Letter from Ira J. Kurzban, Esq.
January 2, 2004
Ms. Lydia Polgreen
New York Times
New York, New York
Dear Ms. Polgreen:
I write to you and your editors because of numerous factual errors contained in your story on the January 1st celebrations in Haiti marking the 200 anniversary of that country's independence. I assume that the factual errors arose from your lack of familiarity with the political situation in Haiti or because you have been provided a good deal of misinformation. The article that I will address below was published on Friday, January 2, 2004 in the International section of the New York Times.
First, your article states that: "Mr Aristide was re-elected to the presidency in voting that many observers said was flawed" and that as result "the country had been locked in political crisis." You further stated that: "The dispute led international donors to suspend $500 million in aid¶" These statements are inaccurate. Such erroneous statements regarding Haiti often arise from the common confusion between the May 2000 parliamentary elections and the November 2000 presidential election. In May, 2000, there were 30,000 candidates who ran for 7,500 positions ranging from mayors and department representatives to Senators and members of the lower chamber. Of the 7,500 elections, the Organization of American States challenged the methodology used in counting 8 senate seats. While the independent electoral council (called the "CEP" in Haiti) claimed that the methodology used in counting the victors in those elections had been used in previous elections, the OAS observers disagreed. The OAS report is clear that there were no credible allegations of wide spread fraud in the elections.
In any event, no responsible international organization or observers contended that Mr. Aristide's election which occurred in November, 2000 was invalid or tainted in any manner as you suggested in your article. I invite you to review the OAS reports. It was clear in November, 2000 that Mr. Aristide's election was not marred by fraud or allegations of impropriety.
As soon as Mr. Aristide took office in February 2001 he used the power of his Presidency and as the head of his party to encourage the senators from the 8 contested seats to step down and pave the way for a new election. The seven senators from his party, Lavalas, agreed to do so. The eighth senator, who came from an opposition party, declined to do so.
The second error in your article is the claim that the international embargo was the result of Mr. Aristide's election. Again, this is erroneous. The international embargo began toward the end of Mr. Preval's term and had nothing to do with Mr. Aristide's election. Indeed, the United States government has repeatedly taken the position that Mr. Aristide is the democratically elected president of the nation. The embargo was continued under President Aristide's term under the claim that funds would not be released until a settlement was reached with the opposition, notwithstanding the fact that the seven senators had resigned. The embargo, which continues to exist today, and makes it impossible for the government to have any success in alleviating the poverty you address in your article, is therefore not in response to solving the political impasse. That impasse was solved when the senator's stepped down. Nor can the financial embargo be seriously linked to progress in making the country more democratic, because the World Bank, the United States, France and the European Union, who today refuse to provide any direct assistance to the Government of Haiti, provided financial assistance to the Duvaliers during their dictatorship, as well as the military governments that succeeded Duvalier. I leave it to your judgment and good sense as to the true reasons for the embargo. In any event, they are completely unrelated to President Aristide's election.
The third error in your article is simply baffling. I assume you attended the January 1st ceremonies at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince based upon the information contained in your story. The Miami Herald stated that there were "hundreds of thousands" of Haitians at the National Palace. Even the most minimum reasonable estimate of the number of supporters at the National Palace on January 1st, had to range conservatively from 50,000 to 100,000 people. Your description that Aristide spoke to a "small but enthusiastic crowd" simply blinks reality. I have taken the liberty to send photographs to a professional service that will provide me and your editors with a true count as to the number of people who appeared at the National Palace. Although the numbers game can be tricky and I am not assuming you had any bias in writing your article, one would literally have to be blind to say that there was a "small" crowd at the National Palace.
Your article also states that President Mbeki was the only head of state to attend the ceremonies. Your article states: "But it was a measure of Mr. Aristide's political isolation and Haiti's persistent troubles that only one [head of state] showed up." Your own article contradicts this assertion as you state later that the Prime Minister of the Bahamas attended the ceremonies. Indeed, as you were at the National Palace, I am sure you heard Prime Minister Perry Christie state that this was an historic occasion because it was the first time a head of state from the Bahamas had visited the Republic of Haiti. I understand that this may not detract from your general statement, but it certainly is misleading to single out Mr. Mbeki, to ignore Prime Minister Christie, and to ignore the scores of delegations from around the world who attended the celebration.
Finally, there is the question of violence. Your article was remarkably silent on the violence perpetrated by the opposition on January 1st and before that date. Opposition members burnt a police car on January 1st. They blocked all three major roads into the center of Port-au-Prince by setting fires in the road and placing boulders throughout the city. I am sure you witnessed all of these events if you were in Port-au-Prince. Yet your article makes the opposition appear as law abiding democratically-motivated individuals who are subjected to tear-gassing by the police on one hand and violence by Aristide supporters on the other. Had you inquired sufficiently, you would have learned that more supporters of Lavalas have been killed since December 5, 2003 than in the opposition. I am not condoning violence on either side. However, it is misleading to suggest that the violence is simply directed at one side as opposed to the other.
In light of the numerous errors in the article and as the counsel for the Government of Haiti in the United States, I kindly request that these errors be corrected publicly in a manner the New York Times deems appropriate.
As I am certain there was no intention on your part to be biased in the presentation of the facts, I would be honored to have the opportunity to discuss with you any of these or other matters that are of interest to you concerning the Government of Haiti.
Ira J. Kurzban, Esq.
The New York Times corrects two points in its Bicentennial story
LYDIA POLGREEN and has added these two paragraphs as an addendum to the original article:
"An article on Friday about the bicentennial of Haiti's independence misidentified the election that outside observers called flawed, a finding that led to the suspension of $500 million in foreign aid to Haiti and contributed to the current political crisis there. It was the May 2000 legislative election, in which the Organization of American States disputed the counting method used in eight Senate races, not the November 2000 election of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, which the O.A.S. said was not fraudulent."
"Because of an editing error, the article also referred imprecisely to the size of the crowd that attended the bicentennial celebration outside the presidential palace. While the government estimated it in the hundreds of thousands, and outside journalists' estimates ranged as low as 15,000, the crowd was not small.'