Dirty money takes on new meaning in Haiti, where a buck can be yuck
BY TOD ROBBERSON
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
HOW IT HAPPENS
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,
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
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.''