Facing an economic crisis caused by the political tension that has shaken Haiti, embattled President-for-Life Jean-Claude Duvalier today invoked an emergency decree to threaten fines or prison for businessmen who refuse to reopen their shops and factories.
Shopkeepers had begun closing yesterday, reportedly after receiving telephoned threats against their property.
Today, many seemed to comply with the new order and opened their businesses, but the government here faced a potentially more severe economic threat as crucial light industries responded to the pressures of political unrest.
More than 200 plants operate here, taking advantage of Haiti's low wages to assemble items for reexport, mostly to the United States. The plants, which with tourism are the main sources of foreign exchange, began closing yesterday after some reportedly received threats.
Some assembly firms have lost contracts because of the unrest and some foreign managers have left the country, according to foreign analysts. There were reports today that the little remaining investment capital in Haiti was draining away.
Armed security personnel walked the streets of the business district this morning, informing store owners about the decree and the possible penalties unless they opened.
But even those who opened today left their iron shutters and protective metal grates pulled near shut. Some who agreed to be interviewed said they were caught in a dilemma, fearing both opposition elements who have threatened them if they opened and government reprisals if they did not.
"We are open because the Ton-Tons Macoutes came around and told us that we had better open or face the consequences," said a 47-year-old accountant, who insisted on speaking in English rather than French or the native Creole.
"The businessmen are threatened on both sides. The government right now has the big stick, because under the state of siege, all constitutional rights are suspended. If you get shot in the street right now, you have no rights," he said.
"The word was passed around today that we'd better open or else," said the owner of a downtown boutique. "So what can we do? Everybody is open today."
But about 20 percent of the light assembly plants remained shut, and some of those that did open were not at full production.
Some American companies here closed yesterday after receiving telephone threats, usually in French, saying their property would be bombed or burned if they stayed open, according to well-informed sources. The calls are presumed to have come from antigovernment protesters trying to keep alive the momentum of the anti-Duvalier movement that mushroomed here over the weekend but was seemingly put down after a state of siege was declared Friday.
One western diplomat here said that the American firms that closed were basically following the lead of their Haitian counterparts. The largest American firm here that closed was GTE Sylvania, an electronics concern. Some textile industries did also.
The assembly sector is the only part of the economy to have grown in recent years. With Haiti's low wages -- minimum wage here is about $3 per day and the average wage is only slightly higher -- many firms find it profitable to ship components here for assembly and reexport.
About 60,000 work in this field, which now accounts for an estimated 16 percent of national income. About 85 percent of the components come from the United States. And about 95 percent of the products assembled, from electronics to handbags and leather goods, return there.
The business slowdown was already having its affect on the capital today, with prices escalating for some basic foods and shortages reported in some areas.
In forcing the shops to reopen, Duvalier invoked a 1957 decree that his father, Francois Duvalier, often used in the past to crush general strikes and uprisings.
Today's joint communique from the ministries of Interior and Commerce said the government "reminded" businesses of the decree and "invited" them to stay open. It said the government will "rely on the good will of businessmen to resist antipatriotic blackmail."
In a separate communique, the government promised to help businesses with tax exemptions and loans if they suffered damages during the looting that erupted during last week's protests.
The business community has emerged as a key player in this most severe test of strength of Duvalier's dictatorship. "Businesses have been concerned about the deterioration of the business climate," said the informed western diplomat. "They have been concerned about the fact that conditions in the country have been aggravated. They know people are hungry and people need jobs."
The Associated Press added:
President Jean-Claude Duvalier requested political asylum in Greece and Spain, and shelter in Switzerland, and was turned down by all three European countries, government spokesmen said yesterday.
In Athens, spokesman Militiades Papaioannou said Duvalier asked for "political asylum and a residence permit in Greece." The request was made within the last several days through the Greek Embassy in Venezuela, he said.
Papaioannou did not comment on why the request was rejected.
In Bern, the Swiss government said Duvalier asked to visit Switzerland with his family and an entourage of 50. A brief announcement by the Cabinet secretariat said the decision to bar the delegation was taken by the seven-member federal executive.
Spanish Foreign Ministry spokesman Inocencio Arias said a request for asylum came through a Spanish embassy in another European country. The request was turned down.