How Aristide & Co. plundered the Haitian Treasury; Dark clouds on the Alexandre-Latortue government

The publication this week of the preliminary findings of the “Commission d’Enquête Administrative” (CEA), headed by former Senator Paul Denis, has uncovered a disturbing pattern of systematic looting of the Treasury during the Jean-Bertrand Aristide presidency. We can only salute what is probably a first in Haitian history:

a) the commission did its work in secrecy and there were no leaks until the publication of the preliminary report;
b) the quality of the investigation is extremely good;
c) the report includes TRANSCRIPTS of key interviews with a number of former high level Lavalas dignitaries (probably a first in Haitian history)
d) the report also includes copies of correspondence, extensive documentation of financial shenanigans, etc.

What is striking to any observer is the sheer magnitude of the embezzlement concocted by Aristide and his cronies and the large number of individuals involved, starting with Aristide himself. Former Lavalas congressmen, ministers, and a number of Aristide relatives as well as businessmen figure on the long list of beneficiaries and/or thieves. Coming on the heels of the UCREF report on the embezzlement at the Aristide Foundation for Democracy and a number of associated shell companies, a clearer picture of the Aristide-directed looting of public funds has emerged.

Readers can access key elements of the report (in French) at the following websites:

The reports speak for themselves. I would like to draw your attention to a number of intriguing points:

Cooperation of Yvon Neptune

In what is sure to be a shock for many, former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune agreed to answer the questions of the investigators. And what an interview that was! We learn that:

1. Yvon Neptune had no real power as prime minister; he was deathly afraid of Finance Minister Faubert Gustave who was, in his words, a “super-minister” and who called the shots on all expenses, legitimate or illegal, that were undertaken on behalf of Aristide;

2. Neptune recognizes that Oriel Jean, Aristide’s former security chief now in custody in the US on charges of drug smuggling, was receiving donations routinely from the Prime Minister’s office “on the basis of his needs” (Neptune’s own words.)

3. The much touted “Alpha Economique” plan of Aristide existed in name only.

The interview reveals that Neptune was certainly not the administrator that he was cracked up to be. We discover an average to below-average manager of people who had some integrity (let’s call a spade a spade) but who certainly decided to roll over and let Aristide run roughshod over him. Quite a pitiful interview in the end as it demonstrated that Neptune was completely out of his league and should have remained the good architect that he was.

While Aristide is in South Africa enjoying his millions and managing his little guerilla warfare, poor Neptune is left holding the bag.

Cooperation of Jean-Jacques Valentin

Another shocker! For many years, Jean-Jacques Valentin was Aristide’s man at Customs, where he oversaw a large bureaucracy which received the majority of the government’s revenues. Valentin described very eloquently the pattern of embezzlement and deceit that Aristide and Faubert Gustave established to get around administrative procedures and help their cronies circumvent customs duties. Two of the biggest beneficiaries of the scheme were none other than Lesly Lavelanet, brother-in-law of Aristide, who owes Customs over US$1 million in unpaid customs duties and Dieuseul Tchokanté Joseph, a staples importer, who became a front man for Lavelanet as well as other rice importers associated to Aristide.

Finally, we must stress that the publication of this preliminary report has ruffled many feathers within the Alexandre-Latortue government. Paul Denis stated that he received minimal cooperation from the National Palace. That is not surprising at all. The current chief of staff, Michel Brunache, has close links with Gladys Lauture, a former “economic advisor” to Aristide who masterminded a number of embezzlement schemes. Brunache has actually blocked the investigations into the practices at the Palace for two reasons:

1. to protect Gladys Lauture, and by extension Brunache’s former boss, attorney Gary Lissade, who is also implicated in a number of sordid schemes in the CEA/Paul Denis report;

2. to prevent investigators from uncovering Brunache’s embezzlement scheme for the benefit of his father-in-law, Boniface Alexandre, and his own pockets of course. Brunache has continued the practice first established by Aristide at the National Palace, which calls for minimal supervision and documentation (if at all) of expeditures.

We must be vigilant. Aristide is the past, and we need to expose him for what he was: a vulgar, blood-thirsty criminal who used the poor of Haiti to wage his war of hatred and enrich himself at the same time. But we also need to focus on the present and start investigating the crooked deals of the current administration. There are a few, and they are being perpetrated by people close to the current President and Prime Minister.

We must also start asking the hard questions:

1. Why is Mr. Latortue’s district attoney (“commissaire du gouvernment”) so weak and ineffctive?
2. Why are the current “managers” of the National Palace and Teleco blocking the Paul Denis/CEA investigation?
3. When will Latortue get rid of the bad apples that are completely spoiling his current leadership? Or is he involved?

Haiti needs new leadership and a new beginning. The truth will set us all free … finally.

Jean-Claude Jasmin