3 today from hawking fuel.

Sewage flows with gasoline spilled from the thousands of jugs, buckets and barrels. Pigs run behind barefoot children who are selling mangoes and picking through garbage as tall as the buses that have come here packed with Haitian people.

Alongside this fuel market, bodies are buried in the field of an old military barracks - a reminder of the terror always near the surface.

A few hours later, the fears become reality: Fire and explosions roar through "Kuwait City," spread by the open fuel containers.

The inferno destroyed a sector of the strip, but the people managed to escape what could have been an apocalypse.

We were lucky. We were no longer in the area. A young Haitian named Pierre Benoit filled our jeep with diesel fuel for $7 a gallon - a bargain. A few days before, diesel was going for over $10 a gallon.

Benoit is among a new class of entrepreneurs that the U.N. embargo has spawned. Before we left, he told us of his trips to the Massacre River on the border with the Dominican Republic and the smuggling that keeps this country limping along.

"The trips, they are very dangerous," Benoit said. SHORTAGES BREED SUFFERING

At the storied Oloffson Hotel in Port-au-Prince, a 14-member Caribbean band performed last week beneath an angry-looking voodoo mask. "Embargo, embargo, embargo," they sang, their biting lyrics fused with the pounding of Haitian drums.

Nowhere in Haiti do you escape the embargo.

In plain view of the Haitian coastline, U.S. warships watch vessels coming and going, stopping many of them to prevent shipments of fuel.

In Sacramento, Calif., on Saturday, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order directing the United States to take part in the toughened U.N. sanctions.

He said any goods originating in Haiti are banned from U.S. importation. He exempted only books and other publications needed for the free flow of information.

No U.S. goods may be exported to Haiti other than medical supplies, basic food needs, and books and other publications, Clinton said.

The actions are designed to pressure the security forces to allow the return of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the president deposed and exiled in a coup three years ago.

Haiti is operating on less than half of the gasoline and diesel fuel that it needs, a U.N. official estimated.

The fuel embargo has worsened problems of the country's mass of poor people and generated new ones for an emerging middle class. In Port-au-Prince, the roughly 30 percent of people who have jobs have difficulty getting to work.

Electricity is scarce throughout the nation, which means that water pumps and refrigerators can't work.

The cost of food and medicine has doubled.

Outside the northern city of Cap Haitien, a man breaking rocks for paving said he had doubled his price for the rocks because that's what everyone else had done.

Haiti's wealthy suffer fewer inconveniences. They have generators to keep power flowing. In Port-au-Prince, the oil embargo has meant less traffic for them to negotiate with their Mercedes-Benzes and Range Rovers. Many of them have grown richer in the oil business. …