Bill Clinton Spins His Haiti Intervention
Amid a probe of Aristide, the former president offers a new version of events.
By Mary Anastasia O’Grady
Reprinted from the Wall Street Journal
It’s tempting to try to forget about all the misery that Bill and Hillary Clinton and their Democrat friends have inflicted on Haiti. But like perpetrators who cannot resist the urge to return to the scene of the crime, the Clintons keep reminding us.
At an Iowa “steak fry” last week, Mr. Clinton bragged about his Haiti record. That was strange: Two decades after using the U.S. military to restore deposed Haitian tyrant Jean Bertrand Aristide to power, five years after becoming the U.N.’s special Haiti envoy, and three years after taking charge of the post-earthquake Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, Mr. Clinton is persona non grata in much of the country due to the dismal results of his involvement.
Yet bringing up Haiti now, even in such an unlikely venue, may come to serve a purpose. Mr. Aristide was put under house arrest in Port-au-Prince earlier this month in connection with an investigation into allegations of money laundering and corruption. If he decides to talk and remembers things differently than Mr. Clinton, the former U.S. president will be out in front with his version of events.
Former US President Bill Clinton visits a peanut plantation in Tierra Muscady, in the central plateau of Haiti, on June 29, 2014. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Speaking after his wife addressed the Iowa crowd, Mr. Clinton explained his 1994 Haiti intervention: “The military dictator down there was putting tires around people’s necks and setting them afire, in an affectionate policy called necklacing,” he recalled satirically. “I was told that nobody gave a rip about Haiti.” But “we did it and no shot was fired. Nobody got hurt.”
That’s some tale. But as any Haitian knows, it was Mr. Aristide who championed Haitian “necklacing,” aka “Père Lebrun” after a domestic tire merchant. Governing a democracy with a national assembly was more difficult than he had anticipated and he urged his followers to give Père Lebrun to his opponents, as an Oct. 1993 Congressional Research Service report documented.
On Sept. 29, 1991, the military stepped in and kicked him out. It employed its own paramilitary, which also practiced repression—but guns, not necklacing, were its weapon of choice.
Mr. Aristide fled to Washington, where President George H.W. Bush released Haiti’s international telephone and airline revenues to him as the government-in-exile. There was never any accounting for those funds but they reportedly topped $50 million. Mr. Aristide lived the high life in Georgetown and mounted an aggressive and costly lobbying campaign for U.S. military intervention to restore his presidency.
Once Mr. Clinton put Mr. Aristide back in the palace in Port-au-Prince, his supporters picked up where they had left off. Opponents were hacked with machetes, set on fire and gunned down. Money disappeared.
The Clinton administration did nothing to contain these abuses. Instead, a company called Fusion, run by Democrats—including Joseph P. Kennedy II, Mack McLarty, who had been Clinton White House chief of staff, and Marvin Rosen, a former finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee—went into the long-distance telephone business with Haiti Teleco, the government-owned monopoly.
In 2000, several Haitians, fearing for their lives, surreptitiously approached me to ask for help in exposing this arrangement, which they said was destroying Haiti-Teleco. Fusion clammed up, but with the help of the Freedom of Information Act I eventually uncovered the sweetheart deal between the friends of Bill and the Haitian despot. (See the Oct. 27, 2008, Americas column.) Fusion has denied any wrongdoing.
Since 2012, Haiti’s judges no longer answer to the executive branch and their independence could reverse decades of impunity. Former dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier is currently under investigation for numerous allegations of human-rights violations during his rule in the 1970s and ’80s.
Sources familiar with the investigation of Mr. Aristide conducted by Judge Lamarre Belizaire tell me that the potential charges include money laundering, drug trafficking and the illicit use of state funds. One credible source told me by telephone from Port-au-Prince last week that the court also is looking at corruption inside Haiti Teleco.
It would be reasonable to expect U.S. authorities to cooperate since they have prosecuted several Haitians for telecom kickback schemes and drug trafficking during Mr. Aristide’s rule. My sources say that the Aristide Foundation for Democracy also is being investigated and that some well-known Americans are involved.
Last week Rep. Maxine Waters (D., Calif.), who has been a vocal supporter of Mr. Aristide and has served on the U.S. board of directors of the Aristide Foundation for Democracy, sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry expressing concern that there might be an “effort to illegally arrest” Mr. Aristide and that his supporters might react violently. She asked the U.S. to “intervene immediately.”
Ms. Waters did not mention the importance of setting a precedent in Haiti that no one is above the law. Nor did she show concern for the safety of Judge Belizaire, who according to multiple reports is receiving death threats. Funny that. Just as strange as the unexpected Haiti spiel from Mr. Clinton in Iowa.