News and opinions on situation in Haiti
Haiti Report for July 13, 2006
The Haiti Report is a compilation and summary of events as described in Haiti and international media prepared by Konbit Pou Ayiti/KONPAY. It does not reflect the opinions of any individual or organization. This service is intended to create a better understanding of the situation in Haiti by presenting the reader with reports that provide a variety of perspectives on the situation.
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IN THIS REPORT:
Emmanuel “Toto” Constant Arrested for Mortgage Fraud Scheme:
Mr. Laforest and many other Haitians were surprised last week when Mr. Constant finally was arrested, not on charges relating to his past, but in connection with a mortgage fraud scheme on Long Island. He was arraigned on Friday in State Supreme Court in Riverhead on charges including grand larceny. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s office said that Mr. Constant, 49, and five others defrauded banks out of more than $1 million in loans by using straw home buyers and inflated appraisals. The attorney general’s office said Mr. Constant played a role in recruiting one of the straw buyers and in forging a bank statement that the bank relied on in giving a loan. The prosecutors said Mr. Constant was paid $45,000.
A lawyer for Mr. Constant, Edward R. Palermo of Smithtown, said Mr. Constant was pleading not guilty to the financial charges, but added that he knew little of his client’s past in Haiti, or his immigration status. ”They want to make my client’s political past in Haiti the background of the case, for publicity and to prejudice the judge to set a high bail, when it really has nothing to do with these charges,” he said. In a memorandum to the judge, Mr. Spitzer’s office called Mr. Constant a flight risk, and because of his association with “a violent paramilitary organization,” urged that he be held without bail, or that bail be at least $2 million. Acting State Supreme Court Justice Michael F. Mullen set it at $50,000. But even if Mr. Constant posts bail, he is to be turned over to federal immigration officials, who have orders to detain him, said Chief Alan Otto of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau would not give any details about Mr. Constant’s status.
He fled Haiti when Mr. Aristide returned to power in 1994. Immigration officials here detained him but ultimately decided not to deport him after Mr. Constant insisted that Haiti’s unstable justice system would put him to death. In 2000, Mr. Constant was convicted in absentia by a Haitian court for his involvement in a 1994 massacre, and he was sued recently in federal court on behalf of three women who said his soldiers beat and gang-raped them, under a “systematic campaign of violence against women.” It has always been a sore point with New York’s Haitian immigrants that Mr. Constant has been allowed to live in exile here, said Kim Ives, a journalist who has written extensively about Mr. Constant in the New York Haitian press. ”If people weren’t so afraid of him, he would be attacked the minute he walked on the street here,” he said. But, Mr. Laforest said, “Mentally, Haitians are still terrified of Toto; they’re afraid his friends will have their house firebombed.” Mr. Constant remained on the margins of the Haitian community and would rarely walk in Haitian neighborhoods, both his friends and his enemies say. (NY Times, 7/11)
Despite protests by prosecutors and a human rights group, a judge set bail at $50,000 Friday for an elusive former strongman from Haiti arrested in a Long Island mortgage fraud probe. The bail for Emmanuel “Toto” Constant was set by state Supreme Court Justice Michael Mullen at an arraignment on charges of grand larceny, forgery and falsifying business records. Prosecutors asked that Constant be held without bail, citing his 2000 murder conviction in Haiti and a pending lawsuit alleging his forces gang-raped women. A lawyer with the San Francisco-based human rights group Center for Justice and Accountability, which represents three women in the gang-rape lawsuit, also said Constant was dangerous and should remain jailed. But Constant’s attorney said the charges against his client are nonviolent, and Constant has no criminal record since coming to the United States. “They tried to take his alleged past history and use it to prejudice the judge,” Edward Palermo said.
Constant, 49, was among six people indicted for mortgage fraud linked to a four-bedroom home in East Setauket. The defendants stole $750,000 from a pair of financial institutions by using phony buyers for the home, authorities said. Constant received $45,000, authorities said, and he faces 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison if convicted. In 1994, Constant slipped into the United States. He has been living in exile in New York, reportedly sometimes staying at the home of an aunt while working as a mortgage broker. Despite a 1995 deportation order, he has been allowed to remain because Haiti’s judicial system hasn’t stabilized enough to ensure a fair trial. A Haitian court convicted him absentia in 2000 and sentenced him to life in prison. Lawyers for three women who claim they were gang-raped have asked a U.S. District Court judge to enter a default judgment against Constant. He was served a complaint in January 2005 but ignored it, they said. A hearing is scheduled next month. (AP, 7/7)
Killings in Martissant:
U.N. peacekeepers on Friday found the bodies of 16 people believed killed in a surge of gang violence, the latest sign the Caribbean nation’s capital may be slipping back into disorder after months of relative calm. The troops from Sri Lanka the bodies in the southern Port-au-Prince slum of Martissant, a U.N. statement said. The slum was the site of a recent spate of gunbattles between warring gangs. The victims apparently were shot to death in an hours-long gunfight among Haitian gang members fighting for control of the area, said Pierre Esperance, a local human rights activist. The dead were civilians, not gang members, said Esperance, whose National Coalition for Haitian Rights has monitored gang activity in slums. The Brazil-led U.N. peacekeeping force stepped up patrols where the bodies were found. Many residents fled the area for fear of more attacks, local radio reported. The military forces in the area have increased their patrols to protect the population and prevent more acts of violence, the U.N. statement said. The deaths were the latest in a series of killings and kidnappings that have gripped Haiti’s tense capital in the weeks since the June inauguration of President Rene Preval. Recent violence has raised fears of a return to the mayhem following a 2004 revolt that toppled then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. (AP, 7/7)
Chamber of Deputies’ Commission Denounces Conditions in National Penitentiary:
For his part, Deputy Sorel François drew particular attention to the physical state of the former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, incarcerated for more than 24 months by the interim authorities for an alleged massacre that is said to have taken place at la Scierie in the locality of St-Marc (27 km north of the capital). According to Sorel François, Mr. Neptune?s case is extremely preoccupying and that as a result there is no more time for delay. He said that for political abuses political solutions must be found. He therefore called on President René Préval to make a political decision to free all political prisoners since it was a matter of citizens who were arrested simply for being political adversaries [of the previous government]. The parliamentarian let it be known that steps were being taken to approach a number of international organizations so that they could intervene in the cases of certain special prisoners. (AHP, 7/6)
Haiti’s Government Drops Corruption Lawsuit Against Aristide:
Then last month the Haitian government’s lawyers gave Port-au-Prince officials until June 30 to decide on a legal course of action — pursue the suit now or drop it temporarily. Former interim Prime Minister Gérard Latortue has said the real cause of the delay was a dispute over money with the Chicago law firm handling the civil case. The firm, Winston & Strawn, did not reply to requests for comment. Officials in the newly elected government of President René Préval, once an Aristide ally, declined to comment on the case. Filed last November, the 74-page suit alleged Aristide ``abused his power and deceived and betrayed the Haitian people by directing and participating in ongoing and fraudulent schemes.’’ The suit, which never led to any substantive actions, was based on two reports by Haitian government investigators that accused Aristide of illegally pumping millions of dollars in public funds into shell companies and into his private charities. (Miami Herald, 7/6)
Minister Jasmin Guarantees Municipal and Local Elections will be held Before end of 2006:
Mr. Jasmin expressed the hope that the electoral institutions will be in a position to repeat elections in Grande Saline that were marred with irregularities and violence. Parallel to this announcement the minister revealed that there wouldn’t be any new nominations for general directorships in the public administration. Only those functionaries that infringed principles of public administration or that resigned will be replaced, stated Joseph Jasmin, adding that this measure falls within the scope of President René Préval’s policy of continuity and opening-up that was initiated recently. However, he stressed that functionaries who leave the administration must return the goods and files that are in their possession.
In many state institutions, including the National Palace and the Premiership, important pieces including works of great value were takenaway before the arrival of the new government team. The majority of parties represented in the Parliament have ministers in the Préval/Alexis government, affirming the desire of the government to include all sectors in the process of Haitian national reconstruction as a necessary step in rectifying the political and economic situation, which deteriorated considerably during the last two years. The government also remains confronted with the onerous heritage of a judicial apparatus in shambles and racked with the scandal of hundreds of political prisoners abandoned in detention by the interim regime of Gérard Latortue, accused of having fled the country last May. (AHP, 7/5)
Congresswoman Maxine Waters and PAPDA Call for Cancellation of Haiti’s Debt:
“The impoverished people of Haiti cannot wait, as suggested by the World Bank, until 2009 for debt cancellation,” said Congresswoman Waters. “The IMF, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank should cancel Haiti’s debts now and allow President Preval and the newly elected government of Haiti to invest in social and economic development for the Haitian people.” “The cancellation of Haiti’s debts will enable the newly-elected government of Haiti to improve healthcare, education and other essential government services; invest in critical infrastructure; and improve the lives of the Haitian people,” said Congresswoman Waters. According to the IMF, Haiti owes over $1 billion dollars to multilateral financial institutions, including $9.1 million to the IMF, $566.7 million to the World Bank, and $470.9 million to the Inter-American Development Bank. Rep. Waters’ resolution would expedite the process that would relieve Haiti of its debt burden and provide its newly elected government with a solid economic foundation as it moves into the future. (Office of M. Waters, 6/22) Camille Chalmers, the director of the Advocacy Platform for Alternative Development (PAPDA), on Friday invited all sectors of national life to mobilize themselves to demand the cancellation of Haiti’s debt. During a press conference, Chalmers stated that he considers the cancellation of the debt as crucial since Haiti currently finds itself in a difficult situation with a population living in sub-human conditions. The initiative of some international organizations to reduce the debt of certain countries (the HIPC Initiative) will solve only to 25 or 30% the problem of the debt, he said, bearing in mind that the debt of several of the beneficiary countries is today much higher than before the reduction. The head of the PAPDA also pointed out that the measures under consideration in this program (the HIPC Initiative) will weaken the country even more. It requires the liberalization of public finances, an increase in taxation, and the privatization of state enterprises. Chalmers continued, underlining that important resources currently devoted by Haiti to debt servicing could be allocated to social priorities. He insisted on an audit of the debt process over the last 20 years, which would make it possible to start a process of recovery of badly acquired debts. According to Camille Chalmers, Haiti is at a crossroads where everything possible must be done to solve the problem of the external debt. (AHP, 6/30)
CARICOM Welcomes Haiti Back:
European Union Announces Increase in Development Aid for Haiti:
Kidnapped Canadian Missionary Released After a Week:
He made it back to the capital early Sunday and was resting at a safe location in Port-au-Prince. “He called me in the morning and was extremely disoriented,” Ryman said from his home in Tampa, Fla. “A bit later I talked to him again and he said he plans to return to his children in the orphanage.” Hughes was shot and badly wounded in the arm in December 2005 trying to stop the abduction of Haitian-American missionary Daniel Phelusmar, who was held for four days. (AP, 6/25)
A Canadian missionary held by kidnappers in Haiti for almost a week was freed after a $2,000 ransom was paid, a Haitian police official said on Sunday. The missionary, Ed Hughes, was released unharmed on Saturday night and two people were taken into custody, judicial police commissioner Michael Lucius said. ”He was released by his captors after we conducted an operation in the area where he was held,” Lucius told Reuters. Hughes was kidnapped on June 19 in an orphanage he runs in Cabaret, 12 miles (20 km) north of the capital Port-au-Prince.
Hughes had been a victim of crime before. Last year, most of his right arm had to be amputated after he was shot by gunmen apparently intent on kidnapping someone else at the mission. Lucius said police were still looking for two suspects thought to be the main figures behind a kidnapping spree in Cabaret. Both suspects — Desir Jean Tardieu, known as the “Joker,” and Peterson Cheristin, known as “Sonson” — escaped from prison on April 8, where they were being held on accusations they beheaded a witch doctor. Hughes’ abductors initially demanded $100,000 to free him. (Reuters, 6/25)
US Ambassador Expresses Concern at Continued Detention of Yvon Neptune and Rising Insecurity:
The US ambassador to Haiti, Janet A. Sanderson, expressed concern Tuesday with the rising insecurity in Haiti over the past several weeks. Violence erupted in several regions of the country, especially in the Grand Ravine neighborhood where members of the armed group “Ti Manchet” or Little Machetes murdered 20 people and kidnapped several others. The American diplomat stated that it was urgent that the government adopted drastic measures to end the kidnapping phenomenon. She also expressed the determination of her government to accompany the Haitian people in its struggle to establish democracy and peace in the country. Mrs. Sanderson also announced that an important quantity of arms purchased by the interim government were confiscated at the police academy in Freres, at the behest of the US government. This decision was taken because the Haitian police did not have the capacity to use those weapons and also because the weapons have caused too much harm to the Haitian people during the past two years. The interim prime minister Gérard Latortue had even affirmed in September 2004 that his regime could turn to the black market to purchase arms in order to avoid the arms embargo imposed by the US. The US ambassador invited today all Haitians to seize the occasion that is being offered to them and take their destiny in their hands. Several parliamentarians also expressed concern about the rising insecurity in Port-au-Prince. (AHP, 7/11)
European Union Electoral Observation Mission Calls for Establishment of Permanent Electoral Council:
State Employees Dismissed Under Interim Regime Protest:
These citizens were fired solely because they were deemed partisan to the Aristide government following his forced departure on February 29, 2004, the demonstrators said. Several of those dismissed from their positions with the national telephone service (Téléco), the national old-age insurance officer (ONA), the national port authority (APN), were subsequently arrested when they asked for damages. ”We are not against the outreach policy of the president, but this policy cannot be accompanied by a strategy to close off all those who were sacrificed and who were used as cannon fodder to promote a new future,” cried the demonstrators at the Constitution Square. Others called on the new government to “resist the opportunistic schemers who want to marginalize their voices as was done so skillfully under the Aristide government.”
A spokesperson for Fanmi Lavalas, René Monplaisir, gave his support for the rights of those employees unfairly laid off by the former regime who wish to assert their rights. They nevertheless applauded the new authorities for creating commissions to study the employees? files in an effort to come to a solution. René Monplaisir announced an important meeting with various representatives of the popular sectors to help advance this struggle, he said.
“We will continue to mobilize to ensure the rights of all citizens,” said Lavalas activists. Activists at the July 10, 2006 demonstration also called for the “release of hundreds of citizens, including former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, who has been in detention for almost the entire two years of the interim regime led by Gerard Latortue because of their political views.” (AHP, 7/10)
Atty. Brian Concannon, Jr. on the Return of Aristide:
The prospect of President Aristide’s return generates passionate reactions, both for and against, in Haiti, but also in Washington and other world capitols. The return is usually debated in terms of President Aristide’s likely role in Haitian political life, but the controversy raises two important questions beyond politics- what right does everyone have to weigh in on a private Haitian citizen’s decision to live inside his country or out? And what does the controversy say about the much broader issue of return- of the return of full democracy and sovereignty to Haiti. President Preval is asked about the return incessantly by the foreign press, and he gives a simple answer: as he told France’s Le Monde on Tuesday, “the decision is not mine to make.” He cites Article 41 of Haiti’s Constitution, which declares that “no individual of Haitian nationality can be deported or forced to leave the country for any reason whatsoever,” and Article 41-1 which adds that “no Haitian needs a visa to leave the country or to return to it.” President Preval affirms that he intends to comply with Articles 41 and 41-1, as with all the articles of Haiti’s Constitution.
Several commentators have mentioned that President Aristide would have to face any legal action against him if he returns to Haiti, or if he goes to the U.S. That is true of any citizen in any country, but is independent of the right to come home. Moreover, although the foreign press has reported extensively on criminal investigations against President Aristide in both Haiti and the U.S., there are no criminal charges against him in either country. The Interim Government and its allies made many serious accusations of criminal activity against President Aristide to the press, but not a single one to the Haitian justice system in two years. The Interim authorities did file a civil complaint against Mr. Aristide and several others in Federal Court in Miami. They launched an impressive public relations campaign, including press conferences, Washington briefings and seminars to accompany the filing. But they did not actually pursue the case in court- eight months after filing the complaint (the first step), not a single defendant has ever been served with the complaint (the second step, usually done immediately). A U.S. grand jury has spent two years investigated drug trafficking and money laundering between Port-au-Prince and Miami, and although the “smoking gun” against President Aristide has been announced several times in the press, not a single charge has issued from the courthouse.
Articles 41 and 41-1 should dispose of the discussion of the return, but once again Haiti’s Constitution is not allowed the last word. The countries that used their financial and military clout to remove President Aristide back in 2004- the U.S., Canada and France- are now using their diplomatic clout to keep him out. The U.S., once again, is taking the lead, with its trademark faithfulness to a consistent sound bite. Before the votes from the February 7 Presidential elections had even arrived at election headquarters, Acting U.S. Ambassador Tim Carney predicted that the election “is going to demonstrate . how Jean Bertrand Aristide is a man of the past.” Later that week, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters that Aristide “is in South Africa, and I would expect that he would stay there,” and that “we think the Haitian government should be looking forward to their future, not to its past.” Deputy State Department Spokesman Adam Ereli added: “our understanding is that the government of Haiti is looking forward, not looking back. They’ve got a democracy to build, and the future is not in the past. Aristide is from the past” (all italics supplied).
This message was echoed far beyond the Bush Administration. Former Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega declared that for Preval, Aristide’s return “would be the end of his ability to run the country.” Lawrence Pezzullo, President Clinton’s special envoy to Haiti warned “if [Preval] brings Aristide back, that thing will blow up.” The International Crisis Group added that Aristide’s return “would be a very polarizing and divisive event that could fatally damage the effort to move Haiti forward.’’ None of these experts even mentioned that it was Aristide’s removal in 2004 that led to unprecedented violence- thousands of deaths- not to mention the reversal of ten years’ hard won democratic progress.
France’s Minister for Cooperation and Development, Brigitte Girardin, visited South Africa in April, and opposing Aristide’s return was high on her agenda for discussions with Foreign Minister Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Canada, France, and even some South American countries buttonholed South African President Thabo Mbeki when he went to Chile for President Michelle Bachelet’s March inauguration, to tell him not to allow Aristide’s return. The fact that such a broad spectrum of non-Haitian officials and commentators feel they can pressure Haiti’s government to deprive a citizen of his Constitutional right to live in his homeland raises an obvious question: how much has democracy actually returned to Haiti, and how much democracy will the international community allow?
There are few, if any, precedents of the world’s powerful countries keeping a former elected President out of his own country, but that level of interference is routine for Haiti. On February 17, 2004, as insurgents took over cities in the north of Haiti, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell reaffirmed that President Aristide was Haiti’s constitutional President, and announced that the U.S. “cannot buy into a proposition that says the elected President must be forced out of office by thugs and those who do not respect law and are bringing terrible violence to the Haitian people.” But twelve days later, Mr. Powell’s State Department forced President Aristide onto a plane, delivering Haiti to thugs who brought terrible violence to the Haitian people- over 4,000 killed, hundreds of political dissidents imprisoned illegally, and a deadly increase in hunger and disease. The United Nations, with a Charter proclaiming “respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples,” declined the elected government’s request for help before the coup. But within a few hours of President Aristide’s departure, and on a Sunday morning to boot, the UN Security Council had authorized a military mission to Haiti, not to restore the Constitutional authorities, but to consolidate their overthrow. The Organization of American States, which had a newly-minted Inter-American Democratic Charter designed to respond to threats against the democratic order of member states, never once criticized the coup.
If Haiti’s former President has trouble traveling into Haiti, its current Prime Minister, Jacques-Edouard Alexis has trouble traveling out. Canada announced in early May that he was barred from the country because his name is on a list of people accused of “crimes against humanity.” The Canadian government admits it has no specific evidence against Mr. Alexis. It makes vague reference to the Carrefour Feuilles massacre, a police killing of suspected gang members during Mr. Alexis’ previous tenure as Prime Minister in 1999. Ironically, Mr. Alexis’ government aggressively prosecuted that massacre- several top police officials were convicted of murder and imprisoned- and the UN and human rights groups hailed the prosecution as a major step in fighting large-scale human rights violations. Canada claims to be sorry and to be looking into the matter, but almost two months after the issue was first raised, Mr. Alexis’ name is still on the list.
Imagining analogous treatment among the world’s powerful countries is difficult: England’s Prime Minister Tony Blair pressuring President Bush to restrict former Vice-President Gore’s anti-war speeches, because he “is a man of the past.” Or the U.S. Ambassador to France warning against the “divisive” socialist Parliamentarians who called for a vote of no-confidence against the French government last month. In Canada, lawyers and human rights groups did present extensive evidence of George Bush’s responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity ahead of his December 2004 visit. Of course the Canadian government declined to invoke its laws barring entry of human rights violators- the very laws it did apply to Mr. Alexis- despite the ample evidence for Mr. Bush, and the lack of any for Mr. Alexis.
Haitians have a marketplace expression for double standard- de pwa, de mezi (literally “two weights, two measures”), that gets frequent use in discussions about the international community’s treatment of their country. Haitians with varying levels of approval for President Aristide’s tenure in office agree that his forced exile is yet another example of de pwa de mezi -powerful countries that preach respect for human rights, the rule of law and national sovereignty declining to apply those principles when they stand in the way of want they want to do with Haiti. So for them, President Aristide’s physical return is one part of a broader return of Haiti to a complete democracy, and to a sovereignty respected by the rest of the world. In this broader return, there would be no more need to argue about a former President coming home, any more than there is in the rest of the world. [Author of this article: Brian Concannon Jr. is a human rights lawyer and directs the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, www.ijdh.org] (Counterpunch, 6/30 and the Boston Haitian Reporter, June 2006)
Miami Herald on Allegations Against Aristide:
Still, The Miami Herald has learned from interviews with about 20 law enforcement officials, defense lawyers and others involved in the case that Aristide has been accused of being at the center of his country’s narco-trafficking and money-laundering activities between 2001 and 2004. Authorities have gathered evidence, including testimony by cooperating defendants convicted in the case, alleging that:
• At Aristide’s direction, some of the traffickers’ bribes helped buy weapons smuggled into Haiti to equip national police officers as well as pro-Aristide street gangs that harassed his opponents during his second term as president, between 2001 and 2004, according to former Haitian law enforcement officials and drug traffickers who are cooperating with U.S. investigators.
Lawyer for Aristide says he wasn’t interested in money. Aristide’s longtime lawyer, Ira Kurzban, said he does not believe the allegations against the former president. Speaking generally, Kurzban said that the federal prosecution is politically motivated and that the U.S. government’s witnesses are ‘’liars’’ seeking to reduce their prison sentences by fingering the former president in their money-laundering and cocaine enterprise. ’’It is inconceivable to me that Aristide would do anything for personal gain,’’ Kurzban said, commenting on the ex-president’s character. ``He was not a person interested in money.’’ To be sure, the U.S. investigation has been built on testimony from many of the 22 mostly Haitian cocaine smugglers, police officers and others convicted in Miami over the past 2 ? years. The probe, spearheaded by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) with help from the Internal Revenue Service, has focused on cocaine smuggling during Aristide’s second presidential term.
The investigation continues as the Haitian government carries out its own separate inquiry into the Aristide administration and foundation records, so far concluding that the president had looted government coffers, Haitian government records show. The interim government that replaced Aristide two years ago filed suit in Miami last year to recover ‘’tens of millions of dollars’’ allegedly stolen by the former president and others from Haiti’s treasury and its phone company. Neither the Haitian investigation nor the civil suit alleges drug trafficking. To this day, the 52-year-old Aristide remains intensely popular in Haiti and has expressed a desire to return home from exile in South Africa after the recent election of President René Préval, once an Aristide ally. That would upset Haiti’s domestic politics and Préval’s relations with the U.S. and French governments, which regard Aristide as a destabilizing factor in Haiti.
Probers report absence of incriminating records. While several witnesses have testified against the former president in the U.S. drug-trafficking probe, investigators have told The Miami Herald that they have yet to uncover bank records and other financial statements that support the claims. The absence of such documents to solidify their case against Aristide has prevented authorities from seeking a federal indictment in Miami, U.S. law enforcement officials said. Efforts to reach Aristide for comment on this story failed. Kurzban, who represented the Haitian government as its lawyer from 1991 to 2004, said he did not believe that the ex-president would agree to an interview. Kurzban, who still speaks on Aristide’s behalf, said that while people in Haiti were well aware of the country’s drug-trafficking problem, it came as a ’’shock’’ to him when he learned that Aristide and others in his government became targets of a U.S. criminal investigation.
He said that, if anything, Aristide cooperated with the federal government in the crackdown on cocaine smuggling in 2003, including allowing Ketant to be turned over to U.S. authorities. He said that money donated to the Aristide Foundation went to the poor for relief programs such as rice subsidies. Haiti, an impoverished country where cash and corruption go hand in hand, has long been a significant transit point for Colombian cocaine headed for U.S. streets. From there, it is sometimes smuggled directly to the United States. Another route: from Haiti to the Dominican Republic, west to Puerto Rico and then to the U.S. mainland. During Aristide’s second term as president, an estimated 10 percent of all cocaine smuggled into the United States flowed through the Caribbean corridor, especially Haiti, according to a 2006 federal report by the National Drug Intelligence Center. Shortly after the Aristide government turned over Ketant to U.S. officials, the U.S. government broadened its drug investigation by looking into the Aristide leadership.
It was during a 2004 sentencing in federal court in Miami that Ketant accused Aristide of turning Haiti into a ‘’narco-country’’ and being a ‘’drug lord.’’ Not under oath at the time, Ketant was sentenced to 27 years in prison and to pay $30 million in fines and forfeitures. Behind the scenes, he began to cooperate as a key witness for prosecutors, providing details on his alleged payoffs to Aristide and others in exchange for a free hand shipping cocaine through Haiti to the United States. His testimony triggered some of the indictments against the 21 others on money-laundering or cocaine-smuggling charges, U.S. law enforcement officials said. Another major witness was Aristide’s former security chief, Oriel Jean, who was convicted last year in a separate federal case of money-laundering and sentenced to three years. He fingered the same drug traffickers, police officials and politicians—including Aristide. And during his testimony at two Miami trials last year, he linked Aristide to at least two people implicated in Haiti’s drug trade and the U.S. investigation.
The Miami Herald has learned that the Ketant brothers and other major traffickers made cash contributions to the Aristide Foundation through one of its high-ranking members. According to traffickers and U.S. law enforcement officials, Aristide allegedly ordered Port-au-Prince district police chief Leonard to pass any seized drugs on to Edouard and other Haitian traffickers for resale. The smugglers, in turn, donated some of the tainted proceeds to the Lavalas party or the foundation, they said.
Aristide also instructed Haitian Sen. Fourel Célestin, who represented the Jacmel area southwest of the capital, to solicit donations from drug traffickers for Lavalas, according to convicted drug smugglers, ex-police officers and U.S. law enforcement officials. Convicted last year after a plea deal with Miami prosecutors, Célestin admitted taking a $200,000 bribe to help secure the release of two detained Colombian traffickers. Célestin is now cooperating with prosecutors. Under federal law, prosecutors would not have to prove that Aristide was personally involved in moving loads of cocaine to the United States — only that he allowed traffickers to use his country and received kickbacks in return. If Aristide comes under a U.S. indictment, the threat of extradition from Haiti to the United States might keep him from pushing to return to Haiti, according to legal observers. It may also be keeping Préval from worrying too much about the prospect of his former mentor’s return. After February’s presidential election, Préval said that Aristide, like all Haitians, could legally come home. But he added a cautionary note, saying Aristide ’’must decide whether he wants to return, if there are legal and other actions’’ pending against him. (Miami Herald, 7/2)