Posted on October 19, 2004

Kerry’s Favorite Hatian

Mary Anastasia O’Grady, WSJ Opinion Journal, Oct. 9

John Kerry has now decided, retrospectively, that he would not have gone to war to remove Saddam Hussein. But he would have put U.S. troops in harm’s way to shield Haitian strongman Jean Bertrand Aristide from a revolt of his own people in February. “I would have been prepared to send troops immediately, period,” Mr. Kerry told the New York Times on March 4.

This assertion from the would-be commander in chief seems to have had some unfortunate repercussions. Emboldened by a prominent champion in the U.S., the deposed Aristide’s Lavalas Party thugs are committing mayhem again.

While rescuers were pulling the bodies of over 1,500 drowned victims of Hurricane Jeanne out of a flooded Gonaives last week and trying to ward off disease, Aristide supporters launched a wave of violence in Port-au-Prince. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday: “These are the old Aristide elements and some criminal elements who are trying to take advantage of the situation.”

The opportunistic brutality included the beheading of three Haitian policemen. Haitian journalists are referring to the assault as “Operation Baghdad.” The chaos, local observers maintain, is meant to demonstrate that Bush policy in Haiti is a failure. Any guess who the urban guerrillas are rooting for in the U.S. elections?

Mr. Kerry has also ignored the suspected corruption under Mr. Aristide. An allegation filed in May in a New Jersey U.S. district court alleges that a deal with a large U.S. telecom company enabled Mr. Aristide to personally enrich himself at the expense of his destitute people. The complaint describes in rich detail the methods through which, according to the plaintiff, Mr. Kerry’s beloved “democratic” Aristide regime pillaged the country, a nation populated mostly by defenseless, vulnerable peasants.

Even before seeing the complaint, I had written about the intrigues surrounding Aristide’s telecom company, Haitian Teleco. Officially, Teleco is supposed to charge all companies connecting with its Haiti network one, agreed-upon interconnection rate. But unofficially, it was alleged to have provided better rates for some companies in return for bribes.

Sources inside Teleco have long accused Mr. Aristide of giving special deals to international carriers in exchange for a personal cut of the action. One deal that raised suspicions but remained shrouded in secrecy was between a long distance provider to Haiti called Fusion Telecommunications International — whose board included former finance chair of the Democratic National Committee, Marvin Rosen, Joseph P. Kennedy II, and Clinton special envoy to Latin America, Thomas “Mack” McLarty III — and a Teleco representative.

The New Jersey complaint puts another U.S. telecom company under scrutiny. Former IDT Corp. employee Michael Jewett has filed a statement against the company alleging that he was let go because he objected to a shady deal with Mr. Aristide.

A complaint of course is not proof of guilt. IDT says that it “takes any kind of complaint seriously” but that this one is a “baseless claim by a former disgruntled employee.” A company spokesman says that there has already been “a complete review by the internal audit committee and by outside counsel.” It also says that it “intend[s] to file a counter-claim and a motion to dismiss” and that it has “filed sanctions against the plaintiff’s counsel.”

Mr. Jewett is by definition a “disgruntled” ex-employee. And his legal action also includes complaints about IDT’s corporate culture that I am not able to assess. However, his claim about Haiti is remindful of my previous investigations about the legendary Aristide modus operandi. For almost a decade Haitians complained that Mr. Aristide ran the country like an extortion racket, demanding payments from a wide variety of enterprises.

As associate regional vice president for the Caribbean at IDT, Mr. Jewett has testified under oath that he was privy to the agreement between IDT and Haiti. “In September 2003, defendant Jack Lerer [IDT executive vice president for international business development] met with plaintiff to explain the ‘deal’ he had negotiated with President Aristide. IDT Telecom would deposit the settlement dollars from terminating traffic in Haiti through Teleco Haiti to an offshore account set up on behalf of President Aristide by Mount Salem, based in the Turks and Caicos Islands.”

There was a quid pro quo. “The rate for each minute of U.S. originating traffic terminating in Haiti was to be a certain amount of [SEALED BY COURT ORDER] which is below what IDT would be paying if they had not agreed to divert the settlement payments to Mount Salem.” Mr. Jewett further alleges that Mr. Lerer told him they had to move quickly to make sure they didn’t lose the deal.

According to the court filing, “Plaintiff asked defendant Jack Lerer what Mount Salem was and he replied it was the private bank account of the President of Haiti, Mr. Jean Bertrand Aristide, that had been created by legal counsel for President Aristide, Adrian Corr, member of the law firm Miller, Simons and O’Sullivan.”

Mr. Jewett has testified that Mr. Lerer instructed him to be the “‘go-between’ for all commercial correspondence between Teleco Haiti and Mount Salem.” He also claims that Mr. Lerer told him “not to reveal the details of the TeleCo Haiti deal with anyone within IDT.” Throughout the testimony, Mr. Jewett says that he continually questioned the legality of the agreement, along with a colleague John Cate. According to the complaint, “Defendant John Cate indicated that during his 27 years at AT&T, i.e., his prior employer, he had never once been involved with let alone heard of a telecommunication proposal and/or contract being structured in a manner similar to the TeleCo Haiti agreement.”

Of course, Mr. Cate may not have been familiar with Aristide business ethics. In the July 1994 American Spectator, Christopher Caldwell reported that while Mr. Aristide was in exile in Washington he “raised hackles at the Latin American division of AT&T by ordering the proceeds from Haiti’s international phone traffic moved to a numbered Panamanian account.” That business model continued after Mr. Aristide was returned to power in 1994 by a U.S. intervention ordered by Bill Clinton. In May 29, 2001, a Wall Street Journal Review & Outlook column about Fusion also explained that “Two different long distance suppliers shopping the Haitian market have reported to us that Teleco officials offered them access to the local network at rates well below the official settlement rate in exchange for payment made to specially designated accounts.”

An IDT spokesman says that minutes to Haiti are only a fraction of total IDT business, suggesting that the company would have had little interest in what Mr. Jewett alleges. But, of course, IDT’s interest in Haiti might have changed had it been able to grow its business in that country. Mr. Jewett’s complaint says that some of the defendants “expressed their extreme satisfaction with the TeleCo Haiti deal, it was going to save the company over [SEALED BY COURT ORDER] a month and grow from there.” Mr. Jewett says that the minute he was fired the first thing the company asked from him was the Haiti file.

It is likely that if IDT was doing what Mr. Jewett so specifically describes; it was not the only carrier competing for special treatment from Mr. Aristide. The U.S. Treasury has a staff in Haiti right now giving technical advice to the Haitian government. It would be good if that includes investigating what all did go on at Teleco Haiti. A full report that clears up once and for all the truth about what happened under Aristide control may go a long way toward establishing the moral authority of the new government.

It might also stop John Kerry from using desperately poor Haiti as a weapon against his Washington opponents and instead put him on a more constructive path for helping a suffering people.

Ms. O’Grady edits the Americas column, which appears Fridays in The Wall Street Journal.