Haiti's tiny upper class, the 1 percent of the population that hogs half the nation's income, is referred to by American diplomats in Port-au-Prince as "MREs," short for "morally repugnant elites."

The term derives from the lighter-skinned MRE's contempt toward the darker majority whose average annual income is $125 - when there is work.The rich's scorn also extends to the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a dark-skinned Roman Catholic priest who was overwhelmingly elected president in 1990 by largely illiterate poor voters.

Aristide frightened the MREs with his talk about redistribution of wealth. And he infuriated them by saying they should pay taxes, which the aristocracy had neglected to do since independence from France in 1804.

The wealthy financed the bloody military coup in September 1991 that ousted Aristide.

When the United Nations clamped an embargo on Haiti to force Aristide's return, about 100,000 industrial jobs vanished, but the MREs prospered. With bribes to the military, they monopolized the import of non-embargoed goods: food, medicine, cook-ing oil, propane gas.

And now that President Clinton has landed 20,000 troops in Haiti to restore Aristide to office and implant democracy, who stands to benefit? You got it. The MREs.

First, the U.S. forces protect their physical safety. The Americans will not let the masses storm out of Port-au-Prince's fetid slums and wreak vengeance on their oppressors in their villas in the lush Petionville suburb.

Second, there's money to be made from the Americans, and the rich Haitians know how to do it. They own most of the nation's land and facilities, which they are offering to rent to the occupiers.

The super-rich Mevs family, for instance, has the industrial park near the airport on which U.S. soldiers are bivouacked and their vehicles are stored. It also posseses a private port that the United States will use to bring in fuel.

Clinton plans to pave Haiti's miserable roads. The Mevs family owns the cement company. Another pro-coup family, the Brandts, manages wheat and rice imports that U.S. aid will pay for.

A businessman who knows and deals with the feudal families who control Haiti and treat the poor like animals had this to say:

"The question is not whether they will make money, because they will. The question is, have they learned any lessons? Do they now understand the need to pay taxes, the need for everyone to respond to the same justice, the need for a level playing field economically? Have they learned that at least we have to come into the 20th century, even while our neighbors are heading into the 21st century?"

The businessman's tone suggests that the answers to all his questions are "no."