Haiti Relief & Reconstruction Watch

Haiti Relief & Reconstruction Watch

Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch is a blog that tracks multinational aid efforts in Haiti with an eye towards ensuring they are oriented towards the needs of the Haitian people, and that aid is not used to undermine Haitians' right to self-determination.

In July, I reported for Al Jazeera America on USAID’s support for a group in Haiti, Mouvement Tet Kale (MTK), which had strong ties to President Martelly and his political party, Parti Haitiene Tét Kale. USAID supplied hand tools to the group (to clean the streets as part of a “civic engagement” program) in the lead up to Martelly’s presidential inauguration in May 2011. In an e-mailed statement, USAID stated that “Mouvement Tet Kale is not the same thing as the Tet Kale party, which came into being in 2012–a year after the inauguration and the grant.” Rather, USAID described MTK as a “social network of community-based organizations.”

But a contract document, released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, clearly shows that from the beginning USAID was aware of the group’s political ties. The project document released by USAID contains an activity summary that also describes MTK as a “social network of community-based organizations”; however, the sentence continues: “founded by Michel Martelly campaign members.” That is a pretty significant omission.

USAID Contract CHE316

To read the original Al Jazeera America piece, click here.

In July, I reported for Al Jazeera America on USAID’s support for a group in Haiti, Mouvement Tet Kale (MTK), which had strong ties to President Martelly and his political party, Parti Haitiene Tét Kale. USAID supplied hand tools to the group (to clean the streets as part of a “civic engagement” program) in the lead up to Martelly’s presidential inauguration in May 2011. In an e-mailed statement, USAID stated that “Mouvement Tet Kale is not the same thing as the Tet Kale party, which came into being in 2012–a year after the inauguration and the grant.” Rather, USAID described MTK as a “social network of community-based organizations.”

But a contract document, released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, clearly shows that from the beginning USAID was aware of the group’s political ties. The project document released by USAID contains an activity summary that also describes MTK as a “social network of community-based organizations”; however, the sentence continues: “founded by Michel Martelly campaign members.” That is a pretty significant omission.

USAID Contract CHE316

To read the original Al Jazeera America piece, click here.

Long-overdue legislative elections will be held in Haiti this Sunday, August 9, the first of three elections scheduled for 2015 (the others scheduled for October 25 and December 27).  This year, Haitians will vote for 20 members of the Senate, for 118 members of the Chamber of Deputies, and for a new president.

The elections are scheduled to take place amidst a climate of low voter interest, extremely low female participation among the candidates, and a record-high number of 128 political parties and groupings registered to participate. The elections will also take place in a context of worrying election-related violence.

HRRW lead blogger and CEPR Research Associate Jake Johnston is in Haiti to track what happens, and will be providing updates, along with colleagues from the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, Let Haiti Live, and others at the “Haiti Elections” blog here throughout the weekend.

Long-overdue legislative elections will be held in Haiti this Sunday, August 9, the first of three elections scheduled for 2015 (the others scheduled for October 25 and December 27).  This year, Haitians will vote for 20 members of the Senate, for 118 members of the Chamber of Deputies, and for a new president.

The elections are scheduled to take place amidst a climate of low voter interest, extremely low female participation among the candidates, and a record-high number of 128 political parties and groupings registered to participate. The elections will also take place in a context of worrying election-related violence.

HRRW lead blogger and CEPR Research Associate Jake Johnston is in Haiti to track what happens, and will be providing updates, along with colleagues from the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, Let Haiti Live, and others at the “Haiti Elections” blog here throughout the weekend.

On July 14, 2015, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) released a statement regarding the situation on the Haiti-Dominican Republic border. The IOM interviewed some 1,133 individuals who had crossed the border between June 16 and July 3, finding that “408 persons (or 36.0 per cent) said that they had been deported by different entities, including the military, police, immigration officials and civilians.”  These findings directly contradicted statements from the Dominican Republic and U.S. officials that no deportations had occurred.

However, within two days the press release was pulled from the IOM website and on July 21, IOM issued a new press release making no mention of deportations.

U.S. Special Coordinator for Haiti Thomas Adams, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 15, 2015, stated, “They — they [the Dominican Republic] have assured us that there will be no mass deportations and none have begun yet.” He added: “There were reports of others that when they investigated, they found out that they weren’t — they weren’t really deportees.” A day later the IOM press release had been pulled from the website.

When contacted by HRRW last week, Ilaria Lanzoni, a press officer with the IOM, e-mailed that “They [IOM Headquarters] are currently revising the note.” When the release was re-posted, however, all mentions of deportations were removed. The original release contained a quote from Gregoire Goodstein, IOM’s Chief of Mission in Haiti, stating: “A proper monitoring system is essential to overcome the current uncertainty about the conditions and number of deportations …” However in the updated release, Goodstein’s quote has been changed to “… the current uncertainty about returns.” The rest of the changes can be seen in the screen grabs, below.

IOM PR Deportations Change

Edited Paragraphs of IOM press release with changes highlighted (original on right). Click to enlarge.

In response to an HRRW inquiry, IOM released the following statement on the changes:

Accuracy is extremely important to us and the note was revised to reflect the absence, thus far, of formal deportation orders from the Dominican Government. The more accurate description – forced expulsions – was substituted to characterize what’s being reported from the borders. IOM is working, together with the Haitian and Dominican governments, UN agencies and civil society, to collect and systematize available data, and hopes soon to deploy monitoring teams along the entire border.

But the term “forced expulsion” does not actually appear in the IOM release. Instead, references to deportations were replaced with the much more neutral phrasing of “returns.”

HRRW also asked at whose instruction the changes were made. “We edit our external communications for accuracy on an ongoing basis and this is such a case,” press officer Ilaria Lanzoni responded. Much of the IOM’s work in Haiti is currently being funded by the United States, which has disbursed nearly $2 million to the organization since early 2015, including $642,792 earlier this month, according to the USASpending.gov website.

While any mention of “deportations” was removed from the release, the underlying numbers have not been changed at all. What they show is that a significant percent of those who have left the Dominican Republic report having been deported. At least 36 percent of those interviewed said they had been deported, over 33 percent of those who crossed the border said they were born in the Dominican Republic, and around 8 percent had registered with the PNRE (National Plan for the Regularization of Foreigners). In both of those cases, individuals should be able to become regularized Dominican citizens.  Whether the IOM removes the word from their press release or not, the data show the same thing: Dominicans of Haitian descent are being deported to Haiti.

On July 14, 2015, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) released a statement regarding the situation on the Haiti-Dominican Republic border. The IOM interviewed some 1,133 individuals who had crossed the border between June 16 and July 3, finding that “408 persons (or 36.0 per cent) said that they had been deported by different entities, including the military, police, immigration officials and civilians.”  These findings directly contradicted statements from the Dominican Republic and U.S. officials that no deportations had occurred.

However, within two days the press release was pulled from the IOM website and on July 21, IOM issued a new press release making no mention of deportations.

U.S. Special Coordinator for Haiti Thomas Adams, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 15, 2015, stated, “They — they [the Dominican Republic] have assured us that there will be no mass deportations and none have begun yet.” He added: “There were reports of others that when they investigated, they found out that they weren’t — they weren’t really deportees.” A day later the IOM press release had been pulled from the website.

When contacted by HRRW last week, Ilaria Lanzoni, a press officer with the IOM, e-mailed that “They [IOM Headquarters] are currently revising the note.” When the release was re-posted, however, all mentions of deportations were removed. The original release contained a quote from Gregoire Goodstein, IOM’s Chief of Mission in Haiti, stating: “A proper monitoring system is essential to overcome the current uncertainty about the conditions and number of deportations …” However in the updated release, Goodstein’s quote has been changed to “… the current uncertainty about returns.” The rest of the changes can be seen in the screen grabs, below.

IOM PR Deportations Change

Edited Paragraphs of IOM press release with changes highlighted (original on right). Click to enlarge.

In response to an HRRW inquiry, IOM released the following statement on the changes:

Accuracy is extremely important to us and the note was revised to reflect the absence, thus far, of formal deportation orders from the Dominican Government. The more accurate description – forced expulsions – was substituted to characterize what’s being reported from the borders. IOM is working, together with the Haitian and Dominican governments, UN agencies and civil society, to collect and systematize available data, and hopes soon to deploy monitoring teams along the entire border.

But the term “forced expulsion” does not actually appear in the IOM release. Instead, references to deportations were replaced with the much more neutral phrasing of “returns.”

HRRW also asked at whose instruction the changes were made. “We edit our external communications for accuracy on an ongoing basis and this is such a case,” press officer Ilaria Lanzoni responded. Much of the IOM’s work in Haiti is currently being funded by the United States, which has disbursed nearly $2 million to the organization since early 2015, including $642,792 earlier this month, according to the USASpending.gov website.

While any mention of “deportations” was removed from the release, the underlying numbers have not been changed at all. What they show is that a significant percent of those who have left the Dominican Republic report having been deported. At least 36 percent of those interviewed said they had been deported, over 33 percent of those who crossed the border said they were born in the Dominican Republic, and around 8 percent had registered with the PNRE (National Plan for the Regularization of Foreigners). In both of those cases, individuals should be able to become regularized Dominican citizens.  Whether the IOM removes the word from their press release or not, the data show the same thing: Dominicans of Haitian descent are being deported to Haiti.

After launching the electoral campaign of his political party, Parti Haïtien Tèt Kale (PHTK), in Cap-Haitien last week, Martelly has renewed his 2011 campaign pledge to restore the Armed Forces of Haiti (FAd’H), reports Le Nouvelliste. In a rally held in the Palmes region in the Southeast department over the weekend, Martelly stated that his previous pledge was not false. He added that since his mandate began, “I have been around the world to meet with representatives of major countries on the issue.”

In February 2014, Martelly formally requested technical advice on the creation of a military from the Washington D.C.-based Inter-American Defense Board (IADB), a body of the Organization of American States.  Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide disbanded the military in 1995 as the force was involved in numerous human rights violations and coup d’etats. Nevertheless, on June 25, 2015, the IADB met with Haitian authorities in Port-au-Prince to officially present a “white paper” outlining the formation of a new defense force. The process has been led by Haitian Minister of Defense Renauld Lener, himself a former major in the FAd’H.

The Director General of the IADB, Vice Admiral Bento Costa Lima Leite de Albuquerque Junior, in announcing the finalization of the “white paper” told the audience:

The principle innovation of the Haitian White Paper, with respect to others, is that it covers the global interests of security, without limiting exclusively to questions of defense. It defines the strategic guidelines of security and national defense that give answers to “all the risks and threats that could make the life of the nation vulnerable” and the interweaving with the economic development and social sustainability of the country. The field of national security includes defense policies, but doesn’t limit itself to it. Other policies, like the exterior policies and the economic policies, also contribute directly to national security.

Therefore, we understand that the Haitian White Paper of also [sic] defines a concrete space of international cooperation in the future, to the extent that the document ordered, systematized and establishes axes and sets areas of priorities for the country.

When Martelly first came to office pledging to restore the Haitian military, the plan was met with fierce resistance, both within and outside of Haiti, with key donor governments including the U.S. opposed to the idea. Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch told the Associated Press in 2011: “The Haitian army has basically been an army that’s been used against the Haitian people … It was there as an instrument of repression, so it’s hard to see what Haiti gains by bringing back the army.”

A document leaked to the AP in 2011 pointed to internal security as a key aspect of the newly planned force, stating, “The fragility of the Haitian state now makes it vulnerable to the risks of internal unrest that could plunge the country into anarchy.” The “white paper” presented last month has not been made public.

But whereas Martelly’s initial pledge to restore the military was met with resistance from the international community, this latest move appears to have the backing of key regional and international organizations. The IADB Director General thanked both member countries of the Organization of American States and the United Nations for their assistance in the development of the “white paper.” This latest push coincides with the planned drawdown of U.N. troops in Haiti, and indeed Martelly hinted that the new force would be able to replace the U.N. troops, in his speech this weekend.

Martelly appears committed to pushing this newly constituted force through before his term expires in early 2016. In his speech, he said, “Recruitment for the remobilization of the Armed Forces of Haiti (FAd’H) will start beginning in October,” adding that recruitment will focus on the youth of the country. This echoes his comments from the campaign trail in 2011 when he told the Toronto Star that he envisioned an army that would “create employment” and “integrate youth.”

With elections four-years delayed, Martelly currently is able to rule by decree, preventing legislative oversight of the process guiding the reconstitution of the army. Under pressure from the international community, Martelly has limited his decree power to scheduling elections. Top State Department officials in Washington, however, have indicated that Martelly has a strong desire not to be a “lame duck” during his last months in office.  Will reconstituting the FAd’H be Martelly’s final act as president?

After launching the electoral campaign of his political party, Parti Haïtien Tèt Kale (PHTK), in Cap-Haitien last week, Martelly has renewed his 2011 campaign pledge to restore the Armed Forces of Haiti (FAd’H), reports Le Nouvelliste. In a rally held in the Palmes region in the Southeast department over the weekend, Martelly stated that his previous pledge was not false. He added that since his mandate began, “I have been around the world to meet with representatives of major countries on the issue.”

In February 2014, Martelly formally requested technical advice on the creation of a military from the Washington D.C.-based Inter-American Defense Board (IADB), a body of the Organization of American States.  Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide disbanded the military in 1995 as the force was involved in numerous human rights violations and coup d’etats. Nevertheless, on June 25, 2015, the IADB met with Haitian authorities in Port-au-Prince to officially present a “white paper” outlining the formation of a new defense force. The process has been led by Haitian Minister of Defense Renauld Lener, himself a former major in the FAd’H.

The Director General of the IADB, Vice Admiral Bento Costa Lima Leite de Albuquerque Junior, in announcing the finalization of the “white paper” told the audience:

The principle innovation of the Haitian White Paper, with respect to others, is that it covers the global interests of security, without limiting exclusively to questions of defense. It defines the strategic guidelines of security and national defense that give answers to “all the risks and threats that could make the life of the nation vulnerable” and the interweaving with the economic development and social sustainability of the country. The field of national security includes defense policies, but doesn’t limit itself to it. Other policies, like the exterior policies and the economic policies, also contribute directly to national security.

Therefore, we understand that the Haitian White Paper of also [sic] defines a concrete space of international cooperation in the future, to the extent that the document ordered, systematized and establishes axes and sets areas of priorities for the country.

When Martelly first came to office pledging to restore the Haitian military, the plan was met with fierce resistance, both within and outside of Haiti, with key donor governments including the U.S. opposed to the idea. Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch told the Associated Press in 2011: “The Haitian army has basically been an army that’s been used against the Haitian people … It was there as an instrument of repression, so it’s hard to see what Haiti gains by bringing back the army.”

A document leaked to the AP in 2011 pointed to internal security as a key aspect of the newly planned force, stating, “The fragility of the Haitian state now makes it vulnerable to the risks of internal unrest that could plunge the country into anarchy.” The “white paper” presented last month has not been made public.

But whereas Martelly’s initial pledge to restore the military was met with resistance from the international community, this latest move appears to have the backing of key regional and international organizations. The IADB Director General thanked both member countries of the Organization of American States and the United Nations for their assistance in the development of the “white paper.” This latest push coincides with the planned drawdown of U.N. troops in Haiti, and indeed Martelly hinted that the new force would be able to replace the U.N. troops, in his speech this weekend.

Martelly appears committed to pushing this newly constituted force through before his term expires in early 2016. In his speech, he said, “Recruitment for the remobilization of the Armed Forces of Haiti (FAd’H) will start beginning in October,” adding that recruitment will focus on the youth of the country. This echoes his comments from the campaign trail in 2011 when he told the Toronto Star that he envisioned an army that would “create employment” and “integrate youth.”

With elections four-years delayed, Martelly currently is able to rule by decree, preventing legislative oversight of the process guiding the reconstitution of the army. Under pressure from the international community, Martelly has limited his decree power to scheduling elections. Top State Department officials in Washington, however, have indicated that Martelly has a strong desire not to be a “lame duck” during his last months in office.  Will reconstituting the FAd’H be Martelly’s final act as president?

CEPR Research Associate, Jake Johnston, reports in Al Jazeera America on US government funding to Mouvement Tét Kale, a political organization with close ties to President Michel Martelly, during the 2010-11 elections: 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The U.S. Agency for International Development gave nearly $100,000 to a Haitian political movement with close ties to President Michel Martelly in the country’s 2010 elections, documents obtained by Al Jazeera show. The money was allocated shortly after Washington helped overturn the election results to thrust Martelly into power.

On the afternoon of Haiti’s Nov. 28, 2010, elections, 12 of 18 presidential candidates took the stage at the glamorous Karibe Hotel, high up in the mountains that surround the capital. The elections were a fraudulent mess, they told the gathered press, and the only way out was to cancel the poll and start over. Chaos soon engulfed Port-au-Prince and other cities, as thousands of young Haitians, many clad in the pink synonymous with Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, took to the streets to simultaneously denounce electoral fraud and herald the victory of their candidate, many days before any official results would be announced.

In the midst of the mayhem, key international actors mobilized. At an emergency meeting at the home of the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission, Edmond Mulet, leading diplomats pushed then-President René Préval to accept their offer of a plane to take him out of the country and avoid further confrontation. Mulet also approached the front-runners, including Martelly, telling them they had secured a spot in the second round and to cease calls for the election’s cancellation. Days later, when the electoral council announced preliminary results that did not have Martelly advancing to the runoff, the streets were once again taken over by largely pro-Martelly protesters. The U.S. Embassy released a statement questioning the announced results, fueling the demonstrations in Port-au-Prince.

The pressure of these pro-Martelly demonstrators — on the day of the elections and during the following weeks — was a key factor in convincing the U.S. and other international actors to intervene in Haiti’s elections and force the electoral authority to change the results of the first round, so as to ensure that Martelly remained on the ballot.

According to numerous firsthand accounts, Mouvement Tét Kale (MTK), a political organization with close ties to Martelly, was active in these street mobilizations. Now documents through Freedom of Information Act requests reveal that the U.S. government later provided nearly $100,000 in support to MTK, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

To read the complete article, click here. The document showing the support to Mouvement Tét Kale from the for-profit contractor Chemonics has also been posted online and is available here

CEPR Research Associate, Jake Johnston, reports in Al Jazeera America on US government funding to Mouvement Tét Kale, a political organization with close ties to President Michel Martelly, during the 2010-11 elections: 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The U.S. Agency for International Development gave nearly $100,000 to a Haitian political movement with close ties to President Michel Martelly in the country’s 2010 elections, documents obtained by Al Jazeera show. The money was allocated shortly after Washington helped overturn the election results to thrust Martelly into power.

On the afternoon of Haiti’s Nov. 28, 2010, elections, 12 of 18 presidential candidates took the stage at the glamorous Karibe Hotel, high up in the mountains that surround the capital. The elections were a fraudulent mess, they told the gathered press, and the only way out was to cancel the poll and start over. Chaos soon engulfed Port-au-Prince and other cities, as thousands of young Haitians, many clad in the pink synonymous with Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, took to the streets to simultaneously denounce electoral fraud and herald the victory of their candidate, many days before any official results would be announced.

In the midst of the mayhem, key international actors mobilized. At an emergency meeting at the home of the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission, Edmond Mulet, leading diplomats pushed then-President René Préval to accept their offer of a plane to take him out of the country and avoid further confrontation. Mulet also approached the front-runners, including Martelly, telling them they had secured a spot in the second round and to cease calls for the election’s cancellation. Days later, when the electoral council announced preliminary results that did not have Martelly advancing to the runoff, the streets were once again taken over by largely pro-Martelly protesters. The U.S. Embassy released a statement questioning the announced results, fueling the demonstrations in Port-au-Prince.

The pressure of these pro-Martelly demonstrators — on the day of the elections and during the following weeks — was a key factor in convincing the U.S. and other international actors to intervene in Haiti’s elections and force the electoral authority to change the results of the first round, so as to ensure that Martelly remained on the ballot.

According to numerous firsthand accounts, Mouvement Tét Kale (MTK), a political organization with close ties to Martelly, was active in these street mobilizations. Now documents through Freedom of Information Act requests reveal that the U.S. government later provided nearly $100,000 in support to MTK, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

To read the complete article, click here. The document showing the support to Mouvement Tét Kale from the for-profit contractor Chemonics has also been posted online and is available here

In September 2013 the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court ruled that those born to undocumented foreigners would not be able to maintain citizenship, mainly impacting Dominicans of Haitian descent. The deadline to formalize one’s legal status passed in June, with many thousands left unable to do so because of a lack of documentation. Already nearly 40,000 have “voluntarily” self-deported to Haiti, fearing a looming crackdown in the country many of them have never left. At a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) Wednesday, Haitian foreign minister Lener Renauld accused the Dominicans of leaving Haitians at the border “like dogs.”

But just three months after the court’s ruling, before the world’s attention turned to the island of Hispaniola and the humanitarian crisis on the border, the Dominican Republic hired a D.C.-based lobbying firm to assist with “consolidating and strengthening the image of the Dominican State in the eyes of the [sic] international public opinion,” according to documents filed as part of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

The documents show that the Dominican Republic paid the lobbying firm Steptoe & Johnson over $820,000 between January and August of 2014. The relationship appears to be ongoing however, and it is likely that those costs have only increased with the spotlight now firmly on the Dominican Republic and the firm bringing in hourly rates of around $1,000.

DR Lobby 1

Image: Talking points distributed by Steptoe & Johnson to congressional and executive offices

Lobbyists for Steptoe & Johnson distributed copies of talking points (image above) to congressional and executive offices, describing the migration policy as “modern and transparent” and as a means of protecting the “fundamental rights” of everyone living in the Dominican Republic. Between January and May 2014, the lobbyists met with the offices of at least 24 members of congress, including key players on the foreign affairs committee. In addition to interactions with congress, the contract between the Dominican Republic and Steptoe & Johnson describes a number of other actions, including placement of “interviews, features, opinion pieces in U.S. mainstream media.”

DR lobby 2

Image: Section of job description in contract between Steptoe & Johnson and the Dominican Republic

At the Organization of American States meeting Wednesday, Haiti asked for international support in coming to a solution to the crisis. A mission from the OAS is set to travel to Hispaniola this weekend. While other Caribbean nations have been vocal in defense of Haiti and have criticized the Dominican Republic’s actions, much of the rest of the hemisphere has remained on the sidelines. The U.S., noted that it was “monitoring the situation closely” and providing funding to civil society groups working in the border area. In private meetings, U.S. officials have stated that their silence is not an indication of how serious they are taking this, but they have preferred to work behind the scenes with the two countries so far.

At the meeting the Dominican Republic’s representative to the OAS accused Haiti of leading a “misinformation campaign” designed to hide the facts. But while he said there were no deportations currently happening, Wade McMullen, an attorney at the Robert F.Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, told the Miami Herald that, “Deportations, forcible removals are happening on a consistent and ongoing basis… None of the things the Dominican government said they were going to do…are happening.” The lobbying contract also notes that Steptoe & Johnson is responsible for “writing of texts” for press releases, speeches and “arguments.”

Who’s really running the misinformation campaign? And how much is it costing?

In September 2013 the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court ruled that those born to undocumented foreigners would not be able to maintain citizenship, mainly impacting Dominicans of Haitian descent. The deadline to formalize one’s legal status passed in June, with many thousands left unable to do so because of a lack of documentation. Already nearly 40,000 have “voluntarily” self-deported to Haiti, fearing a looming crackdown in the country many of them have never left. At a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) Wednesday, Haitian foreign minister Lener Renauld accused the Dominicans of leaving Haitians at the border “like dogs.”

But just three months after the court’s ruling, before the world’s attention turned to the island of Hispaniola and the humanitarian crisis on the border, the Dominican Republic hired a D.C.-based lobbying firm to assist with “consolidating and strengthening the image of the Dominican State in the eyes of the [sic] international public opinion,” according to documents filed as part of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

The documents show that the Dominican Republic paid the lobbying firm Steptoe & Johnson over $820,000 between January and August of 2014. The relationship appears to be ongoing however, and it is likely that those costs have only increased with the spotlight now firmly on the Dominican Republic and the firm bringing in hourly rates of around $1,000.

DR Lobby 1

Image: Talking points distributed by Steptoe & Johnson to congressional and executive offices

Lobbyists for Steptoe & Johnson distributed copies of talking points (image above) to congressional and executive offices, describing the migration policy as “modern and transparent” and as a means of protecting the “fundamental rights” of everyone living in the Dominican Republic. Between January and May 2014, the lobbyists met with the offices of at least 24 members of congress, including key players on the foreign affairs committee. In addition to interactions with congress, the contract between the Dominican Republic and Steptoe & Johnson describes a number of other actions, including placement of “interviews, features, opinion pieces in U.S. mainstream media.”

DR lobby 2

Image: Section of job description in contract between Steptoe & Johnson and the Dominican Republic

At the Organization of American States meeting Wednesday, Haiti asked for international support in coming to a solution to the crisis. A mission from the OAS is set to travel to Hispaniola this weekend. While other Caribbean nations have been vocal in defense of Haiti and have criticized the Dominican Republic’s actions, much of the rest of the hemisphere has remained on the sidelines. The U.S., noted that it was “monitoring the situation closely” and providing funding to civil society groups working in the border area. In private meetings, U.S. officials have stated that their silence is not an indication of how serious they are taking this, but they have preferred to work behind the scenes with the two countries so far.

At the meeting the Dominican Republic’s representative to the OAS accused Haiti of leading a “misinformation campaign” designed to hide the facts. But while he said there were no deportations currently happening, Wade McMullen, an attorney at the Robert F.Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, told the Miami Herald that, “Deportations, forcible removals are happening on a consistent and ongoing basis… None of the things the Dominican government said they were going to do…are happening.” The lobbying contract also notes that Steptoe & Johnson is responsible for “writing of texts” for press releases, speeches and “arguments.”

Who’s really running the misinformation campaign? And how much is it costing?

Democrats and Republicans may not see eye to eye on much these days, but one thing a number of them do strongly agree on is the need for greater accountability and transparency around U.S. assistance to Haiti. Last year, Republican representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Ed Royce joined senior Democrats from the Senate and the House of Representatives in supporting the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act (APHA), a bill originally introduced by progressive California Democrat Barbara Lee. In a rare display of constructive bipartisanship, the bill was quickly passed by both houses of Congress last July and signed into law by President Obama in early August. 

Now, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle are again working to try to ensure that the APHA is properly implemented.  In a July 6 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, 12 House representatives called for the APHA to be implemented “in accordance with both the spirit and the letter of the legislation” and requested that the State Department make a number of significant improvements to the APHA-mandated annual reports on the “status of post-earthquake recovery and development efforts in Haiti.”

The letter cannot be easily ignored by the State Department. It is signed by some of the most senior members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, including its chair, Ed Royce (R-Calif.); its ranking member, Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.); and other top-ranking members like Ileana Ros Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), Albio Sires (D-N.J.) and Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.).  It is also signed by nearly every Congressional Black Caucus member who is focused on Haiti, including Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) and Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.).

The annual report that the congressional members want to see improved is the centerpiece of the Assessing Progress Act. It includes reporting requirements designed to provide policymakers and the public with a clear picture of exactly how U.S. funds are used in Haiti aid programs and what progress is being made toward meeting pre-defined objectives and benchmarks. Having written extensively about the glaring lack of transparency around U.S. aid programs, we were supportive of the passage of the APHA and pleased to see that its reporting requirements took into account a number of our recommendations.

When the State Department’s first report was made public in January of this year, we noted that it provided a lot of useful information for researchers to work with but that often the information provided was incomplete and that there were “instances where State’s reporting may formally comply with the letter of the law, but not with its clear intent of providing lawmakers and the public with a better idea of the concrete results of U.S. Haiti assistance.”

The lawmakers who signed the July 6 letter to Kerry appear to agree with this assessment. They first lay out a global request:  that future reports “be presented and delivered in a cohesive and readily accessible document, so that Members of Congress, their staffs, and any interested party may review them without impediment.”

Later in the letter, the lawmakers provide more specific requests:

In terms of report content, we would request that future reports provide further details in the list of projects, including project milestones achieved to date, and projects’ relation to the benchmarks and goals outlined elsewhere in the report and attachments. Furthermore, in order to have a clearer picture of aid implementation at the subprime level, the following information about subprime awardees should be provided: location of contractor, funds received (both obligated and disbursed), and a description of the specific task assigned to the subprime awardee. The information on the sub-awardees country of origin is especially important, as it allows members of Congress and the public to better evaluate the involvement of local businesses and organizations in the recovery effort.

And also:

We would request that future reports incorporate any updates or adjustments made to the three-year strategy [a separate document that is also mandated by APHA], as well as ample discussion of aid programs aimed at improvement of Haitian governance and democracy. In the name of transparency, we would also request that you consider providing a translation of the main report text into Haitian Kreyol to allow for review by Haitians.

The next APHA report is due by the end of 2015, leaving the State Department with nearly six months to implement these congressional requests.  If State takes these requests seriously – and they should if they value their relations with all of the key lawmakers working on Haiti policy – we will soon have a much clearer picture of where U.S. money is going in Haiti.

Democrats and Republicans may not see eye to eye on much these days, but one thing a number of them do strongly agree on is the need for greater accountability and transparency around U.S. assistance to Haiti. Last year, Republican representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Ed Royce joined senior Democrats from the Senate and the House of Representatives in supporting the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act (APHA), a bill originally introduced by progressive California Democrat Barbara Lee. In a rare display of constructive bipartisanship, the bill was quickly passed by both houses of Congress last July and signed into law by President Obama in early August. 

Now, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle are again working to try to ensure that the APHA is properly implemented.  In a July 6 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, 12 House representatives called for the APHA to be implemented “in accordance with both the spirit and the letter of the legislation” and requested that the State Department make a number of significant improvements to the APHA-mandated annual reports on the “status of post-earthquake recovery and development efforts in Haiti.”

The letter cannot be easily ignored by the State Department. It is signed by some of the most senior members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, including its chair, Ed Royce (R-Calif.); its ranking member, Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.); and other top-ranking members like Ileana Ros Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), Albio Sires (D-N.J.) and Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.).  It is also signed by nearly every Congressional Black Caucus member who is focused on Haiti, including Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) and Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.).

The annual report that the congressional members want to see improved is the centerpiece of the Assessing Progress Act. It includes reporting requirements designed to provide policymakers and the public with a clear picture of exactly how U.S. funds are used in Haiti aid programs and what progress is being made toward meeting pre-defined objectives and benchmarks. Having written extensively about the glaring lack of transparency around U.S. aid programs, we were supportive of the passage of the APHA and pleased to see that its reporting requirements took into account a number of our recommendations.

When the State Department’s first report was made public in January of this year, we noted that it provided a lot of useful information for researchers to work with but that often the information provided was incomplete and that there were “instances where State’s reporting may formally comply with the letter of the law, but not with its clear intent of providing lawmakers and the public with a better idea of the concrete results of U.S. Haiti assistance.”

The lawmakers who signed the July 6 letter to Kerry appear to agree with this assessment. They first lay out a global request:  that future reports “be presented and delivered in a cohesive and readily accessible document, so that Members of Congress, their staffs, and any interested party may review them without impediment.”

Later in the letter, the lawmakers provide more specific requests:

In terms of report content, we would request that future reports provide further details in the list of projects, including project milestones achieved to date, and projects’ relation to the benchmarks and goals outlined elsewhere in the report and attachments. Furthermore, in order to have a clearer picture of aid implementation at the subprime level, the following information about subprime awardees should be provided: location of contractor, funds received (both obligated and disbursed), and a description of the specific task assigned to the subprime awardee. The information on the sub-awardees country of origin is especially important, as it allows members of Congress and the public to better evaluate the involvement of local businesses and organizations in the recovery effort.

And also:

We would request that future reports incorporate any updates or adjustments made to the three-year strategy [a separate document that is also mandated by APHA], as well as ample discussion of aid programs aimed at improvement of Haitian governance and democracy. In the name of transparency, we would also request that you consider providing a translation of the main report text into Haitian Kreyol to allow for review by Haitians.

The next APHA report is due by the end of 2015, leaving the State Department with nearly six months to implement these congressional requests.  If State takes these requests seriously – and they should if they value their relations with all of the key lawmakers working on Haiti policy – we will soon have a much clearer picture of where U.S. money is going in Haiti.

The following is cross-posted from the Haiti Elections Blog, which was created to help promote the free access to information and accountability within the electoral process. The blog is co-managed by several non-governmental organizations who work with and within Haiti. 

On Sunday, July 5, an employee of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), Wikenson Bazile, was shot and killed in the busy Delmas 32 neighborhood. Bazile worked in the office of Jaccéus Joseph, the representative of human rights groups to the CEP. The spokesperson for the CEP, Frantz Bernadin, told Alterpresse on July 6, “We have no interpretation of what happened, we leave the judiciary and the police to do their job and we wait for the results of the investigation [in order] to have more information.”

The electoral advisor, Joseph, however was quick to point out that it was likely an assassination attempt. Joseph explained that there was no indication that Bazile had been robbed, and also pointed to threats he has received. “Taking into account the threats which I am the object of and assassination attempts during my presence in the CEP, I do not take this action lightly,” Joseph told the Nouvelliste, while adding that he would leave it to the police to do its job. Jaccéus Joseph stated that he believed the threats were a result of the neutrality shown by the electoral council.

In a radio interview last week, another CEP member, Nehemy Joseph, alleged that a group of disqualified candidates paid $5,000 USD to “a few assassins whose mission was to kill [CEP member] Jaccéus Joseph, myself and other councilors.” The allegation was quickly denied by Jonas Coffy, a representative of the group, who alleged that Nehemy Joseph had solicited bribes from excluded candidates for their reinstatement.

In May, Professor Emmanual Gouthier, Vice Director at the Ministry of the Interior was shot and killed. Gouthier was tasked with investigating potential candidates. There has been no further information released on the status of the investigation.

Today, the U.N. Special Representative to the Secretary General and head of the U.N. troop contingent in Haiti, Sandra Honoré, condemned the killing of Bazile and called on the police to conduct a prompt investigation into the circumstances. Honoré reiterated a call for all Haitians to reject violence, especially during the electoral period. 

The following is cross-posted from the Haiti Elections Blog, which was created to help promote the free access to information and accountability within the electoral process. The blog is co-managed by several non-governmental organizations who work with and within Haiti. 

On Sunday, July 5, an employee of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), Wikenson Bazile, was shot and killed in the busy Delmas 32 neighborhood. Bazile worked in the office of Jaccéus Joseph, the representative of human rights groups to the CEP. The spokesperson for the CEP, Frantz Bernadin, told Alterpresse on July 6, “We have no interpretation of what happened, we leave the judiciary and the police to do their job and we wait for the results of the investigation [in order] to have more information.”

The electoral advisor, Joseph, however was quick to point out that it was likely an assassination attempt. Joseph explained that there was no indication that Bazile had been robbed, and also pointed to threats he has received. “Taking into account the threats which I am the object of and assassination attempts during my presence in the CEP, I do not take this action lightly,” Joseph told the Nouvelliste, while adding that he would leave it to the police to do its job. Jaccéus Joseph stated that he believed the threats were a result of the neutrality shown by the electoral council.

In a radio interview last week, another CEP member, Nehemy Joseph, alleged that a group of disqualified candidates paid $5,000 USD to “a few assassins whose mission was to kill [CEP member] Jaccéus Joseph, myself and other councilors.” The allegation was quickly denied by Jonas Coffy, a representative of the group, who alleged that Nehemy Joseph had solicited bribes from excluded candidates for their reinstatement.

In May, Professor Emmanual Gouthier, Vice Director at the Ministry of the Interior was shot and killed. Gouthier was tasked with investigating potential candidates. There has been no further information released on the status of the investigation.

Today, the U.N. Special Representative to the Secretary General and head of the U.N. troop contingent in Haiti, Sandra Honoré, condemned the killing of Bazile and called on the police to conduct a prompt investigation into the circumstances. Honoré reiterated a call for all Haitians to reject violence, especially during the electoral period. 

The following is cross-posted from the Haiti Elections Blog, which was created to help promote the free access to information and accountability within the electoral process. The blog is co-managed by several non-governmental organizations who work with and within Haiti. 

The Organization of American States (OAS) signed an accord with the Haitian government to send international observers to monitor elections in 2015. In 2010, the OAS election observation mission was considered highly controversial due to its role in certifying the presidential elections. Haitian Foreign Minister Lener Renauld believes this accord “reaffirms the determination of President Martelly . . . to support the electoral calendar,” and indicates the commitment of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) to administer elections on schedule. Nevertheless, there has been considerable speculation and doubt over whether elections will be administered on time.

Presidential candidates Jacky Lumarque and Francois Levelt were disqualified by the CEP over the weekend. Lumarque, running under the VERITE party of former President René Préval, was disqualified for failing to have a décharge. Levelt, running under the Party for the Haitian Diaspora for Haiti, was disqualified after prior felony convictions came to light. Earlier in the week, a coalition of 17 political parties sent an open letter to the CEP urging for Lumarque’s disqualification due to his failure to secure a décharge, and calling on the CEP not to engage in double standards. Although CEP President Pierre Louis Opont previously stated that the presidential candidate list was final, he later said the CEP would continue to review the eligibility of presidential candidates.

The CEP put out an informational video on enhancing women’s political participation in the upcoming local elections. The one-minute video, currently broadcast on local television and radio, calls on political parties to include more female candidates and party representatives. The Haitian constitution and Electoral decree both mandate a 30% quota for women in public office, though the current rate of female representation is around 5%.


Former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe criticized the CEP for the unjustified exclusion of political candidates. On Wednesday, June 17, Lamothe issued a strongly worded statement alleging that the electoral process has been “forever tainted” by the CEP’s arbitrary exclusion of candidates. Although Lamothe was disqualified for the same reason as many other candidates, he has nevertheless called on the international community to “understand the kind of elections that will transpire in Haiti if nothing is done to restore my candidacy. It has allowed and even seemingly encouraged this process to unfold; it now should also play a role in redirecting the course before once again Haiti faces major political turmoil.”

The following is cross-posted from the Haiti Elections Blog, which was created to help promote the free access to information and accountability within the electoral process. The blog is co-managed by several non-governmental organizations who work with and within Haiti. 

The Organization of American States (OAS) signed an accord with the Haitian government to send international observers to monitor elections in 2015. In 2010, the OAS election observation mission was considered highly controversial due to its role in certifying the presidential elections. Haitian Foreign Minister Lener Renauld believes this accord “reaffirms the determination of President Martelly . . . to support the electoral calendar,” and indicates the commitment of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) to administer elections on schedule. Nevertheless, there has been considerable speculation and doubt over whether elections will be administered on time.

Presidential candidates Jacky Lumarque and Francois Levelt were disqualified by the CEP over the weekend. Lumarque, running under the VERITE party of former President René Préval, was disqualified for failing to have a décharge. Levelt, running under the Party for the Haitian Diaspora for Haiti, was disqualified after prior felony convictions came to light. Earlier in the week, a coalition of 17 political parties sent an open letter to the CEP urging for Lumarque’s disqualification due to his failure to secure a décharge, and calling on the CEP not to engage in double standards. Although CEP President Pierre Louis Opont previously stated that the presidential candidate list was final, he later said the CEP would continue to review the eligibility of presidential candidates.

The CEP put out an informational video on enhancing women’s political participation in the upcoming local elections. The one-minute video, currently broadcast on local television and radio, calls on political parties to include more female candidates and party representatives. The Haitian constitution and Electoral decree both mandate a 30% quota for women in public office, though the current rate of female representation is around 5%.


Former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe criticized the CEP for the unjustified exclusion of political candidates. On Wednesday, June 17, Lamothe issued a strongly worded statement alleging that the electoral process has been “forever tainted” by the CEP’s arbitrary exclusion of candidates. Although Lamothe was disqualified for the same reason as many other candidates, he has nevertheless called on the international community to “understand the kind of elections that will transpire in Haiti if nothing is done to restore my candidacy. It has allowed and even seemingly encouraged this process to unfold; it now should also play a role in redirecting the course before once again Haiti faces major political turmoil.”

In February, USAID suspended Thor Construction, one of two contractors responsible for designing and building 750 houses in Haiti’s north, in Caracol. In March, the second contractor, CEEPCO, was also suspended. As previous HRRW reporting revealed, the houses were found to be of poor quality, with numerous structural deficiencies including the use of substandard concrete. USAID is currently investigating and putting together a potential legal case against the contractors; however, they continue to downplay the problems and their own role in them.

HRRW has obtained an internal assessment of the Caracol-EKAM housing development, performed by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers last year. The report directly contradicts USAID’s public comments on the housing development.

On its website, USAID has a “fact sheet” on the project, explaining: “To address natural disaster concerns, the 750 houses are designed to International Building Code earthquake and hurricane safety standards, and constructed with reinforced concrete masonry.” The webpage says it was updated in February 2015, nearly a year after USAID first began investigating. There is no mention of any problems with the houses in the “fact sheet.”

Turning to the Army Corp of Engineers report, it makes clear that from the very beginning, International Building Codes were ignored. The report “found no evidence that a formal internal or external review” of the housing design was conducted and further, that “the project was designed with inconsistent application of code and latest design criteria,” despite the contract mandating compliance with the International Building Code. The lack of any oversight provided at this crucial early stage is a clear indictment of USAID’s own role in the project’s failure.

USACE Summary Caracol EKAM
Summary of Findings from US Army Corp of Engineers Technical Assessment

USAID also maintains that the houses are built with “reinforced concrete masonry” and are built to hurricane and earthquake safety standards. Not so fast, says the Army Corp of Engineers: “The project was constructed with significant variances from the contract plans and specifications. These variances could result in major damage from a hurricane or seismic event and excessive maintenance requirements if left uncorrected.”

And as for the reinforced masonry? “Seismic design of the housing units is deficient for construction within an area with high seismic activity. The design does not provide special reinforced masonry shearwalls as required for seismic design classification,” the report found, adding: “Combined with a lack of masonry joint reinforcement, omitted by the contractor, the walls are vulnerable to shear failure and step cracking in a seismic event.” A later report also obtained by HRRW, and prepared as part of USAID’s legal case against the suspended contractors, points out that the concrete used in the masonry is far below the required strength.

Caracol Concrete
Image from internal USAID document, showing sub-standard concrete used.

The U.S. responded to Haiti’s earthquake, in which poorly constructed homes contribured to hundreds of thousands of deaths, by committing to facilitate the construction of 15,000 permanent homes in Haiti for $50 million. In the end, they’ve built just over 900 and costs have doubled. But worst of all, 750 of those 900 houses aren’t even built to withstand the next earthquake. In the meantime, residents of the houses are paying monthly rent and after five years will take over ownership of the houses, but what quality of houses are they being asked to pay for? And is USAID being upfront with the community about the extent of the problems?

The Army Corp of Engineers report is available here

In February, USAID suspended Thor Construction, one of two contractors responsible for designing and building 750 houses in Haiti’s north, in Caracol. In March, the second contractor, CEEPCO, was also suspended. As previous HRRW reporting revealed, the houses were found to be of poor quality, with numerous structural deficiencies including the use of substandard concrete. USAID is currently investigating and putting together a potential legal case against the contractors; however, they continue to downplay the problems and their own role in them.

HRRW has obtained an internal assessment of the Caracol-EKAM housing development, performed by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers last year. The report directly contradicts USAID’s public comments on the housing development.

On its website, USAID has a “fact sheet” on the project, explaining: “To address natural disaster concerns, the 750 houses are designed to International Building Code earthquake and hurricane safety standards, and constructed with reinforced concrete masonry.” The webpage says it was updated in February 2015, nearly a year after USAID first began investigating. There is no mention of any problems with the houses in the “fact sheet.”

Turning to the Army Corp of Engineers report, it makes clear that from the very beginning, International Building Codes were ignored. The report “found no evidence that a formal internal or external review” of the housing design was conducted and further, that “the project was designed with inconsistent application of code and latest design criteria,” despite the contract mandating compliance with the International Building Code. The lack of any oversight provided at this crucial early stage is a clear indictment of USAID’s own role in the project’s failure.

USACE Summary Caracol EKAM
Summary of Findings from US Army Corp of Engineers Technical Assessment

USAID also maintains that the houses are built with “reinforced concrete masonry” and are built to hurricane and earthquake safety standards. Not so fast, says the Army Corp of Engineers: “The project was constructed with significant variances from the contract plans and specifications. These variances could result in major damage from a hurricane or seismic event and excessive maintenance requirements if left uncorrected.”

And as for the reinforced masonry? “Seismic design of the housing units is deficient for construction within an area with high seismic activity. The design does not provide special reinforced masonry shearwalls as required for seismic design classification,” the report found, adding: “Combined with a lack of masonry joint reinforcement, omitted by the contractor, the walls are vulnerable to shear failure and step cracking in a seismic event.” A later report also obtained by HRRW, and prepared as part of USAID’s legal case against the suspended contractors, points out that the concrete used in the masonry is far below the required strength.

Caracol Concrete
Image from internal USAID document, showing sub-standard concrete used.

The U.S. responded to Haiti’s earthquake, in which poorly constructed homes contribured to hundreds of thousands of deaths, by committing to facilitate the construction of 15,000 permanent homes in Haiti for $50 million. In the end, they’ve built just over 900 and costs have doubled. But worst of all, 750 of those 900 houses aren’t even built to withstand the next earthquake. In the meantime, residents of the houses are paying monthly rent and after five years will take over ownership of the houses, but what quality of houses are they being asked to pay for? And is USAID being upfront with the community about the extent of the problems?

The Army Corp of Engineers report is available here

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