Saturday, July 30, 2011

This is Not Good

(Photo by John Carroll)

WikiLeaked Cables Reveal Obsessive, Far-Reaching U.S. Campaign to Get Aristide Out of Haiti and Keep Him There

By Ansel Herz & Kim Ives
"This Week in Haiti", Haiti Liberte, July 27 - August 2, 2011, Vol. 5, No. 2

Konplo Aristid la (The plot against Aristide)/ Li soti Washington (It came out of Washington)/ Li pase Vatikan (It passed through the Vatican)/ Se Bondye ki voye-l (It was sent by God)--singer Manno Charlemagne

On Jul. 15, 2011, former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide turned 58. His birthday was marked in Haiti and its diaspora by scattered celebrations of militants and sympathizers of the Lavalas Family (Fanmi Lavalas), the party he founded in 1996.

During the seven years he spent exiled in South Africa after the 2004 coup d'etat against him, Aristide's birthday was commemorated by large demonstrations in the streets of Port-au-Prince calling for his return. Over the past 25 years, first as a liberation theology-inspired Salesian priest in the 1980s and then as Haiti's twice elected (1990, 2000), twice deposed (1991, 2004) president, Aristide has become a symbol of the Haitian people's demands for justice, democracy and sovereignty. He received a spontaneous hero's welcome from thousands when he finally returned to Haiti on March 18 aboard a private South African jet. Much to the dismay of the Haitian elite and foreign powers which overthrew him, he remained then, and remains now, enduringly popular.

But Aristide is now also under the threat of imminent attack. Since returning, he has ventured out from his home in Tabarre only once, due to security concerns.

Newly installed right-wing president Michel Martelly has, in the past, made no secret of his antipathy for Aristide. He recently cut back Aristide's security detail and took back the government vehicle which former President Rene Préval had provided Aristide on his return.

In a falsely magnanimous gesture, Martelly recently suggested he would grant Aristide an "amnesty" (which he proposed also for recently returned former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier), although Aristide has never been charged, much less convicted, of any crimes whatsoever.

That may soon change. Right-wing mouthpieces like former International Republican Institute (IRI) agent Stanley Lucas, pro-coup historian Michel Soukar, and former anti-Aristide opposition spokesman Sauveur Pierre Etienne have all recently taken to the airwaves in Haiti and its diaspora to call for Aristide's prosecution with lurid and far-fetched charges of corruption and political murder.

Haiti Liberté has also learned from protected sources that a U.S. government team is investigating Aristide (not for the first time) to see if it can concoct a credible human-rights case against him.

This comes as no surprise. In reviewing some 1,918 secret Embassy cables from April 2003 to February 2010 procured by the media organization WikiLeaks, Haiti Liberté unearthed a behind-the-scenes look at how the U.S. State Department was pushing for Aristide's removal from power in February 2004 and strongly opposed his eventual return in March 2011.

But Washington feigns neutrality. A U.S. Embassy spokesman in Haiti told Haiti Liberté after a press briefing last Nov. 23 that Washington had no position on Aristide's return to his country. "Aristide's return? That's a Haitian question, that's a Haitian decision," said Jon Piechowski.

"So the U.S. would have no say in that…?"

"No," Piechowski responded, "I think whether Aristide stays where he is or comes back to Haiti, that's between him and the people of Haiti."

The secret U.S. diplomatic cables show those statements are unequivocally false. The cables not only bolster existing evidence of U.S. involvement in the 2004 coup, but portray a sophisticated, globe-spanning campaign afterwards to marginalize Aristide and imprison him in exile.

When Aristide himself or officials from Caribbean nations like the Bahamas talked of his rights, the United States flexed its diplomatic muscles to oppose them. On one occasion, a U.S. ambassador went so far as to angrily "pull aside" and scold the Dominican Republic's President.

The cables show how Washington actively colluded with the United Nations leadership, France, and Canada to discourage or physically prevent Aristide's return to Haiti. The Vatican was a reliable partner, blessing the coup and assisting in prolonging Aristide's exile.

The cables also show continuity between the policies of the Bush and Obama administrations toward Aristide. Under Bush in 2004, a U.S. Navy SEAL team escorted Aristide onto a jet and into exile in what Aristide called a "a modern-day kidnapping." Six years later, when Aristide announced his desire to return and help after the devastating 2010 earthquake, Obama's diplomatic corps mobilized to block him. Obama himself called South Africa's President in a desperate, failed attempt to keep Aristide off the jet that finally flew him home.

More than two decades after Aristide first became president, Washington's campaign against him continues. Its last big victory was the 2004 coup d'etat, where we begin with the intimately detailed information contained in the WikiLeaks cables.

Bahamas shows "sympathy" and complains
U.S. is "hard-minded" The trove of Embassy communications obtained by WikiLeaks unfortunately does not include many cables from the Port-au-Prince embassy until March 2005. However, secret cables from the neighboring archipelago nation of the Bahamas during 2003 and 2004 clearly show Washington's hostility toward Aristide.

The very first cable of those which WikiLeaks provided to Haiti Liberté is one from the U.S. Embassy in Nassau on Apr. 17, 2003. In it, U.S. Ambassador J. Richard Blankenship reports about a meeting where Bahamian Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell "described the U.S. position on Haiti as 'hard-minded', and called for continued dialogue."

Washington, at the time, had sought to invoke a clause of the Organization of American States' interventionist "Inter-American Democratic Charter" in an attempt to find some pseudo-legal leverage to remove Aristide. But, "Mitchell was dismissive of the possibility of invoking the democracy provisions of the OAS Charter, saying that although 'Some people argue that's the case in Haiti ... I think that is taking it a little bit too far,'" the cable said.

Washington was aware that the government of Bahamian Prime Minister Perry Christie was working to shore up the besieged Aristide government, and Blankenship sarcastically concluded his message: "While The Bahamas will remain engaged on Haiti, the Christie government will resist any effort to put real teeth into any diplomatic effort to pressure President Aristide, preferring (endless) conversation and dialogue to the alternative."

There is another cable from the Nassau Embassy's Charge d'Affaires Robert M. Witajewski dated Feb. 23, 2004, about a year later and one week before the coup. At a Feb. 19 event, "Prime Minister Christie twice came to the Charge's table to request an 'urgent' meeting," Witajewski wrote. After the meeting which was held the next day, Witajewski notes that the Bahamian Prime Minister "sympathizes with Aristide's concerns."

Christie reviewed with Witajewski how at the United Nations days before Foreign Minister Mitchell "called for the international community to 'provide immediate security assistance to bring stability to Haiti, including helping the legitimate authority of Haiti to restore law and order and disarm the elements that now seek to violently overthrow the government, and who have interrupted humanitarian assistance," the Charge wrote, "Mitchell continued using -- for him -- unusually strong language: 'Those armed gangs who seek now to overthrow the constitutional order should be urged to lay down their arms and if not they should be disarmed.'"

Christie pleaded that Washington "reconsider its position against supplying the Haitian police with lethal weapons, and at a minimum do more to support the Haitian police with non-lethal support," the cable notes. The Bahamian "indicated some sympathy for Aristide's claimed plight, telling Charge that 'there is simply no way that a demoralized police force of less than 5,000 can maintain law in order in a country of more than 7 million.'"

Unfortunately, it seems that Christie was also hopelessly clueless about the international forces backing the soon-to-be accomplished coup, because in daily phone calls with President Aristide, the cable says, "he had stressed the importance of Aristide appealing directly to the U.S., France, or Canada for assistance in re-equipping Haitian police so that law and order could be restored," that is to the very countries which were backing the coup.

Christie was apparently so unaware of the U.S. hand in the unfolding coup that "he had been in contact with members of the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus to allay their 'deep concerns' about the 'good faith' of the U.S. and others in seeking a resolution to Haiti's crisis," concerns that proved to be completely justified.

In perhaps his most naive assessment, Christie urged that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega, one of Aristide's most bitter critics in the U.S. government, come to the embattled president's rescue in the face of calls for Aristide's overthrow from the IRI-concocted "Group of 184" front, headed by sweatshop magnate Andy Apaid. "Christie said that he was confident that A/S Noriega 'had the clout' to bring Haitian Opposition leader Apaid around, and that once Apaid signed on to an agreement, the rest of the Opposition 'would follow' in permitting President Aristide to serve his term out since they couldn't organize themselves to win an election now," Witajewski wrote.

Perhaps Christie was deluded into thinking that the U.S. would recognize Aristide's popularity. Christie had witnessed it first hand as one of the few heads of government to attend Haiti's Jan. 1, 2004 bicentennial celebrations, to which tens of thousands turned out despite an opposition and international boycott.

Christie "made clear his position that President Aristide is Haiti's legitimately elected constitutional leader," Witajewski wrote, and also provided "an evaluation of the state of the Haitian opposition from his position as a practicing politician. 'Even with a year to organize,' he said, 'the opposition will not match Aristide's level of support, and would lose if Aristide decided to run again, which he will not.'"

In a cable the very next day, Feb. 24, 2004, Witajewski reported that "The Bahamas seeks the active support of the U.S. as the 'most important' member of the Security Council as it engages on a full scale diplomatic press to achieve peace in Haiti" and had "concluded that a peaceful outcome without international intervention is increasingly unlikely."

In short, despite Christie's sympathy for Aristide's situation, he "defers to [the] U.S. as 'Top Dog'," the Feb. 23 cable concluded.

Encouraging "asylum"
The U.S. also asked the former Haitian Ambassador to the Dominican Republic if he wanted political asylum after he resigned his post on Dec. 18, 2003. In a Dec. 23, 2003 cable, U.S. Ambassador Hans Hertell reported about his meeting with Ambassador Guy Alexandre who resigned "due to what he described as 'incompatible principles' with Aristide's government" following the Dec. 5, 2003 confrontation at the University of Haiti where "[a]ccording to Alexandre, police officers broke both knees of one of his friends, a vice-rector at a university." (In fact, it was the university's rector, Pierre Marie Paquiot, whose legs were injured - not broken - under murky circumstances during a melee between anti-coup popular organizations and pro-coup university students, while the vice-rector, Wilson Laleau, suffered head injuries.)

Prompted by Hertell, Alexandre said he would "not flee to the United States" and "has no plans to seek asylum in the United States for now" but rather "plans to reside in the Dominican Republic" and "get involved in academia."

"Requesting asylum, [Alexandre] explained, would 'further complicate Dominican-Haitian bilateral relations' and would not be in his nor Haiti's best interests," Hertell reported.

Had Alexandre requested U.S. asylum, it would have helped Washington's project of painting Aristide as a political ogre. Instead, Alexandre "criticized opposition groups' preoccupation with forcing Aristide's departure without considering the consequences" and "emphasized that Aristide's exit will not solve Haiti's socio-economic problems," Hertell wrote.

Alexandre also criticized the anti-Aristide opposition "for their focus on grabbing power rather than tackling the difficult problems of health, education and infrastructure," the cable said.

Vatican: "no regret" about coup
However, U.S. diplomats found much more sympathetic ears at the Vatican. In November 2003, a U.S. political officer from the U.S. Embassy there met with the Vatican's Caribbean Affairs Office Director Giorgio Lingua, who said that "the Vatican had noticed signs of increased discontent within the Lavalas party" which he felt could best be fanned by "further international pressure, especially from the United States, for increased democratic expression within the country - without directly challenging Aristide's legitimacy," wrote U.S. Charge d'Affaires Brent Hardt in a Nov. 14, 2003 cable.

"Increased democratic expression" was code for increased attacks on Aristide's constitutional government, which never once limited the "democratic expression" of organizations or media openly calling for its overthrow.

As this and later cables make clear, "challenging Aristide's legitimacy" and regime change in Haiti were, in fact, the Vatican's goals. Lingua told the Embassy officer that "effecting change in Haiti should be easier than in Cuba," wrote Hardt. "Unlike Castro, Lingua observed, Aristide is not ideologically motivated. 'This is one person - not a system,' he added."

But despite U.S. prodding, the Vatican wanted to cloak its collusion. "When asked if the October 16 incident [when anti-coup demonstrators protested at a mass] might prompt the Holy See to raise its voice more forcefully against Aristide's abuses, Lingua was noncommittal," Hardt wrote, "saying the Vatican needed to balance pressure on Aristide against a delicate security situation on the ground." Lingua said "the Haitian bishops needed to tread lightly" because of "Aristide's unpredictable nature," according to Hardt.

But the real reason the Church hierarchy had to "balance' and "tread lightly," the cable makes clear, is because Haiti's Catholic Church was "divided" between priests supporting Aristide and a hierarchy which did not. (One exception was newly appointed Archbishop Serge Miot, who Washington worried "was too close to the Aristide camp.") The result was "many people leaving the Church due to disillusionment with its handling of the Aristide crisis," the cable says.

Progressive liberation theologians, like Father Gerard Jean-Juste, were effectively denouncing Washington's growing destabilization campaign against Aristide, and the Vatican's supportive role, and "[a]ccording to Lingua, Aristide's exploitation of some clergy members for propaganda purposes was taking its toll," Hardt wrote. "Lingua said Haitians see 'a Church divided,' with some clergy supporting the Lavalas party and others against it. Lingua claimed this lack of solidarity fostered disillusionment to the point where people were leaving the Church in increasing numbers."

The problem was, in Lingua's own words, "the presence - in fact the omnipresence - of Aristide," the cable said.

The Vatican came out of the shadows shortly after the coup was finally consummated on Feb. 29, 2004. On Mar. 5, 2004, U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican James Nicholson wrote a cable reporting that the Holy See had "no regret at Aristide's departure, noting that the former priest had been an active proponent of voodoo."

Nicholson learned this from Embassy personnel who met with the Vatican's Deputy Foreign Minister Pietro Parolin, although "since February 29, the Vatican has had no official public comment on Aristide's resignation."

Nonetheless, "even before Aristide's departure, Pope John Paul II had appealed to Haitians 'to make the courageous decisions their country required,' and had urged the international community and aid organizations to do what they could to avert a greater crisis," Nicholson wrote. "This was seen as a veiled reference to Aristide's leaving power."

At that time, Lingua also told the Embassy that the Vatican "saw no other way out of the crisis and thought the former priest had to go."

The Vatican understood it had an important role to play in consolidating the coup, saying it was "ready to work with a new transitional Haitian administration to ensure a peaceful restoration of order," Nicholson wrote. Rome told its bishops "to exert a calming influence on the populace," which was outraged by the coup. But the Pope also understood that his missionaries needed some steel behind their gold crosses so called for "an international force [to] quickly restore order in Haiti."

Managing the backlash
In the days even before the coup was consummated, the governments which backed it - the U.S., France and Canada - began to insert "an international force" of several thousand soldiers. They militarily occupied Haiti for the three months from March 1 until May 31, 2004. On June 1, the 9,000-strong Brazilian-led United Nations Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH) took over "restoration of order."

But there was a backlash of indignation against the coup and occupation from many Latin American and Caribbean nations. CARICOM issued a statement March 3 which expressed "dismay and alarm" about the coup, noting the "public assertions made by President Aristide that he had not demitted office voluntarily" and demanding "an investigation under the auspices of the United Nations to clarify the circumstances leading to his relinquishing the Presidency." CARICOM, which had proposed an international force to protect Aristide's government from "rebels" and "restore order," refused to take part in the post-coup Multilateral Interim Force and called for Aristide's "immediate return."

CARICOM also "questioned the legality of the American-backed move to install Mr [Boniface] Alexandre as president," reported The Economist on March 4. CARICOM Chairman and Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson said that the coup "sets a dangerous precedent for democratically elected governments anywhere and everywhere, as it promotes the removal of duly elected persons from office by the power of rebel forces."

A March 9 cable by Nassau's Charge d'Affaires Witajewski provides a glimpse of the damage control that Washington carried out in the face of such outrage. Witajewski reports on a March 8 meeting that he and his Political Officer had with Dr. Eugene Newry, the Bahamian Ambassador to Haiti.

Contrary to Prime Minister Christie and Foreign Minister Mitchell, Ambassador Newry was favorably disposed toward the coup. Perhaps due to his many "contacts with the opposition," Newry was "pleasantly surprised with the transition now occurring" in Haiti and thought "it was a good sign that the Haitian people overall had focused their mistrust and dislike on the ex-President," although he did "fear [...] that Aristide's support network would re-group in time for the next set of elections while the Opposition coalition would fall apart fall once the 'negative force,' i.e., Aristide, disappeared from the scene as an effective player," wrote Witajewski. (Newry also "did not think that Aristide's attempts to regain support via press encounters in the Central African Republic [where he was exiled at the time] would impact on future Haiti developments.")

Accordingly, Newry "downplayed incendiary phrases in Caricom's statement on Haiti such as expressing 'alarm and dismay' as matter-of-fact descriptions of members' disappointment" and "claimed that Caricom is not 'angry' with the U.S. involvement in the departure of Aristide, but rather was 'surprised' by the abrupt decision-making, and Caricom's lack of involvement," the cable said.

Newry also predicted "that Caricom will be satisfied as long as their 10-point action plan remains the basis for post-Aristide Haiti." (Washington set up a "Tripartite Commission" and a "Council of Wise Persons" as earlier proposed by CARICOM.) Newry "concluded [that] Caricom needs to get over its pique because 'like a river, things must move on', and he understood that Haiti cannot advance without the help that only the United States with the ancillary support of other 'major powers' such as Canada and France could deliver," the cable said.

Newry told the Embassy what it wanted to hear, but Witajewski, in his comments, also was aware that the Bahamian "was perhaps overreaching in trying to put a positive spin on Caricom's March 3 statement on Haiti and reflecting more of the real politik position that The Bahamas takes regarding Haitian migration than the more ideological position of some of the other, less affected, Caricom members."

CARICOM gets real
The Christie government's "realism," as Witajewski called it in this cable, was apparent in another from April 6, 2004, when the Ambassador reported on Foreign Minister Mitchell's backpedaling during a March 29 lunch meeting.

Mitchell "pursued his agenda of downplaying the consequences of a division between Caricom and the United States on Haiti," Witajewski wrote. "Underlying many of Mitchell's arguments was the premise that Caricom/The Bahamas as small countries take (and are entitled to take) principled stands while the United States necessarily engages in real politik."

Mitchell said that northern Caribbean nations like the Bahamas are "cognizant of the importance of their relations with the United States and thus are more careful in balancing their interests with Caricom and the U.S." while southern Caribbean nations "are guided by political agendas."

Sensing he had his guest on the defensive, Witajewski asked Mitchell "to clarify Caricom's call for an investigation into the circumstances of Aristide's resignation, [and] Mitchell sought to downplay its significance," the cable said. Mitchell "said that he personally envisioned the 'investigation' as equivalent to resolution of a 'routine credentials challenge' to a government such as occurs at the UNGA [U.N. General Assembly] or another committee."

However, Mitchell did have the temerity to say "that the United States overreacted to Jamaica's offer to let ex-President Aristide reside in the country and to Caricom's declarations," Witajewski wrote. "He appeared to be arguing that Caricom was entitled to express its views and not necessarily be held accountable for them. Mitchell also claimed that despite Caricom's verbal shots at the United States over recent events in Haiti, there would be little net impact on overall U.S.-Caricom relations... as long as the United States didn't 'overreact.'"

Mitchell upped the ante when he "insisted that the United States should not be concerned with, or opposed to, Aristide's presence in the Caribbean," a reference to Bush administration officials' remarks that Aristide should get out of Jamaica and the hemisphere. Mitchell "argued that a perceived 'Banishing Policy' has racial and historical overtones in the Caribbean that reminds inhabitants of the region of slavery and past abuse."

Unfazed, Witajewski "inquired on what would happen if Aristide were to meddle with Haitian internal affairs and give his supporters the impression that he is still a player in the future of Haiti," which he had every right to do. But Mitchell immediately became defensive and "was emphatic that Jamaica will not allow Aristide to play such an intrusive role and would 'deal' with Aristide if such a situation were to arise," the cable said.

Keeping the pressure on
Perhaps also afflicted with the "realism" that governed Bahamian policy, other countries offered their support to the U.S. campaign against Aristide. For example, in a Nov. 22, 2004 cable, Guatemala's acting Foreign Minister Marta Altolaguirre told the Embassy there that she "agreed wholeheartedly with [the] U.S. assessment" of Haiti and "volunteered that her personal view was that Aristide had been a 'disaster' and could play no useful role in Haiti's future."

Nigeria, after "consultations" with Washington, also "offered Haitian ex-president Aristide refuge in Nigeria for a few weeks before moving on to another destination," a March 23, 2004 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Abuja explains. The cable notes that Nigeria "has a history of offering asylum to fleeing leaders" from collapsed African dictatorships (like Liberia's fallen strongman Charles Taylor). This was a transparent attempt to associate Aristide with such leaders.

After Aristide left Jamaica for exile in South Africa on May 30, 2004, the U.S. government worked overtime to keep him out of Haiti and even the hemisphere, rendering him a virtual prisoner-in-exile, even though the Haitian Constitution and international law stipulate that every Haitian citizen has the right to be in his homeland.

When Dominican President Lionel Fernandez suggested in a statement at a hemispheric conference nine months after the coup that Aristide should return and play a role in Haiti's democracy, the United States reacted angrily, saying in a cable that Fernandez had "put a big front wrong in advocating the inclusion in the process of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide."

The U.S. Ambassador to the DR "admonished" Fernandez "in a pull-aside at a social event."

"Aristide had led a violent gang involved in narcotics trafficking and had squandered any credibility he formerly may have had," U.S. Ambassador Hertell told him, according to a Nov. 16, 2004 cable.

"Nobody has given me any information about that," Fernandez replied.

No charges were ever filed against Aristide for drug trafficking, although his lawyer Ira Kurzban asserts Washington has tried. "The United States government has spent, literally, tens of millions of taxpayer dollars trying to pin something, anything on President Aristide," Kurzban told Pacifica's Flashpoints Radio earlier this month. "They've had an ATF investigation, a tax investigation, a drug investigation, and now apparently some kind of corruption investigation. The reality is they've come up with nothing because there is nothing."

Under the heading "Aristide Movement Must Be Stopped" in an August 2006 cable, U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Janet Sanderson described how former Guatemalan diplomat Edmond Mulet, MINUSTAH's head, "urged U.S. legal action against Aristide to prevent the former president from gaining more traction with the Haitian population and returning to Haiti."

At Mulet's request, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urged South Africa's President "to ensure that Aristide remained in South Africa," where Aristide and his family were living under an arrangement with the government there.

In 2005, the Lavalas Family planned large demonstrations to mark Aristide's birthday. The U.S. Ambassador to France met with the French diplomatic official Gilles Bienvenu in Paris to discuss the possibility of Aristide's return.

"Bienvenu stated that the GOF [Government of France] shared our analysis of the implications of an Aristide return to Haiti, terming the likely repercussions 'catastrophic'," wrote U.S. ambassador Craig Stapleton. "Initially expressing caution when asked about France demarching the SARG [conveying the message to the South African government], Bienvenu noted that Aristide was not a prisoner in South Africa and that such an action could 'create difficulties.'"

Stapleton swiftly overcame Bienvenu's reluctance. Bienvenu agreed to relay U.S. and French "shared concerns" to the South African government, under the "pretext" (i.e. veiled threat) that "as a country desiring to secure a seat on the UN Security Council, South Africa could not afford to be involved in any way with the destabilization of another country."

The Frenchman went even further, according to the July 1, 2005 cable: "Bienvenu speculated on exactly how Aristide might return, seeing a possible opportunity to hinder him in the logistics of reaching Haiti," Stapleton wrote. "If Aristide traveled commercially, Bienvenu reasoned, he would likely need to transit certain countries in order to reach Haiti. Bienvenu suggested a demarche to CARICOM [Caribbean Community] countries by the U.S. and EU to warn them against facilitating any travel or other plans Aristide might have. He specifically recommended speaking to the Dominican Republic, which could be directly implicated in a return attempt."

Five days later in Ottawa, two Canadian diplomatic officials met with the U.S. Embassy personnel. "'We are on the same sheet' with regards to Aristide," one Canadian affirmed, according to the July 6, cable. "Even before these recent rumors, she said, Canada had a clear position in opposition to the return of Aristide."

Canada shared the message with "all parties... especially the CARICOM countries," as well with South Africa.

But "the South Africans reportedly questioned whether it is fair to encourage Lavalas to participate in the elections without their most important leader being on the ground," the cable said. "They are not convinced of the good will of those who would exclude him being there."

Aristide's exclusion from Haiti during post-coup elections was essential, because Washington was fully aware of his continuing popularity. U.S. Ambassador James Foley admitted in a confidential Mar. 22, 2005 cable that an August 2004 poll "showed that Aristide was still the only figure in Haiti with a favorability rating above 50%" and thus "Aristide's shadow continues to hang over the movement."

So the Embassy's dilemma was how to keep Aristide in exile but still mobilize the Lavalas base because, as Foley noted, the "degree to which the Lavalas constituency participates in the election will be a large factor in the legitimacy of the elections, and we are therefore following developments inside the movement closely." They found an answer to their dilemma in the man once considered Aristide's "twin," René Préval.

Préval remains bitter
The de facto post-coup Haitian government that followed Aristide and persecuted his supporters resolutely opposed his return. Then René Préval, formerly Prime Minister in 1991 under Aristide, emerged as the frontrunner to become president (for the second time) in Haiti's 2006 election. U.S. Ambassador Sanderson was reassured that "In all his private dealings, Préval has consistently rejected any further association with Aristide and Lavalas, and bitterly denounced Aristide in conversations with the Charge and other Embassy officers."

In her December 2005 profile of Préval, she commented "We see no credible evidence that Préval is prepared to reconcile with Aristide or Lavalas leaders."

Publicly, Préval maintained that Aristide was free to exercise his constitutional right to return to Haiti. Lavalas supporters voted for him in droves, expecting he would facilitate Aristide's homecoming. He did not.

The next year, Préval began to worry that Lavalas would dominate the next legislative election, take control of the government, and pave the way for Aristide's return. He met with Marc Bazin, a former World Bank economist, presidential candidate, and long-time reliable partner of the U.S. Embassy, who relayed the conversation to the U.S. Ambassador.

"Préval seemed preoccupied with Aristide, asking Bazin for his advice," Sanderson wrote in a September 2006 cable. "(Bazin suggested that Préval travel to South Africa to tell Aristide personally that the political situation was too delicate for his return. Préval responded that 'the foreigners' would never stand for his visiting Aristide. This was, we trust, Préval's way of discounting a monumentally bad piece of advice from Bazin.)"

When rumors swirled that Aristide would relocate to Venezuela, Préval told the Ambassador "that he did not want Aristide 'anywhere in the hemisphere,'" Sanderson noted in an October 2008 cable. The U.S. was concerned but did not believe the rumors to be credible.

There was no change in Washington's policy of blocking Aristide's return with the Obama administration's arrival. Aristide himself held a press conference the day after the January 12, 2010 earthquake saying he wanted to return to help with Haiti's recovery. "As far as we are concerned, we are ready to leave today, tomorrow, at any time to join the people of Haiti, share in their suffering, help rebuild the country, moving from misery to poverty with dignity," he said, close to tears.

Vatican joins the fight
The U.S. Embassy's Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) met with his counterpart at the Vatican to discuss the earthquake and relief efforts days later. A Jan. 20, 2010 cable reports, "In discussions with DCM over the past few days, senior Vatican officials said they were dismayed about media reports that deposed Haitian leader -- and former priest -- Jean Bertrand Aristide wished to return to Haiti... The Vatican's Assesor (deputy chief of staff equivalent), Msgr. Peter Wells, said Aristide's presence would distract from the relief efforts and could become destabilizing."

Wells called Archbishop Bernardito Auza in Haiti, who "agreed emphatically that Aristide's return would be a disaster." The Vatican "then conveyed Auza's views to Archbishop Greene in South Africa, and asked him also to look for ways to get this message convincingly to Aristide. DCM suggested that Greene also convey this message to the SAG [South African government]."

U.S. efforts to block Aristide from returning to Haiti continued up until the day he was heading to the jet that would fly him back to Port-au-Prince. UN Secretary Ban-Ki Moon and President Obama both phoned South African President Jacob Zuma asking that he stop Aristide from leaving South Africa before the March 20 run-off election, according to the Miami Herald.

"Former President Aristide has chosen to remain outside of Haiti for seven years," State Department spokesperson Mark Toner told reporters days before Aristide boarded his plane, echoing the Bush administration's claim that Aristide had "chosen" to leave Haiti in the first place.

"To return this week could only be seen as a conscious choice to impact Haiti's elections," Toner said, as if Aristide did not have the right to do so while the U.S., which virtually dictated the results, did. "We would urge former President Aristide to delay his return until after the electoral process has concluded, to permit the Haitian people to cast their ballots in a peaceful atmosphere. Return prior to the election may potentially be destabilizing to the political process."

A hero's welcome
Aristide's return on March 18 did nothing of the sort. "The problem is exclusion, the solution is inclusion," Aristide said during a brief return speech at the airport after landing. And then he made his only reference, however oblique, to the election from which his party was barred: "The exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas is the exclusion of the majority."

Two days later the second round of Haiti's election went off without a hitch, but with record low participation by Haitians. Some polling stations in Port-au-Prince were empty, with stacks of ballot sheets sitting around, hours before they closed. Less than 24% of registered voters went to their polls.

As the tropical sun came out the morning of Aristide's return in Port-au-Prince, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. A 42-year-old mechanic, Toussaint Jean, had come from the opposite end of the city with a few friends to stand outside the airport's chain-link fence.

"The masses of people haven't really mobilized," he said, "because for three days they've been saying he's coming, but the Americans are putting pressure, and we think he can't return soon. Today you don't see very many people. The people are doubting - is he coming, is he not coming?"

Nonetheless, by the time Aristide had touched down and finished his speech, perhaps 10,000 people (estimates vary) had gathered outside the airport in an exuberant demonstration. They jogged alongside his motorcade waving Haitian flags and placards bearing Aristide's visage, then scaled the wall surrounding Aristide's home and poured into its grounds until there was no room left to move. The crowd even climbed the house's walls and covered the roof.

Sitting in an SUV just 20 feet from the door to his hastily repaired but mostly empty house ("rebels" had ransacked it after the coup), Aristide and his family waited until a crew of Haitian policeman managed to clear what resembled a pathway through the crowd. First his wife and two daughters emerged from the car and dashed inside the home.

Finally Aristide, diminutive in a sharp blue suit, stood up in the car doorway and waved. The crowd roared in excitement and surged around him. The path to the door vanished. His security grabbed him and shouldered their way through the sea of humanity until they got him to the house's door, through which he popped like a cork, clutching his glasses in his hands.

After a coup, kidnapping, exile, diplomatic intrigue, and his rapturous welcome, Aristide was finally back home.

(Please consider making a contribution to Haiti Liberté, which is in financial straits due, in part, to expenses incurred in obtaining the WikiLeaks cables. You can donate on our website or click on the link .)

All articles copyrighted Haiti Liberté. REPRINTS ENCOURAGED. Please credit Haiti Liberté.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Stigma of Cholera

(Photo by John Carroll)

In Haiti’s rural mountain communities, the stigma and fear surrounding cholera can be as life altering – and at times as life threatening – as the disease itself. The physical suffering of uncontrollable diarrhea and vomiting is often accompanied by severe social isolation, rejection by family and friends and job loss.

Partners in Health

Second Wave of Cholera

(Photo by John Carroll--July, 2011)

Sent from Roger Annis--

Three articles/comments to follow:

Haiti “overwhelmed” by second wave of cholera

By Dr. Lousie Ivers, July 19, 2011

Dr. Louise Ivers is PIH's Senior Health and Policy Advisor. She has been an integral part of Partners In Health and Zanmi Lasante's leadership team in Haiti for nearly a decade. From a PIH news release (reproduced below): "In April, the cholera clinics we support treated 3,932 patients. In June, these same clinics treated 14,425 patients."

Early one morning in October 2010, the senior Zanmi Lasante team met in Mirebalais. Ophelia Dahl, our executive director, traveled from Boston to convene a meeting and everyone was there. Things felt like they had begun to stabilize since our lives had been turned upside down by the earthquake the previous January. So much of the first half of the year had been spent responding to the crisis while trying to keep our usual activities in Haiti going – the team was tired, but mostly there was a feeling that we had achieved our new rhythm of work. With new activities in Port-au-Prince, plans for a rehabilitation center and a residency program in St Marc, mental health care activities scaling up, and a training hospital under construction in Mirebalais, the new ZL pace was hectic but everyone’s spirits were optimistic.

I received a call from one of our colleagues to say that he would be late to the meeting – 100 people suffering from diarrhea arrived at St Marc Hospital overnight, and he was going there first to investigate. Arriving an hour into the meeting, he passed a note to ZL’s medical director and me expressing his concern. We feared what would soon be confirmed: cholera had arrived in Haiti.

From that moment – and for the next three months – we returned to crisis mode, with the often-overwhelming task of trying to provide excellent care for the patients arriving at our facilities and in the surrounding communities. Once again, the PIH/ZL teams kicked into overdrive with teams working night and day. Alerts came through by email, text message and phone from all over the Central and Artibonite departments asking for help. Our medical teams walked upwards of six hours at times to set up oral rehydration posts in distant villages, only to hear that cholera had spread another three-hour walk farther up the mountain.

PIH/ZL currently operates 8 cholera treatment centers, 7 treatment units, and 3 oral rehydration posts.

One saving grace in the early phases of the cholera outbreak in Haiti was that there were many partners to work with and PIH/ZL relied heavily on partnerships wherever we could – with other international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the Ministry of Health, whose work we support on a daily basis. Working with other organizations can be challenging and this crisis was no exception, but there was no doubt that we needed this level of support and collaboration. Health coordination meetings at that time were chaotic as many partners cramped into an overcrowded room in St Marc to yell out what they would do or were doing.

A striking difference now as the epidemic has once again spiked is that many of these partners are no longer working in the Central or Artibonite departments. Citing lack of funds for cholera activities, they have downsized, disappeared, or retreated, handing off their activities ‘to the government.’ In these departments, where the health budget is miniscule, this largely means handing off activities to Zanmi Lasante. This has made the second peak of the epidemic all the more challenging and stressful on our staff and our resources.

The Mirebalais cholera treatment center saw five times as many patients in June as in May (an increase from 3,932 to 14,425 patients--ed.). Alerts are the norm again – with emails and text messages reporting areas with minimal access to services suffering from high numbers of cases. Zanmi Lasante’s community teams are on high alert – spending hours on foot to reach difficult, isolated places, providing oral rehydration solution, training community health workers, distributing water purification tablets, disinfecting houses – but it is never enough. The cholera treatment centers were overwhelmed last month and although staff are dedicated, hardworking and committed, it is never enough. Once again, Zanmi Lasante is back in crisis mode, doing whatever we can to address the issues at hand, but it is never enough.

Since last year, we’ve been advocating to use all of the possible tools against cholera in a complementary and comprehensive way to reduce deaths and to minimize the impact of the disease. In places where the water and sanitation situation is dire, where plans to provide a safe public water system do not exist, it’s hard to imagine that cholera will ‘burn out’ in Haiti soon.

We are delighted that our proposal, in collaboration with GHESKIO (a Haitian, Port-au-Prince based NGO), to pilot the use of cholera vaccine in Haiti was supported last week by the Pan American Health Organization. Now we have to set about securing doses of the vaccine and implementing the project with the Haitian government. We hope that, while focusing still on the fundamental cause of the cholera epidemic, which is lack of clean water and sanitation, we can make some progress and save some lives with the complementary use of another tool in the armamentarium.

Visit PIH's Haiti cholera update page:

From Molly Howard, on the comments section of the PIH website: "If I wasn't on the PIH listserve, I wouldn't know about this. I'm astounded that this isn't being reported in the global media. This is why I support PIH - because they never overlook Haiti."

From Jeffrey Gill: "Having been in Cange this past January, seeing first hand the work that ZL/PIH does in Haiti, I have become even more convinced that they are the NGO of choice when it comes to supporting health issues in Haiti, Rwanda, or any of the places they operate. I, too, will post this on FB. Had not heard about this new outbreak in any of the other news media."

From Ken Berv: "Still hard to understand that after all the private, NGO, and foreign government aid after the earthquake that sanitation and water were not implemented in anticipation of the epidemic. Since it began, it appears that little progress has been made. Why is this? As wonderful as PIH is, how can it put out a roaring blaze which is overwhelming, using a garden hose to extinguish a conflagration, when imperative preventive public health and infrastructure seem lagging far far behind? What is happening in that arena? Not much, apparently, and why not?

Cholera update from Port au Prince:

July 19, 2011--Several days ago, I spoke by phone to the director of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) for Haiti, Sylvain Groulx. He said that during the month of June, cholera cases have been in decline in Carrefour, a large district of Port au Prince with a population of more than 500,000. This followed a big upsurge in cases in April-May. On June 28 in Carrefour, an MSF doctor also told me th at cases have been in decline during June. However, both he and Mr. Groulx stressed that there is no reason whatsoever to think that cases could remain on the decline. There are simply not adequate potable water systems, a vaccination program and other preventive measures to provide confidence that cholera will be brought under control in the immediate term.

There are three cholera treatment centers in Carrefour, including one operated by MSF. A fourth center, operated by the Canadian Red Cross, was closed in April after four months of operation. There is no general hospital or medical center in Carrefour. Patients who fall seriously ill must be referred to underfunded facilities elsewhere in Port au Prince.

A very informative blog on cholera and health care in Haiti is written by Dr. John Carroll of Peoria, Illinois for the Peoria daily newspaper, He serves at the cholera treatment facility at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in the Artibonite River valley in central Haiti. His personal blog has even more entries, He reported to me today that while cholera cases have been declining recently at Albert Schweitzer, this is not the case for the PIH-operated clinics located in the same region of Haiti.

Roger Annis
Vancouver BC

Cholera Triples in Haiti: An Urgent Message from Partners In Health

(This item was previously posted to the CHAN mail list)
July 19, 2011--As you may be aware, a second wave of cholera is battering Haiti. What you may not know is just how severe it is. The numbers are dramatic:
* In April, the cholera clinics we support treated 3,932 patients.
* In June, these same clinics treated 14,425 patients.

The reason for this spike is simple. Flash floods—a side effect of the rainy season, deforestation, and decades of ineffective foreign aid—have spread the disease among water sources. In the absence of water and sanitation systems, or in many cases even basic latrines, cholera runs unchecked.

Faced with a crisis that strains their capacity to the breaking point, the staff of Zanmi Lasante, Partners In Health’s Haitian sister organization, continue to demonstrate astounding stamina and strength. In a recent message posted on the PIH blog Dr. Louise Ivers, who has long helped lead our efforts in Haiti, underscored the urgency:
“The Mirebalais cholera treatment center saw five times as many patients in June as in May. Alerts are the norm again—with emails and text messages reporting areas with minimal access to services suffering from high numbers of cases. Zanmi Lasante’s community teams are on high alert—spending hours on foot to reach difficult, isolated places, providing oral rehydration solution, training community health workers, distributing water purification tablets, disinfecting houses—but it is never enough. The cholera treatment centers were overwhelmed last month and although staff are dedicated, hardworking and committed, it is never enough. Once again, Zanmi Lasante is back in crisis mode, doing whatever we can to address the issues at hand, but it is never enough.

Since last year, we’ve been advocating to use all of the possible tools against cholera in a complementary and comprehensive way to reduce deaths and to minimize the impact of the disease…We are delighted that our proposal, in collaboration with GHESKIO (a Haitian, Port-au-Prince based NGO), to pilot the use of cholera vaccine in Haiti was supported last week by the Pan American Health Organization. Now we have to set about securing doses of the vaccine and implementing the project with the Haitian government.” Today, I’m writing to ask for your help in raising public awareness of this crisis."
PIH/ZL cannot end the cholera epidemic alone. But with your help we can ensure that Haiti stays in the hearts and minds of the United Nations officials, international donors, and the millions of Americans who donated following the January 12, 2010 earthquake. Learn more about cholera in Haiti and how it can be stopped:

Andrew Marx
Director of Communications Partners In Health

(Photo by John Carroll)

Friendly reminder -- If you would like to subscribe to (or unsubscribe from)
the CHAN email list, just go to:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

WikiLeaks and Father Gerry Jean-Juste

Father Gerry Jean-Juste, a Haitian priest, was a friend of Maria's and mine.

We went to Mass at his church--St. Clare's in Ti Kazo.

Father fed many kids in St. Clare's neighborhood and during his homilies he begged for St. Jude's intercession for long-suffering Haiti.

He was a totally courageous man and was thrown in jail in Haiti on trumped up charges.

Maria and I visited him in prison in Port-au-Prince in December, 2005. Father was a sick man and his labs looked too good--like they were fabricated--when I reviewed them. He told us that his Haitian doctor told him there was nothing wrong with him.

For those who follow Haitian politics, the rest of the Father Gerry story is known except....WikiLeaks now reveals how the Haitian Interim Government and the US Embassy were very involved with the fate of Father Gerry.

See below:

id: 50935
date: 1/27/2006 15:53
refid: 06PORTOFSPAIN137
origin: Embassy Port Of Spain
classification: CONFIDENTIAL
destination: 06PORTAUPRINCE185
DE RUEHSP #0137/01 0271553
O 271553Z JAN 06
----------------- header ends ----------------

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/27/2016

Classified By: DCM, Eugene P. Sweeney for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (C) SUMMARY: Ambassador Austin met Interim Haitian Prime
Minister Latortue and informed him of the desirability of
immediately releasing Father Jean-Juste from prison.
Ambassador also asked about the outcome of Latortue's meeting
with Prime Minister Manning. Latortue stated that he would
call Port au Prince immediately upon arrival in Miami to seek
immediate resolution of the Jean-Juste case. Latortue also
reported that Manning was supportive of Haiti and wants to
help, but Manning's hands are tied by CARICOM recalcitrance.
Latortue floated the idea of stationing a U.S. naval vessel
near Haiti in the run up to the election to provide a
psychological counterweight to the drug and arms runners who
are likely to intimidate the population away from the ballot
box on February 7. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) Ambassador Austin met with Interim Haitian Prime
Minister Gerard Latortue (with Poloff as note taker) on
January 26 and urged him to seek immediate release of Father Jean-Juste's release in light of his rapidly deteriorating
medical condition. Ambassador also sought to determine the
outcome of Latortue's meeting with Trinidad's Prime Minister
Manning. Latortue responded that he would call Port au
Prince immediately upon arrival in Miami (his next
destination) to urge Jean-Juste's immediate release, but
noted that the case was now in the Judiciary, where he had no
control over it. Latortue also reported that his meeting
with PM Manning was productive, with Manning expressing
support to bring Haiti back into the CARICOM fold. Latortue
made no mention of CARICOM election observers, but did report
that CARICOM Foreign Ministers might make a trip to Haiti on
February 1, after their January 30-31 meeting in Jamaica.

3. (C) On the Jean-Juste case, Latortue reiterated the
information contained reftel, that the Judiciary was ready to
bring Jean-Juste to trial and to conclude the trial within a
day. If found guilty and sentenced to the minimum six
months, Jean-Juste has already served the time. If sentenced
to longer, the government has amnesty papers ready to ensure
that Jean-Juste receives medical treatment immediately in the
United States. Latortue expressed his frustration with
Jean-Juste and his lawyers, calling them political activists
who are doing all within their power to embarrass the interim
government. He claims that they are dealing in bad faith,
and that Jean-Juste would prefer to die in prison rather than
give the government the chance to do the right thing. "We
fight to do the right thing," said Latortue, "but we're made
to look like the devil."

4. (C) Latortue stated that his meeting with PM Manning was
a success, with Manning expressing strong support to bring
Haiti back into the CARICOM fold. Latortue also stated that
he will invite a CARICOM delegation to visit Haiti in the
near future to set the stage for Haiti to rejoin CARICOM as
early as July. He mentioned the upcoming CARICOM Foreign
Ministers' meeting in Jamaica, and said that there is a
possibility for the ministers to travel immediately from
Kingston to Port au Prince to see for themselves Haiti's
progress. Manning himself is committed to helping Haiti, but
has difficulty mobilizing CARICOM due to the opposition of
St. Lucia and St. Vincent.

5. (C) Manning and Latortue also discussed the possibility
of bringing T&T private investment to Haiti. Specifically,
they discussed involvement in the cement sector. T&T has
already expressed interest in this sector, but lost a bid
previously because their company would not pay bribes.
Latortue reaffirmed that the only way to improve the quality
of life in Haiti was through private sector involvement; an
area that he intends to remain active in after the permanent,
elected government is sworn in.

6. (C) Turning to what the U.S. could do to help, Latortue
reiterated his idea for "psychological support" in the form
of a naval vessel to be stationed near Haiti in the days
before the election, with helicopters flying overhead to emphasize U.S. support (reftel). Latortue believes this is
necessary because the drug and weapons runners have the
population running scared; a U.S. presence would serve to
reassure the population and encourage them to vote on
February 7. Ambassador likened Latortue's recommendation to
the British colonial strategy of having naval vessels cruise
within sight of citizens of countries that may have been
contemplating insurrection. He advised that while the
strategy may be effective, it may also backfire because some
observers may interpret it as U.S. interference intended to
influence the outcome of the election.
=======================CABLE ENDS============================

Still in Shock

(This photo is of a Haitian man who came into the Cholera Treatment Center at Hopital Albert Schweitzer a couple of weeks ago. He was very weak from vomiting and diarrhea. I had just put a rubber glove on his right wrist to act as a tourniquet so I could insert an angiocath and give him IV fluids. All of a sudden he fell off the chair vomiting in front of me. This was not unusual in the admission room. jc)

From Crof's Blog:

Tracking all this misery has taught me something about how the world reacts: The darker the victims, the shorter the attention span of the white world. Problems like HIV, dengue, malaria, and cholera afflict untold millions of brown and black people. But let a few hundred Europeans suffer a violent E. coli infection, and the (white) industrial nations fly into a panic. Once they've blown a few hundred million euros in wasted cucumbers, they regain their composure.

Meanwhile, millions of brown and black children and adults die unnoticed in squalor and the smell of shit. As La Rochefoucauld cynically said, "We always find the strength to bear the misfortunes of others." And that ensures that the misfortunes will continue.

--Crawford Killian

Wednesday, July 20, 2011



Christine is a Haitian Hearts patient who lives in Les Cayes.

She had a VSD repair when she was a baby.

She is pictured here holding a picture of my brother and his kids when they hosted Christine in their home many years ago.
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Luckner Accepted for Heart Surgery!

See this post from the Peoria Journal Star website.

Haitian Hearts Patient Operated in the Dominican Republic

This is Kewine.

I examined Kewine for the first time in June, 2010.

Kewine was living in a tent in Carrefour, just outside of Port-au-Prince.

She was born with a Ventricular Septal Defect. This is a hole between the lower chambers of the heart that allows blood to go in the wrong direction.

Kewine was operated in the Dominican Republic in June, the hole in her heart was patched, and she is now back in Haiti.

Her mother is very happy with the results.

And so are we.

Thank you to EVERYONE involved in Kewine's care.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Maria's Post on Cholera

Here is an article Maria posted on some of my "thoughts-on-site" (for what they are worth) regarding cholera.

(Photo by John Carroll)

Monday, July 04, 2011

Becoming American

This is a guest post from my wife, Maria. On this Independence Day, her article reflects on three lives and what they teach us about being American.

Young La first experienced America on the receiving end of a bomb. He was seven-years-old, and he and his family huddled in a cave near their home in Cambodia. In 1970, the Vietnam War expanded to Cambodia as President Nixon ordered airborne attacks to try to root out the Vietnamese soldiers who were taking refuge in this neutral country. Bombs exploded for five hours as two planes dove and dropped their deadly cargo around Young’s family. "But the soldiers were in the jungles, not the towns," explained Young. The bombs killed villagers and animals, turning the water of their ponds black. During a break, Young and his family ran out into the country where his father had a threshing machine. As they were running, another menacing plane approached. "Keep running!" urged Young's mother. "Don't look back!”

They spent most of the next decade dodging bombs, bullets, and the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge. They farmed, made wine, and worked on a bicycle assembly line to survive. They moved from Cambodia to the border area of Vietnam and back again to avoid the violence, as both countries warred with themselves. “I spent most of my early life in Cambodia,” said Young. “All of it was war.”

Young La’s family chose him to try to get to the United States, as improbable as that journey seemed. They paid a man several ounces of gold to lead Young through the jungles to a UN refuge camp in Thailand. And, here, Young’s luck began to change. He spent only seven months in the camp, unlike his cousin, who spent seven years there, before he got on a Pan Am flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong to Seattle and onto the Midwest. The country that inflicted chaos and destruction on Young’s family and nation would become his new home.

A friend of my mine has a philosophy about being American. He says if you believe in the American idea, than you are an American, no matter where you live. The fundamental American idea is expressed with power and economy in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” This truth doesn’t only apply to people who live within our borders. Maybe realizing that should be part of being American.

* * * * * * *

Joe Billy McDade is a federal judge, senior status, in Peoria on the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. McDade was born in Texas in 1937, but he didn’t have access to his full rights as an American for another three decades.

McDade’s parents died when he was a young boy, and he and his sister were raised by his paternal grandmother. He experienced one of those life-defining moments when he was ten. “My grandmother was only two generations out of slavery and she was subservient to whites,” recalled McDade. “In those days, we had peddlers who would go from house to house selling things. A white peddler came to our door peddling brooms. My grandma bought a broom. I said, ‘Mama J, we can't afford to buy a broom.' We needed that money for our rent. I thought, 'When I grow up, I'm going to be an attorney so that I don't have to buy a broom.' In my mind, lawyers were the epitome of justice."

McDade attended Jack Yates High School, one of three black high schools in Houston, and graduated in 1955, a year after the Brown decision, desegregating schools. Upon the recommendation of a teacher, he applied to and was accepted at Bradley University in Peoria.

McDade played basketball at Bradley and earned a bachelor's in economics and a master's in psychology. He attended law school at the University of Michigan. After he graduated in 1963, he interviewed with some of the top national law firms. None of them offered him a job. He then interviewed with Peoria law firms. "They took me out to lunch and told me no. That was the difference between them and the national firms; they took me to lunch to tell me no." Later on, when McDade returned to Peoria, he was still well known for his success on the hardwood at Bradley. "One man was happy to have my autograph, but then told me, 'No, I won't rent to you.' It was painful."

As late as 1964, the law in the United States did not reflect the core American ideal of equality. The Civil Rights Act redressed this inequity by preventing baseless discrimination and promoting fairness and equality of opportunity. All are created equal was a long time in coming.

* * * * * * * *

In 2005, my husband, Dr. John Carroll, was making rounds at Grace Children’s Hospital in the Delmas section of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. For almost 30 years, John has spent several months a year working in this medically understaffed county. He went to a baby bed and put his arms out to the toddler sitting there. There was no interest; however, the child in the next bed observing this interaction, pulled himself to his feet and put his arms up. It was the moment upon which our son’s fate turned.

John lifted the boy out of the bed. As he carried him around the ward, he thought, “This child doesn’t really look sick.” He approached the nurse’s station and as if reading his mind the nurse said to him, “Abandone.” A couple months later, we would begin the lengthy, complex American and Haitian processes of international adoption.

We moved the boy we were calling Luke from the hospital to an orphanage. We visited him every couple of months on our regular trips to Haiti, as the paperwork wound its way through the system. He loved playing with my watch, staring at the words in a textbook as if he knew how to read, and gobbling down the protein bars we brought him.

For a poor, parentless boy in a poor country, adoption was a miracle route to U.S. citizenship. Since 1989, around 300,000 children from outside the United States have been adopted by American citizens. This may sound like a lot until you consider that UNICEF estimates that there are 163 million orphans worldwide. Luke’s citizenship wasn’t an accident of birth; it was an accident of circumstance.

* * * * * * * *

After McDade couldn't get a job in Peoria, he was hired in Chicago by the U.S. Department of Justice anti-trust division. He worked there for 18 months and returned to Peoria, having been offered a job in the executive training program at First Federated Savings and Loan. He later went on to work at the Greater Peoria Legal Society, which provided legal services to the poor. Under his leadership, the office expanded from one attorney to four attorneys. He worked in private practice from 1977 to 1982, when he was appointed associate judge in the 10th Circuit District. In 1988, he ran as a Republican for resident judge of the 10th District. He received more votes for this position than anyone running from either party had ever received before. So, though he may not have been able to get a job at one of the law firms in town, "it appeared that I was popular among my customers," said McDade.

Reflecting on the journey that took him from his hardscrabble roots in Texas to his position as a judge, McDade said, "In my life, I've been given opportunities. I was born in such poverty and had restrictions on my freedom, and now to be a U.S. Federal judge. . . it's an example of what can happen under our system. My appointment as a federal judge--you don't get this just because of merit. A lot of people are capable and there is a lot of luck involved."

* * * * * * *

Luke is eight now and no longer the 25 pound 3-year-old with the orange-tinged hair whom we brought home from Haiti. He is a third grader who does well in his school work and received an award for demonstrating Christian leadership. He loves to wrestle with his dad and play soccer. He was born a go getter and now lives in a place that channels and rewards that quality. He wouldn’t mind being president, but we will have to expand our idea of who is eligible for this position and then write it into the Constitution for that to happen. It’s not an impossibility.

When we landed with Luke at the Miami International Airport on February 19, 2007, he automatically became an American. A couple weeks later, Luke received a letter from President George W. Bush, congratulating him on his citizenship. The letter contained these words:

“Americans are united across the generations by grand and enduring ideals. The grandest of these ideals is an unfolding promise that everyone belongs, that everyone deserves a chance, and that no insignificant person was ever born. Our country has never been united by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by principles that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests, and teach us what it means to be citizens. Every citizen must uphold these principles. And every new citizen, by embracing these ideas. makes our country, more, not less, American.”

* * * * * * * *

Young La was resettled by Catholic Charities in West Peoria, Illinois. For awhile, he lived in their residential facility, Tha Huong, which in Vietnamese means home away from home. Young would ride his bike in the neighborhood and one day, he met my mother-in-law, Mary. She was interested in Young and offered to tutor him in English. They became friends and some years later when Young needed a place to live, she told him he could stay with her so he could save some money. Mary helped find him a good job, too, constructing meat smokers. In turn, he could fix anything in the house, cooked delicious meals, and became like a loyal son to her.

Young graduated from Illinois Central College with an associate’s degree in electronics. He became an American citizen in 1992 and several years later returned to Cambodia where he married a lovely, smart, young woman, Chhoung Tang. He returned to Peoria and began the arduous visa process to bring Chhoung to the United States. After a three-year wait, the visa was granted and Young brought his wife to her new home. They now have two darling daughters. They own their home in West Peoria.

A couple of years ago, Young’s wife Chhoung, took her oath of citizenship in Judge McDade’s courtroom, like Young did 17 years earlier. As the judge entered the courtroom, all stood. "Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes! God save the United States and God save this honorable court," cried the clerk.

A statement was read by an immigration official that the gathered individuals had passed an interview and an exam and should be admitted to citizenship upon taking the following oath of allegiance.

"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God."

After the oath, McDade had everyone rise and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Then we broke out into song. Judge McDade told us that he would sing the first verse of "America the Beautiful” and for us all to join in if we wanted to. We sang it and it went so well, McDade said, "That was really nice. Let's sing it again." So we did.

"I just love that song," said McDade. "It hits me where it's good to be hit once in awhile."

Next, we heard from dignitaries who assembled to address the new citizens. There were representatives from Rep. Aaron Schock's office, Sen. Roland Burris's office, the Social Security Dept., the Daughters of the American Revolution, the American Legion, Post #2, and the League of Women Voters. All offered their welcome and words of advice to the new citizens.

At the end of the ceremony, Judge McDade made some remarks.

"I get a little sentimental on these occasions," he said. "As a judge, I am usually doing things that are injurious to people, like sending them to jail. I don't like to do this, but it's necessary."

"We just want you to know that we're glad you're here. I appreciate that this has been a tough road. You did it the right way. To a certain extent, I wish that all Americans could go through this process. Some of us who are native born don't fully appreciate the benefits of citizenship like you do."

Nodding at the dignitaries, McDade encouraged the new citizens to get involved. These volunteer organizations are "the essence of participatory democracy. Join them because that's how things get done in this country. You will bring something very unique to these groups. Your involvement is a great opportunity for this country to learn from you."

"This is one of the most important tasks I have,” said McDade. “I'm helping this country grow by helping with the naturalization process." Because all Americans, “with the exception of two groups, are ancestors of immigrants or immigrants: the American Indian and Black Americans who were brought here in chains. Some of you came from countries where freedom is not complete. . . yet."

The judge then read through a list of all the countries represented by the new citizens and asked them to stand as he read their country's name. "I want to get a good look at you:

"Bolivia, Cambodia, Canada, People's Republic of China, El Salvador, India, Korea, Macedonia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, Singapore, the UK, Sudan, France, and Vietnam."

One by one, or in the case of China several at once, all rose as their country of origin was called.

"Now turn around and look at each other," said McDade. "Go ahead. Do it. Look at each other. You're beautiful. This is America. You see how different you are. You are all equal as Americans. You've got a lot of other countries and everyone looks alike: their skin color, languages, customs, religion are all alike. In this country, that is not true. Almost everyone is different."

My husband John, along with other friends and relatives of the new citizens, was up with the new citizens, taking pictures. I was back in the visitors’ gallery with Young and his daughter Annie, who had fallen asleep in her father's lap.

Judge McDade continued his remarks: "In America, we believe strongly that freedom and liberty are precious things. With freedom, you can do good things or bad things. But you have the opportunity to create your own life here, the way you want to. Everyone has this opportunity. I grew up without any parents, picking cotton in the South. I was subjected to discrimination, some of it legal. Now, I'm one of 1,000 federal judges. One of your descendents will hold important positions in the government--perhaps even president."

"Now, I'm going to be the one to tell you this, because you'd find out eventually. Some people don't want you here. They don't want me here. They want people who only look like them and think like them. This country is big enough for all of us. We need you to make America better. I'm glad you're here. I expect a lot out of you. I expect you to make this country better than you found it."

And with that citizenship certificates were handed out and Judge McDade was the first person to shake the new Americans' hands. He told them he would stay in the court room for pictures as long as they wanted.

America for all, and all for America.