WASHINGTON -- When Sen. John Kerry was interviewed on foreign policy in Houston last Friday by New York Times reporters, he made news by declaring that as president he "would have been prepared to send troops immediately" to save Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president of Haiti. The newspaper published his statement Sunday, the very day that Aristide's Lavalas gunmen shot more than 25 peaceful demonstrators (five fatally) who were celebrating his departure. Neither Kerry nor Aristide's other supporters in Washington have mentioned the carnage.
Why would the Democratic Party's presumptive presidential nominee vigorously support a tyrant steeped in violence and corruption? Kerry's rationale is that the people twice elected Aristide (though his tainted second election was called fraudulent by independent international observers). An alternative explanation rests with Aristide's gold-plated U.S. connections. He is close to Kerry's influential friends, the Kennedy family of Massachusetts, and is the unconditional favorite of the Congressional Black Caucus.
While destitute Haiti is one of the world's poorest countries, Aristide has been profligate in spending millions on U.S. lobbyists and lawyers. Powerful American politicians sit on the board of Fusion Telecommunications International, which Aristide granted an exclusive concession over the country's lucrative long-distance market. These favors may partially explain the remarkable forbearance toward the Haitian leftist by American liberals.
In his interview declaring for military intervention, Kerry conceded "Aristide was no picnic and did a lot of things wrong." But Black Caucus members, during a House International Relations Committee hearing last week that they forced, were uncritical supporters in demanding Aristide's return. Aristide's accusations that the U.S. abducted him and sent him into African exile lack substantiation but have been spread by the Black Caucus anyway. The Bush administration contributes to the libel by having maintained a hands-off policy toward chaos in Haiti over the past three years.
Reports filed with the Justice Department by registered foreign agents reflect spending by the Aristide government of well over a million dollars a year, an astounding amount for such a small country. This money did not produce a concerted sales effort to attract U.S. foreign aid funds, but it did build personal support for Aristide. Black Caucus members have been frequent visitors to Haiti, where they have been entertained lavishly.
The Kennedy family's connection with Aristide goes through former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II. Both Kennedy and his mother, Ethel, have served on the board of advisers of the Aristide Foundation for Democracy. Aristide was a guest at Kennedy's second wedding.
Kennedy also has been listed as a board member of Fusion, which has exclusive access to the flood of telephone calls placed by Haitian residents of the U.S. back to family and friends in Haiti every weekend. Writing in the Boston Globe in 2001, Kennedy said: "I was proud to help bring more than $1 million in private investment from Fusion into Haiti."
Last week's House hearings were demanded by Black Caucus members. Rep. Cass Ballenger of North Carolina, the Republican subcommittee chairman, as a Southern gentleman granted permission to all members of Congress to attend and speak. Lasting more than five hours, the hearing was an anti-Bush, pro-Aristide pep rally. Rep. Maxine Waters of California, a regular visitor to Haiti to confer with Aristide prior to his departure, repeated his claims of being kidnapped at gunpoint under U.S. auspices.
The White House indicated to Capitol Hill its displeasure with the International Relations Committee for letting itself become an open forum for Bush-bashing. For their part, congressional Republicans complained that Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega put on a woefully weak performance under badgering by Black Caucus members (with Rep. Donald Payne of New Jersey claiming that the U.S. government orchestrated Aristide's collapse).
Noriega responded with nuanced answers. Republican Rep. Jerry Weller of Illinois, not known for incendiary statements, was more effective than the State Department representative at the hearing in describing Jean-Bertrand Aristide: "He was a brutal dictator, allowing children to be sold into slave labor, and if we hadn't gone in there, Mr. Aristide would be dead because the people would have killed him." Weller describes a situation that the Black Caucus overlooks, John Kerry minimizes and George W. Bush ignored for three years.