San Diego Union-Tribune
Oct 02, 1994
Hill of plenty
Some Americans living in Haiti look down on slum-dwellers
By MARCUS STERN
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
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
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
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,"
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
"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
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.