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25840: Haiti Progres: (news) This Week in Haiti 23:19 7/23/2005 (fwd)
From: Haïti Progrès <email@example.com>
"This Week in Haiti" is the English section of HAITI PROGRES
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"Le journal qui offre une alternative"
* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *
July 20 - 26, 2005
Vol. 23, No. 19
HAVE THE LATORTUES KIDNAPPED DEMOCRACY IN HAITI?
by Anthony Fenton
(Third of three installments)
KIDNAPPING REALITY AND THE LATORTUES
Before Jean Bertrand Aristide assumed the Presidency in early February,
2001, Youri Latortue was second-in-command at the General Security Unit
of the National Palace (USGPN) under President René Préval. After
Aristide's accession, other USGPN policemen found him "hostile" to his
new President, who worried about his involvement in a "plot", according
to Haiti's elite-owned radio station Signal FM on Feb, 21, 2001.
By this time, Youri Latortue's friends Guy Philippe and Jackie Nau,
son-in-law and security chief for today's de facto Foreign Affairs
Minister Hérard Abraham, had been implicated in a plot to overthrow
Préval's government in October 2000, one month in advance of Haiti's
Presidential elections. Nau's brother-in-law, Roger Alteri, would be
arrested for helping the coup-plotters escape to the Dominican Republic.
At the time, Alteri was "a contractor for the U.S. embassy."(Signal
Radio, November 7, 2000) . Philippe and Nau 's names would come up in
relation to other early coup attempts in July and December, 2001, and
Philippe would emerge as a central figure in the February 2004
"uprising" against Aristide, where he stated quite openly that his idols
were, fittingly enough, Augusto Pinochet and Ronald Reagan.
After being kicked out of the USGPN, Youri Latortue was transferred to
the Haitian National Police (HNP). While there are numerous mentions of
Youri Latortue the security agent in media prior to 2001, I found no
reference to him in Haitian or international media from February 2001 to
February 2004. After his transfer to the HNP, Youri Latortue disappeared
from the media to reappear three years later, after the 2004 coup.
In a phone interview on Jun. 12, 2004, Youri Latortue explained this
three year absence: he had lived in Miami, studied in Montreal for two
years, and then returned to Haiti. Upon returning after the coup, he was
offered various jobs in the interim government. "They tried to choose me
as the Chief of Police when Aristide went," he said. "I said I didn't
want to because I want to choose a political career, I don't want to be
chief of police." Instead, Youri Latortue took the position as head of
security for his uncle, de facto Prime Minister Gérard Latortue.
In September 2004, as Haiti was responding to the devastating flooding
in GonaVves caused by Tropical Storm Jeanne, which killed 3,000 and left
hundreds of thousands homeless, Youri Latortue appeared in that city to
dictate the dispensation of aid. In Australia's Daily Telegraph, he was
the spokesperson describing how "only part of a government aid shipment
was handed out because the crowd grew too unruly." Two months later, he
was "blacklisted" by Le Figaro, a French newspaper, who dubbed him
"Mister 30 Per Cent," and portrayed Youri Latortue as the de facto
government's strongman. Le Figaro's article, dated Dec. 21, 2004, was
titled: "Drug traffickers help themselves to Haiti."
French journalist Thierry Oberle made the obvious connection between
uncle and nephew: "At a lower level, the virtuous Gérard Latortue must,
for his part, face his critics. He is blamed for retaining in his
entourage his nephew, Youri Latortue, a person nicknamed 'Mister 30 Per
Cent' because of the percentage he demands in return for favors.
Worried, not without reason, about his own security, the prime minister
pays 20,000 euros a month to this former police officer implicated in
various scandals for 'organizing an intelligence service'."
Youri Latortue contested Oberle's claims of his corruption and theft of
international aid, calling them false and suggesting that he had hired a
lawyer to "pursue justice." He later admitted that he would not "pursue
justice" because he did not want to pay the expensive legal fees.
Youri Latortue suggested the real motivation behind Oberle's accusations
was the French government's resentment towards him for shutting them out
of the PM's security detail: "The French are not very happy with me
because I said that Haitian police can do the security; we don't need
French now for the security. They were very angry and then they said
something about me."
A source close to Haitian government circles said "many people...have
seen ["rebel" turned politician] Guy Philippe going in and out of Youri
Latortue's office." Others, such as Joel Deeb, a Haitian-American arms
dealer who has reportedly brokered deals with Youri Latortue since the
Feb. 29, 2004 ouster of President Jean Bertrand Aristide, call Youri
Latortue a drug smuggling "kingpin," with "close ties" to paramilitary
leader Guy Philippe. Deeb also said that "everybody knows" about Youri
Latortue's involvement in kidnappings.
It is also widely known that Youri Latortue and his deputy, Jean-Wener
Jacquitte, who refused (on Jun. 24) to comment on this role, are, at the
very least, funneling money associated with kidnappings. This has been
confirmed by sources both in diplomatic circles, as well as sources
inside and outside the de facto Haitian government.
Youri Latortue, like Guy Philippe, has political aspirations. One
Haitian human rights activist said that Youri Latortue is in the middle
of a scandal that finds "two political parties are buying electoral
cards in GonaVves for large sums of money." The electoral cards are an
initiative of the interim government. Ostensibly designed to regularize
the electoral system in advance of October and November elections, the
cards in fact open the door to corruption and vote-buying. GonaVves
happens to be where Youri Latortue himself says he plans to run for
office. Another Haitian human rights activist said that Youri Latortue's
"name is around all the streets of Port-au-Prince as a drug dealer,
kidnapper and other crimes... He wants to be a senator just to have a
certain immunity to avoid being judged after the departure of the
Over the course of several interviews between April and June 2005, Joel
Deeb stated that Youri Latortue presently has four sealed U.S. Drug
Enforcement Agency (DEA) indictments pending against him, and that the
DEA has issued an extradition letter for Youri Latortue to the de facto
government. Youri Latortue himself evaded questions about the DEA
indictments, denying that he and Deeb, as Deeb claims, were in regular
contact. Deeb speculated that U.S. authorities might soon pick up Youri
Latortue, and that the de facto government has already been presented a
letter requesting Youri Latortue's extradition. Efforts to this end have
been foiled thanks to the intervention of his uncle, who either relies
on Youri Latortue or fears him too much to let him go. The ICG
[International Crisis Group] report might lead us to conclude that if
the DEA has not picked up Youri Latortue yet, his uncle aside, there is
a political reason behind this. The U.S. Embassy would not comment on
DEA activities, nor on the PM's nephew's reputation. Gérard Latortue
also declined to speak about his nephew's role in kidnapping rackets.
Youri Latortue himself responded directly to questions about his
involvement in kidnappings. "I don't know anything about kidnappings,"
he said. "I am not in... I am responsible only for the security of the
Prime Minister. I know that there are a lot of kidnappings in
Port-au-Prince. I was very surprised when...[I was told] that you were
talking about kidnapping."
Deflecting further accusations, Youri Latortue responded: "If they hear
we have kidnappings, and this is very bad for the government, and I work
with the Prime Minister. We try to find a way to fight against
kidnapping, we try, but it's for that we try to find weapons, we try to
find equipment for the police, we try to find information, training. We
try to find everything for the police to fight."
He then directly accused Lavalas partisans of involvement: "Everybody
knows that Lavalas gangs organize kidnappings and went to Bel Air and
Cité Soleil. These are two zones, areas, that Lavalas armed gangs took
the persons. This is very impossible for the police to go in this area.
It's for that they are kidnapping, because the United Nations try to do
something but until now it's been difficult for the United Nations to
put order in this area."
Youri Latortue claims that reports of U.S. Marines already being in Port
au Prince are "just rumors," and claims not to have known that 150
Chilean Marines had just arrived, or that these Marines had been trained
in close-quarter battle techniques in Chile by U.S. Marines before
departing. The press release announcing these joint U.S. and Chilean
Marine exercises was issued in late March. Xinhua News reported on their
arrival on Jun. 11, delivered in the midst of the "kidnapping scourge."
Less than forthcoming on the issue of arming Haiti's police or
supporting the return of US soldiers, Youri Latortue would only say that
he supports "every tool that can help the HNP secure the streets."
Youri Latortue's credibility on the question of kidnapping rackets is
tenuous at best, given his involvement in illicit weapons transfers and
drug trafficking. His name was mentioned on the US Flashpoints Radio
program in connection with an alleged arms deal that involved him, arms
broker Joel Deeb, and Lucy Orlando, a close friend of both President
George W. and Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and head of the
Haitian-American Republican Caucus in Florida.
A series of interviews with Orlando, Deeb, Latortues and others have
revealed a complex series of events involving, at the least, incredibly
shady deals taking place outside the scrutiny of public opinion. It is
clear that the de facto Haitian government, with the probable knowledge
and complicity of the U.S. government, has attempted to circumvent the
14-year U.S. arms embargo on Haiti..On May 25, 2004, Orlando hosted a
fund-raiser in her home for President Bush's reelection campaign.
Orlando estimates up to 300 mostly Haitian-Americans attended her party,
to which Alice Blanchet, Haiti Democracy Project's (HDP) Development
Director until Sept. 2004, came to help organize.
At the initiative of Youri Latortue, Orlando invited Joel Deeb to the
party, who she says was accompanied by Lionel Desgranges, a former aide
to Leslie Manigat, former President of Haiti (1988) and a long time ally
of Washington with ties to the International Republican Institute.
Desgranges had also attended the November 2002 opening of the Haiti
Democracy Project, which was one of the key international backers of the
2004 coup. Also joining the party were Robert "Bobby' Wawa, former
vice-president of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce, and ex-Haitian Army
General Hérard Abraham, another long time U.S. asset. At the time,
Abraham was Haiti's interior minister, but has since been moved to
With the exception of Blanchet, this group met in Lucy's bedroom and
discussed how to get weapons.
Orlando claims that on Dec. 31, 2004, Youri Latortue was present in
Gérard Latortue's office when Deeb was given a check for $1 million.
Deeb denies receiving a check, though he acknowledges that there was a
check made out to his company, Omega. Deeb maintains that the only money
he received for weapons was the $533,333.33 deposited in the form of a
letter of credit into a Panamanian account. He says that this money is
frozen, but that Finance minister Henri Bazin has been hassling him
lately to write a check in the amount that is frozen to Youri Latortue.
The first time Orlando was asked about her relationship with Joel Deeb,
she responded, "Joel Deeb? I've never heard of that; I know Youri
Latortue, and the government in Haiti, they are the ones involved with
Joel Deeb, with the arms... They want to call my name, they should ask
Youri Latortue, the nephew or the cousin of Gérard Latortue." Orlando
also claims that "[Gérard] Latortue put Youri to be the head of Haiti."
Orlando takes credit for having helped install the Latortue regime, but
thinks that they have come to resent her due to her close relations with
the Republican Party. "They don't like me because I'm a Republican," she
said. "Who put them there? I was the one talking to the Governor, to the
President, to promote them. The first person they hate is you because
they don't want you to know their business... What I got for thank-you
was 'drop-dead Lucy.'"
Orlando considers herself a key activist in helping to facilitate the
downfall of President Jean Bertrand Aristide. Several individuals
offered different versions of circumstances, which found Orlando meeting
with President Bush in the weeks leading up to Aristide's overthrow in
February 2004. All agree that Orlando demanded that Bush personally
intervene to "take Aristide out." Interestingly, Orlando would not deny
that this meeting took place and abruptly ended the interview when this
question was raised.
Orlando's connection to the Latortues was evidenced by her appearance at
a December 2002 conference sponsored by USAID and IFES [International
Foundation for Electoral Systems] in conjunction with the anti-Aristide
Haitian Resource Development Foundation. Gérard Latortue and Bernard
Gousse, as an IFES employee, were also in attendance. The University of
Miami human rights report goes into great detail about how IFES, under
the guise of "judicial reform" and "civil society strengthening" helped
to destabilize and foster the conditions for the overthrow of Jean
Bertrand Aristide. In 1999-2000 alone, IFES received close to $7 million
for such efforts from USAID.
Orlando has devoted a lot of her life to the Republican Party. She says
she went to Haiti and registered Haitian-Americans in Haiti who had
never registered to vote, "with the Chairman of the Republican Party as
my witness." She says her allegiance to the Bush family goes back to the
Reagan years. She takes pride in her work mobilizing Haitian-Americans
to vote Republican. "I mobilized all the Haitian people, told them about
the Republican Party, got them to vote," she said. In this capacity she
says she worked in Haiti with U.S.-backed de facto Minister for the
Haitian Diaspora, Alix Baptiste. Baptiste refused to discuss his work
with Lucy Orlando.
Orlando was also upset because Gérard Latortue had fired a close friend
of hers, René Meroney, who had been appointed head of Haiti's state-run
but slated-for-privatization telephone company, TELECO. She had brought
this friend with her to President Bush's January 2005 inauguration. "If
they get mad if you have a friend in the position for whatever, they
fire them and destroy the name for people to know that they are thieves,
they are this, they are that, because of me, because anybody who is my
friend, they try to destroy them...They put them responsible for what I
said in the newspaper."
Asked if she thinks today's violence is as bad as the previous (1991-94)
coup period, Orlando replied: "I believe that Latortue has been doing
the same thing and has been blaming it on the Aristide people...
Everybody's after one thing: fill their pockets and then blame the poor
"Youri Latortue has his own guns," she continued. "Why do you think
Latortue needs all the munitions right now? To give to all his guns.
This way, when they want to go and do something, they can go and do it
for him. That's why the country's not going anywhere."
"But Latortue will pay one day," Orlando prophesied. "One day the whole
world will know the truth about the Latortues."
This seems less likely now that Haiti's de facto President Boniface
Alexandre has recently characterized Lavalas supporters as "terrorists"
and Roger Noriega, echoing his friend Andy Apaid, has openly blamed the
violence and kidnappings on Aristide: "As a longtime observer of Haiti
and a longtime consumer of information about Haiti, it is abundantly
clear to me . . . that Aristide and his camp are singularly responsible
for most of the violence and for the concerted nature of the violence."
Until the world does know about what the evidence suggests is a
government-run kidnap ring, Haiti will be condemned to ongoing,
seemingly inexplicable "scourges." Alternatively, the gangsters could be
punished, the political prisoners freed, and democracy restored. But
between there and here, there is, to use a word familiar to Coderre and
Pettigrew, a lot of "propaganda" to be cleared away.
Anthony Fenton is an investigative journalist , and co-author with Yves
Engler of the forthcoming "Canada in Haiti: Waging War Against the Poor
Majority," Fernwood/Red Press. Feedback is welcome: email@example.com.
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