The release of secret US Embassy cables by WikiLeaks has provoked a maelstrom in Haitian politics, threatening the approval of a prime minister–designate, damaging the career of a leading right-wing politician, and throwing Haiti’s tiny and ultra-rich elite into a paroxysm of public mea culpas.
“So it is with humility and simplicity devoid of artifice that I want to offer my sincere apologies, ” wrote Fritz Mevs, a leading member of one of Haiti’s richest families, in an open letter to Senator Youri Latortue, one of Haiti’s most powerful right-wing politicians and a key ally of new President Michel Martelly. “I probably got carried away…and I confess that the words that I could have spoken in no way reflect my thoughts.”
“I recognize the qualities of a fervent patriot, a tireless servant of the interests of your country,” he added. “I stand ready to make honorable amends by publicly correcting any damage to your reputation,”
Mevs was walking back claims he made in a May 2005 meeting with former US Ambassador James Foley that Senator Latortue was part of a “cabal” of business and political elites that controlled a network of dirty cops and gangs that thrived on narco-trafficking and generated political violence and instability.
Mevs’s apology came the same week that a further batch of State Department cables reported by the weekly newspaper Haïti Liberté described Youri Latortue as a “mafia boss,” “drug dealer” and the “the most brazenly corrupt of leading Haitian politicians.”
Latortue denies the allegations and has threatened a lawsuit against Haïti Liberté. He did not respond to calls from The Nation seeking comment for this story.
Meanwhile, parliamentary approval for President Michel Martelly’s pick for prime minister, Bernard Gousse, took a major blow with the publication of secret US Embassy reports that he was a “complete failure both on the security and justice fronts” when he served as justice minister under the de facto coup government that followed the overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004.
As Justice Minister, Gousse presided over repeated police and paramilitary assaults on suspected pro-Aristide neighborhoods that resulted in the deaths and jailing of thousands of people.
The UN occupation chief at that time, Juan Gabriel Valdés, felt that “replacing Gousse would be a good thing for both justice and security in Haiti,” reported Ambassador Foley in a May 2005 cable.
“Gousse has been the strongest single force behind the persecution of political prisoners in Haiti,” said Brian Concannon Jr., director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.
When former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, currently under investigation and house arrest, returned to Haiti in January this year, Gousse argued against his prosecution in an op-ed for the Haitian daily newspaper Le Nouvelliste. As Justice Minister, Gousse commended right-wing death-squad leader Louis-Jodel Chamblain, a key player in the notorious US Defense Intelligence Agency–backed FRAPH, for his “great service to the nation” and suggested he could be pardoned.
“As an official in 2004 and more recently as an independent lawyer, Gousse has shown a troubling disregard for Haiti’s obligation to prosecute human rights crimes,” Amanda Klasing, an expert on Haiti for Human Rights Watch, told Haïti Liberté.
Sixteen of thirty Haitian senators have written to President Martelly asking for him to rescind the nomination. The Senators said in a resolution that Gousse was unacceptable for the “repression, arbitrary arrests and killings in the neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince” that were carried out under his auspices in 2004 and 2005.
In early June, Haïti Liberté began releasing articles based on the trove of 1,918 secret US Embassy cables that WikiLeaks made available to the Haitian weekly newspaper. The Nation published its own series of articles based on those cables.
In a May 2005 cable, Ambassador Foley reported on efforts by the small Haitian elite to turn the Haitian National Police into their own private army by supplying weapons to the fledgling force.
Haiti’s private sector elite has been a key US ally in promoting Washington’s agenda in the country, from free trade and privatization of state enterprises to twice ousting Jean-Bertrand Aristide followed by US and UN military occupations.
Haitian businessman Fritz Mevs was one of the main sources for the “private army” allegation.
Mevs told the embassy that the president of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce, Reginald Boulos, had “distributed arms to the police and had called on others to do so in order to provide cover to his own actions.” Boulos currently sits on the board of President Bill Clinton’s Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), which controls the spending of billions donated to rebuild Haiti after the January 12, 2010. quake.
Mevs told Ambassador Foley that “Haiti’s real enemy and the true source of insecurity [was] a small nexus of drug-dealers and political insiders that control a network of dirty cops and gangs that not only were responsible for committing the kidnappings and murders, but were also frustrating the efforts of well-meaning government officials and the international community to confront them.”
At the center of this cabal, according to Mevs, was prominent attorney Gary Lissade, formerly a lead counsel for the military government of Gen. Raoul Cédras in the early 1990s. Today, Lissade sits, alongside Reginald Boulos, on the board of the Clinton co-chaired IHRC. Attempts to reach Lissade and Boulos for comment through the IHRC were unsuccessful.
Foley wrote that although his embassy “cannot confirm whether the alleged cabal of political insiders allied with South American narco-traffickers is controlling the gangs, we have seen indications of alliances between drug dealers, criminal gangs and political forces that could threaten to make just such a scenario possible via the election of narco-funded politicians.”
Some political observers fear that this may be the situation in Haiti today.
The publication of the cable sparked an extraordinary mea culpa by the Mevs family. In an open letter published in the Haitian daily Le Nouvelliste, the family spokesperson, Gregory Mevs, said it “deplores any infringement of integrity and honor of all individuals directly or indirectly involved in this article.”
The letter then went on to praise the individuals that had been linked to narco-trafficking and kidnapping in Foley’s May 2005 cable:
Senator Youri Latortue is an honorable man and committed to the advancement of the country. Known for his open-mindedness and his vision, his commitment alongside the Haitian people is recognized by all. He is considered one of the most brilliant men of his generation.
Gary Lissade is one of the best known lawyers in Haiti, enjoying an impeccable reputation. He has engaged himself many times during his career in various initiatives for the good of the community. He is the Mevs family lawyer for over 25 years and continues to be so at this time.
Dr. Reginald Boulos is an entrepreneur and personal friend of the family. Known for his civic involvement for the private sector, concerned with social and civic responsibilities, he enjoys a reputation as being an honest and dynamic businessman.
The letter concludes: “The family wishes to express the Mevs respect for all those involved in public life or civic activities. The nation owes them gratitude for their solidarity and commitment.”
The apologies and latest revelations have lit up Haitian radio stations and the blogosphere. Joe Emersberger, one of the editors of the website HaitiAnalysis.com, summed up the episode: “The letter by Fritz Mevs to Youri Latortue reads like a fear-ridden apology to Don Corleone.”