- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A top Haitian lawyer is perplexed by U.S. Ambassador Kenneth H. Merten, who has stoked controversy over whether Haitian President Michel Martelly holds U.S. citizenship in violation of Haiti’s constitution.

Stanley Gaston, president of the Port-au-Prince Bar Association, on Monday questioned why Mr. Merten invoked U.S. privacy laws when he discussed Mr. Martelly’s citizenship at a news conference with the Haitian president last week.

“Listen to me good,” Mr. Gaston told reporters in the Haitian capital. “If President Martelly is not an American citizen, then the United States doesn’t have to go into this debate at all.”

At last week’s news conference, Mr. Merten said: “President Martelly is not American. He is Haitian.”

The ambassador, however, also appeared to obfuscate matters by adding that U.S. privacy laws are “very strict.”

“I don’t have the right to discuss the file, whether they are a president or one of my friends, without the permission of the person concerned,” Mr. Merten was quoted as saying.

His reference to a “file” was not explained.

A Haitian parliamentary commission is investigating allegations that Mr. Martelly might hold dual U.S.-Haitian citizenship or might have renounced his Haitian citizenship before he ran for president last year.

In either case, he would be ineligible to hold his office.

Before he ran for president, Mr. Martelly was an entertainer who frequently performed in Miami. He owns a house in Palm Beach, Fla.

Mr. Gaston noted that the ambassador’s comment adds to the confusion of the situation, which was muddled earlier by a statement from a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on a recent visit to Haiti.

Cheryl Mills, Mrs. Clinton’s chief of staff, also referred to U.S. privacy laws in a discussion with a member of the Haitian commission investigating Mr. Martelly.

“According to the law of the United States that protects the private lives, American institutions do not have the authority to give information concerning its citizens,” Ms. Mills was quoted as saying.

Mr. Gaston noted that American officials have no responsibility to abide by U.S. privacy laws if they are not discussing U.S. citizens..

“When one speaks, a lawyer listens closely with a lot of interest, analyzing what you are saying,” Mr. Gaston said. “What interests me are the things that did not have to be said.”

TRADE BARRIER HELPS PUTIN

Leading members of the Russian political opposition are urging Congress to repeal a Cold War-era trade amendment they say is helping President-elect Vladimir Putin and undermining democratic reform.

In an open letter published in Moscow, the seven opposition leaders said the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment also hurts Russia’s ability to compete in international markets and increases the country’s reliance on oil and other fossil fuels controlled by Mr. Putin and his cronies.

“Some politicians in the United States argue that the removal of Russia from Jackson-Vanik would help no one but the current Russian undemocratic political regime. That assumption is flat wrong,” they said.

“At the end of the day, those who defend the argument that Jackson-Vanik’s provisions should still apply to Russia in order to punish Putin’s anti-democratic regime only darken Russia’s political future, hamper its economic development, and frustrate its democratic aspirations.”

The U.S. trade barrier was established to punish the Soviet Union for refusing to allow Jewish citizens to immigrate.

The letter was signed by: Sergey Aleksashenko, Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Ryzhkov of the People’s Freedom Party; Alexander Lebedev, an independent businessman and politician; Vladimir Milov, leader of the Democratic Choice movement; Alexey Navalny, a lawyer and civic activist; and Ilya Ponomarev of the party A Just Russia.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.