Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Former President Jean Bertrand Aristide is facing indictments from three different judges in Haiti. Under pressure, Aristide reverted to his familiar evasive maneuvers and scare tactics to avoid the justice that has been chasing him since he was forced to resign his Presidency in 2004. This week he paid three hundred people to protest in the street in an attempt to block police from arresting him. So far, he has been successful in buying himself some time while the police develop a strategy to detain him in a way that does not disrupt the public order.
The charges he faces are serious, disturbing and wide ranging. Judge Sonel Jean Francois is prosecuting a cooperative Ponzi scheme in which Aristide and his colleagues in the Lavalas party took to the radio urging poor Haitians to invest in a “Cooperative Initiative” that would yield impressive returns. He is being indicted for stealing millions of dollars received from thousands of poor Haitians. Judge Francois is also going after his La Fanmi Selavi Foundation, focused on helping the poor children of Haiti, for alleged heinous abuses against children.
Judge Ivickel Dabresil is prosecuting the case of the assassination of Haitian journalist Jean Dominique. Judge Dabresil has already indicted nine of Aristide’s associates, including the head the Foundation Aristide for Democracy Mirlande Liberus, who is hiding in Miami; Ann Auguste (a.k.a. So Ann), Aristide’s voodoo priest and political advisor; and seven others. During his two terms in office, Aristide was allegedly behind the murder many of his political opponents. Among those killed, were three prominent journalists: Jean Dominique, Brignol Lindor, and Jacques Roche. Many known political leaders such as Mireille Durocher Bertin, Pasteur Antoine Leroy, Senator Yvon Toussaint, Bernard Lauture and others suffered a similar fate. The loss to Haiti’s democratic system, which his Foundation claims to promote, is profound.
And, Judge Lamarre Belizaire has issued indictments for money laundering and the embezzlement of hundreds of millions dollars from Haiti’s state coffers. Arrest warrants have been issued for Aristide; Laura Flyn Morgan, his executive assistant and lobbyist; Yvon Neptune, former Prime Minister; and five others. On Friday, Neptune was questioned by the judge, but was allowed to return home afterward. They are being summoned to answer charges based on the two Haitian state corruption reports issued by the Haitian General Accounting Office (UCREF) and the Commission Administrative in 2004. The Commission Administrative report provides extensive evidence to support their findings, including copies of the checks, bank account numbers, and wire transfers, detailing how Aristide stole $350 million from the Haitian government. Yet that report does not cover all the stolen funds. He also allegedly stole from Haiti’s telecom company, Teleco, other ministries and state offices. Aristide’s net worth is estimated at a staggering $800 million. Last Friday, while in the judge’s office, Aristide’s former Prime Minister seemed to take an indirect shot at his former boss stating that every citizen has an obligation to respond to judicial summons and no one is above the law. Neptune has a different strategy from Aristide in dealing with these charges. Aristide attempted to stop the judicial proceedings by filing a petition to Haiti’s Supreme Court to recuse the judge, process that requires no reason under Haitian law. In response, the judge who is the head of Haiti’s Civil Courts stated that in accordance with Article 418 of the Haitian Criminal Code, Judge Belizaire can proceed unless a decision is rendered by the Supreme Court. Further, in accordance with Article 5 of the Haitian Civil Code, if the former President does not present himself to the judge, he should be arrested adding that no one is above the law.
Aristide and his Fanmi Lavalas associates have never publicly denied these accusations. Rather, they have mounted a campaign of political pressure and threatened violence and instability in an effort to make the charges just go away. Over the years, every time the Haitian judicial system has tried to bring Aristide and his associates to justice, he has employed the exact same tactics to evade justice.
First, to halt investigations and judicial proceedings, he intimidates and threatens various ministers of justice, attorneys general, judges, journalists and their families. Six months ago, when Judge Dabrezil summoned Aristide for questioning in relation to the killing of journalist Jean Dominique, he threatened the judge. Last week, Judge Belizaire faced similar threats. But, neither judge is backing down. According to sources close to Judge Belizaire, when he started to pursue the corruption charges, Aristide thugs drove by the judge’s house firing automatic weapons in the air in an effort to intimidate him. Later, his wife and children were also threatened. For safety, he has had to relocate his family to the U.S. while prosecuting the case.
The second tactic used by the Aristide network is to leverage U.S. influence in Haiti to evade justice. He does this in many ways. A favorite tactic is to assert that he can blackmail the Clintons and some of their associates for their alleged involvement in Haiti’s telecommunications scandal in the 1990s, and for their alleged failure to account for and effectively deploy the earthquake reconstruction funds which exceeded $8 billion. In addition, he threatens instability on the ground through the use of violence. And covertly, he encourages the flow of boat people to Florida. From his 1992 - 1994 experiences in Washington, Aristide understands the U.S. system well and knows that these are the main pressure points for U.S. policy in Haiti. And, for the most part, he gets results as pressure from Washington on the Haitian government to resolve the situation almost always follows these threats. There are some accounts that Washington threatens to cut off aid or visas if the Haitian Government does not restore the peace. The subtext is that the courts should be pressured to drop the charges.
To apply pressure on the U.S., Aristide employs a well-funded team of lobbyists with strong ties to the U.S. State Department and engages members of the influential Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), mainly U.S. Representative Maxine Waters. His main lobbyists are Ira Kurzban, a Miami-based lawyer who has made millions working for Aristide; Ron Daniel, a former member of the CBC; and Robert Maguire, an American professor and Lavalas ideologue.
Maguire is a far-left ideological professor who has used a variety of platforms and universities to promote and defend his partisan pro-Lavalas agenda and drive U.S. policy toward Haiti. He is also very influential with the U.S. military’s Southern Command. Maguire has opposed Hillary Clinton’s Haiti strategy during her tenure as Secretary. He has, in fact, coordinated efforts to scare the State Department into supporting Aristide’s agenda while Aristide deploys hundreds of violent operatives to agitate on the streets threatening instability. Current efforts are underway to finance an exodus of boat people to Miami – as Aristide did in 1994 and 2004 – which will also be used to pressure the State Department.
The final tactic is to ensure that no qualified members of the Haitian Diaspora who are opposed to the Aristide agenda make it into any sort of leadership position in country. They gin up stories of imminent political instability and assassinate the characters of leading Diaspora figures, and then leverage the State Department to weigh in with the Haitian Government against these appointments. Fearing any loss of commitment from the U.S., the Haitian Government usually bows to the pressure.
But it seems to be a new day in Haiti. The old tactics are largely failing – with the exception of the U.S. scare campaign. In Haiti, the judges are resisting pressure and any influences – foreign and domestic – that interfere with the rule of law. Despite a well-orchestrated campaign of threats and intimidation targeted at these judges, they have managed to hold the relevant hearings and obtain the indictments. The Haitian people are also refusing to give in to the violence. More than 97% reject violence and believe that both Mr. Aristide and Duvalier should face justice. So the battleground is in the U.S., which remains sensitive to threats of political violence in Haiti that could lead to instability. It is therefore up to the Haitian people – as it always is – to ensure that their will is carried out and that the dictators who have created a legacy of poverty in Haiti -- that they live with day after day -- answer for what they have done.