1. Rudolph Giuliani
In April 1982, a class action lawsuit filed by the Miami-based Haitian Refugee Center seeking the release of 2,100 Haitian refugees interdicted at sea came to trial.
Arguing the government’s case against releasing the refugees and urging their “repatriation,” another squeaky clean word, assiduously scrubbed so that no blood leaks, was the Associate Attorney General of the United States at the time, Rudolph Giuliani. Giuliani, the man who would a decade later become Mayor of New York City, home to tens of thousands of Haitian immigrants, argued that repression in Haiti “simply does not exist now.”
The refugees, Giuliani contended, had nothing to fear from the friendly government of Jean-Claude Duvalier. Giuliani based this conclusion on a visit to Haiti two weeks earlier, where he met with Duvalier. The dictator had “personally assured” him, he said, that Haitians returning home from the United States were not persecuted. “Political repression is not the major reason for leaving Haiti,” Giuliani concluded.
Eight years earlier James Simms, head of the Haiti desk at the Department of State, had cited this same script word-for-word to justify US policy at that time. Giuliani had memorized his lines well.
According to attorney Arthur Helton, the Director of Immigrant Programs at the Open Society Institute in New York, Giuliani was “the key implementer and an ardent defender of the policy to return the refugees to Haiti.” In court (and, earlier, in testimony before Congress), Giuliani claimed that there was no persecution in Haiti and all was fine and proper there. As Helton explains, “It is extremely unusual for such a high-ranking official as Giuliani, who was the top Justice Department official with a specific brief on immigration issues at that time, to personally argue such a case before the 11th Circuit Court.”
How is it possible that Giuliani, the Number 3 man at the Department of Justice and a federal prosecutor of some repute and energy, could not be aware of the true situation? Had he not read the papers of the period, nor the statements of hundreds of Haitians who reported being tortured and family members murdered before their eyes? Why didn’t he take their depositions and investigate their stories? Clearly, Giuliani latched onto the Haitian dictator’s “personal assurance” to cover the atrocities of the policy he espoused.
Upon return from his visit to Haiti, did he apprise the Department of Justice of the Duvalier government’s pimping of Haitian slaves to sugar magnates in the Dominican Republic, for which Duvalier was paid a tax of $1 per slave per day, a slave trade that Giuliani’s beloved interdiction policy had the effect of enforcing because it prevented slaves from escaping by sea? Why did Giuliani fail to contact Amnesty International, the Haitian Refugee Center or any of the other human rights groups which had documented hundreds of cases of political repression and torture in Haiti?
Are we to believe that Giuliani, the lawyer and government representative, was unaware of the lawsuit filed by Amnesty International on behalf of 10 Haitian trade union leaders who had been locked up and tortured in Fort Dimanche, the headquarters of the Tontons Macoutes death squads, without trial for three years already, at that point? Hundreds of similarly horrible tales of abuse, torture, imprisonment and murder were available, publicized, and matters of public record.
But Giuliani had his own agenda. He was not serving Truth or Freedom but a different master, with different interests. For him, Freedom was only legitimate in so far as it served higher authority, not valid in itself as the raison d’être of human existence and community. As Giuliani later philosophized, “Freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want, be anything they can be. Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do.”
In Haiti, Duvalier was that lawful authority upon whom Giuliani had stamped his seal of approval. For Haitians to flee and to fight for their freedom, then as well as now, was an act that flew in the face of the authority Giuliani believed in and was paid to uphold. Thus, in September 1982 and on many occasions thereafter, Giuliani was back in court fighting against a ruling by Federal District Judge Eugene Spellman that ordered the release of 1,800 Haitian refugees who were held in six states and Puerto Rico. Giuliani continued his fight to send the refugees back, many to their deaths, despite federal court decisions […].
2. Ron Brown
At the same time Giuliani was attempting to exonerate the Duvalier regime in the courts, another lawyer was hired to do the same in the media. Ron Brown, then Chairman of the Democratic National Committee and now Clinton’s Secretary of Commerce, served as Duvalier’s US-based lawyer and mouthpiece. Together, Giuliani and Brown constituted the Haitian fascists’ one-two punch in the US. Duvalier paid Brown, a partner at the powerful Washington law firm of Patton, Boggs & Blow, an annual retainer of $150,000 to secure his services, and Brown went to work for him on Capitol Hill. Some of Brown’s work involved representing one Fritz Bennett, arrested in Puerto Rico for narcotics trafficking. Bennett is the brother of Michele Bennett Duvalier, the dictator’s wife.
One of the most intimate of Brown’s Haitian companions is Lillian Madsen, who lives in a $360,000 Washington townhouse at 4303 Westover Place, purchased for her in 1992 by the commerce secretary himself and by his son, DC lobbyist Michael Brown.
The Madsen family, which Lillian married into, is an important member of the Haitian oligarchy, with vast holdings in coffee and beer. (She later divorced.) The Madsens were among the main domestic financial backers of the September 1991 coup against elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
The Washington-based newsletter Counterpunch picks up the trail: Lillian Madsen’s brother-in-law, Marc “Butch” Ashton, is another longtime friend of the commerce secretary’s. Ashton was a financial advisor to Baby Doc, which, in ethical terms, is roughly equal to having counseled Salvadoran death squad leader Roberto d’Aubuisson on respect for human rights. A large landholder and owner of Haiti Citrus, a lime exporter, Ashton allegedly used a squad of 40 Tonton Macoutes to guard his properties. Poor farmers who leased their land to Haiti Citrus say they were intimidated and tortured by Ashton’s thugs when they tried to get better terms.
Brown himself detailed his services to Duvalier in a nine-page memo. Brown’s letter, written in French on Patton, Boggs & Blow letterhead, blamed “Monsieur le President’s” problems on an “unfair” image created by the US media. As to his efforts on Haiti’s behalf, Brown wrote that “We continue to dedicate a considerable amount of time to the improvement of relations between the Republic of Haiti and members of congress and the American government, with the goal of substantially increasing American aid to Haiti.” Early success in this regard, crowed Brown, “is essentially the result of our Washington team.”
Brown also informed Duvalier that he was looking after Haiti’s “long-term interests” by maintaining “good relations” with leading American political figures: “While we have always enjoyed excellent relations with the government of President Reagan, we have also established personal contacts with almost all the Democratic candidates in order to ensure that we continue to have access to the White House regardless of who wins the presidential election in 1984.” Brown boasted that his leading role in the Democratic National Committee “has served us in these efforts, while a certain number of my colleagues in the Republican Party assure the permanence of our access and the excellence of our relations with the government of President Reagan.”
Like Giuliani, Ron Brown believes in what he is doing. Today, Brown heads the Commerce Department, one of the agencies that promotes corporate investment in Haiti, particularly in “free trade zones” where there are no environmental rules, no taxes, no labor laws and where US corporations such as Sears, JC Penney, WalMart, Wilson Sporting Goods and others have broken the unions and pay workers as little as 9 cents an hour. Commerce also oversees the shipments of toxic wastes abroad, of which Haiti has become far more than an equal opportunity recipient.