US Democracy Promotion and Haiti


 Nearly two years after the overthrow of President Jean Bertrand Aristide, Haiti will be holding national elections next month. Former President Rene Preval, a Aristide ally, is leading in the polls. Meanwhile, a judge has dropped the most serious charges against jailed priest Gerard Jean Juste. Jean Juste was imprisoned in July over the murder of journalist Jacques Roche – killed while Jean Juste was in Miami. After Jean Juste’s arrest, Haitian officials prevented Lavalas – the political movement aligned with Aristide – from registering him as their presidential candidate, on the grounds he was imprisoned. Although he has been cleared in Roche’s murder, authorities say Jean Juste will remain in prison over weapons charges. Amnesty International calls him a prisoner of conscience. Calls for his release have intensified with the recent announcement he’s been diagnosed with leukemia.

Meanwhile, violence continues to affect Haiti’s poorest areas. Last week, two Jordanian troops with the UN mission were killed in a gun-battle in the poor neighborhood of Cite Soleil. Local residents later reported UN troops had shot at a hospital in the area. UN troops have stepped up armed raids on Cite Soleil amid pressure from business leaders and foreign officials.

We want to continue our Haiti coverage leading up to the election by looking at the activities of a government-funded organization that is pouring millions of dollars into trying to influence the country’s political future. The National Endowment for Democracy is one of a handful of state-funded groups that have played a pivotal role in the internal politics of several Latin American and Caribbean countries in the service of the US government.

The NED operates with an annual budget of $80 million dollars from U.S. Congress and the State Department. In Venezuela, it’s given money to several political opponents of President Hugo Chavez. With elections underway in Haiti, it’s reportedly doing the same to groups linked to the country’s tiny elite and former military.

Last week Democracy Now! interviewed Anthony Fenton about NED’s activities in Haiti and across the Caribbean and Latin America. Fenton is an independent journalist and co-author of the book “Canada in Haiti: Waging War On The Poor Majority.” He has interviewed several top governmental and non-governmental officials dealing with Haiti as well as leading members of Haiti’s business community. Last month, he helped expose an NED-funded journalist who was filing stories for the Associated Press from Haiti. The Associated Press subsequently terminated its relationship with the journalist.


RUSH TRANSCRIPT

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AMY GOODMAN: Last week, I interviewed Anthony Fenton, about N.E.D.’s activities in Haiti and across the Caribbean and Latin America. Fenton is an independent Canadian journalist and co-author of the book, Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority. He has interviewed several top governmental and non-governmental officials dealing with Haiti, as well as leading members of Haiti’s business community. Last month, he helped expose an N.E.D.-funded journalist who was filing stories for the Associated Press from Haiti. The Associated Press subsequently terminated its relationship with her. We go now to an excerpt from that interview. Anthony Fenton was in a studio in Vancouver. I began by asking him to talk about the current situation in Haiti.

    ANTHONY FENTON: Well, indeed, obviously, there is an ongoing military occupation there ever since the forced ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February of 2004 in a coup d’etat that was assisted and planned by the Canadian government, along with the U.S. government and the French government. Of course, speaking from Canada, Canada played an integral role in the overthrow of Aristide and continues to play an integral role in the post-invasion occupation of Haiti.

    They’re leading up to what are now the fourth scheduled period of elections. There have been several postponements. This is due in part — the original intention of the invasion, of course, was to subvert the young process of popular democracy that existed in Haiti prior to the coup, and of course, if Aristide hadn’t been overthrown, Haiti would have already carried out their democratic election, their presidential elections.

    And, of course, the fear of the United States and of organizations like the National Endowment for Democracy and the State Department, of course, was that popular democracy would take root in Haiti under another Lavalas government, and they have set about to undermine the popular movement that existed in support of Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the Lavalas Party. And we’re seeing today the consolidation of the elite rule that they have long envisioned for Haiti ever since the fall of “Baby Doc” Duvalier in the mid-80s.

    AMY GOODMAN: Anthony, can you just lay out what the National Endowment for Democracy is?

    ANTHONY FENTON: Well, yeah, they were formed in the early 1980s under the Reagan administration. Ostensibly, they purport to promote pro-democracy organizations and democratic values across the world. Just last October, President Bush spoke at a National Endowment for Democracy gathering, reiterating the vision of Reagan as he set about to, as they say, “promote democracy throughout the world,” and they were given – they’ve been given various budgets allocated by Congress every year, as you said at the onset. Now their budget stands at $80 million a year. But they are, of course, just one organization among many that are linked to the U.S. Agency for International Development, as I said, the State Department. Hundreds of millions of dollars now, in fact, more money is now being spent than ever before on what they call democracy promotion.

    Now, the historical record on the National Endowment for Democracy is very clear, when we look at the work of people like Philip Agee and William Robinson and William Blum, Noam Chomsky and others, and most recently, if we look at the work of attorney and independent journalist, Eva Golinger, who exposed, through Freedom of Information Act requests, the role that the N.E.D. played in attempting to subvert democracy and the revolutionary process that’s unfolding in Venezuela in 2002. The N.E.D. played a crucial role in fomenting the opposition to Hugo Chavez, and they did play a role in the attempted coup against him in April of 2002, and very much the same patterns we have seen develop in Haiti.

    On your show, in 2004, you interviewed Max Blumenthal, who wrote an article, an important article for Salon that outlined the role of the International Republican Institute, and when we talk about the N.E.D., we can’t talk about them without also talking about the International Republican Institute and the other affiliated organizations. There’s a virtual labyrinth of these organizations that receive funding that’s specifically earmarked for the undermining of any widespread social movements, any rudiments of popular democracy that should manifest, either in Latin America or anywhere in the world.

    So, again, this is sort of the premise of what the National Endowment for Democracy really does, and as we look at what they’re doing in Haiti – and how I was able to learn about what they’re currently doing in Haiti came about through the process of a first documentary reporting trip to Haiti in September and October of 2005, where we spoke to a number of N.E.D. grantees, Haitian organizations that received funding from the National Endowment for Democracy. I returned to Canada and set about to conduct a series of interviews with N.E.D. and any program officer, in particular, with I.R.I. officials, with in-country officials who are managing several million dollars in U.S.-funded democracy promotion activities, as you said also, that are linked closely to the Haitian elite, to the opposition organizations, such as the Group of 184, the Democratic Convergence. These are the organizations that agitated most strongly for the overthrow of Aristide and that were working with the N.E.D. and the I.R.I. in the years preceding the 2004 coup.

    AMY GOODMAN: The I.R.I. being the International Republican Institute.

    ANTHONY FENTON: Yes. We know that – for example, just the other day, I spoke to a woman who is the leader of an organization called COFEL. It’s an umbrella organization of women political leaders. In the years before the coup against Aristide in 2004, the I.R.I. would bring in, they would bus in or fly in groups of anywhere between 60 and 80 of these women. And, of course, they’re busing in other men and other political figures in Haiti. But they would bus them into the Dominican Republic, because in 1999, at the time, Ambassador Timothy Carney – he was the U.S. ambassador at the time. That’s very important, because Ambassador Carney is the current interim ambassador to Haiti, and he was also a member of the lobby – the think tank in Washington called the Haiti Democracy Project that played an integral role in fomenting this demonization campaign against Aristide.

    In any case, in 1999, the I.R.I. was closed down. Their operations were shut down. They were forced to leave Haiti, and until the coup in 2004, the I.R.I. did not have an in-country presence, so they were doing most of their work in the Dominican Republic with people like Stanley Lucas, who is well known as a card-carrying Republican Haitian American who was hired by the International Republican Institute during the first coup period against Aristide in the early 1990s, and he’s the one who sort of helped to build the political opposition from the Dominican Republic and enable the coup to take place. But that process has just followed through since the coup. Well, of course, the International Republican Institute now has an in-country office in Haiti, and through that office they’re able to penetrate all sectors of Haitian civil society in their attempt to undermine the popular movement.

    Now, I would like to mention that in my interview, and this is a rare interview with an N.E.D. program officer, and this is the program officer in Washington who is responsible for Haiti currently, a woman named Fabiola Cordoba. She took over in, I believe in, November, as the program officer, and she revealed to me, not only an extensive list of documents that show the N.E.D.’s approved grants for 2005. These are, in a sense, declassified, because these are documents that are not supposed to be published until May of 2006, at least according to another N.E.D. spokesperson. But what’s clear in these documents is that the N.E.D. went from, for example, a zero dollar budget in Haiti in 2003 to a $540,000 budget in Haiti in 2005.

    What they’ve also done — and many Haitian people that I speak to have told me that Haiti is considered the laboratory for these sort of subversive activities on the part of the United States government. And in the context of this experimental process, they’ve hired, for the first time, an in-country program officer, as you mentioned, Régine Alexandre, who was a stringer for the Associated Press and the New York Times, was doubling, moonlighting as an N.E.D. program officer, and the Associated Press severed ties with her as a result.

    Now, Fabiola Cordoba also told me that when she was in Haiti in 2002, working for one of the N.E.D.’s affiliated organizations, the National Democratic Institute, she said a lot of lines were being drawn between Haiti and Venezuela, where although 70% of the population supported Aristide, there was a very fragmented opposition. The rest of the 30% was divided between 120 different opposition groups, so the objective of the I.R.I. and the N.E.D. was to consolidate this opposition to build a viable opposition to somehow break the grip that the popular movement in Haiti had on the political environment there. And she said that Chavez – something very similar was happening in Venezuela, and of course, in 2002, the coup d’état happened there on the basis of this sort of analysis, the basis, this fear that the United States has of popular democracy and the need to subvert any attempts at consolidating popular rule and implementing policies that are in the interests of the majority poor in places like Venezuela and Haiti.

    AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Anthony Fenton, independent author and journalist who has exposed a A.P. stringer in Haiti, Régine Alexandre, as also being on the payroll of the National Endowment for Democracy. And now talking about those parallels between Haiti and Venezuela, of course, 2002, the attempted coup against Hugo Chavez, what is your understanding of the U.S. involvement in terms of the, you know, dollar amount in Venezuela, putting money into the opposition?

    ANTHONY FENTON: Well, it is very interesting, because since the activities of the N.E.D. have been so thoroughly exposed by the likes of Eva Golinger and Jeremy Bigwood through The Chavez Code, they’re very concerned with their perception in the area. So what they’re doing, in a way, they’ve continued to funnel large amounts of money into Venezuela, but they’re doing it also by outsourcing, if you will. For example, they have given a grant to a Canadian think tank called the Canadian Foundation of the Americas, and through that, they’re attempting to go through the back door, if you will, riding the perception of Canada as being a benign counterweight to the U.S. in the hemisphere, in order to penetrate Venezuelan civil society.

    This is an important year, of course, not only in Venezuela, but throughout the hemisphere, in the sense that there are many presidential elections taking place. Now the N.E.D. program officer told me that Venezuela, Haiti, Ecuador, and Bolivia are the four top priority countries for the N.E.D. in 2006, looking ahead to 2006 and, of course, Cuba is the perennial top of that list. They’re a special exception, because the Department of State earmarks a certain amount of funds for the N.E.D.’s work in Cuba. In fact, they doubled the amount of money being used to subvert revolutionary Cuba in 2005.

    Now, what they’re doing with the Foundation of the Americas is, in fact, on the board of directors there you have a former coup plotter in the form of Beatrice Rangel, who not only played an active role, when she was an advisor to former Venezuelan president Perez in the late 1980s, literally carrying bags of money, according to William Robinson, to Nicaraguan Contras operating out of Venezuela, but she is the person, Rangel, who facilitated this N.E.D. program with this Canadian think tank, and she herself said that, you know, Canada enjoys this perception, and N.E.D.’s outsourcing to Canada is just another way for the N.E.D. to penetrate Venezuelan civil society.

    But in the case of Haiti, getting back to that point, what we’re seeing is the N.E.D. works very closely with the International Republican Institute. One of the N.E.D.’s primary grantees in Haiti is a key member of the Group of 184 political opposition to Aristide, named Hans Tippenhauer. He heads up an organization that works with Haitian youth. Typically we see the N.E.D. working with Haitian youth, with Haitian women, but what they’re doing – Mr. Tippenhauer, he was one of the first people to call the rebels, the paramilitaries that entered from the Dominican Republic in 2004, he referred to them as “freedom fighters,” and he get grants from, not only the N.E.D., but also the I.R.I., and he also happens to be on the campaign of an independent presidential candidate named Charles Henri Baker, who was also one of the leaders of the Group of 184. He’s a sweatshop owner there and a brother-in-law of Andy Apaid, another leader of the Group of 184, who recently has been pressuring, with other members of the elite, such as Reginald Boulos, for the United Nations [inaudible] to force to enter the poor neighborhoods and commit more atrocities, so as to enable this process of consolidating elite rule in Haiti to take root.

    And so, Hans Tippenhauer, as he doubles as a campaign manager for the Group 184 political candidate, the business candidate, basically a candidate that the U.S. is supporting, he is also working to penetrate Haitian civil society on a level that will allow, in the long term, this neo-liberal vision, this corporate vision of Haiti to take root, the so-called democracy, because the National Endowment for Democracy does promote some form of democracy. It’s a very narrow institutional form, kind of like we see in Canada.

    It is ironic that we have elections going on here in Canada right now, but we don’t see the National Endowment for Democracy or the International Republican Institute here trying to manipulate the political environment, because we’re already on page with the State Department. We’re already on page with the N.E.D., so we don’t need their guidance, but a place like Haiti, where there were — where popular democracy was beginning to take root, even though in the face of a massive economic embargo and in the face of destabilization by these very organizations, it is very necessary that these organizations are in Haiti right now playing this fundamental role, behind the scenes, I should say, because the mainstream media has not written a single story about what these organizations are doing behind the scenes to effect political change in Haiti today.

AMY GOODMAN: Independent journalist, Anthony Fenton. We will return with him in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We return to our interview on Haiti with independent journalist Anthony Fenton, co-author of the book, Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority.

    AMY GOODMAN: Anthony Fenton, one of the people that you have written and talked about is Ira Lowenthal. I remember him from, well, more than a decade ago in the midst of the first coup against President Aristide in 1991 to ’94, working for USAID in-country in Haiti. What is his role today?

    ANTHONY FENTON: Well, after the coup, Ira Lowenthal reentered Haiti. Now, he had had to leave, I believe, in 2002, because he was getting too hot. He was up to some activities that were being scrutinized by the Haitian government. Now, he joined and helped create the Haiti Democracy Project in 2002, in late 2002, and then he supported the emergence of the Group of 184 shortly thereafter, which is basically the Haitian version of the Haiti Democracy Project. I mentioned the Boulos family. Rudolph Boulos is a board member, founding board member of the Haiti Democracy Project, as well, and he’s actually running for Senate in the area of Haiti where they plan to develop free-trade zones and open up a whole swath of sweatshops.

    But Ira Lowenthal, he was working for the Americas Development Foundation, which is one of the key organizations implementing these so-called Democracy Enhancement projects prior to the coup. After the coup, he had a brief stint with them, and then he moved on to this other organization called the United Nations Office for Project Services. Now, it’s a very interesting organization that does reconstruction work, and they’re working — they’re called the self-financing arm or management services arm of the United Nations, very obscure and little known, but Ira Lowenthal became the director of this organization in Haiti just after the coup, and he helped set up registration centers for the elections, and he’s played an integral role in the sort of infrastructure of carrying out this election process.

    Now, he stepped down as director of UNOPS, and UNOPS currently gets a $3 million contract from USAID to work and funnel money to the political parties — the “approved” political parties, most of which happen to comprise the former political opposition to Aristide, the Democratic Convergence. Now Ira Lowenthal is a key consultant for UNOPS today, and in fact, there’s a Canadian by the name of Jean-Francois Laurent, who directs the UNOPS activities in Haiti. But Ira Lowenthal, anyone I speak to, everyone speaks glowingly of him in the democracy promotion community. He’s an old hand there, as you’ve said. He had links to the Boulos family back in the previous coup period, and, of course, the Boulos family is said to have had relations with FRAP, the paramilitary organization set up by the C.I.A. in order to destroy the popular movement at that time.

    Now the Boulos family again, it has been widely reported that they may be linked along with the Apaids to death squad activity in Cite Soleil, anti-Lavalas gangs that are designed to destroy the popular support for the calls of demanding the return of Aristide or demanding the right to vote for the candidate of choice, now Rene Preval. But Ira Lowenthal has played an instrumental role. In fact, every week this organization, UNOPS, to give you an example of the sort of familial relations there, they meet with the I.R.I., the N.D.I., with USAID, and with I.F.E.S, which is linked to the I.R.I. The chairman of I.F.E.S. is a former Reagan advisor and a Bush appointee as U.N. ambassador just before the 9/11 attacks in 2001, William Hybl.

    So you see this family meeting on a weekly basis, coordinating their activities. They’re funneling millions of dollars to the political parties, by way of giving them credits for TV advertising, for pamphlets, for t-shirts and all sorts of other activities. And, of course, this is all geared towards — they’re hoping, I think, right now, that there will be a run-off election, sort of like there was in Liberia, where the International Republican Institute and these other organizations played a central role, as well, because if there’s a run-off election — and it’s possible that one of their rightwing candidates, perhaps such as Marc Bazin, who’s running under the Lavalas name today, but of course was a World Bank candidate that Aristide beat in a landslide in 1990 — they’re hoping that one of these candidates, maybe it’ll be Henri Baker, will be able to win in a run-off.

    But there’s also the terror card that they’re holding over their heads. The paramilitaries that entered in 2004 like Guy Philippe. Other well known NARCO traffickers, the nephew of the current Prime Minister, Gerard Latortue, his name is Youri Latortue, the mere mention of his name in Haiti, strikes the fear in the people’s eyes when you speak to them, and this person is running for senate in the Artibonite region. And the possibility of a violent intervention in this election process is in the background, and it looms, and people like Ira Lowenthal and these other organizations, the N.E.D., they are well aware of this, and so it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

    AMY GOODMAN: And the role, Anthony Fenton — you’re speaking to us from Vancouver, Canada, in the midst of your own elections — of Canada and the current candidates in the coup of 2004, as well as what you understand is the U.S. role that forced Aristide out?

    ANTHONY FENTON: Well, indeed, Canada in September hosted a meeting with members of Haiti’s private sector with that think tank that I mentioned earlier that’s getting N.E.D. funding, FOCAL, the Foundation for the Americas. Reginald Boulos, one of the long-time elites who supported this U.S. vision for Haiti and has long-standing ties to Washington, he was invited to this meeting. And what you were seeing is Canada supporting whole-heartedly. In fact, Roger Noriega, former Secretary of State for the western hemisphere, came to Canada just after the coup with Adolfo Franco from USAID. Franco, incidentally, has refused to be interviewed on the question of USAID’s activities on the democracy promotion side in Haiti recently. But they came to Canada just after the coup with the intention of asking Canada to play a leadership role in Haiti, and Canada quickly acquiesced.

    In fact, when I was in Haiti in September with a couple of other Canadian journalists, we interviewed a top-level Canadian diplomat, and he was boasting how finally in Haiti there’s a government that’s being ruled by the transnational elite in the private sector and civil society. And Canada’s job is to stand on the frontlines diplomatically, politically, and they’re also helping out militarily, and on the intelligence side, to prop up this illegitimate regime that was installed by the United States, that was imported from Florida and installed — imposed on the Haitian people. And so Canada is playing an increasing role and they are expecting to play — in fact, this high level diplomat told us Canada is sort of like earning its stripes in Haiti, because there is going to be a coming transition, and he mentioned Cuba specifically, and of course, strategically where Haiti is situated — the State Department in 2005 listed Haiti and Colombia as the two primary strategic states — so it’s very important that they take control of Haiti.

    There is a Dominican Republic interest there, as well. They are possibly establishing military bases there. The U.S. has for a long time dictated the Dominican military’s policies for the region, and the Canadian government here, what we’re seeing, is under the liberal government that is about, it appears, to lose power to a neo-conservative electoral coup, if you will, led by Canada’s Conservative Party and Stephen Harper, who is a well-known admirer of George Bush. Canada, the liberal government, initiated a rightwing shift over the past decade, that we’ve seen a new role for Canada in the Americas. In fact, this high-level diplomat referred to the destiny of Canada and the Americas being fulfilled through their role in Haiti today.

    AMY GOODMAN: Anthony Fenton is our guest. He’s speaking to us from Vancouver, Canada. And the proof of the involvement of the U.S. government in the coup that forced out President Aristide February 29th, 2004?

    ANTHONY FENTON: Well, in 2003 there was a meeting held in Ottawa called the Ottawa Initiative on Haiti. At the time, it was a secret high level round table that did not involve any Haitians, although it was a meeting that was designed to discuss the future of Haiti. It was leaked by the host of that meeting, a Canadian Member of Parliament named Denis Paradis, to a Quebec magazine, that the possibility of removing Aristide and installing a U.N.-style trusteeship was discussed. This was quickly glossed over, and the Canadian government retracted that this was discussed, but after the coup I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request and did receive some of the documents, which seem to corroborate what was leaked at the time, that there were high-level meetings being held not only in Ottawa, but other follow-up meetings, I understand, in Washington and in El Salvador that planned the overthrow of Aristide on the diplomatic side.

    The Organization of American States was involved. And the then Assistant Secretary General of the O.A.S., Luigi Einaudi, who famously said on the eve of Haiti’s independence, ‘The problem with Haiti is that the international community is so screwed up and divided that we’re actually allowing Haitians to run Haiti.’ It’s people like this and sentiments like this that informed these sorts of meetings that took place before the coup, and, you know, the writing was on the wall for Aristide when he was elected in November of 2000. We saw the opposition boycott the elections. The Gallup polls indicated a landslide victory for Aristide, and again we return to the point made by the N.E.D. program officer, it was simply the case that, from the perspective of the United States, Canada, and France, and the European Union, the primary backers of this coup d’etat, that Aristide was consolidating power, that the Lavalas Party, in particular, and that the popular movement was emerging and was taking root, and that is what had to be overthrown and stopped in its tracks, and that’s what we’re seeing happen today.

    AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, Anthony Fenton, on the issue of what is happening in the Cite Soleil with the killings of innocent residents there, also the killings of U.N. forces there, recently you had Reginald Boulos and Andy Apaid, well known anti-Lavalas leaders, holding a major protest, calling for a crackdown on Cite Soleil. Can you talk about that?

    ANTHONY FENTON: Yeah, again, this — I read that as a provocation. They’ve been — if you go back to summer of 2005, there was a kidnapping spree, as the The New York Times and the L.A. Times reported it, that was used as a pretext to demand that the U.N. go into Cite Soleil and root out the so-called chimeres, the so-called bandits, the so-called terrorists. Now, I learned through sources inside the prime minister’s office in Haiti and through other sources that, again, Youri Latortue, the nephew of Gerard Latortue, was involved in this kidnapping spree, that he was carrying out and overseeing a kidnapping ring of his own that was used as a pretext to go into these neighborhoods and commit massacres. And on July 6th, it’s been well reported and well documented that a massacre did take place, and it was carried out by the United Nations. It buckled to the pressure that was being exerted on it by the likes of Reginald Boulos and other members of the elite, like Andy Apaid.

    And so I see, I think, from what I can tell, this is being replayed, and the kidnapping spree — it’s possible that these assaults on the so-called peacekeepers, the Jordanians who have played one of the more repressive roles in Cite Soleil, that that is another provocation that is intended to pressure the U.N. forces to go into Cite Soleil and fire arbitrarily, as they’ve been doing repeatedly. You know, within the past few days a number of people have been killed in Cite Soleil, even since that demonstration. Canadian journalists who are there right now, Aaron Lakoff and Leslie Bagg, reported on how four people in Cite Soleil have been killed.

    And the U.N. knows that they can’t go into Cite Soleil and conduct these operations without killing civilians, and yet people like Reginald Boulos don’t seem to mind if civilians get killed. It’s just collateral damage, and he’s said that he is willing to create a fund to assist the victims of Cite Soleil. When we interviewed Mr. Boulos in September, he referred to himself as Mr. Cite Soleil. So, he has a vested interest in putting down this popular movement that’s calling for Aristide’s return or calling for free and fair elections that would see Rene Preval win in a likely landslide.

AMY GOODMAN: Independent journalist Anthony Fenton, co-author of the book Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority. Haitian elections are February 7. Canadian elections are today.

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