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RFK Center Releases Documents Outlining U.S. Actions to Block Life-Saving Funds to Haiti

Washington, DC -- The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights and Zamni Lasante released internal U.S. Treasury Department documents exposing politically motivated, behind-the-scenes interventions by the United States and other members of the international community to stop the dispersal of $146 million in loans that the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) had approved for Haiti. The IDB originally approved the loans in July 1998, including $54 million for urgently-needed water and sanitation projects. However, documents show that members of the U.S. Executive Director’s office at the IDB and U.S. Department of Treasury (DOT) staff sought ways to tie the loans’ release to unrelated political benchmarks that the U.S. government wanted the Haitian government to reach. This intervention, and its political basis, was in direct violation of the IDB’s charter, which bars the Bank and its Officers from interfering in or basing decisions upon the political affairs of member states.

The documents include:

  • References from DOT staff to the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti’s plans to propose to President Aristide that “the U.S. would not oppose the gradual disbursement of the loans” if Haiti acted on U.S. demands regarding a Haitian political situation.
  • Statements from the U.S. Executive Director’s legal counsel at the IDB indicating that though the loans faced no legitimate technical obstacles, the United States could achieve the effect of blocking them by “slowing” the disbursement process. The legal counsel stated, “While this is not a 'bullet proof' way to stop IDB disbursements, it certainly will put a few more large rocks in the road.”
  • Letters that the U.S. Executive Director sent to the IDB’s president in his attempts to carry out the U.S. strategy of “slowing” disbursement.
  • Emails revealing panic at the U.S. Treasury Department following public statements made by the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti that linked the withholding of the loans to Haiti’s political situation which directly violated the IDB charter.

“After several years of investigating the withholding of these loans, we now have clear and detailed evidence of egregious intervention by the U.S. government and the IDB to stop life-saving funds to Haiti,” said Monika Kalra Varma, Director of the RFK Center. “With their transgressions now public, they must heed the call for monitoring and transparency. We urge them to implement the necessary oversight mechanisms to prevent a reoccurrence of behind-the-scenes malfeasance, and above all, to fulfill their obligations to the Haitian people.”

Haiti is not only the most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere, it also has some of the worst water in the world, ranking 147th out of 147 countries in the Water Poverty Index. A recently released study, “Woch nan Soley: The Denial of the Right to Water in Haiti”, co-authored by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, Partners In Health, the RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights, and Zanmi Lasante, showed the deadly consequences the lack of access to clean and safe water has had on the coastal city of Port-de-Paix. Like the majority of the Haitian people, the population of Port-de-Paix lacks accessible, affordable, and safe potable water. Port-de-Paix was chosen by the IDB as a project site because its water situation was particularly deplorable. A 1997 IDB study found the town’s system “functionally incapable of meeting the basic water requirements of the population,” and that the water was bacterially contaminated above World Health Organization guidelines.

Despite this and the fact that Port-de-Paix was slotted as the first project site, to date the water infrastructure projects first destined to be funded by the IDB loans have not been implemented.

“We are seeking assurances that such actions will not be repeated and that the IDB finally fulfills its commitments to the Haitian people. It is time to move forward so that these communities will finally having their human rights to water, health and education realized,” said Loune Viaud, Director of Operations at Zamni Lasante and recipient of the 2002 RFK Human Rights Award.

The documents were obtained by the RFK Center through an initially unfulfilled Freedom of Information Act request first filed in August 2003, and a subsequent lawsuit in August 2006 against the U.S. Treasury Department for not releasing the requested documents. The RFK Center was represented in the lawsuit by the Washington, D.C. law firm of Garvey Schubert Barer.

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