BUSINESS on Commerce Street in this coastal town in southern Haiti has taken on a new meaning.
A few months ago, warehouses here stored goods earmarked for export. Today, they store barrels of black-market gasoline and other contraband merchandise.
A stone's throw away from Commerce Street is Jacmel's wharf, the port of origin for the goods, many of which come from the neighboring Dominican Republic. The most recent of the five ships currently docked at the rickety port is Sea Search, a freighter flying under the Haitian flag but registered in the Bahamas. The vessel arrived here Saturday, hours before the United Nations sanctions prohibiting import and export of commercial goods went into effect at midnight.
On Sunday, crew members of the Sea Search, speaking Spanish, began unloading 400 50-gallon drums of fuel that were perched on the ship's deck. Gasoline has been embargoed since October 1993.
Customers at the nearby restaurant sipped drinks while they watched uniformed soldiers supervise the unloading of what appeared to be boxes of televisions and stereos, embargoed under the new UN sanctions.
``This black-market gasoline traffic has been going on for months,'' says one man whose balcony overlooks Jacmel's port on the Antille's sea. ``The military men have a serious business going here, and they aren't going to give it up without a fight. You name it, they'll smuggle it.''
The USS Aubrey Fitch spotted the Haitian freighter Saturday morning and fired two warning shots over the bow. After a cat-and-mouse game, the freighter slipped past United States gunfire and a dangerous reef, into the safety of Haitian Coastal waters.
At least 10 international warships have been patroling the sea around Haiti since last October. The foreign fleet has interdicted 1,005 vessels, but diverted only 81. Since the new sanctions Sunday, nine ships have been cleared, 12 diverted.
``We know that there are problems with things leaking through,'' one Western diplomat says. ``At least we've acknowledged the obvious. We also know that tightening sanctions will cause increased hardships. But we've always said sanctions are a blunt instrument and not a substitute for policy.''
So the US is now raising the stakes, threatening military intervention in order to force the defiant Haitian military to restore exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power. President Clinton's special adviser to Haiti, William Gray III, was expected to visit the Dominican Republic yesterday to investigate that porous border.
After 32 months of defeated efforts, on May 6 the United Nations gave Haitian Armed Forces Commander Raoul Cedras a two-week grace period to resign. Instead, the general offered his support to the new, illegitimate, provisional president, Emile Jonassaint.
``The embargo restrained them [the military] from their own worst instincts,'' another Western diplomat says. ``But they've had a cash problem. So they needed to put in a new government where they think they can better manage the impact of increased sanctions.''
About 1.5-million gallons of fuel has flowed across the border. Most of it comes across the northeastern border town of Ouanaminthe, now dubbed Kuwait. Smaller amounts, often in plastic containers and five-gallon jugs, are rowed across Lake Saumatre to the central border town of Malpasse.
Meanwhile in Haiti's capital, more than 50 factories shut their doors last week either because they will no longer be able to receive raw materials for production or they now will be unable to export their products. Approximately 15,000 people have lost their jobs. Since every employed person supports approximately 10 others, these new measures will have an immediate impact on at least 150,000.
``This will kill the country,'' says Rudy Jerome, the owner of one factory who was forced to lay off 750 employees. Jerome Inc., which, among other things, makes women's hair bands, is one of the few factories still open. ``As long as I have the resources, I'll have my employees work, stockpiling until the last yard of yarn is finished. Maybe by then something will have changed.''
Other businessmen are not as hopeful. One man says that once companies move off the island, they won't come back.
``We've already lost dozens of factories to other Caribbean Islands and Central America,'' he complains.
``If we lose the few that we have left, we're talking about an economic catastrophe. Every day this continues decreases our chance of recovery,'' he adds.
In sharp contrast to the severe impact on the poor, some members of the ``morally repugnant elite'' are inconvenienced only by minor adjustment, such as converting their cars from gasoline or diesel to propane. The procedure costs $600. Instead of paying $10 a gallon for gasoline, they pay only $1 for an equivalent amount of propane.
``I go to the beach every weekend,'' boasts the son of a garage owner where the waiting list for the procedure is three pages long. His father is one of the most active members of the paramilitary group FRAPH, Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti. ``Let them do what they want to us. Whatever it is, I can outlast it.''