Haiti’s government, while controlled by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his party, spent $7.3 million between 1997 and 2002 lobbying the U.S. government as more than 80 percent of the country was impoverished.
During this time, U.S. funding to Haiti — a typical measure of lobbying success — declined, and its economy foundered, fueling his opposition’s successful effort to depose Mr. Aristide last week for the second time in 15 years.
“I’ve always been critical of the Haitian government for that. It was a waste of money,” said Robert Maguire, Haiti specialist at Trinity College in Washington.
“Some of it is scandalous. I think the Aristide government would have been better served if it had spent the money to build its embassy [staff] up. All the Caribbean governments do it. They all think they need some big name to lobby in the United States.”
Haiti’s island neighbor, the Dominican Republic — with a population of 8.4 million compared with Haiti’s 7 million — spent $1.18 million on lobbying for the same period, according to the most recent records required to be filed with the Justice Department by foreign agents.
Honduras, a country of 6.5 million, spent around $815,000 on lobbying over that five-year period, the records show.
“What he got for that money is for [Democratic U.S. Reps.] Maxine Waters and Charlie Rangel to speak out for him,” said Garry Pierre-Pierre, founder and publisher of Haiti Times. “Otherwise, I’m not sure what he got. There was some money that was disbursed through this effort. But most of the money even then went for nongovernmental projects.”
Mr. Rangel and Mrs. Waters, as well as the unseated president himself, this week have accused armed U.S. security agents of forcing Mr. Aristide to resign under the threat of violence. The Bush administration has refuted the claim, saying Mr. Aristide signed paperwork relinquishing his post before being flown from the country for his own safety.
“I don’t even like Aristide and I have not talked to any Haitians about Haiti except Aristide,” Mr. Rangel said. “I just like the rule of law. We have never said that we supported Aristide.”
Mrs. Waters did not return calls, and the Haitian Embassy in Washington refused to comment on the lobbying efforts and the “kidnapping” claims.
Haiti, the world’s oldest black republic, has been a project of black activists and lawmakers in the United States, many of whom are friends with Mr. Aristide. After being thrown out of office by an internal coup in 1991, Mr. Aristide found asylum in Washington until he was reinstated by a U.S.-led effort in 1994.
Some, including Mrs. Waters, have made trips to the country over the past month as rebels descended on the president’s palace in the capital city of Port-au-Prince.
The lobbying money Haiti spent is accounted for in general statements, such as “contacted members of Congress, U.S. government officials and Haiti government officials to discuss ways to move the democratic process forward in Haiti, resumption of aid to Haiti and other issues regarding Haiti,” according to the records.
Most of the lobbying money, $5.38 million in that period, went to the Florida law firm of Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger & Tetzeli, which served as Haiti’s general counsel in the United States.
The lobbying firm headed by Ron Dellums, former California congressman and one-time leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, received $571,326 in 2001 and 2002. Its efforts included discussing “legislation involving Haitian refugees with a member of Congress and congressional staff members,” according to a report filed in 1998.
Another firm, headed by Hazel Ross-Robinson, wife of Randall Robinson, founder of the black activist TransAfrica Forum and a longtime advocate for Mr. Aristide, received $367,967.
In 1999, Mrs. Ross-Robinson was paid $46,117 for “publiciz[ing] developments pertaining to the foreign principal’s attempts to achieve and maintain political and economic stability.”
Phone calls to Mr. Kurzban regarding his work for Mr. Aristide were not returned. The Robinsons and Mr. Dellums could not be reached for comment. And the Haitian Embassy in the District declined to discuss the expenditures.
“The Haitian government spent large sums of money in the U.S. with the hope of breaking the logjam that was holding up hundreds of thousands of dollars to help the country,” said Charles Ogletree Jr., a board member of TransAfrica Forum, an advocacy group for Africa and Caribbean nations.
“In hindsight, it is easy to say that it could have been spent in other ways,” the Harvard law professor said.
During Haiti’s lobbying efforts, U.S. aid dwindled, from more than $200 million a year in the mid-1990s to around $100 million in 1998, to $52 million last year. In 2001, Haiti’s budget showed revenues of $273 million with expenditures of $361 million.
After Mr. Aristide was reinstated to the presidency in 1994, he stepped down a year later as required by law and was replaced by a fellow Lavalas Party member, Rene Preval. But observers and Mr. Aristide’s opponents said the former Roman Catholic priest continued to control the country’s purse strings through his party until his disputed re-election in 2000.
“One expects that if you are spending millions of dollars, you are speaking to influential people who have jurisdiction over the issues and causes,” said Sheila Krumholz, research director for the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan D.C. group that tracks money in politics.
If the measure of success is to secure some measure of assistance from the United States, the lobbying effort didn’t achieve much, Miss Krumholz said.
In addition to the expense of lobbying, the Miami Herald reported that government officials in Haiti and Washington asserted that Mr. Aristide was paying between $6 million and $9 million annually for 60 or so bodyguards provided by an American security firm, the Steele Foundation.
The Haitian government in April 2003 also signed a $35,000-a-month contract with the Florida law firm of Tew Cardenas, for the firm to negotiate an election of the country’s constitution, which was to be held in January.
“Our scope was to coordinate these elections,” said Al Cardenas, a partner in the firm and former chairman of the Florida Republican Party. The effort was halted in the fall, he said, after factional politics in Haiti sank the plan.
“There are so many different parties there and such great mistrust in the country about elections,” Mr. Cardenas said.
Tom Carter contributed to this report.