Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Notes from Haiti's Long Hot Summer

Notes from Haiti's Long Hot Summer
Posted: 8/23/11 07:00 PM ET

By Michael Deibert

(This article was cross-posted on the Huffington Post, where it can be read here)


Throughout what has been a dolorous summer in the Haitian capital, the image of the Caribbean nation's new president has gazed out at passersby from billboards and murals affixed to walls that did not topple during the country's apocalyptic January 2010 earthquake.

Depicting a man with a bald pate and broad smile, with messages such as "Nouvelle Haiti" and "Bienvenue au pouvoir" stenciled painstakingly next to them, the murals' optimism belies the intense political struggles of the first three months of the rule of Michel Martelly, a well-known singer who performed under the moniker Sweet Micky.

"I love President Martelly, I voted for President Martelly, so did my mother and my sister," says Carlos Jean Charles, who resides in Camp Toussaint, a 2,800 person collection of fragile tents set up in front of Haiti's once-grand National Palace, which still lies in ruins 18 months after the tremor.

"I think Martelly has a good heart," Charles says, echoing the statements of others in the camp. "But the problem is the parliament. Those people have been doing this shit for 25 years, fighting for power. They don't give him a chance."

A day after he was sworn in this May, Martelly announced that he was submitting the name of Daniel Rouzier, a businessman and devout Catholic, to serve as his Prime Minister, only to have the nomination rejected by parliament a month later.

On July 6th, Martelly announced that his new pick for Prime Minister would be attorney and former Minister of Justice Bernard Gousse, at which point 16 of Haiti's 30 senators announced, before the nomination had even been considered, that Gousse was also to be rejected, which he was earlier this month.

So the country, where an estimated 634,000 survivors of the quake still live in makeshift settlements in and around the capital, remains without a government.


The situation is reminiscent of the the first mandate of the man that Martelly replaced as president, René Préval, in the late 1990s. During that era, following the resignation of Préval's Prime Minister, the post remained vacant for nearly two years as an opposition-dominated parliament rejected successive nominees in an effort to deprive the Préval government of oxygen.

It is a modus operandi that is being repeated today in Haiti, but under much worse conditions and this time with the parliament dominated by members of Préval's own coalition (several of them elected in highly disputed circumstances), though the amount of control the former president still exerts over the disparate group of legislators is a matter of some debate.

"The population who voted for Martelly perceived the change he offered as drastic change, a complete rupture from the way things were done in the past," says Marilyn Allien, the director of La Fondation Héritage pour Haïti, the Haitian chapter of the anti-corruption organization Transparency International.

"But the way things were done in the past was very good for some people. There are people who thrive when corruption and impunity prevail, and it doesn't serve them at all if a new leader comes in and tries to institute the rule of law."

A political novice who ran on an education platform and whose very distance from Haiti's rancid political class was a large part of his appeal, Martelly has relied on a close circle of advisors, some of questionable reputation, to give him counsel when dealing with parliament.

Lurking in the background to all of this are Haiti's two recently-returned former leaders, Jean-Claude Duvalier and Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Duvalier, the scion of a family dictatorship started by his father François that ruled Haiti for 29 years, was chased out of the country in 1986 amidst an uprising that has yet to fulfill its promise of democracy, social and economic justice. He returned to Haiti from his long exile in France in January to the outrage of those who suffered at the hands of his regime.

Aristide, a former Catholic priest, was at the forefront of the anti-Duvalier movement and became Haiti's president in 1991, only to be ousted in a military coup seven months later.

Restored to the presidency by a US-led military intervention in 1994, Aristide turned over the reins of government to Préval in 1996. He was returned to power during a violence-wracked ballot in 2000, with his second mandate marked by high levels of official corruption and political violence before he too was overthrown by an armed insurrection after months of large-scale street protests against his rule.

Since his return to Haiti from exile in South Africa in March, Aristide has been largely silent, though some in the camps and elsewhere have darkly suggested they see his hand in the parliamentary maneuvers currently underway.

Further complicating the mix, the 12,000 person United Nations mission in Haiti, in place since June 2004 and known by the acronym MINUSTAH, has probably reached the nadir of its reputation during its time in the country.

Once welcomed as a bulwark against political chaos, the mission has seemed adrift since the earthquake, which killed nearly 100 of its personnel including the head and deputy head of the mission.

A cholera epidemic which has killed more than 5,800 people since last October, has been linked to the mission, with a June report by a group of of epidemiologists and physicians in the journal of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said that evidence "strongly suggests" that the cholera strain had been brought to Haiti by UN peacekeepers.

Often unfairly derided as "turista" (tourists) by Haitians, the mission now appears to be largely living up to the scathing sobriquet, with some of its members a feature in some of the capital's more expensive hotels, getting loudly intoxicated and carousing often only feet away from the meager encampments of those made homeless by January 2010's tremor.


Shortly before I visited Haiti this month, I had made plans to visit with an old friend.

Jean-Claude Bajeux, the co-founder of the Centre Oecuménique des Droits de l'Homme (CEDH), was also a former Minister of Culture, a militant for human rights and democracy and a great Haitian patriot.

Virtually his entire family had been killed by François Duvalier, sending him into a long exile during which he received a PhD from Princeton University in the United States, and lived and taught in both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

He fought against both the Duvalier family dictatorship and the military juntas that followed and, in more recent times, against the violent anarcho-populism with which Aristide attempted to rule the country. Well into his twilight years, when most men of his age would be playing with their grandchildren, I would see Bajeux bravely march in demonstrations at times when it was physically dangerous to do. Lately he had provided an important analytical voice to Haiti, critiquing not only Haiti's political machinations but those of outsiders involved in the country, as well.

Bajeux passed away, if not exactly unexpectedly, then rather suddenly, earlier this month at the age of 79, before I had a chance to see him. His goal of an inclusive, transparent and just political system in Haiti is still an unrealized dream.

Shortly before he died, in a conversation with a friend, Bajeux had time enough to deliver a simple charge.

"My generation is passing away," Bajeux said. "We did all we could. Now it is up to you."


There can be a sense of tragic timelessness in Haiti, an impression that one gets when driving northwards from the capital along Route Nationale 1, where tent camps now ring either side of the road, and which meanders along the Côte des Arcadins and into the agricultural heartland of the Artibonite Valley.

As one drives, to the left the Caribbean Sea glitters blue-green, and resorts from when Haiti was once a tourist destination - now largely empty save for Haiti's wealthy and the moneyed foreigners in the country - front the ocean. Skiffs with canvass sails ply the channel between the mainland and the immense, isolated Île de la Gonâve in the bay.

Back in the capital, ebullient Creole evangelical hymns still reverberate in the mornings from the mountainsides and ravines that crisscross the city, and radios still pump out a non-stop diet of sinuous konpa music of the kind that first brought Michel Martelly to prominence along with the driving racine rhythms of vodou and endless political chatter.

Given the long odds he faces, there is something moving about the faith of ordinary Haitians that Martelly is the figure who will transform their immensely difficult lives. And, despite what one may read, the Haitians, even in the wake of the extraordinary amount of suffering that has been foisted on them in recent years, are not a defeated people.

The mood in Haiti today reminds one of the wanly flickering orange glow of the kerosene lamps that Haiti's market women - known as ti machann - use to illuminate their wares as they work late into the night. One can see them by the roadside, hoping for one more customer, one more sale, one more ray of life.

Haiti is like that, too, persevering ever onward as long as the slenderest flicker of hope remains.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Saturday, August 6, 2011

On the passing of Jean-Claude Bajeux

I penned a few thoughts on the passing of the Haitian democratic activist and patriot Jean-Claude Bajeux here. MD

Friday, August 5, 2011





WASHINGTON—Joel Esquenazi and Carlos Rodriguez, former executives of Terra Telecommunications Corp., have been convicted by a federal jury on all counts for their roles in a scheme to pay bribes to Haitian government officials at Telecommunications D’Haiti S.A.M (Haiti Teleco), a state-owned telecommunications company. The jury reached its verdict yesterday after five hours of deliberations, following a two-and-a-half-week trial.

The convictions were announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer for the Southern District of Florida; and Special Agent in Charge Jose A. Gonzalez of Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CID), Miami Field Office.

“These defendants authorized more than $800,000 in illegal bribe payments to Haitian officials in exchange for business advantages – a clear violation of the FCPA,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer. “This verdict is another powerful example that bribery of government officials – whether at home or abroad – has serious consequences. In finding the defendants guilty on all charged counts, the jury sent an unmistakable message that paying off foreign officials does not, in fact, pay off.”

“These individuals conspired and made corrupt payments to foreign government officials for the purpose of securing business advantages for their company,” said U.S. Attorney Ferrer. “The FCPA helps to create a more level playing field in which businesses can compete fairly and sends the message that American businesses are simply not up for sale.”

“These convictions send a strong and clear message that we will aggressively pursue investigations on subjects that use shell companies to launder funds,” said IRS Special Agent in Charge Gonzalez. “IRS-CID will utilize its financial investigative expertise to unravel any complex money laundering scheme leaving no financial stones unturned.”

Joel Esquenazi, 52, of Miami, and Carlos Rodriguez, 55, of Davie, Fla., were convicted of one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and wire fraud; seven counts of FCPA violations; one count of money laundering conspiracy; and 12 counts of money laundering.

According to the evidence presented at trial, Esquenazi was the president and Rodriguez was the executive vice president of Terra, which was headquartered in Miami-Dade County, Fla. Haiti Teleco was the sole provider of land line telephone service in Haiti. Terra had a series of contracts with Teleco that allowed the company’s customers to place telephone calls to Haiti.

According to the evidence presented at trial, the defendants participated in a scheme to commit foreign bribery and money laundering from November 2001 through March 2005, during which time the telecommunications company paid more than $890,000 to shell companies to be used for bribes to Teleco officials. Esquenazi and Rodriguez authorized these bribe payments to successive directors of international relations at Teleco.

The purpose of these bribes, according to the evidence presented at trial, was to obtain various business advantages from the Haitian officials for Terra, including the issuance of preferred telecommunications rates, reductions in the number of minutes for which payment was owed, and the continuance of Terra’s telecommunications connection with Haiti. To conceal the bribe payments, the defendants used various shell companies to receive and forward the payments. In addition, they created false records claiming that the payments were for “consulting services,” which were never intended to be performed or actually performed.

Esquenazi was remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals. Rodriguez remains free on bond. Sentencing for both defendants currently is scheduled for Oct. 13, 2011.

On April 27, 2009, Antonio Perez, a former controller at Terra, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and money laundering. On Jan. 12, 2010, he was sentenced to 24 months in prison, which he is currently serving.

On May 15, 2009, Juan Diaz, the president of J.D. Locator Services, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and money laundering. He admitted to receiving more than $1 million in bribe money from telecommunications companies. On July 30, 2010, he was sentenced to 57 months in prison, which he is currently serving.

On Feb. 19, 2010, Jean Fourcand, the president and director of Fourcand Enterprises Inc., pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering for receiving and transmitting bribe monies in the scheme. On May 5, 2010, he was sentenced to six months in prison.

On March 12, 2010, Robert Antoine, a former director of international affairs for Haiti Teleco, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. He admitted to receiving more than $1 million in bribes from Miami-based telecommunications companies. On June 2, 2010, he was sentenced to 48 months in prison, which he is currently serving.

In a superseding indictment, Washington Vasconez Cruz, Amadeus Richers, Cinergy Telecommunications Inc., Patrick Joseph, Jean Rene Duperval and Marguerite Grandison are charged in a related scheme to commit foreign bribery and money laundering from December 2001 through January 2006. No trial date is currently set. An indictment is merely an accusation, and defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The conspiracy to commit violations of the FCPA and wire fraud count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of the greater of $250,000 or twice the value gained or lost. The FCPA counts each carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of the greater of $100,000 or twice the value gained or lost. The conspiracy to commit money laundering count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of the greater of $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction. The money laundering counts each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of the greater of $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction. The indictment also seeks forfeiture which will determined by the court at a later date.

The government’s investigation is ongoing. The Department of Justice is grateful to the government of Haiti for continuing to provide substantial assistance in gathering evidence during this investigation. In particular, Haiti’s financial intelligence unit, the Unité Centrale de Renseignements Financiers (UCREF), the Bureau des Affaires Financières et Economiques (BAFE), which is a specialized component of the Haitian National Police, and the Ministry of Justice and Public Security provided significant cooperation and coordination in this ongoing investigation.

To learn more about the government’s FCPA enforcement efforts, go to www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa.

The case is being prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorneys Nicola J. Mrazek and James M. Koukios of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Aurora Fagan of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs also provided assistance in this matter. The cases were investigated by the IRS-CID Miami Field Office.