San Diego Union-Tribune

Oct 02, 1994
Hill of plenty
     Some Americans living in Haiti look down on slum-dwellers


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Chris Pomajevich's guns are locked and loaded. With a 12-gauge shotgun and two pistols, the Montana native is ready to defend his gated mountainside home against Haitian mobs if necessary.

Pomajevich, 55, an outspoken member of the American expatriate community, believes the U.S. policy toward Haiti is misguided and could result in mobs trying to seize his property and do him harm.

But he's ready, he says.

"Our experience is that if you shoot a few of them, they stop," the former San Diego resident said as he sipped a cool drink on the shaded veranda of his home in the upscale neighborhood of Petionville.

Pomajevich, who came to Haiti in 1987, is one of about 3,500 expatriate Americans living in Haiti. The vast majority are Haitian-Americans whose families have been here for generations. About 500 or so others are missionaries, relief workers, U.S. government employees and businessmen like Pomajevich.

Many have voiced their sharp opposition to the U.S. intervention in Haiti, including the goals of removing military strongman Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras from power and restoring democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Pomajevich and others here have actively lobbied President Clinton and members of Congress to abandon the current U.S. policy. Aristide would be a disaster, they say. And they've caught the ear of Clinton's opponents on Capitol Hill, including Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas and Republican Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois.

Lots of complaints

They complain that the policy is setting Haiti on a ruinous course. Key architects, they say, haven't been to Haiti and therefore don't
understand its problems. They single out for criticism U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Clinton's envoy to Haiti, William Gray III. The administration's policy, they say, is being driven by the Congressional Black Caucus in the House.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Stanley Schrager dismissed their complaints, noting that many of the critical expatriates are ideologically and culturally conservative and in some ways have a vested interest in the military and its tight control over the Haitian people.

"They see Aristide as a real threat," Schrager said of the American
business expatriates. "They identify with the business elite of this
country. They've thrown their lot in with them. They feel they have a
lot to lose if Aristide comes back."

During seven months in office before being ousted three years ago,
Aristide's central political theme was empowering the poor and achieving more equitable distribution of the country's wealth. Currently, 1 percent of the people control more than half the nation's wealth.

For Americans living here, life has its inconveniences. Under a United Nations commercial embargo, electricity has been available only six to eight hours a day and many commodities have become costly and scarce. Gasoline prices have soared as high as $18 a gallon.

But it also has its advantages.

Bargain servants and land

With a minimum wage of $1 a day and 70 percent of the country out of work, Americans of even modest means can afford plenty of servants for yardwork, house cleaning, child care, driving and cooking. By U.S. standards, mountaintop property overlooking the fetid slums of Port-au-Prince and its harbor is a bargain.

With such a large percentage of the population living in abject poverty, those who are better off find themselves occupying a much higher social status than they might otherwise in the United States. Someone from America's middle class would be in the upper crust here.

For expatriates like Pomajevich, who is in the mining business here, all that has been threatened by the embargo and Aristide.

Swimming pool chlorine has become almost impossible to find, he said, explaining why the water in his pool had a green cast. He also misses having smoked ham for breakfast. And only eight hours of electricity isn't quite enough to keep ice cubes from thawing, he added.

These are just the petty inconveniences, he said. Under the economic sanctions, his business assets are frozen. It has prevented him from paying his sons' college tuition in the United States, he said.

Pomajevich's biggest concern is that U.S. officials don't share his view that Haitians need the tough-love discipline provided by the current military regime, including police beatings.

"You'll see what happens if you don't hit them with sticks," he said of Haiti's poor, who make up the core of Aristide movement. "They run in mobs, loot, beat and kill people."

Of the beatings, he said, "You might call it repression. I call it good
police control."

From blame to prizes

The Cedras regime has been accused of committing human rights abuses by the United Nations and other monitoring groups. Pomajevich said he believed Cedras deserved the Nobel Peace Prize for trying to save the country.

Businessman Mickey McLaney also supports Cedras.

When Fidel Castro kicked his father's casino operations out of Cuba
almost three decades ago, McLaney, 51, and his family moved to Port-au-Prince, where they enjoyed a near-monopoly on the casino business.

They prospered under dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude, called "Baby Doc." But Papa Doc is dead and Baby Doc is in exile in the south of France. And McLaney's hotel and casinos are closed. Plans for future ventures are on hold because of the embargo and possible return of Aristide.

McLaney is furious with the Clinton administration.

"What model for democracy are they going to use here?" he asked. "Do they mean the kind of democracy in the United States? That'll mean looting, crime and drugs in the streets."

He interrupted his vituperative screeds against the U.S. armed
intervention to eagerly escort military officials around his defunct hotel, the Royal Haitian, in hopes they might lease it to house troops.

McLaney, a former resident of Miami and New Orleans, said he was drawn to Haiti by the allure of gambling profits and the charm of the Haitian culture. He has dabbled in many business ventures. He once employed 800 workers who turned out 360,000 shirts a month. He paid each worker the equivalent of $1 a day. Like hundreds of other plants here, it fell victim to political instability and closed in 1987.

`Frustrating' for him

Serge Adam, a Haitian who has spent 20 years in the United States and who has businesses and homes in both countries, said the embargo has made it difficult for him to use the 19-foot outboard speedboat and Jet Skis he keeps at his beach house. "No gas, no electricity. It's frustrating," he said.

Adam, who said he has six servants in his principal home in
Port-au-Prince, said he also pays about $1 a day to his employees. "I know they can't live on it, but it's better than nothing," he said.

McLaney, sitting by the pool in the expansive grounds of the now-idle Royal Haitian, dismissed as unfair the stereotype that members of the elite like him live like kings in Haiti while the average Haitian goes without basic needs.

"Everywhere in the world is like that," he said.

Richard Morse disagrees. He was raised in Connecticut by his mother, who is Haitian, and his father, a professor of Latin American studies at Yale and Stanford. For several years, Morse, 37, has lived in Haiti, operated the Oloffson Hotel and written songs in Creole which are performed by his band, Ram.

Americans would not put up with the repression, exploitation and
injustice Haitians have been forced to endure, Morse said.

"If you went to the United States and took away people's homes and jobs and made them live in cesspools, I think you'd have to beat them back too," said Morse.