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#185: Jesse Helms' Political Voodoo (fwd)

From: Charles Arthur - Haiti Support Group <haitisupport@gn.apc.org>

Jesse Helms' Political Voodoo 

from Mother Jones, March 23, 1999

The senator from North Carolina finds a way to attack Planned Parenthood
while hiding his well-known penchant for pro-life politics. 

by Mat Honan

                                               Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.)
got his panties in a wad yet
                                               again last week. It seems
that the good senator was incensed
                                               to discover that the
U.S.Agency for International
                                               Development (USAID) is
funding what Helms strongly
                                               suspects to be voodoo in
Haiti. Since we have our own
                                               voodoo connection of sorts,
the MoJo Wire decided to take
                                               a closer look at his

Helms' alarm bells apparently started going off when, while perusing the
1996 International Planned Parenthood
Foundation annual report, he read about "a campaign to reach voodoo
followers with sexual and reproductive health information ... by performing
short song-prayers about STDs and the benefits of family planning during
voodoo ceremonies."

As would any conscientious senator (especially one who uses prayer
breakfasts with Jerry Falwell as political
fundraisers), Helms fired off a letter to Secretary of State Madeline
Albright, demanding that the funding be
stopped. In doing so he made it clear that he is hiding his well-known
penchant for pro-life politics behind a wall of
voodoo (italics ours): 

                            "On February 3, the [USAID] wrote to the
                            Committee requesting permission to proceed
                            withy [sic] the obligation of funds for
                            population control programs ... It is no secret
                            that these programs are far too often
                            wrongheaded and wasteful. Nevertheless, if
                            the Administration insists on funding these
                            programs I shall not stand in the way, so long
                            as you agree to the following conditions: 1)
                            that no funds be obligated to any affiliate of
                            the International Planned Parenthood
                            Foundation (IPPF) in Haiti, including
                            PROFAMIL; and 2) that no funds be provided
                            directly or indirectly to any group whose
                            programs include producing material intended
                            to be used in a voodoo ceremony ... A.I.D. is
                            funding programs that endorse or legitimize
                            what amounts to witchcraft."

The Miami Herald broke the story on March 15, and reaction from the White
House was swift, unequivocal,
and veiled in laughter. White House spokesman James Rubin admitted that
while, yes, we are funding voodoo,
we weren't really funding voodoo. 

                       "[USAID] has sponsored in Haiti an International
                       Parenthood Foundation program ... to utilize
                       Haitian health practitioners for distributing
information on
                       family planning," Rubin said. "Traditional
                       are the first point of contact for many Haitians
                       health care ... While some traditional practitioners
                       have participated in voodoo ceremonies, USAID funding
                       has not been used to support those practices ... USAID
                       no longer funds the IPPF local affiliate in Haiti
... So the
                       point is that we are not using our funds to promote

The issue, clearly, isn't really voodoo. It's condoms. USAID has been
bankrolling Haitian voodoo for years
without incident. In 1995 Rick Barton, director of USAID's Office of
Transition Initiatives (OTI), stated,

                       "We have 13 teams covering 16 areas of [Haiti] ...
                       teams have the decision-making authority to spend up to
                       $5,000 on any project ... Many are extragovernmental,
                       anything from a voodoo event to more traditional

Yet Helms took no issue with either Barton or the OTI back then. Instead,
he waited until one of his pet political
peeves was at issue, and then went after the IPPF. He succeeded, garnering
a handful of "U.S. Funds                       Witchcraft" headlines and an
end to funding for the IPPF in Haiti. 

Sources within the State Department, who asked not to be identified, told
the MoJo Wire that funding for the
IPPF in Haiti was discontinued, partially but not wholly, due to Helms'
concerns. However, USAID claims that
the eliminated funding was simply part of a larger family-planning program
that had already run its course. 

Meanwhile, Haiti continues to be crushed by an exploding population and
rocked by an AIDS epidemic, which the
IPPF was also working to combat. Perhaps not coincidentally, Helms is
perpetually looking to freeze or
reduce AIDS funding, stating that "the ultimate origin of all AIDS-tainted
blood has been homosexual contact."
Helms historically has blamed AIDS victims for engaging in "deliberate,
disgusting, revolting conduct." 

Helms has never exactly been a friend to Haiti, either. In 1995, he said,
"As far as this senator is concerned, the
administration's free-spending Caribbean vacation in Haiti is over. It's
time for the President and his advisors to stop playing beach-blanket-bingo
with Aristide and get to work protecting America's real interests abroad."
(Such as promoting big tobacco in Asia, perhaps?) 

In the words of Timothy Wirth, former U.S. undersecretary of state for
global affairs, "More people in                   Haiti want family
planning than any place else in the world." 

Unfortunately for them, Helms had his MoJo working.  

from Mother Jones, March 23, 1999

Haiti Support Group    (haitisupport@gn.apc.org)