Wikileaks, Cablegate and Haiti

I’m going to start splitting Haiti/Wikileaks-related content into separate posts.  Updates posted below or you can find them all collected at under the ‘wikileaks’ tag.

The Aftenposten 13: New Wikileaks Cables Show Extent of US Opposition to Aristide

Wikileaks: US Embassy Makes Its Case for MINUSTAH

Wikileaks: DR President Believes Brazilian MINUSTAH Commander Assassinated, Suspects Cover-Up

Wikileaks: UN Response to Gangs “Not Sufficiently Robust,” US tells Brazil; Blocking Aristide A Priority


Update 12/21: Diplomatic cables continue to paint Brazil as a reluctant participant in MINUSTAH, Haiti’s UN peacekeeping force. A March 2004 cable, just one month after the coup against Aristide, says Brazil communicated to the Bush administration’s Otto Reich that it would participate in the mission only so long as it was invoked under the UN Charter’s Chapter 6, not Chapter 7.

Brazil apparently gave up on that objection, but Haitians haven’t. As Camille Chalmers of PAPDA, one of many Haitian civil society organizations opposed to MINUSTAH’s presence, argued in October when the mission’s mandate was renewed again this year:

The presence of the mission deployed in Haiti under Chapter 7 of the United Nations charter is illegal, he states. This Chapter provides for the deployment of troops to maintain peace during genocides, civil war or crimes against humanity.

“Even if between 2003 and 2004 there was a severe political crisis [in Haiti], there was neither genocide, nor crimes against humanity, nor conflict within the population,” he recalls, maintaining that MINUSTAH enters into the framework of a “new offensive of American imperialism” to militarize the Caribbean region.

A professor described the difference between Chapter 6 and 7 to the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs this way:

The basic difference between Chapters VI and VII is that under Chapter VII, the Council may impose measures on states that have obligatory legal force and therefore need not depend on the consent of the states involved. To do this, the Council must determine that the situation constitutes a threat or breach of the peace. In contrast, measures under Chapter VI do not have the same force, and military missions under Chapter VI would rest on consent by the state in question.

By at least as early as May, Brazil had agreed to lead the mission but was insisting Washington do more to reach out to pro-Aristide political elements, according to another cable. Also today, the Guardian released a cable from Hilary Clinton in which she pointedly directs staff to counter “irresponsible” media coverage of US relief efforts in Haiti post-quake.


Update 12/12: A 2009 cable from the US Embassy in Rio De Janeiro describes a Brazilian General offering to “occupy and maintain control” of favelas, poor and violent shantytowns in Rio, arguing that his troops were “specifically trained and prepared” for the job because of their experience in Haiti with MINUSTAH.

A June 2007 cable entitled “A Southern Cone Perspective on Countering Chavez and Reasserting US Leadership” describes participation by Latin American countries in peacekeeping operations including MINUSTAH as “an increasingly unifying theme that completely excludes Chavez,” under the “Play to our Mil-Mil Advantage” section.


Update 12/6: From a just-released December 2009 cable from the US Embassy in Brasilia: “Less obviously, Brazil remains uncomfortable in its leadership on MINUSTAH. To the constant refrain of ‘we cannot continue this indefinitely,’ Brazil has been increasingly insistent that international efforts to promote security must go hand in hand with commitments to economic and social development-a theme it will take to the UNSC in January.”


Update 12/1: From a Jan. 2009 cable analyzing Brazil’s defense forces: “…the Army chapter does not, unlike the other services, raise the possibility of additional peacekeeping operations as a future mission, possibly a reflection of the Army’s frustration with the lack of an exit strategy in Haiti.

The full text of the two classified cables analyzing President Rene Preval, written by former Ambassador to Haiti Janet Sanderson, are now available on the Cablegate site. The Le Monde article barely scratched the surface.

Key points and excerpts from June 2009 memo entitled “Deconstructing Preval”:

– “Managing Preval will remain challenging during the remainder of his term yet doing so is key to our success and that of Haiti. We must continue to find creative ways to work with him, influence him, and encourage him to recapture the activism of his first year in office”

– “He remains skeptical about the international community’s commitment to his government’s goals, for instance telling me that he is suspicious of how the Collier report will be used. He measures success with the international community – and the U.S.- in terms of positive response to his priorities, rather than according to some broader international benchmarks of success.”

He believes strongly that without his intercession, the international community would have ignored the impact of the 2008 hurricanes on Haiti, and that his early efforts at negotiation and discussion with the gangs of Cite Soleil (which he often reminds me that I criticized at the time) set the stage for the successful MINUSTAH operation to clear the area.

– “Preval has increased his alcoholic consumption and often attends a Petionville night club with friends, but during our social interaction I have never seen him drink to excess. Nonetheless, reports of heavy drinking are circulating widely.

“He has angrily denied charges that he manipulated the electoral process through the CEP and its decision to exclude Lavalas to undermine an already weak legislature.”

– “Preval was indeed unprepared for the (2008 food) riots in the street, but he used them to press some key objectives, including the removal of then-Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis. More to the point, I believe that the President’s own style and outlook, his often unilateral decision-making style, his propensity to micromanage, and his essentially cynical (and often justified) view of the Haitian political process were, I believe, reinforced by what he saw in April, and he is looking for ways to ensure he is not caught unawares again.”

– “Preval remains essentially a nationalist politician in the Haitian sense of the word – suspicious of outsiders intentions and convinced that no one understands Haiti like he does. He often takes actions, such as publicly dismissing the results of the Washington Donors Conference or stalling elections, which could be construed as working at cross purposes with the U.S. Preval clearly believes that he can walk a fine line without losing U.S. or international community support.”

– “his overriding goal is to orchestrate the 2011 presidential transition in such a way as to ensure that whoever is elected will allow him to go home unimpeded. Based on our conversations, this is indeed a matter that looms large for Preval. He has said to me on various occasions that he is worried about his life after the presidency, that he would not survive in exile. His concerns seem real, given Haiti’s history, albeit somewhat overblown at this point in time.”

“What is clear to me, however, is that Preval has yet to truly provide the strong, consistent leadership that Haiti’s current circumstances demand. In other places, we could find ways to circumvent or overcome these weaknesses. Not so in Haiti.”

And from an exhaustive March 2007 memo analyzing Preval’s personality, health and relationships with various elements domestic and foreign:

– “In sum, we believe Preval’s commitment to building democratic institutions, promoting political stability, and developing the economy corresponds with our own interests. However, Preval’s weaknesses as an executive, his reflexive nationalism, and his disinterest in managing bilateral relations in a broad diplomatic sense, will lead to periodic frictions as we move forward our bilateral agenda. Case in point, we believe that in terms of foreign policy, Preval is most interested in gaining increased assistance from any available resource. He is likely to be tempted to frame his relationship with Venezuela and Chavez-allies in the hemisphere in a way that he hopes will create a competitive atmosphere as far as who can provide the most to Haiti.”

– “He neglects to carry out the kind of study or put in place the administrative structure required to turn an idea into workable policy. This was most obvious in his approach to negotiations with gang leaders, his focus throughout the summer of 2006. Due to a lack of results however, he abandoned the effort. Preval’s entire policy seemed to be encapsulated in the formulation, ”disarm or die.’‘ He never appears to have coherently addressed the issue central to the negotiations — the future of the most violent gang-leaders.”

– “Based on Alexis’ long-standing personal association with Preval from his previous administration through his active role in the most recent presidential campaign, we surmise that Alexis’ views on Aristide hew closely to Preval’s own (i.e. that Aristide betrayed the Haitian people). If Alexis believes otherwise, he gives no hint of disagreement with Preval.”

– “It is difficult to assess Elizabeth Delatour’s influence on policy. . .During the critical juncture over the dispute with China regarding the renewal of MINUSTAH’s mandate, Delatour appeared to play a central role. SRSG Mulet chose Delatour as his contact when he argued that the GoH must provide China some kind of written apology: Preval ultimately grudgingly signed a letter.”

– “Preval recognizes that the U.S. is Haiti’s most important bilateral partner and that Haiti’s closest societal links internationally are with the U.S. His priority on the bilateral agenda is to leverage and extract the most assistance for Haiti on his own terms and to tap into the wealth and resources of the Haitian-American community in the U.S. As the president of a small, poor nation in the shadow of the American behemoth, he clearly believes that the U.S. has far greater obligations to Haiti than the other way around, if, in fact, Haiti has any obligations at all. . .For the most part, however, Preval does not seem closely connected to or interested in Haitian communities abroad. He has indicated on a number of occasions that he fears that pro-Aristide extremists exert excessive influence in diaspora communities.”

– “The Ambassador has taken phone calls from him as early as 6:30 am and has had meetings as late as 6:30 pm. Preval told the Ambassador recently that he has for many years taken a full, in-pajamas 2-3 hour nap every afternoon, allowing him to maintain his energy. ”

– “In our meetings Preval has always been completely lucid and has never appeared to be in any great pain. Special intelligence indicates that he began taking medication after the most recent round of medical examinations in Cuba that indicated a possibility of the return of prostate cancer.”


Update 11/30: A just-released 2008 cable from the American Embassy in Brasilia includes commentary about MINUSTAH, the UN peacekeeping force in Haiti led by Brazil: “Brazil has stayed the course as leader of MINUSTAH in Haiti despite a lack of domestic support for the PKO (peacekeeping operation). The MRE (Brazil’s Ministry of External Relations) has remained committed to the initiative because it believes that the operation serves (Foreign Minister) FM Amorim’s obsessive international goal of qualifying Brazil for a seat on the UN Security Council.”

CEPR’s Haiti Aid Watch blog links to this post with further analysis.


The whistle-blowing group Wikileaks is at it again, this time with a massive release of over 250,000 secret cables (commniques) between the State Department and American embassies around the world. As of this writing, only 283 cables have been released to the public and none of them pertain to Haiti.

A perusal of the Guardian’s data tables indicates there are 1,214 cables from the US Embassy in Port-au-Prince in the release, from April 2005 through February 2010. The documents will not directly cover the period of the February 2004 coup d’etat against former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who described being flown out of the country on an American jet as a modern-day kidnapping. But stay tuned… the cables from the Port-au-Prince embassy will be a rare glimpse into the extent of US involvement in Haiti’s affairs since the coup, free of the usual spin.

To take just one example: the French newspaper Le Monde reviewed two cables profiling President Rene Preval (can’t find the raw text anywhere). The cable describes Preval as both passive and prone to micro-management. It says he does not read much news and Elizabeth Delatour, now his wife, “is the only advisor with whom he has meaningful discussions”. . .”The result is a sort of ‘political vacuum’ occupied by ‘those who do not necessarily think in the interests of the nation.'”

Translation by Rozanna Fang into English:

Rene Preval, a “stubborn” president and with the “character of a chameleon”

For the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, the outgoing president of Haiti, Rene Preval, is an ally, but his “personality” poses a problem. After being elected in 2006, Preval had been able to count on the support of the United States, Brazil, and France – all very involved in Haiti. “His commitment to building democratic institutions, promoting political stability and economic development is in line with our own interests,” said a diplomatic message from March 2007 obtained by Wikileaks and reviewed by Le Monde.

‘Preval is still the indispensable man of Haiti,” insists a lengthy memo from June 2009, entitled “Deconstructing Preval”. However “the relationship with him is a challenge that can be frustrating and sometimes rewarding,” say the text. The difficulty stems from his “world view, his personality, and his withdrawn leadership style,” as well as his “chameleon-like character.” With a “discrete and complex personality, the president shares little. His inner circle has narrowed considerably over the past two years.” Moreover, “Preval’s isolation in the palace in the course of the last year is notable.” “He rarely leaves the palace, except to go to his home every night or to the place that he bought for his fiancee in the hills above Port-au-Prince.”

Cynical vision of Haitian politics

A businesswoman trained in the United States, “Elizabeth Delatour is the only advisor with whom he has meaningful discussions,” stated the memo from 2007, two years before she married Rene Preval. The memo admitted nonetheless that it was difficult to gauge her influence. In fact, “Preval doesn’t have confidence in his advisors or his ministers to make decisions or even to apply them.” As a result, “Preval is very little inclined to delegate power and thus the most insignificant details arrive on his desk,” explains the 2009 memo.

The Haitian president rarely accepts “diverging opinions”. This “unilateral” decision-making and his “tendency to micromanage,” accompanied with a “cynical” vision of Haitian politics (“often justfied”, adds the author of the note). “Stubborn and suspicious”, the Haitian president remains “skeptical about the commitment of the international community.” “Preval is essentially a nationalist,” “suspicious with respect to foreign intentions and convinced that no one understands Haiti as well as he does.” Preval “admits that he does not read or listen to the news, local or international.”

“Inactive Personage”

“The often erratic behavior of Preval these past years has attracted wide rumors that he suffers from a relapse of prostate cancer or that he started drinking again.” The Haitian president has ignored the advice of his relatives to conduct a health check in the United States and he has not been to Cuba for follow-up tests in the past year. In his first presidential term (1986-2001), Rene Preval was seen as an “inactive personage.”

“Sometimes determined, sometimes distracted, Preval is often reluctant to use the levers of power of the presidency.” The result is a sort of “political vacuum” occupied by “those who do not necessarily think in the interests of the nation.” Regarding the exercise of executive power, the 2007 memo had already mentioned the “weaknesses” of M. Preval, and even a “general passivity”. In 2010, he was criticized for this following the January earthquake and the cholera outbreak.

34 thoughts on “Wikileaks, Cablegate and Haiti”

  1. The good news I get from this is that Preval apparently is not a “puppet” of the U.S. or any other foreign government, as many believe. My first question then is: Why did he not insist on international aid to build infrastructure that would have mitigated the effects of the earthquake and especially the current cholera epidemic. Too bad he didn’t use the power of his office to direct international dollars into “building democratic institutions, promoting political stability and economic development” as revealed in the diplomatic message.

    Who are these people who are filling the “political vacuum” occupied by “those who do not necessarily think in the interests of the nation” and how does the next president go about getting rid of them?

    1. If or not President Préval is a puppet of the U.S. or any other country is besides the point. He does their bidding and is ruling Haiti because of the Haitian coup d’état of 2004 and not in spite of it.
      This very coup was orchestrated in part by the U.S. with other countries such as Canada by their side and their main objective was the elimination of popular movements within Haiti. Fanmi Lavalas and Jean-Bertrand Aristide were removed from power and Préval is the current guarantor of this status quo.
      Neither the Haitian political and economic elites, the U.S. nor Canada have the wellbeing of the Haitian populace as one of their motives.
      In light of this Préval does and has done exactly what Bush and now Obama would like him to do: to sure that any attempt at giving the Haitian majority a chance at political participation is limited.

  2. Tony, I agree with you that Preval is not a puppet. I was in Haiti last summer and had a chance to chat with a few “well connected” people. The sense that I consistently got closely matches the above analysis. He is irrationally status-quo. It is a popular table topic to speculate if this is due to alcohol, an intellectual bubble, laziness, greed or arrogance. Probably a bit of all of those. It reminds me of the the old Supertramp album showing a picture of a guy sipping a cocktail in a beach recliner but in the middle of a massive garbage dump with the album title: “Crisis? What Crisis?”

    The real shame is that with global attention and a massive amount of foreign cash, he had an opportunity to jump start the Haiti into a new era. With leadership and vision, he could have been one of Haiti’s greatest heroes. By now, regardless of who gets elected, those who control the flow of the aid money are already circumspect about Haiti’s ability to use it with reasonable effectiveness. A squandered opportunity of epic proportions.

    As far as I could tell, nobody is filling the political vacuum which is why the country still appears so rudderless. Lack of infrastructure, periodic instability and corruption have made it difficult even for the affluent to expand and develop business. Unfortunately, corruption is the only real opportunity most Haitians have for achieving a middle-class income. It will be a tremendous challenge to convince them to give that up. I don’t really blame them either. Haitians have been so abused and lied to over the years that they have little reason to believe anything anyone tells them. They just want a what little security they can glean for themselves.

  3. Addendum: I’m feeling bad that I characterized corruption as the only real middle-class industry and implying that corruption is the single greatest obstacle to change. That kind of reductionist analysis is, well, stupid.

    Haiti is a complex country with a damnable history. Any solution will not be unilateral.

  4. As a Haitian who has been around for 56 years, the naivete of some of the foreign friends of Haiti is sometimes a bit stunning:

    1. It is true that Preval missed an incredible opportunity to get this rudderless ship in the right direction. But to believe, as Toni does above, that the international community would actually build infrastructure in Haiti if only the Haitian government would ask it to is naive to the core. The International Community (with the exception of the EU) is not interested in long term infrastructure projects in Haiti. Humanitarian stuff is what they want to do. As for the World Bank & Co, they systematically reject any large-scale project in Haiti. The only infrastructure projects of significance in the past 10 years were either financed directly by the GOH with their meager resources or by the EU (Route Nationale #3). The only exception to that is the recent $30 million IPP project (electricity) spearheaded and actually completed by Haitian private citizens with their own funds along private South Korean funding.

    2. Haiti does not have diplomatic relations with the one country that could give it real support in developing its infrastructures: China. And this is due directly to Preval’s love affair with Taiwan. So enough said on that.

    3. Andy’s comment about corruption being the only path to middle class is beyond insulting, although he does regret it in a follow-up post. It is a slap in the face of the millions of Haitians who try to earn a decent living in an honest way. It is too easy to focus on the small cadre of civil servants who have perfected the art of corruption. Truth be told, the absolute levels of corruption in Haiti are peanuts compared to what is happening next door in the DR. But who is really paying attention to that?

    4. Of course, no one mentions the absurd levels of corruption, nepotism, and racism WITHIN the foreign NGOs operating in Haiti. The systematic sidelining of qualified Haitian-Americans who had the skills to contribute post-earthquake (yes, I am talking about you Catholic Relief Services) and the double-standard applied to local recruits vs expat staff (yes, Oxfam, that’s you I am referring to) is quite telling. Graham Hancock had it quite right in his very prescient book “The Lords of Poverty.”

    5. The International Community will not allow any Haitian government today to implement the types of sensible policies that Toni refers to – and the safeguards and checks and balances that would go with it- because they don’t want another Rwanda, where the Kagame administration has successfully managed to control the unchecked growth (and anarchy) of NGOs. The latter as a group hate Rwanda because they cannot get to do what they want in full impunity.

    In conclusion, we Haitians must of course shoulder the lion’s share of the blame for our problems. But to believe that the international community is just standing by ready to help and spend its cash (and that we simply cannot get our act together) is to ignore the bad faith or incompetence or both of our so-called international friends (with some exceptions.)

      1. Ansel – It is I who thank you for the great job you are doing and for allowing my post on your website. I did not mean to offend the other posters, and I hope they will not take my post personally. I wanted to share a different, and perhaps more cynical, point of view.

    1. Mr. Joseph – My core admits to being naive in matters of the contemptible strategies employed by superpowers, the World Bank, et al., although the more I learn about how they have harmed the Haitian people, the less naive I become. One small correction though: I did not say I “believe” the international community would fork over money to build infrastructure. What I said was that since it appears Preval is not a puppet, why did he not take the opportunity to insist that international money be used to build infrastructure. I’m not saying it would have been done, but the option was available. “Insist” is too strong a word, of course. I should have written “request.”

    2. Thank you so much for this post. I spent 3 months after the earthquake in Haiti to do a personal project but end up shooting a documentary about the levels of corruptions within the NGOs in Haiti. I can’t tell you how right on you are with your assessment.

      1. peace kiskeya, have you completed your documentary? if interested in screening it and developing a program for it and it’s awareness, how could I communicate with you? do you have a site or something that i can correspond with you through email/contact sheet to exchange info?

    3. What about the road from jeremie to aux cages finance by the Canadian government.

      The real problem is that services that should be provided by the Haitian government are being provided by the international community ( the UN, NGO’s, other governments) at great profit to themselves. No one is interested in long term solutions for Haiti because those solutions will hurt their bottom line. I know it is hard to fathom because Haiti is so poor but there is a lot of money to be made by administering aid especially since the earthquake. Building projects, infrastructure projects, medical aid, social aid, etc… are all needed. That means jobs, jobs, jobs. Why fix the problem when you profit excessively from it.

      Any way that is my cynical take on the entire situation.

  5. you are tge greatest good job
    the haitian people would be very happy if they could have information on how that aid money is being spent
    this could be the greatest gift from above the haitian people have ever gotten
    please do your best
    anybody out there please help

    1. I am Haitian
      Some person change some not Aristide belong to the second part.
      No need to be spy or God to know that miracle pull a part Aristide could
      change. He demonstrates that even after paying for his errors that he got to maturity. for him( in his mind) he is a king, a god a pope.
      He never understands that Haiti needs a SON a SERVANT not a monarch. He never believes that Haiti is for all Haitians and as so we need to put our mind together.
      Me belief is that ARISTIDE J.B. could have been the second Toussaint Louverture but he failed twice. He was the one having a second chance to save Haiti.

  6. Wikileaks, Cablegate and Haiti:
    I went though all the notes and my opinion is that this president is not a patriot. According to the classic definition of this word a patriot is: someone who really loves his country, looking forward to take it from one point A to an other W or Z (for the good).
    The intention of Preval has never been that. He has been chosen by USA and CANADA as the more appropriate at the moment where Haiti was totally up side down and the made the BIG mistake that we all in Haiti (even the ones outside) are paying now.

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