A WikiLeaks Haiti retrospective

I made the initial contacts, over a period of months in 2011, that led to a partnership between WikiLeaks, The Nation magazine, and Haiti Liberte to analyze and publish the cache of secret diplomatic cables from the Port-au-Prince Embassy.

The always-excellent Public Archive invited me to compile this retrospective of the important revelations showing the scope of US influence on Haiti. Check it out.


If you had free reign over classified networks… and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do?”

“God knows what happens now. Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms… I want people to see the truth… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.

Bradley Manning, “Manning-Lamo Chat Logs Revealed” Wired (July 2011).

Alleged WikiLeaks whistleblower Bradley Manning’s pretrial hearing is expected to end next week. In what little media coverage the trial has received so far, attention has focused more on the harsh conditions of Manning’s imprisonment than the disruptive political ramifications of having exposed the secret machinations of the most powerful nation in the world.

In one of the thousands of leaked diplomatic cables, former US Ambassador to Haiti Janet Sanderson described Haiti as a “small, poor nation in the shadow of the American behemoth.” Unsurprisingly, as the Atlantic Wire put it, the cables highlight how America has been micromanaging and manhandling the Haitian government into aligning their policies with U.S. interests.”

Consider this less-than-comprehensive overview of the profound American impact on Haiti in three key areas, as revealed by Manning and WikiLeaks:


US officials led a far-reaching international campaign aimed at keeping former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide exiled in South Africa, rendering him a virtual prisoner there for the last seven years, according to secret US State Department cables…

Read the rest at The Public Archive »

WikiLeaks: Embassy’s “Privatization Update” Shows Shock Doctrine in Action in Haiti

Klein spells out the definition of shock doctrine: using shocking situations to push through legislation that would not be passed under normal circumstances. The shock doctrine is, as she states, a “democracy-avoidance strategy.”

– Naomi Klein lecture at Berkeley, 2009

E.O. 12958: N/A

Despite assurances that privatization is a still a priority for the government, as elections draw nearer we are increasingly skeptical that privatization, in whatever form, will happen under the watch of the IGOH. Time is running out and we are not convinced that the IGOH has the technical capacity nor political will to carry out even one privatization prior to turning over power to an elected government. We will continue to advocate strongly on behalf of privatization and/or private management. Post repeats its recommendation in reftels that privatization be a requirement under future agreements with the IFIs, including an IMF Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) to be negotiated with the new government. Indeed we believe that the only reason that the audits will eventually be completed is because it is a requirement of the World Bank program.

– US Ambassador to Haiti James Foley, Aug. 25, 2005

IGOH refers to Interim Government of Haiti, the unelected government installed after a US-backed coup ousted Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004.

Update: Thanks to WikiLeaks for tweeting this! I should add that this “shock doctrine in action” cable pairs nicely with this “disaster capitalism in full effect” one that we flagged earlier this summer, in which the US Ambassador described a post-earthquake “gold rush” for reconstruction contracts.

If you’re a new visitor, check out more WikiLeaks Haiti content here and here, and consider donating to the venerable shoe-string budget Haitian newspaper Haiti Liberte, without which the effort to comb through and analyze these cables would have not been possible.

WikiLeaks Haiti: The Aristide Files

I’m a little late in posting this here to my blog, but I recently co-authored with Kim Ives this piece in The Nation. A longer, more detailed version of this story including discussion of how the campaign Aristide continues even to this day appeared in the previous week’s edition of Haiti Liberte.

US officials led a far-reaching international campaign aimed at keeping former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide exiled in South Africa, rendering him a virtual prisoner there for the last seven years, according to secret US State Department cables.

The cables show that high-level US and UN officials even discussed a politically motivated prosecution of Aristide to prevent him from “gaining more traction with the Haitian population and returning to Haiti.”

The secret cables, made available to the Haitian weekly newspaper Haïti Liberté by WikiLeaks, show how the political defeat of Aristide and his Lavalas movement has been the central pillar of US policy toward the Caribbean nation over the last two US administrations, even though—or perhaps because—US officials understood that he was the most popular political figure in Haiti.

They also reveal how US officials and their diplomatic counterparts from France, Canada, the UN and the Vatican tried to vilify and ostracize the Haitian political leader.

For the Vatican, Aristide was an “active proponent of voodoo.” For Washington, he was “dangerous to Haiti’s democratic consolidation,” according to the secret US cables.

Aristide was overthrown in a bloody February 2004 coup supported by Washington and fomented by right-wing paramilitary forces and the Haitian elite. In the aftermath of the coup, more than 3,000 people were killed and thousands of supporters of Aristide and his Fanmi Lavalas political party were jailed.

The United States maintained publicly that Aristide resigned in the face of a ragtag force of former Haitian army soldiers rampaging in Haiti’s north. But Aristide called his escort by a US Navy SEAL team on his flight into exile “a modern-day kidnapping.”

Two months later, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) was established, a 9,000-strong UN occupation force that still oversees Latin America’s first independent nation.

Aristide has spoken forcefully against the UN occupation, particularly in his 2010 year-end letter to the Haitian people. “We cannot forget the $5 billion which has already been spent for MINUSTAH over these past six years,” he wrote. “Anybody can see how many houses, hospitals, and schools that wasted money could have built for the victims” of the January 12, 2010, earthquake that destroyed much of Port-au-Prince and surrounding regions.

Such positions are major reasons Washington fought to get and keep Aristide out of Haiti, the cables make clear. “A premature departure of MINUSTAH would leave the [Haitian] government…vulnerable to…resurgent populist and anti-market economy political forces—reversing gains of the last two years,” wrote US Ambassador Janet Sanderson in an October 1, 2008, cable. MINUSTAH “is an indispensable tool in realizing core USG [US government] policy interests in Haiti.”

At a high-level meeting five years ago, top US and UN officials discussed how the “Aristide Movement Must Be Stopped,” according to an August 2, 2006, cable. It described how former Guatemalan diplomat Edmond Mulet, then chief of MINUSTAH, “urged US legal action against Aristide to prevent the former president from gaining more traction with the Haitian population and returning to Haiti.”

At Mulet’s request, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urged South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki “to ensure that Aristide remained in South Africa.”

President Obama and Kofi Annan’s successor, Ban Ki-moon, also intervened to urge Pretoria to keep Aristide in South Africa. The secret cables report that Aristide’s return to Haiti would be a “disaster,” according to the Vatican, and “catastrophic,” according to the French.

But the regional and Haitian view was quite different. US Ambassador James Foley admitted in a confidential March 22, 2005, cable that an August 2004 poll “showed that Aristide was still the only figure in Haiti with a favorability rating above 50%.”

The Bahamian Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell, apparently referring to Haiti’s revolutionary leader Toussaint Louverture’s kidnapping and imprisonment in the Jura mountains in 1802, warned “that a perceived ‘Banishing Policy’ has racial and historical overtones in the Caribbean that reminds inhabitants of the region of slavery and past abuse.”

Keeping the Pressure On

After Aristide left Jamaica for exile in South Africa on May 30, 2004, the US government worked overtime to keep him out of Haiti and even the hemisphere, even though the Haitian constitution and international law stipulate that every Haitian citizen has the right to be in his homeland.

When Dominican President Leonel Fernández suggested at a hemispheric conference eight months after the coup that Aristide should return and play a role in Haiti’s political future, the United States reacted angrily, saying in a cable that Fernández had been “wrong in advocating the inclusion in the process of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide.” Continue reading “WikiLeaks Haiti: The Aristide Files”

WikiLeaked Cables Testify to Haiti PM Nominee’s Repressive Past

Co-authored with Kim Ives in Haiti Liberte:

Bernard Gousse, whom Haitian President Michel Martelly nominated for Prime Minister on Jul. 6, was so repressive, uncontrollable and ineffective as Haiti’s de facto Justice Minister seven years ago that Washington and its Haitian and international allies forced his resignation, secret U.S. Embassy cables show.

The cables were among a trove of 1,918 Haiti-related U.S. Embassy dispatches provided by the media organization WikiLeaks to Haïti Liberté.

“He’s an honest man. He has experience in public administration,” Martelly’s chief of staff Thierry Mayard-Paul told The Associated Press. “We believe that Mr. Gousse can drive this country out of its turmoil.”

But the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince came to a different conclusion towards the end of Gousse’s last tenure as a public official, calling him a “complete failure” as Justice Minister. In separate cables, the Embassy and its interlocutors in Haiti decry his “mischief,” call him “stubborn,” and question whether he is an “obstacle” to resolving the case of a high-profile political prisoner.

“Everyone, including his backers in the [Haitian] private sector, agreed that Gousse had been a complete failure both on the security and justice fronts,” wrote then U.S. Ambassador James Foley in a Jun. 3, 2005 diplomatic cable.

Gousse’s nomination for premier already seems doomed. On Jul. 8, 16 out of Haiti’s 30 Senators signed a resolution saying they would not ratify him. The Senators, who are likely to be joined by other parliamentarians, said in their resolution that Gousse was unacceptable for the “repression, arbitrary arrests and killings in the neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince” that were carried out under his auspices in 2004 and 2005. Continue reading “WikiLeaked Cables Testify to Haiti PM Nominee’s Repressive Past”

WikiLeaks: Disaster Capitalism in Quake Relief Effort

Unified Haiti Relief Coordinator Lewis Lucke after the earthquake

Co-authored in The Nation magazine with Haiti Liberte‘s Kim Ives:

Disaster capitalists were flocking to Haiti in a “gold rush” for contracts to rebuild the country after the January 12, 2010, earthquake, according to a secret cable from US Ambassador Kenneth Merten.

The February 1, 2010, cable [1] was obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to the Haitian newspaper Haïti Liberté, which is collaborating with The Nation on a series of reports [2] on US and UN policy toward the country.

“THE GOLD RUSH IS ON!” Merten headlined a section of his 6 pm situation report—or SitRep—to Washington. “As Haiti digs out from the earthquake, different [US] companies are moving in to sell their concepts, products and services,” he wrote. “President Preval met with Gen Wesley Clark Saturday [January 29] and received a sales presentation on a hurricane/earthquake resistant foam core house designed for low income residents.”

Former US presidential candidate and retired general Wesley Clark—along with professional basketball star Alonzo Mourning—was fronting for InnoVida Holdings, a Miami-based company, which had pledged to donate 1,000 foam-core panel-built houses for Haiti’s homeless.

“AshBritt [a Florida-based disaster recovery company] has been talking to various institutions about a national plan for rebuilding all government buildings,” Merten continued in his dispatch. “Other companies are proposing their housing solutions or their land use planning ideas, or other construction concepts. Each is vying for the ear of President in a veritable free-for-all.”

One man who had the ear of President Préval was Lewis Lucke, Washington’s special coordinator for relief and reconstruction, who was heading up the entire US earthquake relief effort in Haiti. He met with Préval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive two weeks after the quake, and at least one more time after that, according to the cables. Lucke, a twenty-seven-year veteran of the US Agency for International Development, had overseen multibillion-dollar contracts for Bechtel and other companies as USAID mission director in postinvasion Iraq.

Lucke stepped down as Haiti relief coordinator in April 2010, after only three months, telling his hometown newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, “It became clear to us that if it was handled correctly, the earthquake represented as much an opportunity as it did a calamity…. So much of the china was broken that it gives the chance to put it together hopefully in a better and different way.”

Within eight weeks of stepping down, Lucke had signed a lucrative $30,000 per month agreement with AshBritt and its Haitian partner, GB Group (which belongs to one of Haiti’s richest men, Gilbert Bigio). Lucke helped them secure $20 million in construction contracts.

But in December 2010, Lucke sued AshBritt and GB Group for almost $500,000. According to the Associated Press, he claimed the companies “did not pay him enough for consulting services that included hooking the contractor up with powerful people and helping to navigate government bureaucracy.” Before the lawsuit was settled, Lucke had already joined masonry product supplier MC Endeavors. The firm sent out another of many press releases this past May advertising its ability to build homes and applauding Haiti’s newly inaugurated President Michel Martelly’s declaration: “This is a new Haiti that is open for business now.”

The post-quake “gold rush” described by Ambassador Merten began as Haitians were still being pulled from the rubble. Since then, USAID has doled out nearly $200 million in relief and reconstruction contracts. By this April, just 2.5 percent of the money had gone to Haitian firms, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Lucke, for one, is not bashful about making a fortune off others’ misfortune. “It’s kind of the American way,” he told Haïti Liberté. “Just because you’re trying to do business doesn’t mean you’re trying to be rapacious. There’s nothing insidious about that…. It wasn’t worse than Iraq.”

WikiLeaks: Militarization in Quake Relief Effort

Lt. General Ken Keen observes US troops at an aid distribution in February 2010

Published last week by The Nation magazine, with a longer version in the weekly Haiti Liberte:

Washington deployed 22,000 troops to Haiti after the January 12, 2010, earthquake despite reports from the Haitian leadership, the US Embassy and the UN that no serious security threat existed, according to secret US diplomatic cables.

The cables, obtained by WikiLeaks, were made available to the Haitian newspaper Haïti Liberté, which is collaborating with The Nation on a series of reports about US and UN policy toward the country.

Washington’s decision to send thousands of troops in response to the 7.0 earthquake that rocked the Haitian capital and surrounding areas drew sharp criticism from aid workers and government officials around the world at the time. They criticized the militarized response to Haiti’s humanitarian crisis as inappropriate and counterproductive. French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet famously said that international aid efforts should be “about helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti.”

The earthquake-related cables also show that Washington was very sensitive to international criticism of its response and that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mobilized her diplomatic corps to ferret out “irresponsible journalism” worldwide and “take action” to “get the narrative right.”

In a January 15 cable, Clinton told diplomatic posts and military commands that “approximately 4,000 U.S. military personnel will be in Haiti by January 16 and 10,000 personnel by January 18.” On January 17, Haitian President René Préval issued a “joint communiqué” with Clinton, in which Haiti requested that the United States “assist as needed in augmenting security,” helping to diminish the appearance of a unilateral US action and providing the rationale for what was to be the third US military intervention of Haiti in the past twenty years.

Aware that there would be international dismay about US troops playing a security role, Clinton outlined a series of talking points for diplomats and military officers in her January 22 cable. She said they should emphasize that “MINUSTAH [UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, as the occupation force is called] has the primary international responsibility for security,” but that “in keeping with President Preval’s request to the United States for assistance to augment security, the U.S. is providing every possible support… and is in no way supplanting the UN’s role.” Continue reading “WikiLeaks: Militarization in Quake Relief Effort”

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

Not long after former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide landed in Haiti yesterday, ending an exile begun in 2004 by a US-backed coup d’etat, Kristoffer Rønneberg at the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten posted online 13 new private diplomatic cables from the US government relating to Aristide and Haiti, from the Wikileaks Cablegate set.

Taken together, they portray the United States as intractably, almost obsessively occupied with marginalizing Aristide and Lavalas, and making sure other nations fall in line. The French government conspired with the US to make his return near-impossible, discussing how to make the logistics of a return flight more difficult and making plain to S. Africa that he must be kept there. There’s also the news that in 2008 current President Rene Preval was trying “co-opt” the Fanmi Lavalas party into his ruling coalition and was flatly opposed to Aristide even being in the hemisphere. Below, a round-up of key passages from the cables… Continue reading “The Aftenposten 13: New Wikileaks Cables Show Extent of US Opposition to Aristide”

Aristide’s Return and WikiLeaks: When Will the US Finally Change Course on Haiti?

Disclaimer: I write bland headlines. But hopefully you’ll find the post itself worth your while. I’ll add links tomorrow. It’s late and I need to get home!

“President Rene Preval made reference to these rumors, telling the Ambassador that he did not want Aristide ‘anywhere in the hemisphere.’” That was in 2008, according to a secret American cable from the Wikileaks cache released today, when rumors swirled about Preval’s predecessor, Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his possible passage to Venezuela.

The rumors, which began circulating again with ever-stronger intensity in the past month, finally were put to rest today.

Aristide ended a seven-year-long exile. He arrived in Haiti by private plane, gave a heartwarming speech about love and exclusion in four languages including Zulu, and headed to his mansion with his family amidst a jostling crowd of overjoyed supporters that stretched down the road surrounding his convoy.

A single smoke bomb to disperse the crowd? Nothing doing. People promptly gave each other lifts over the Aristide compounds’s newly-cleaned 13-foot-high walls. A middle-aged guy boosted me up and I clambered over.

We waited for Aristide to emerge again, some eating mangos off trees and lounging about the pool to bide their time, but he stayed inside. He’ll probably have more to say soon. When he does, many will listen, much to chagrin of his detractors, who say he tolerated corruption and violent crimes as President.

One of them is a certain Michel Martelly, a leading presidential candidate in Sunday’s runoff election, who can be seen strutting about a nightclub in a video posted on YouTube recently, saying “I would kill Aristide to stick a dick up your ass” and calling Aristide supporters “faggots.”

Martelly has been drawing huge crowds and many presume he’s handily winning the race against a less aggressive right-wing rival. But today I heard a young man remark that he’s “falling in shit.” I stifled a laugh (and a cough, as we marched through the dusty, trash-strewn streets along Aristide’s convoy).

Longtime Haitian political observer Patrick Elie, who served in the governments of Aristide and Preval, was a bit more nuanced: “These elections are going to give a president who has no legitimacy and who will be the puppet of the international community, especially now with the reconstruction.” Continue reading “Aristide’s Return and WikiLeaks: When Will the US Finally Change Course on Haiti?”

Wikileaks: US Embassy Makes Its Case for MINUSTAH

An October 2008 cable just released by Wikileaks called “Why We Need A Continuing MINUSTAH Presence in Haiti” recommends MINUSTAH’s presence continue until at least 2013. The US pays one fourth of its budget. Some notable passages:

A premature departure of MINUSTAH would leave the Preval government or his successor vulnerable to resurgent kidnapping and international drug trafficking, revived gangs, greater political violence, an exodus of seaborne migrants, a sharp drop in foreign and domestic investment, and resurgent populist and anti-market economy political forces – reversing gains of the last two years.

The fundamental USG policy goal in Haiti is to make it a viable state that does not post a threat to the region through domestic political turmoil or an exodus of illegal migrants. To reach that point, Haiti must be able to assure its own domestic security, govern itself with stable democratic institutions, and create a business climate that will get the economy moving. Haiti has made progress but is still a long way from these goals. The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is the largest and most effective external institution pursuing them.

We must be sensitive to Latin fears that any Haitian opposition to the UN presence undermines their domestic support for deployments in Haiti. During the April riots, the Brazilian MINUSTAH Force Commander told Ambassador and others that his greatest fear was that his troops would be forced to fire on demonstrators. He understood that this could ignite opposition in Haiti, Brazil, and other contributing countries to his troops’ presence in Haiti.

Read up on the other Haiti-related disclosures in Wikileaks cables here.

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

Dominican President Leonel Fernandez told State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Patrick Duddy in January of 2006, according to a cable released by Norway’s largest newspaper, that he suspects Brazilian MINUSTAH military commander Urano Bacellar was assassinated by a paramilitary-type group, possibly led by Guy Phillippe. Fernandez said he believes Bacellar did not commit suicide and there had been a cover-up.

Fernandez inquired about the circumstances surrounding the death of Brazilian Army General Urano Teixeira da Matta Bacellar. DAS Duddy confirmed that all indications pointed to suicide. Fernandez expressed skepticism. He had met General Bacellar; to him, suicide seemed unlikely for a professional of Bacellar´s caliber. Fernandez said he believes that there is a small group in Haiti dedicated to disrupting the elections and creating chaos; that this group had killed MINUSTAH members in the past (a Canadian and a Jordanian, and now the Brazilian General); and that there would be more violence against MINUSTAH forces as the election date approaches. The President said he knew of a case in which a Brazilian MINUSTAH member had killed a sniper. Although he allowed that Bacellar´s death might be due to an accidentally self-inflicted wound, he believes that the Brazilian government is calling the death a suicide in order to protect the mission from domestic criticism. A confirmed assassination would result in calls from the Brazilian populace for withdrawal from Haiti. Success in this mission is vital for President Lula of Brazil, because it is part of his master plan to obtain a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

(SBU) DAS Duddy restated his understanding that the evidence pointed to suicide and that the specific circumstances of the other assassinations in all likelihood ruled out a conspiracy. (S) Fernandez elaborated further on his hypothesis: there was a cover-up of an assassination and that more attacks would occur. He was firm in this view and repeated the warning. (S) The Ambassador asked who might be behind such an attack. Fernandez said he did not know. He commented that in the case of the demonstrations against his visit to Port au Prince in December 2005, Haitian activist Guy Philippe had organized the effort. Fernandez said that Philippe had people working for him inside the National Palace.

Fernandez´s Visit to Haiti
– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

(U) DAS Duddy praised Fernandez on his handling of the aftermath of the Port au Prince demonstrations. (SBU) Fernandez retrieved from his desk a book of photos from the visit. He described his visit to the National Palace in Port au Prince: the growing crowd, his uneasiness, the lack of security, the “ambush” of his motorcade as they were leaving, machine gun fire, and the role of Dominican helicopters and MINUSTAH troops in rescuing the motorcade. (S) He said that entities within Haiti had killed MINUSTAH troops via sniper attack on previous occasions, and he believed they would do so again. Their goal was chaos. “Imagine,” he said, “the chaos that would have resulted if they had killed me in Haiti. There would have been wholesale persecution of Haitians in the Dominican Republic.” For this reason he had downplayed the incident to the press, but the truth was that it had been very serious.

Read up on the other Haiti-related disclosures in Wikileaks cables here.