Friday, October 27, 2006

Some help for Haiti's farmers, Toto told to pay up and Republicans drag their feet on Aristide probe

Finally appearing to bow to the reality that Haiti is a peasant-majority country and that the deforestation, erosion and concurrent economic devastation of Haiti's countryside is at the root of many of the nation's political problems, the Inter-American Development Bank approved on Wednesday a $17.8 million loan earmarked to help the nation's farmer's, marking a new chapter in the long struggle for those who have often found themselves at the bottom of most economic and social indicators there. The program, set to reinforce Haiti's Ministère de l’agriculture des ressources naturelles et du développement rural (MARNDR) is set to rehabilitate four "extension" centers in Dondon, Lévy, Baptiste and Savanne Zombi and, among other measures, the IADB release says the plan will

"Improve planting stock; production of high-value fruits such as avocados, mangoes and citrus; horticultural marketing and processing, coffee pest and disease control, propagation of disease-resistant banana varieties that also serve as shade trees for coffee; garden and root crops; corn and beans, essential oils and livestock."

A second aspect will focus on disease and pest control.

Having observed the work of the Mouvman Peyizan Papay (MPP) and the twenty-thousand member Mouvman Peyizan Nasyonal Kongre Papay (MPNKP) (both named for the village of Papay where they are based) peasant unions over the years, and the dedication of their leader, 2005 Goldman Environmental Prize winner Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, as well as similar movements in the Artibonite Valley, I can only hope that much more help for Haiti's beleaguered farmers will be on the way. The IADB loan represents a step in the right direction but, with massive deforestation having claimed 90% of Haiti’s tree cover for charcoal and to make room for farming in the past 50 years, so much more needs to be done.

In other Haiti news, one strike against impunity, one apparent step back in the face of it.

A New York district judge this week declared that Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, former head of the Front Pour L'Avancement et Le Progres Haitian (FRAPH), a paramilitary death squad that terrorized Haitians in the early 1990s, was "liable for torture, attempted extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity," and ordered him to pay $19 million to three women who say there were raped by Constant's forces. Constant is currently in jail on Long Island after being charged in connection with a $1 million mortgage fraud scheme this past July. It remains an open question as to whether Constant's victims will see any money, but it is at least a decent move towards stripping away the veil of international invulnerability that some, including some in the United States as we speak, exist within despite crimes of the most grotesque sort which they committed abroad.

In less encouraging news, apparently due in at least part to close connections a multimillion dollar telecom firm has with some prominent Republics, an article by investigative journalist Lucy Komisar reports that "the U.S. Justice Department is withholding agreement to share assets seized from Haitian drug traffickers to finance a lawsuit by the Haitian government charging former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide with taking bribes."

The bribery charges center around Aristide's second term in office from 2001 until 2004, and focus on the IDT telcom company, alleging that Aristide took hundreds of thousands of kickbacks in money that should have been deposited in Haiti's meager treasury in exchange for giving IDT a favorable rate on international calls. A former IDT executive, Michael Jewett, claims the he refused to go along with the scheme and was fired for his trouble. Jewett charges that the deal enabled several North American companies (including IDT) to operate in Haiti for a cut-rate fee of nine cents per minute, three cents of which promptly disappeared into an Aristide shell company called Mont Salem set up in Turks and Caicos, as opposed to going to TELECO, the Haitian state telephone company, where the money belonged.

"These companies then allegedly resold the minutes to U.S. customers for 16 or 18 cents," Komisar writes. Jewett sued IDT in October 2005 for wrongful dismissal.

If true, Komisar notes, in addition to being an appalling betrayal of the Haitian people by their president in contravention of Haitian law, the actions would also be a violation of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

However and alas, IDT's board of directors includes Ronald Reagan's former ambassador to the U.N. Jeane Kirkpatrick, former Republican vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp, former Virginia governor James S. Gilmore III and former Minnesota senator Rudy Boschwitz. U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney bought 1,000 initial shares of IDT-run internet phone company in 1999. Even more suggestively, the current head of the Justice Department Criminal Division, Alice Fisher, had previously served as a lawyer for IDT. So, does anyone want to take any wagers on how this will proceed?

One remembers Eric Pierre. Pierre, a 27-year-old medical student from the southern Haitian town of Jacmel, was shot and killed while leaving the the Faculté de Medicine in Port-au-Prince on 7 January 2003. That was a day that saw a series of strikes in the Haitian capital against Mr. Aristide's government following a steep rise in gas prices. The students of Haiti's State University, of which the Faculté de Medicine was a part, from the summer of 2002 onwards had played a lead role in the demonstrations against the violent excesses and corruption of Mr. Aristide's government, and continued to do so until his ouster in February 2004. That morning, according to witnesses, Eric Pierre's attackers fled the scene in a car with official TELECO plates. In a notebook of his thoughts Pierre was carrying at the time, there was written the following words:

Justice, quand?

The U.S. Department of Justice needs to ask itself that same question, on behalf of all the Eric Pierres who fell in Haiti or saw their dreams dashed because of the actions of a few ravenous politicians and there unscrupulous foreign partners. Justice, when? Well, U.S. Department of Justice? Haiti is waiting.


sutton said...

I wonder if the Republicans' close ties to the telecom crimes of Aristide cause the lefty Aristidistes any cognitive dissonance...

Michael Deibert said...

Yes, I've always wondered when they will adopt the attitude that crime is crime no matter who commits it.