[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

6772: From Insight Magazine (fwd)

From: Stanley Lucas <slucas@iri.org>

By Catherine Edwards

As unemployment soars, drug trafficking thrives and children starve there, Americans wonder if the billions of dollars funneled to Haiti by President Clinton were just stolen. 
The summer sun dipped behind the dome of the U.S. Capitol. Ohio's senior senator, Republican Mike DeWine, greeted guests as they filed into the Capitol Hill living room of the former U.S. ambassador to Haiti, Tim Carney. Carney's house was awash in color as he and DeWine cohosted an auction of Haitian art to benefit an orphanage in that country. Bright oil paintings depicted the lush vegetation and lively people of the island nation. Elaborate sconces made from steel oil drums adorned the walls. 
       Washington politicians and policymakers from both sides of the aisle traded pleasantries over hors d'oeuvres. Top State Department officials rubbed shoulders with members of the Republican congressional majority who had suspended funding for some of their programs. On this afternoon all were united to try to make some sort of difference in one tiny spot of a congenitally lawless island nation. 
       But U.S. help is not welcomed by many Haitians. In mid-June, supporters of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide trampled and spat on an American flag in front of the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, chanting: "Down with the United States and long live Aristide!" On Haitian radio, members of the Rassemblement d'Organisations Populaires, a group supporting Aristide's Lavalas Party, promised that in the May 21 parliamentary elections, "we will reduce the country to flames and blood if the Lavalas victory is not advanced immediately." 
       Government by intimidation continued. The Organization of American States, or OAS, declared the elections fraudulent and, fearing for his life, Leon Manus, chairman of Haiti's provisional electoral council, or CEP, fled with his wife to the United States in mid-June. 
       It wasn't supposed to be this way when President Clinton poured U.S. troops and billions of dollars into Haiti six years ago. Haitian unemployment since has reached 70 percent and drug trafficking gets worse every day. Exhausted and frustrated, Carney resigned as Clinton's ambassador there at the end of 1999. But he and DeWine think the United States should remain involved with Haiti. 
       "Americans should care about Haiti because children there are starving and they are our neighbors. We have spent a lot of money in Haiti and their problems could wash up on our shores," DeWine tells Insight. Certainly this country of 8 million, where voodoo is widely practiced and only 35 percent of adults can read and write, needs all the help it can get. 
       Whoever occupies the White House next will inherit a nest of problems in Haiti. As U.S. elections approach, Texas Republican Gov. George W. Bush would do well to pay attention to what has been going on in this nearby country. During the vice-presidential debate in 1996, Al Gore said that "the 1994 U.S. intervention in Haiti was one of the most deft uses of diplomacy and military force in combination that you will find anywhere in the annals of the history of this country." The reality is that during the last decade U.S. taxpayers spent $3 billion in program assistance and sent 23,000 troops to the small Caribbean nation. And the result? More drugs trafficked through Haiti into the hands of U.S. teens, fraudulent elections endorsed by the international community that resulted in rampant lawlessness and the potential for ever more Haitian boat people showing up on the coast of Florida. 
       There are victors in this Clin-ton/Gore foreign-policy fiasco, but they are not the Haitian people or American taxpayers. Even Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, usually a reliable Clinton/Gore defender, complained in a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing this spring that the administration has spent an average of $300 per person in foreign aid to Haiti since 1992, compared with an average of $1 per person in Africa, with almost nothing to show for it. 
       Olivier Nadal, a former president of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce, is among those who have fled for their lives to the United States and been granted asylum after receiving death threats for speaking out about the need for free and fair elections. "Personal and private property are not respected," he tells Insight, as he reports how the ruling Lavalas Party seized land and private possessions. 
       Lavalas is the party of former Haitian president Jean-Baptiste Aristide, who took up residence in Washington after being overthrown in 1991 by a military coup. His became a favorite left-wing cause and the Clinton-Gore administration reinstated him by sending in U.S. troops three years later. "But things are worse now than they were in 1994 under the military dictatorship," Nadal tells Insight. 
       While stateside in the early nineties, Aristide became the darling of the Washington left, especially the Congressional Black Caucus. Democratic Reps. John Conyers of Michigan, Donald Payne of New Jersey and Charles Rangel of New York are among those Aristide persuaded to sit on the board of his Aristide Foundation for Democracy, or AFFD. It was not a hard sell. The literature touts its dedication to "opening avenues of democratic participation for those who traditionally have had no voice in national affairs." 
       But Haitian Sen. Irvelt Chery alleges that the AFFD actually is a front for illegal money laundering and that by sitting on its board U.S. congressmen have been endorsing this. Chery fired off a terse letter to Conyers asking him to resign from the board, warning: "The incumbent de facto government controls and diverts all the financial resources and power of the Haitian state for the use of the Lavalas political party. The Aristide Foundation is the principal mechanism for diversion of public resources." 
       A spokeswoman at Conyers' office tells Insight that the congressman has not resigned from the AFFD board but may do so if the press regards his affiliation with AFFD as partisan. "We still believe that AFFD is doing a good job," the spokeswoman tells Insight. 
       Randall Robinson, president of TransAfrica Forum, a lobbying firm he founded in 1977, also sits on the board of AFFD. He lobbied effectively for Clinton to authorize the 1994 intervention known as "Operation Restore Democracy" and went on a hunger strike on behalf of Aristide. (Robinson's loyalty to the Clinton/Gore team appears to have diminished this year, however, as he agreed in early June to cochair the steering committee for Ralph Nader's presidential campaign.) 
       Aristide was a radical, unfrocked Roman Catholic priest who rose to prominence in Haiti in the late 1980s and was elected to the presidency there in a violent and wildly demagogic campaign in 1990. As early as 1986 he was calling the United States "the great Satan." By September 1991 he was encouraging a crowd of supporters to use the "necklace" against political opponents, a means of torture-murder in which a tire is tied around the neck of a victim, filled with diesel oil and ignited. And Rep. Ben Gilman, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, says the Clinton/Gore administration has been aware for at least five years that death squads have been operating in Haiti under the direction of top Aristide security aides. 
       But despite the fact that this sort of thing has remained the modus operandi of Aristide and his Lavalas Party, observers in the United States somehow had high hopes that the rule of law would be established in Haiti after the May parliamentary elections drew the highest voter turnout in years. Democratic Reps. Conyers and Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts declared the elections a success, but photos and testimony of dumped ballot boxes soon made their way to the American press and the OAS declared the elections fraudulent. Even Clinton was embarrassed. 
       Under Haitian electoral law, a candidate must garner 50 percent plus one vote to win the first round of voting. Otherwise, the top two finishers meet in a runoff election the next month. "The U.S. is asking the government of Haiti to complete the vote count according to the constitution and electoral law," a State Department spokesman told Insight in June. But few observers saw the electoral situation as anything but hopeless. 
       The United States has spent an average of $30 million per election in Haiti since the Clinton/Gore intervention six years ago; in light of recent events Congress has suspended funding for most programs that sought to assure free elections. Humanitarian aid continues, although an audit several years ago revealed that the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, could not account for 2,732 metric tons of food commodities sent to Haiti valued at $1.1 million. 
       Other Clinton/Gore efforts to improve the situation in Haiti proved even more embarrassing. According to a 60 Minutes report, a USAID project called the Justice Reform Program proved to have been headed by a disbarred California attorney who also was a convicted felon. The law firm that contracted with USAID to help the Haitians improve their judicial record keeping was called Checci and Co. 60 Minutes reported that the head of the Checci mission in Haiti did not even hold a law degree. 
       The 1997 parliamentary elections also were declared fraudulent, and Prime Minister Rene Preval dissolved parliament as a result and has ruled by decree for the last three years. Preval is a Lavalas crony of Aristide and became president in 1996 when the U.S government forced the febrile radical to step down without seeking another term. But presidential elections scheduled for November are expected to rubber-stamp Aristide. 
       Meanwhile, those who oppose Lavalas fear for their lives. Paul Dennis, a member of the opposition People's Struggle Organization, or OPL, who was leading in election districts in the south in May, was hauled off to prison by a U.S.-trained police unit from the National Palace. An OPL spokesman tells Insight that orders from the presidential palace were to have him killed. Another OPL leader was killed earlier in the spring along with other opposition-party candidates. 
       Congressman Gilman has condemned these acts, blaming the Haitian government for tolerating general violence. It is an old story, and the U.S.-trained Haitian National Police, or HNP, has not been much help. Haiti does not have a tradition of effective policing, and being an honest cop there can be difficult if not downright dangerous. Standards for admittance to the HNP are high by Haitian standards, as candidates must have a high-school diploma and pass various physical and mental tests. U.S. sources tell Insight, however, that the HNP frequently appears with the violent Lavalas demonstrators. 
       U.S. Customs officials and the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, continue to complain that Haitian authorities have not been cracking down on drug trafficking from the island. The DEA indicates that approximately 15 percent of cocaine entering the United States goes through Haiti or the contiguous Dominican Republic. Special Agent for the Caribbean Division Michael Vigil told the House International Relations Committee in April that drugs pass from Haiti to the Dominican Republic, from which smugglers transport them to Puerto Rico, just 80 miles away. Once a shipment of cocaine reaches the U.S. commonwealth of Puerto Rico it is unlikely to be subject to further U.S. Customs inspections. 
       Direct shipments to the mainland are another matter. Since October, Customs has seized more than 7,000 pounds of cocaine from 18 boats trying to enter Miami. Neither the DEA nor Customs has released information about which political leaders in Haiti are being investigated for complicity in drug trafficking. 
       Sources within the HNP, however, inform Insight that several new Haitian senators support the drug trade. Danny Toussaint, former chief of security for the Lavalas Party and a close confidant of Aristide, was head of the interim police force under Aristide's presidency from 1994-95. He was elected to the Haitian senate in the Western Department in May and is alleged by HNP sources to have a record of arrest for drug trafficking in Miami. 
       The new senator for the South East Department, Jean Marie Fourell Celestin of the Lavalas Party, was nominated by Aristide to be police chief in 1995. The Haitian senate then rejected him because of alleged participation in drug trafficking. 
       But it does not appear that the Haitian senate will be rejecting anything else from Preval. After Manus fled the country because of violence by Aristide's supporters, a Lavalas Party victory was declared in the senate. 
       "The Preval government has failed to function successfully and there has been no progress in combating the drug trade or establishing the rule of law under President Preval," DeWine tells Insight. He acknowledges Preval's close friendship with Aristide and predicts an Aristide presidential win in November. But, DeWine says, instead of the Clinton/Gore policy of the last six years, his advice for the next U.S. president is: "There are certain standards we should hold them to from now on so that they will get their act together." 
       DeWine became interested in Haiti as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He warns that the drug problem it poses is severe and points out that Haiti is just 200 miles off the U.S. coast. He advocates working less with the government and more with nongovernmental organizations and church groups. Proceeds from the Capitol Hill art auction, for instance, will benefit the orphanage of Notre Dame de Victoire in downtown Port-au-Prince. It takes in children from parents who can't afford to feed them rather than see them sold into the sex trade or other human bondage. 
       The auction raised several thousand dollars for the orphans and will be delivered directly to the children. Unlike so much U.S. aid under Clinton/Gore, every dime will be accounted for. 

Click here for reprint information. 
Email this article to a friend. 
Print this article in an easy-to-read format.