Everybody Needs Some Bodies Sometime (Haiti)

exerpted from the book

Toxic Sludge Is Good For You:
Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry

"The Torturers' Lobby"

by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton


Some PR firms argue that they are ethically obligated, like attorneys, to accept virtually any client who can afford to pay. Reagan-era powerhouse Gray & Company's clients included the murderous "Baby Doc" Duvalier in Haiti. In her biography of Robert Keith Gray, author Susan Trento says the company's rationalizations to explain working for Haiti "utilized an Orwellian logic that would be dazzling if it weren't so appalling." According to company executive Adonis Hoffman, "The government of Haiti, rank it wherever you will, . . . is entitled to make its position known in Washington to the US government, and has the right to try to tell its side of whatever the story is to the media and to the American public. In order to do that, they are going to have to retain a firm that knows how to do those kinds of things.... By definition, people who hire lobbyists and PR people have problems, they have fears, and they have needs."

Trento comments sarcastically, "It was as if one of the most brutal dictators of the twentieth century were a poor lost soul seeking his inner child and Gray & Company a benevolent, kindly therapist."

In his pre-Clinton days, Ron Brown also personally represented the Duvalier government while working for Patton, Boggs & Blow in the early 1980s. Duvalier finally fled Haiti in 1986 to escape a popular uprising, and power passed through the hands of a quick succession of unpopular governments until December 16, 1990, when Haiti held the first democratic elections in the country's history. Jean Bertrand Aristide, a radical Catholic priest, received 67 percent of the vote in a field of 23 candidates, and assumed office on February 7, 1991. Eight months later, however, soldiers led by Lieutenant General Raoul Cedras and Colonel Michel Francois surrounded the presidential palace, seized Aristide and sent him into exile. During Aristide's exile, some 4,000 Haitians were killed by the Cedras regime. Boat people" from Haiti began fleeing in large numbers to the United States and other neighboring countries. The United States and the Organization of American States declared a trade embargo against the military regime.

Cedras and Francois responded with a smear campaign against Aristide. After expelling him from the country, they rummaged through Aristide's diaries and personal effects in search of incriminating evidence. Predictably, this "investigation" concluded that Aristide was a "psychotic manic-depressive with homicidal and necrophiliac tendencies." The junta transmitted these charges to the US news media through an array of hired lobbyists and PR representatives, including George Demougeot, who also represented a US apparel firm with an assembly plant in Haiti, and Stephen A. Horblitt and Walter E. Faunteroy of Creative Associates International Inc. Another employee in the PR campaign was Darryl Reaves, a one term Florida state representative who worked to arrange interviews and Capitol Hill connections for Francois and Cedras. Reaves avoided publicity for himself, telling reporters, "I don't exist." When one journalist inquired too deeply, he responded with obscenities and vague threats that he would have the reporter arrested.

The regime's most visible lobbyist, however, was Robert McCandless. In addition to the junta, McCandless represented a group of businessmen headed by Gregory Brandt, whose interests in Haiti included cooking oil, cars, tomato paste and coffee. In March of 1992, McCandless accepted $85,000 from the junta as part of a $165,000 contract. In his FARA filing, McCandless said he would be working "to direct favorable PR to Provisional Government and unfavorable PR against former President Aristide.... Eventually, ... try to get aid in money and in kind." In the spring of 1992, the Treasury department ordered McCandless to stop representing the Haitian government on grounds that he was breaking the embargo, but he continued to do so on what he claimed was now a "pro bono" basis.

McCandless circulated position papers and editorials in Washington. In an August 13, 1992, memo, he rehashed the Haitian military's claim that Aristide was a "tyrant and a cruel and oppressive ruler," and characterized the US trade embargo as "a policy of genocide" that would cause the deaths of "hundreds of thousands of innocent Haitians." As a "suggested compromise," McCandless proposed to end the crisis by letting Aristide return to Haiti-not to resume office, but to face trial before a "blue-ribbon citizens' panel" on charges of embezzlement, inciting mob violence, torture and murder.

In his PR work for the provisional government, McCandless cashed in on his friendship with conservative syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who obliged by visiting Haiti at McCandless' invitation and writing a series of columns in support of the junta. In a 1993 article titled "Why So Hard on Haiti's Military?" Novak accused the Clinton administration of "uncharacteristic rigidity" for refusing "to consider a negotiated settlement of exiled Haiti President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's return to power or even to hear conflicting advice.... Warnings about Haiti began even before Clinton took office, when Washington lawyer Robert McCandless offered his invaluable contacts with the Haitian military and police to seek a solution.... McCandless again has offered the president use of his relationship with Francois and Cedras to seek a peaceful solution."

The Bush and Clinton administrations expressed support for Aristide as Haiti's elected president, but behind the scenes the junta had powerful allies in the CIA and in the offices of conservative US Senators Jesse Helms and Robert Dole. Its attacks on Aristide's character received extensive media attention when Helms organized a 'classified briefing" with Brian Latelle, the CIA's intelligence officer for Latin America. The briefing, at which Latelle used a forged letter to document his false claim that Aristide suffered from psychological disorders, was promptly leaked to Novak at the Washington Post. Helms followed up by delivering a newsmaking tirade against Aristide on the floor of the Senate, labeling him a "psychopath" and claiming that Aristide had incited followers to murder his opponents.


With Friends Like These . . .

Ironically, the most effective PR work against Aristide may have come from his "friends in high places." Throughout the crisis, the US sponsored negotiations that forced Aristide to make repeated concessions. When Aristide failed to comply, US officials attacked his "intransigence," portraying his obstinacy as the primary obstacle to peace.

Gregory Craig, a well-connected Washington attorney, was a key player in shaping the Clinton policy. A former Yale classmate of the Clintons, Craig was hired in 1992 to represent the interests of Fritz Mevs, Sr., a Miami resident who made his fortune with a sugar monopoly under the dictatorship of Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier. Mevs, along with his sons and other family members, have been called the 'mini-Mafia" of Haiti. They reportedly shared the military's disdain for Aristide. A report by the National Labor Committee, a labor education group representing 23 national unions, claimed that Mevs was one of the chief organizers of the coup and that the Mevs family made money smuggling cement in violation of the embargo.

Mevs contacted Craig to discover what measures he should take to protect his interests as the Bush administration considered freezing assets of backers of the coup. After determining that the US government had no proof of Mevs family complicity in the coup, Craig agreed to become the family's personal lobbyist in Washington. Using his Clinton connections, Craig played a key role in shaping US policy toward Haiti after Bush left office.

The Bush and Clinton administrations vacillated for two years before finally taking action, while the junta's defenders repeated and refined their charge that Aristide was "just as bad or worse." The Clinton administration finally sent troops in to Haiti in September 1994 to impose a settlement that granted a full amnesty to the junta. After two years in exile, Aristide was allowed to resume office with barely 16 months remaining in his term, under an agreement that forbade him from running for re-election.

The true significance of Aristide's return to Haiti received a frank assessment from Major Louis Kernisan of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, who led the retraining of Haiti's "new, reformed" police force. "You're going to end up dealing with the same folks as before. the five families that run the country, the military and the bourgeoisie," Kernisan said. "They're the same folks that are supposed to be the bad guys now, but the bottom line is you know that you're always going to end up dealing with them."

from the book:

Toxic Sludge Is Good For You:
Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry

by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton

Common Courage Press, Box 702, Monroe, MA 04951

Toxic Sludge