The Miami Herald
January 14, 2001

 Dirty money takes on new meaning in Haiti, where a buck can be yuck

 Dallas Morning News

 PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Most countries are trying to get rid of the scourge of
 money laundering. Haiti is one place that could use all the freshly laundered bills
 it can get.

 Haiti's currency, the gourde, has a definite penchant for filthiness.

 Some bills in circulation are so covered with grime that the denominations are no
 longer visible. Frequently, the dark green, purple and red gourdes are sticky to the
 touch and carry a distinct odor.

 Some residents warn that touching Haitian currency can be hazardous to one's
 health, and anyone handling gourde bills is advised to give his or her hands a
 good scrubbing before handling food.

 Then again, food actually is part of the problem.

 ``What happens is, the street vendors exchange the money while they're handling
 their food, so it gets all over the currency,'' said Prime Minister Jacques-Eduard


 ``There are health effects,'' he added. ``I honestly believe that our bills are printed
 with dark colors to make it harder to see the dirt.''

 With an average income of only about $250 a year, Haitians typically compound
 the money problem by stashing their cash reserves in private places where
 muggers are less likely to find them.

 After spending a few sweaty hours hidden in a shoe, nestled in a brassiere or
 tucked into a waistband, even the newest bill quickly acquires the undeniable
 status of yucky.

 Haiti, the Western Hemisphere's poorest country, lacks the financial resources to
 retire older bills once they've become too worn out, officials explain. Meanwhile,
 newly printed bills are being placed into circulation by the Central Bank.

 But the international lending institutions responsible for keeping Haiti afloat
 financially are threatening to withhold aid if the practice continues, saying it is
 diluting the gourde's value to the point of worthlessness. So most Haitians are
 stuck with the nasty old paper.


 A trip down any street in the Haitian capital shows exactly how a clean bill
 acquires the appearance of a mechanic's cleaning rag.

 Street vendors overflow the sidewalks, selling everything from grimy used tires
 and greasy car parts to imported jewelry and perfumes. Entire sections of the city
 have been taken over by shantytowns, consisting of tented shops during the day
 that are converted into dwellings at night.

 With no plumbing, the inhabitants wash themselves in ditch water, which almost
 always carries raw sewage. Each transfer of a bill requires it to be handled by at
 least two people, who, according to Prime Minister Alexis, are very likely to live
 under such dire circumstances.

 ``In this country, the economy is mostly driven by the informal sectors,'' Alexis
 explained. ``The vast majority of business is conducted on the streets, not in
 banks or stores. The currency is handled by so, so many people every day.''