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Should Haitian’s Trust Those Controlling the Development Money?

March 15, 2010

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Joseph P. Kennedy II took time out last month from his oil dealings with Hugo Chávez to respond to a column I wrote about another of his ventures. This one involved a 1999 contract between Fusion Telecommunications, where Mr. Kennedy was on the board, and the state-owned telecom monopoly Haiti Teleco

Mr. Kennedy’s assertions in a Feb. 11 letter to the editor in the Journal—and the still-unanswered question about why Fusion had access to the Teleco network at a 75% discount to the official rate on file at the Federal Communications Commission—are worthy of attention. This is especially true since, on Friday, a former director of international affairs at Haiti Teleco pleaded guilty in federal court in Florida to money laundering in connection with a 2001-2003 bribery conspiracy.

Getting to the bottom of the Fusion deal, which a May 2001 Journal editorial characterized as “sleazy,” is important for Haiti. Its president when the contract was signed was René Préval, a close ally at the time of Jean Bertrand Aristide. The U.S. president was Bill Clinton, who had restored the despotic Aristide to power in 1994. Numerous Clinton cronies were also on Fusion’s board.

Today Mr. Préval is president again, Mr. Clinton is the U.N.’s official Haiti envoy, and international bureaucrats are drafting a reconstruction plan that the Washington Post said “suggests social engineering on a vast scale, which would involve levels of public and private investment in Haiti never really imagined before.” If there is any hope that this plan, with an estimated price tag between $1 billion and $3 billion, won’t end up funding graft-laden ski jumps in Port-au-Prince, it starts with making those in power accountable.

My Jan. 25 column described allegations made by Haiti’s 2004-2005 interim government in a civil action in southern Florida federal court against Mr. Aristide. The suit charged that the government’s investigation of Teleco showed that Mr. Aristide had made arrangements with “certain” U.S. telecom carriers, “granting them significantly reduced rates for services provided by Teleco in exchange for kickbacks . . . .” It alleged that one of the companies that made payments “to certain off-shore companies” was Fusion. Haiti said it could prove the charges, but when Mr. Préval was elected president again in 2006 he withdrew the suit.

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