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9010: another relief shipment held up in Haitian customs (fwd)

From: Stuart M Leiderman <leidermn@cisunix.unh.edu>

dear readers:

for the the past month or two, I've been assisting  efforts to release a
significant charitable relief shipment to Haiti that's been held in
customs for several months without explanation: a container of 28,000 lb
of dehydrated food that is a half-million meal equivalents.  the situation
has caused another donor to delay his own shipment of another million

so far, I have learned the name of the company or agent that unloaded the
shipment and placed it into the customshouse in Port-au-Prince and who is
waiting for government clearance to pick it up for its ultimate delivery
to the recipient(s).

I have also had a phone conversation with an important shipper of
humanitarian equipment to Haiti and to African countries who told me that,
in his experience, in order to get shipments through customs, officials
frequently expect bribes, that they could be in the neighborhood of ten
percent of the shipment value, and that this accounts for the reason why
shippers tend to understate on shipping documents the value of their

this person also told me that he understands and is sympathetic to the
practice of bribes because a) shipments to Third World countries often
comprise the major portion of wealth coming into certain countries, b)
customs workers often have to buy such employment from their government
in exchange for expected payback through bribes, and c) customs workers
are seldom if ever paid a living wage.  this reminded me of the
predicament of restaurant and hotel workers whose bosses expect them to
work for tips, but at least in the case of restaurants, diners eat before
giving tips, while in Haiti and other poor countries, starving families
and schoolchildren who depend on food aid must pay before they eat!

also I've learned that, in recent years, a U.S. Embassy staffperson
in Port-au-Prince courteously facilitated humanitarian shipments through
Embassy channels, but that person is no longer on staff--perhaps
coinciding with the change in U.S. administration and the appointment
of a new ambassador to Haiti--and evidently the courtesy was withdrawn.
nevertheless, other staffpersons have diligently sought release of
the shipment, but without success.

today, I received yet another call for help from a humanitarian shipper
to Haiti, attached here (respecting the privacy of names and addresses
for now).

setting aside for the moment the subject of customs bribery as a cost of
"doing business", what is your own experience concerning stalled
shipments, expressed or implied requests for bribes, customs duties paid
per shipment (or dollars of customs fees paid per thousand dollars of
shipping value), and similarity or difference in fees requested for
business versus humanitarian shipments?

I believe that charitable shippers to impoverished and/or disaster zones
expect their aid to go directly to the intended recipients and not be
held up for unexplained and/or corrupt reasons.  perhaps such shipments
deserve a category of their own and a set of expenses and fees that are
fair and transparent.  if bonded, salaried workers are required for such
shipments, then a parallel entry system ought to be proposed and
negotiated with receiver countries and codified by the World Trade

"free trade" indeed.

thank you.

Stuart Leiderman

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From: A_______
To: m_______
Cc: H_______
Sent: Tuesday, September 04, 2001
Subject: your several messages, re: the load for Haiti

Please ignore _______@_______.co.uk, since we are trying to give it
up, but instead pls use the address shown on this msg.

I believe the container has still NOT been released to Father M_______.

W_____ E_____ R_____'s A_____ H_____ has been informed, having received a
copy of my letter of remonstrance to the President of Haiti.

I hope that the container will be released without much more bad behaviour
on the part of the Haitians.  For a government to break a promise with an
NGO via a Ministry of the government is pretty awful.

In utmost haste...

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