Battle for Power in Haiti Extends to Lobbying in Washington
WASHINGTON – The power struggle in Haiti after the assassination of the country’s president has spilled over into K Street, where rival Haitian politicians, business leaders and interest groups are turning to lobbyists to lead a battle through costly and growing power of attorney to influence the United States.
Documents, interviews and communications among Haitian politicians and officials show a rush on a wide range of Haitian interests to hire lobbyists and consultants in Washington and use those already on their payroll in the hope to gain American support in a time of leadership turmoil in Haiti.
A group textual discussion in the days following the murder of President Jovenel Moïse, which included Haitian officials, politicians and American lobbyists, showed them strategies to counter American critics and potential rivals for the presidency and look for ways to blame the murder, according to copies of messages obtained by The New York Times and confirmed by some of the participants. The conversation began before the assassination and originally included Mr. Moïse, although it appeared to take on a more frantic tone after he was shot dead at his home this month.
The texts and other documents help show how lobbyists from companies such as Mercury Public Affairs – which was paid at least $ 285,000 in the second half of last year by the Haitian government – are working with allied politicians to position their successors following the assassination. .
In addition to Mercury, lobbying records show that the Haitian government pays a total of $ 67,000 per month to three other lobbyists or their companies, some of whom have retained additional lobbyists on subcontracts.
At the same time, competing political factions are looking for ways to develop support in Washington for their own candidates. A former Haitian lawmaker has had a series of talks about hiring a lobbyist to push the United States to recognize the president of the Haitian Senate as the country’s interim leader. Another potential leader has expanded the U.S. political team he has assembled to seek support from Congress and wealthy donors for a possible presidential campaign.
Several other Haitian politicians and interest groups have approached lobbyists, political consultants and riggers offering fees of up to $ 10 million or more for their assistance.
A prominent lobbyist, Robert Stryk, signed a contract in the days following the assassination to represent an important Haitian business interest.
Mr Stryk – who has worked as a sort of arranger for foreign clients from whom other lobbyists keep their distance, including targets of sanctions and criminal investigations in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Venezuela – does did not want to identify his client in Haiti. But he said he was helping the client attract private investment from the United States to Haiti in an effort to shape the debate over the country’s future.
“All the different personalities are vying for a job, in the hopes that the United States could raise their stature somehow,” said Christopher Harvin, a former Bush administration official who works as lobbyist and political consultant for clients around the world.
It is not yet known what effect influencer campaigns might have. But the surge in lobbying is the latest example of the scale and scope of Washington’s industry of influence and its role in seeking influence over foreign policy. Especially in countries heavily reliant on the United States for financial aid and other support, governments and deep-pocketed interests have long paid generously for help in Washington – or at least the appearance of that. here – sometimes leading to criticism that they are more focused on winning Washington’s favor rather than fixing problems at home.
The momentum is brutal in Haiti, where a quarter of the population suffers from acute hunger, despite billions in international aid since an earthquake devastated the country in 2010.
The Haitian government had increased its spending on lobbying Washington in the months leading up to the assassination as Mr. Moïse faced mounting criticism of his efforts to draft a new constitution and hold elections as the country was rocked by violence, with thousands of protesters demanding he leave the office.
As members of Congress voiced their criticism, a Haitian government lobbyist recommended in the text message discussion group days before the assassination that “we should make a formal request” for the Haitian prime minister to “visit and meet with Blinken. in Washington, ”referring to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.
The chaotic power struggle created by the murder of Mr. Moses has only intensified the campaign for support from the United States government.
The United States initially recognized as Haiti’s interim leader Claude Joseph, Prime Minister of Mr. Moïse, whose leadership claim was promoted by the country’s embassy in Washington and Mercury, its main lobbying cabinet.
But the 10 remaining senators in Haiti questioned Mr Joseph’s legitimacy almost immediately, saying they wanted to form a new government. They argued that Mr Joseph had already been replaced as prime minister by the appointment of Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon, and said Senate chief Joseph Lambert should become president.
Last weekend, the United States transferred support for Mr Henry from Mr Joseph, who resigned as prime minister on Monday and said he would become foreign secretary. These measures drew praise from the State Department, but criticism from Mr. Lambert.
Mr. Harvin said he had been approached by three potential Haitian clients since the assassination but had not signed any of them. He said the mystery surrounding the still unsolved murder of Mr Moses increases the risk around the lobbying derby.
“What if you spend six weeks positioning a candidate as credible, and then it turns out to have something to do with it?” Mr. Harvin said.
The text chat obtained by The Times provides insight into how various actors in Haitian politics plan to influence opinion in the United States.
One of the attendees was Laurent Lamothe, a former Prime Minister of Haiti, who had hired a public relations firm to promote a book he published last month that places him among the most effective Haitian leaders in these countries. last years.
Another was Damian M. Merlo, a lobbyist and consultant who had worked on the presidential campaigns of Mr. Moïse and his predecessor in the presidency, Michel Martelly, who is considered one of those fighting for control. Mr. Merlo had accompanied Mr. Martelly on a trip to Washington in late June to interview other lobbyists, and he also has a contract of $ 25,000 per month to lobby for the Haitian Embassy in Washington.
They were joined in the panel discussion by a pair of Mercury lobbyists as well as an influential Haitian politician and the country’s ambassador to Washington.
Bocchit Edmond, the Ambassador, uploaded a clip to the group chat of a video interview in which Representative Andy Levin, Democrat of Michigan was asked if his opposition to US support for the Haitian armed forces could have contributed to the circumstances which caused the assassination.
“He deviated and was obviously caught off guard,” Mr. Edmond wrote. “We should really use this clip to show how much it undermines the security of the country.”
Mr. Levin, who is co-chair of the House Haiti Caucus, criticized the lobbying effort. “Haitian government funds should be spent to uplift the Haitian people and not to argue in Washington,” he said in an interview.
The assassination of the Haitian president
Stanley Lucas, a political agent who was a close ally of Mr Moïse, wrote in the chat that an opposition political party, Inite, “appears to be the political arm of the assassination and conspiracy”, and called Mr. Lambert “the Coordinator of Inite” and Mr. Henry “member of Inite”.
Mr Lamothe appeared to blame the assassination on a handful of politicians and wealthy businessmen, including Reginald Boulos, a doctor-turned-businessman who was openly preparing for his own presidential campaign for months before the ‘assassination.
In a voicemail message sent to the chat, Mr Lamothe noted that Mr Boulos, who already had lobbyists and consultants working for him, had added a lobbyist at the time of the assassination to promote a deal under which Mr. Lambert would become president. .
Insisting in the group chat for a public relations campaign to demand action to find the ‘brains’ of the assassination – one of whom he said was Mr Boulos – he asked lobbyists:’ Can we put the plan running quickly.
“Let’s talk about it tonight when I see you,” replied Morris L. Reid, partner of Mercury Public Affairs.
In an interview, Mr Lamothe said he “cannot go public and name anyone” as the cause of the assassination and claimed his comments in the chat were taken out of context. But neither he nor Mr. Reid responded to questions about the meeting or in the panel discussion. Mr Lucas, who was accused years ago of undermining US policy in Haiti, said in text messages he “strongly” supported his comments and again highlighted what he called possible links between the incumbent Prime Minister, M. the plot to assassinate the president.
Mr. Edmond, the Haitian ambassador, dismissed questions about Mr. Lamothe and Mr. Lucas’ efforts to blame opposition politicians for the assassination.
“Everyone in the group is free to write something, to write down their feelings,” he said in an interview. “As you can see, I did not write it.”
He also defended his country’s spending and lobbying activities.
“Many countries pay for lobbyists here in Washington. It’s Washington culture, ”he said.
In a press release issued by a US public relations firm that it retained for $ 5,000 a month as of May, Mr. Boulos said the assassination was “a dark day for Haiti”, while calling to free and fair elections. The lobbyist with whom Boulos contracted for $ 5,000 per month the day after the assassination, Arthur Estopinan, issued a statement expressing shock at the assassination and suggested that it could be linked to “a increasing violence around drug trafficking “.
Mr. Boulos also hired Joe Miklosi, a former Democratic politician from Colorado, on a $ 10,000-per-month contract in May to raise funds and raise awareness in the United States about a future presidential campaign.
A week after the assassination, however, Mr Boulos held an emotional call with some of his US consultants asking them to step down, explaining that he was suspending his presidential efforts out of concern for his safety, according to Mr Miklosi and d other relatives. with the call.
Mr Miklosi said Mr Boulos’ political party “was moving forward” and predicted that whoever holds power in Port-au-Prince would likely devote significant energy to Washington.
Haitian politicians, he said, believe “that whoever blesses the United States, whether it is a Republican or Democratic administration, he is the one who will win.”
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