Tammerlin Drummond: In Haiti, it’s always about the foreign aid money

Tammerlin Drummond, in an editorial in the San Jose Mercury News, rages against the usual suspects ready to exploit aid to Haiti for their own benefit.
Usually, the rats abandon a sinking ship.

In Haiti, they’re jumping on.

Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, aka “Baby Doc” slinked back into the embattled Caribbean country in January after 25 years in exile. As if Haiti didn’t have nightmares enough following a massive earthquake in January 2010 that killed at least a quarter of a million people and a cholera epidemic.

Duvalier must have known as indeed is what occurred–that as soon as his toes touched Port-au-Prince soil, he would be charged with corruption.

This long-overdue filing is in connection with the hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid that Duvalier is alleged to have stolen during his brazenly rapacious 15-year reign. Money that he and his much-loathed wife, Michele, used to support a lifestyle that rivaled the excesses of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos in the Philippines.

Duvalier also must have suspected that he would face charges of crimes against humanity for the innumerable atrocities committed under his authority by the Tonton Macoute. The denim wearing, machete wielding presidential militia, was created in 1959 by Duvalier’s father “Papa Doc” Francois.” They kidnapped, tortured and murdered thousands.

Duvalier claims he has returned to help rebuild the country in the aftermath of the quake. A more likely explanation is that he has burned through his money, the Swiss government has frozen what may be his last $6 million, and he is desperate to ferret out some additional source of cash.

Meanwhile, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide made a dramatic return in March after seven years in exile in South Africa.

I also doubt that altruism figured into his decision.

I was working in Haiti as a journalist in the mid-’90s during the period that former President Bill Clinton sent U.S. troops to the Caribbean country to oust the military that had mounted a coup against Aristide.

I interviewed Aristide in the National Palace, which 15 years later would be reduced to rubble in the quake.

He gave an impassioned monologue about wanting to help Haitians move from “poverty to dignity.—

He inspired hope among desperately poor people who thought that finally, someone in the political leadership cared about their suffering. Aristide, a former Catholic priest, had grown up poor. He was one of them.

In fact, Aristide’s Lavalas government would prove to be no less corrupt than its military and Duvalieriste predecessors.

The Medellin and Cali cartels continued to use Haiti as major stop on their trafficking routes. Violent gangs with ties to the government terrorized political opponents. Instead of going to help poor people, money from foreign aid bought hilltop mansions and flowed into overseas bank accounts.

In 2004, with anti-government rebels descending on the capital, Aristide went into exile for a second time. Aristide insists U.S officials forced him out against his will.

After Aristide’s hasty departure, looters found a safe stuffed with $350,000 in the basement of the presidential residence at Tabarre.

Stacks and stacks of $100 bills, some of them so moldy that they crumbled at the touch.

Which brings us to the present.

Since the earthquake, more than $5 billion in aid has been pledged to Haiti. Many countries have failed thus far to deliver. Yet even so, hundreds of millions are still flowing into the country.

Whoever gets hold of the reins of government is going to control a lot of that money.

There are two candidates vying to become Haiti’s next president.

Michel Martelly is better known by his stage name “Sweet Micky.” The singer’s bad-boy act included pulling down his pants in concerts and encouraging his fans to shoot their guns into the air. Martelly was also a favorite of the goons employed by the Duvaliers and later military dictatorships.

The would-be president recently defaulted on $1 million in loans and lost three homes in South Florida, a favorite stomping ground of former Duvalieristes in exile.

So needless to say, he could probably use an infusion of new funds.

His opponent, Mirlande Manigat, is a former first lady, and longtime Haitian politico. Manigat’s husband. Leslie Manigat, succeeded Jean-Claude Duvalier in a fraudulent election in 1988. He agreed to become a puppet president to give political cover to military strongman Henri Namphy.

When Manigat actually tried to exercise power, Namphy ousted him.

The final results of the Haitian presidential election are not expected until April 16.

Meanwhile, the opportunists from both ends of the political spectrum are standing by, sticky fingers at the ready.

For the original report go to http://www.mercurynews.com/columns/ci_17747113?nclick_check=1

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