Meaningful Distinction:

Patrick S. Lasswell Look outward for something to accomplish, not inward for something to despise.
pslblog at gmail dot com
Monday, February 02, 2004
Enforcing the Stench of Hypocrisy

Lieutenant Macala held it together until after we finished the boarding. The moment we were all onboard the boat and had cast off, he leaned over the far side and let fly a heroic technicolor yawn. Mr. Macala had shown fortitude, not letting the smugglers see him hurl. Considering the time it took to get the paperwork cleared through all the international agencies to bust these smugglers, his was a fairly heroic struggle; although not the kind of thing you get medals for.

The smuggler's ship was a small one, but it had plenty of oil storage (bunkers). That was the whole point; get to Haiti with a small or no cargo of approved goods and full bunkers, then leave with just enough fuel to make it to the next open port, and pocket $20+ a gallon of fuel delivered. Due to the laws of supply and demand, petroleum was selling for $40 a gallon on the streets of Port au Prince. Even a dinky ship like this could pay for itself in one run.

Our task was to enforce UN sanctions on the outlaw government of Haiti. The standing outlaw government of Haiti was military in nature. The ousted government was headed by a machete wielding ex-priest who advocated managing dissent by beating opponents unconscious and then burning them alive in gasoline soaked tires. We enforced the sanctions by making sure that the vessels caught smuggling were refused entry on their next run…unless the ship had changed owners. Ship brokerages were doing tremendous business cycling titles on marginal vessels that year; I wonder if anybody tracks the economic impact on the fig leaf industry of international sanctions? We were effectively writing traffic tickets to impose international will; this was also not the kind of thing you get medals for.

Mr. Macala was a maverick ex-enlisted who really could hang; what put him over the edge was the goat. I pride myself on my openness to international cuisine, but even I draw the line at four-day-old fly-blown goat rotting in the sun. There it was, sitting on top of the wheelhouse, stinking up the ship. Nevertheless, this crew's rations were much better than what the Haitians ashore got to eat. At various levels of covert trade, a fair amount of money was changing hands; but the Haitian crew of this ship wasn't getting much of it, and our boarding party wasn't going to stop any of it. All we were doing was imposing more severe poverty on the most severely impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere. Food and chivalry were both in short supply in these waters in the spring of 1994, but we had plenty of multilateralism.

The blockade of Haiti smelled as bad as the goat. We let through just about anything resembling aid provided by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO), but blocked most things resembling trade. The previous year we had been looking for potential weapons going to Iraq. This year we were looking for unauthorized poverty relief. Did I mention that medals were in short supply on this station?

I don't like to think about the boarding's I did off Haiti. I got to serve with some great folks on the boarding team, but we knew we weren't averting a threat to our nation and we had the experience of doing so. The previous year we had controlled the access to one of the world's key trade routes, in 1994 we were choking trade in a backwater. I suppose that's what put me off of multilateralism, NGO's, and the UN. That and the goat.
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