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What Really Happened with the Clinton Foundation and Haiti?

The Clinton Foundation faces accusations it mishandled funds intended for Haiti earthquake relief, as the Justice Department investigates whether the Clintons gave or promised policy-related favors to foundation donors. (Photo: Current Affairs)

As a result of the recent comments by President Donald Trump — in which he called Haiti and African nations “shithole countries” and said, “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out” — the issue of the Haiti’s plight has resurfaced, but within a different context. The Clinton Foundation has been accused of corruption and misuse of funds, including allegations the foundation committed fraud in Haiti.

As The Hill reported this month, the Justice Department is conducting an investigation in Little Rock, Ark., into whether the Clinton Foundation engaged in “pay to play” politics while Hillary Clinton served as Secretary of State under Obama. Specifically, the FBI is investigating whether the Clintons promised or fulfilled any policy-related favors to foundation donors, or if donors gave to the charity for the purposes of receiving access to Clinton or particular outcomes from the government. Trump, whose campaign and supporters adopted the phrase “Lock her up!” has called for investigations into his former political rival. When he was on the campaign trail supporting Trump, now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions accused Hillary Clinton of using her position leading the Obama State Department to extort foreign governments to benefit the Clinton Foundation.

A November 2, 2016, report from the BBC immediately before the election noted that Trump has criticized the Clintons’ work in Haiti. “I was at a Little Haiti the other day in Florida. And I want to tell you, they hate the Clintons because what’s happened in Haiti with the Clinton Foundation is a disgrace,” Trump said in the final presidential debate with Clinton. In the 1980s, Haiti accused former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier of laundering money he stole from Haiti by purchasing an apartment in Trump Tower. Trump sold the Trump Tower apartment to Duvalier through a Panamanian shell corporation in 1983, a practice which hides the finances and identities of buyers.

The January 2010 earthquake in Haiti killed an estimated 220,000 people. International donors pledged an estimated $13.3 billion in aid to the Caribbean nation in the wake of the devastation. Along with Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, former President Bill Clinton, who was UN Special Envoy to Haiti, became co-chairman of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC). From January 2010 through June 2012, $9.04 billion in international funding was raised — $3.04 billion from individuals and companies, and $6.04 billion from bilateral and multilateral donors. Of the $6.04 billion, 9.6 percent, or $580 million went to the Haitian government, while 0.6 percent or $36.2 million went to local Haitian organizations. The lion’s share, 89.8 percent of $5.4 billion went to non-Haitian organizations, including private contractors, international NGOs, and military and civilian agencies of donor countries, including the Pentagon, which charged the State Department hundreds of millions of dollars.

Critics have pointed at the Clinton Foundation, alleging the charity had control over the billions of dollars in aid to Haiti. During the 2016 presidential campaign, the Clintons’ involvement in Haiti translated into mixed feelings in the Haitian-American community about Hillary Clinton, ranging from low enthusiasm to disappointment and anger. As secretary of state, Clinton supported the presidency of Michel Martelly, intruding into Haitian electoral politics by flying to Haiti in 2011 to pressure President René Préval to allow Martelly to participate in a two-person runoff. Martelly won. As president, Martelly selected Special Envoy Bill Clinton’s chief of staff as prime minister, and gave important positions to people with criminal backgrounds, and was known for corruption and violent government repression, and attempting to install his successor. Mrs. Clinton’s brother, Tony Rodham, became a member of an advisory board of a mining company that owns a gold mine in Haiti and was introduced to the company through the Clinton Global Initiative arm of the Clinton Foundation. All of this fueled speculation that the United States and the Clintons were installing a puppet government and engaging in profiteering and drew the ire of Haitians and Haitian-Americans.

According to right-wing commentator and financial analyst Charles Ortel in an interview with journalist H.A. Goodman in Huffington Post, the hurricane created an opportunity for the Clinton Foundation and its allies to raise considerable resources, but with little accounting of these funds. “The Clintons seem to be ‘merchants around misery’, operating as a kind of ‘Robin Hood in Reverse’ — there are many disasters that they seem to have exploited,” Ortel said. “In brief, the Clinton Foundation solicited massive sums to ‘fight HIV/AIDS’ but did not check carefully enough to ensure that these drugs were supplied in intact form, and neither adulterated nor watered-down,” he added. The Nation also reported the “hurricane-proof” classroom trailers the foundation used in Haiti were structurally unsafe and laced with formaldehyde, a product of the same company sued by Hurricane Katrina victims.

Reflecting the anger against the Clintons among the Haitian-American community, on January 12, the Committee to Mobilize Against Dictatorship in Haiti (Komokoda) held a protest outside the Clinton Foundation headquarters in New York City. Speaking at the protest was Dahoud Andre, president of Komokoda and a radio host.

The organization says it continues to protest the Clintons because “there is still no justice despite the billions they have stolen through Bill Clinton’s position (as) UN Special Envoy to Haiti in March of 2009 in the aftermath of 4 major storms which devastated parts of our country; through the post 2010 earthquake Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission; through foreign governments and corporations funneling hundreds of millions (most of them undisclosed) for favors from then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Clinton Foundation under the guise of helping Haiti; and through the Clinton-Bush Fund,” Komokoda said in a press statement. In light of the announcement by the Justice Department, the group says it remains vigilant and demands a serious investigation, and that any crimes are fully prosecuted and punished. “It is itself a crime that this Justice Department prosecuted and got a conviction against Corrine Brown, Florida’s first African-American Congressperson since Reconstruction for corruption related to $800,000 from her ‘One Door for Education’ charity and yet it took them this long to even start an investigation of the Clintons,” the statement added.

Komokoda’s claims of the Justice Department’s tardiness in looking at the Clintons notwithstanding, Bill and Hillary Clinton have together and separately weathered multiple federal and congressional investigations ranging from Whitewater in the 1990s through the probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of private email servers as secretary of state that wrapped up in 2016 during her campaign for president. The latest probe, a renewal of an investigation that began under the Obama administration, has found the Clintons prepared to respond.

The Clinton Foundation told Atlanta Black Star that it raised $30 million for the Haiti earthquake relief efforts, and did not have control over the bulk of the $9 billion raised for Haiti. “Overall, we’d point out that many of the claims about the Clinton Foundation and Haiti have been found to be flat-out false,” the Clinton Foundation press office said in a statement. “All funding collected by the Clinton Foundation for Haiti was distributed in full to aid groups on the ground, and we have documented which groups received this funding and what it was for. The Clinton Foundation did not take a penny in overhead for our work.”

The foundation also pointed to various refuted claims, including Trump’s assertion that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did favors for Clinton Foundation donors, and that “Hillary Clinton set aside environmental and labor rules to help a South Korean company with a record of violating workers’ rights set up what amounts to a sweatshop in Haiti.” Politifact depicted his claim as “mostly false.” BBC reported that the foundation and the State Department arranged with the Haitian government for a $300 million, 600-acre factory to produce clothing for retail giants such as Target, Walmart and Old Navy. Several hundred farmers were evicted to clear the land, and the South Korean textile company Sae-A Trading Co. later donated between $50,000 and $100,000 to the foundation. While Clinton said the facility would produce 100,000 jobs, only 8,000 were created.

The Washington Post rebutted another allegation, that Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation raised hundreds of millions of dollars for a hospital that was never built. Further, Jonathan Katz, who was the Associated Press correspondent in Port-au-Prince during the earthquake, wrote a piece in Slate stating that “neither I nor anyone else has found the coveted evidence of either Clinton making off with vast sums of money from Haiti or the relief effort.” Katz offers the historical backdrop of U.S. intervention in Haiti and elsewhere, and the failed earthquake recovery in Haiti, which led to spiraling inflation and spikes in violence. “No two individuals, including Haiti’s own leaders, enjoyed more power and influence than the Clintons in the morass of the failed reconstruction following the deadly Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake, when a troubled country managed to go from catastrophe to worse,” he said, arguing that there is no proof the goal was to financially benefit the Clintons.

Katz did find fault with Hillary Clinton for pursuing “badly flawed” vision of prosperity for Haiti focused on “foreign investment in tourism, construction, and low-wage garment factories” which would mean low wages and little money flowing in the local economy, rather than the stated goal of reliving Haitians from poverty and preventing future refugee crises. That model, he argued, has been pursued by the U.S. since the 1960s. “The system isn’t designed for them; it’s for us. The low wages that the U.S. embassy helped suppress are the reason we can enjoy a steady stream of $9 Mossimo camisoles and $12.99 six-packs of Hanes T-shirts. Even U.S. military uniform parts get made in Haitian sweatshops,” Katz added.

Snopes has debunked two conspiracy theories that have circulated in conservative circles and among misinformation news sites, specifically that former Haitian official Klaus Oberwein died of a suspicious suicide days before he was scheduled to testify against the Clinton Foundation or Hillary Clinton, and that a “U.S. surgeon who exposed ‘Clinton Foundation corruption in Haiti’ was found dead in his home under suspicious circumstances.” And Bill Clinton denied any claims that the Clinton Foundation used money designated for Haiti for personal means.

While there is disagreement over the role of the Clinton Foundation in Haiti, it is certain that billions of dollars were raised for Haiti. The American Red Cross raised $500 million for Haiti, spent one-quarter of the funds on internal expenses and only built six houses. The people of Haiti, the first Black republic, have suffered and continue to suffer. Everyone has failed Haiti.

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