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6788: The Wall Street Journal (fwd)

From: Stanley Lucas <slucas@iri.org>

The Wall Street Journal
January 26, 2001

The Americas

Clinton's Haiti Policy
Deserves Prompt Scrutiny

By Mary Anastasia O'Grady, editor of the Americas column.

Marvin Rosen (finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee from September 1995 until January 1997), former Democratic Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II, and Bill Clinton confidante Thomas (Mack) McClarty III are all on the board of Fusion Telecommunications International, according to that company's Web site. Mr. Rosen, who was active in the DNC at the height of the Clinton fundraising scandals, is also the company's chief executive officer.

Fusion may not be well known in the U.S., but it is a well-known name in the Haitian business community. Although Haiti has never privatized Teleco, the state-owned monopoly, or officially deregulated the country's telecommunications sector, the government, which has been run by former president Jean Bertrand Aristide's Lavalas Party since 1994, has granted Fusion a concession in the long-distance market. The terms of the deal are a secret, but sources say Fusion has an office inside Teleco.

Of course there's nothing illegal about a few heavyweights from the Democratic Party cutting a deal with a foreign government. Nor is it illegal to keep the deal hush-hush. But considering the Clinton administration's remarkable passivity toward Mr. Aristide's political terror and corruption over the past seven years, Fusion's concession is, at the very least, interesting.

It's not surprising that many Haiti watchers are asking how deep the connections between the Aristide and Clinton political machines really go. There are also hopes among Haiti's battered democratic opposition that President George W. Bush will have a look at these connections and perhaps reverse a longstanding U.S. policy of not responding effectively to Mr. Aristide's misdeeds.

Moreover, it should be remembered that American fighting men were employed on Mr. Aristide's behalf. He was reinstalled as president in 1994 after a U.S. invasion overthrew military coup leader Raoul Cedras. Ever since his return, first as president and then as the power behind the throne during the current presidency of René Preval, the Clinton protégé has piled up a dubious record.  Economic deterioration, drug trafficking and political assassinations of Lavalas critics have defined Mr. Aristide's Haiti. Every national election since 1997, including the one last Nov. 7 in which Mr. Aristide claimed victory, has been ruled fraudulent by independent outside observers. Political violence in Port-au-Prince forced the 1999 closing of offices of the International Republican Institute, a U.S. party-affiliated agency that promotes democracy around the world.

The Clinton nonchalance about such matters has puzzled people of both U.S. political parties. One close observer of U.S.-Haitian affairs said before last fall's sham elections in Haiti: "I am a Democrat but I have had a hard time understanding it. The dministration can have an influence and they're not doing it. The lengths to which they're going to are rather remarkable. It is a policy of denying reality."

Unsurprisingly, one theory is that it has to do with Mr. Aristide's important friendships. There are rumors inside the Haitian telecom industry that Fusion's concession includes a cost for long distance minutes substantially below what competitors are offered. If that is false, Fusion could clear it up. But Fusion's in-house counsel refuses to answer any questions about Haiti, offer the name of anyone at the company who might do so, or return follow-up phone calls. Nor would Mr. McClarty discuss Fusion's Haiti deal. "Mack doesn't know anything about Fusion and Haiti," a McClarty spokesman told me. That doesn't seem to jibe with his listing as a board member.

People with knowledge of the matter say that Fusion in Haiti is a joint venture between Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Aristide. Again, that cannot be confirmed and Mr. Kennedy was not immediately available for comment. But the Haitian despot, whose Lavalas Party was recently denounced by Amnesty International for threatening in early January to exterminate its opposition, was a guest at Mr.
Kennedy's second wedding, according to press reports. Mr. Kennedy and his mother are both on the board of advisors of the Aristide Foundation for Democracy, a tax-exempt foundation that raises money for Mr. Aritstide's use in Haiti.

Other foundation board members are U.S. Congressmen John Conyers and Charles Rangel. In the June 26 issue of Insight Magazine Catherine Edwards reported that Mr. Conyers had received a letter from a Haitian senator asking him to resign from the foundation. It read, according to the Insight article: "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."

Whatever the Fusion deal is, members of the Haitian business community insist that it had to be negotiated through the ruling party and its leader, Mr. Aristide. As one leading Haitian businessman told me, "The telephone concessions are an arbitrary distribution of favors. Anybody who got anything received it through Lavalas. They control the telephone sector. There has been no privatization, no transparency and no legal rules."

During Mr. Aristide's time as a president-elect in exile, he had access to some $40 to $50 million in frozen Haitian government assets. He drew on those assets at a rate of $900,000 per month during his first year of exile, and at a rate of $1.8 million per month starting in October 1992, as previously reported in this newspaper. He also collected millions of dollars in telephone and other royalties due the government of Haiti. This explains how he was able to pay expensive lawyers, with good political connections, to press his case for U.S. aid in returning him to the Haitian presidency. A book written by Lynn Garrison and published in 2000 by Leprechaun Publishing Group claims that Mr. Aristide holds an unpublished manuscript titled "I Paid For My Return."

The Haitian democratic opposition refuses to recognize Mr. Aristide's November "victory" in the presidential elections and it's heading for a showdown. This weekend it will convene in several provinces in order to construct an alternative government. During George W.'s "real good scrubbing" of the White House, a close look at conditions in Haiti and what role the previous administration played in upholding a highly unattractive regime would bear a close look.