Clinton E-Mails Point to U.S. Intervention in 2010 Haiti Elections

by Jake Johnston (CEPR)

“The situation cannot afford Washington to sit on sidelines.
They elected him and they need [sic] pressure him. He can’t go unchecked,”
Laura Graham, then the Chief Operating Officer of the Clinton Foundation, wrote to Bill Clinton in early 2012.

            Graham was
referring to the increasingly erratic, and potentially dangerous, behavior of
Haitian president Michel Martelly. When she said “They elected him,” she was
referring to the U.S. government, which intervened through the OAS to change
Haiti’s first round election results, putting Martelly into the second round.
The e-mail –  one of many Graham sent to
Bill Clinton’s deputy chief of staff on Feb. 26, 2012 –  was sent eventually to Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton and her top aide, Cheryl Mills. The note is perhaps the
clearest evidence to date that key officials, even within the Clinton camp,
viewed the U.S. intervention in the 2010 Haitian election as decisive.

2010 Haitian election was a mess. Held less than a year after a devastating
earthquake, millions of people were displaced or otherwise disenfranchised and
then-president René Préval was accused of fraud on behalf of his preferred
candidate, Jude Célestin. A majority of candidates held an afternoon press
conference on election day denouncing the process and calling for new
elections. But Washington and its allies, who had funded the election, pushed
forward, telling the press that everything was okay. Mirlande Manigat, a
constitutional law professor and former first lady, and Célestin came in first
and second respectively, according to preliminary results, putting them into a
scheduled run-off. Martelly was in third, a few thousand votes behind.

engulfed the capital and other major cities, threatening the political
stability that donors have long desired, but have failed to nurture. With billions
in foreign aid on the table and Bill Clinton overseeing an international effort
at “building back better,” there was a lot on the line: both money and

Martelly’s supporters leading large, and at times violent, protests, the U.S.
turned up the heat by publicly questioning the results just hours after they
were announced. Within 24 hours, top State Department officials were already
discussing with Haitian private sector groups plans to force Célestin out of
the race. “[P]rivate sector have told RP [René Préval] that Célestin should
withdraw … This is big,” then U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Ken Merten wrote the next day.
Merten wrote that he had personally contacted Martelly’s “camp” and told them
that he needed to “get on radio telling people to not pillage. Peaceful demo
OK: pillage is not.” Unfortunately, much of Merten’s message, and those in
response, have been redacted.

Washington’s pressure, the Haitian government eventually requested that a
mission from the Organization of American States (OAS) come to Haiti to analyze
the results. The mission, despite not conducting a recount or any statistical
test, recommended replacing Célestin in the runoff with Martelly. With the
lowest turnout for a presidential election in the hemisphere’s recent history,
and at least 12% of the votes simply missing, any decision on who should be in
a second round would be based on faulty assumptions. (CEPR analyzed all the voter tally sheets
at the time, conducting a statistical analysis of the vote, and later showed
how the OAS recommendation
could not be supported by any statistical

pressure began to mount on the Haitian government to accept the OAS
recommendations. Officials had their U.S. visas revoked and U.S. Ambassador to
the UN Susan Rice even went so far as to threaten to cut aid, even though the
country was still recovering from the devastating earthquake earlier in the

            In late
January 2011, two months after the elections, but before any decision had been
made, Laura Graham wrote to top Hillary Clinton aide
Cheryl Mills
, warning that her boss, Bill Clinton [wjc] would
be very upset if certain visas were pulled: “There are rumors abt ur
second visa list and jmb [Prime Minister and co-chair of the Clinton-led
reconstruction commission, Jean Max Bellerive] being on it. He’s a conflicted
guy and is being pressured on both sides and we believe trying to help. Wjc
will be v unhappy if that’s the case. Nor do I think u need remove his visa.
Not sure what it gets u. Remove elizabeth’s [Préval’s wife] and prevals people.
I’m also staying at his house fyi so exposure in general and this weekend in
particular for wjc on this.”

response, Mills questioned the “message it sends” for Graham to stay at Bellerive’s
house, but Graham replied, indicating a certain coordination between the
Clinton Foundation and the State Department in influencing Haitian politics:
“For the record, I discussed staying at his house w both u and wjc long ago and
was told good strategic value and I’ve [sic] stayed there every time.”

            But being
at Bellerive’s house, with a decision on the election coming any day, would
send an inappropriate signal, Mills pointed out. “Think of all the rumors you
have heard?” Mills asked, “that we want to pressure Célestin out when that is
Brazilian and UN position,” she added as an example. There is no doubt that
high-level Brazilian and UN officials were involved in the decision and efforts
to exclude Célestin. Edmond Mulet, the head of the UN military mission in Haiti
(MINUSTAH), even privately suggested flying Préval out of the
on election day. But it was the U.S. that funded the
OAS mission and that had been applying the most pressure on the Haitian
government, and another e-mail
from Graham to Mills a few days later confirms this. “I think you need to
consider a message and outreach strategy to ensure that different elements of
haitian society (church leaders, business, etc) buy into the mms solution and
are out their [sic] on radio messaging why its [sic] good.”

            The “mms
solution” here surely refers to Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly being
placed in the second round over Célestin, the scenario State Department
officials and Haitian private sector groups had been discussing since the day
after results were announced. “Seems to me IC [international community] needs a
complimentary [sic] message-outreach strategy to support this solution,” Graham
added, noting that the U.S. government was being made out as a “villain.”

            A week
earlier, a separate e-mail reveals,
the Haitian government had proposed cancelling the elections, as many had been
calling for, and running new ones, but the plan was rejected by the EU and
U.S.. The international actors opted instead for the arbitrary removal of
Célestin and moving forward with the “MMs,” two rightist political candidates
who would support the “Haiti is open for business” slogan that emerged after
the quake.

            The e-mail
from Graham came just days before Hillary Clinton would fly to Haiti, in the
middle of the crisis in Egypt, to force the government’s hand. Mills forwarded Graham’s message to
Hillary Clinton
, with a note, “Let’s discuss this on the
plane,” to which Hillary responded simply: “Bill talked to me about this and is
quite worried about what I do and say tomorrow.”

            “As we all
are,” Mills responded, passing along talking points for the following day’s
Haiti trip. “Ask him if he has any thoughts,” Mills wrote, in reference to Bill

            The next
day Hillary Clinton traveled to Haiti and met with Préval. “We tried to resist
and did, until the visit of Hillary Clinton. That was when Préval understood he
had no way out and accepted” it, Bellerive told me in an interview last year.
Martelly won in the second round, in which just over 20% of the electorate

            But the
hoped-for political stability wouldn’t come so easy. After Martelly’s first two
choices for prime minister failed to pass parliament, Garry Conille, who had
previously served as Bill Clinton’s chief of staff when Clinton was UN Special
Envoy to Haiti, became prime minister in September 2011. E-mails reveal
that Graham had been vetting potential prime minister picks as early as June
2011 and had suggested Conille. E-mails show State
Department staff helped to sway parliamentarians on Conille, who was expected
to be the partner that the international community needed in the Haitian
government to help oversee the massive reconstruction underway. But it didn’t
work out that way.

            After just
five months on the job, Conille resigned on Feb. 24, 2012. Two days later,
Laura Graham wrote to Bill Clinton’s deputy chief
of staff, Jon Davidson
. In the e-mail, written while she said
she was with Conille, Graham expressed extreme frustration with Martelly and
pointed the finger clearly at him for the resignation of Conille, who had begun
investigating a number of high-profile reconstruction contracts involving
Dominican firms. Graham also warned that the U.S. must step up and act to rein
in Martelly, or risk the consequences, urging Bill Clinton to “convince” the
U.S. government: “GC [Conille] believes that his resignation offers the IC
[International Community] an opportunity to join in the chorus (media,
business, civil society, parliament) of pressure on MM [Martelly]. He can no
longer use GC as his obstacle. He has to act and show he’s for democracy or
there needs to be consequences. Waiting for this truck w[ith]o[ut] brakes to
hit the bottom of the hill will be too late. You can be helpful in convincing
USG and the IC.”

continued, suggesting Bill Clinton go forward with his investor trip to Haiti,
but also use the time to pressure Martelly. Graham was also concerned that the
State Department was going too easy on their new friend Martelly, whom they had
helped elect: “The U.S. has to push here and I believe some at state,
definitely Merten [US Ambassador], are advising a wait and see attitude. The situation
cannot afford Washington to sit on sidelines. They elected him and they need
[sic] pressure him. He can’t go unchecked. Same thing with UN. Mariano
Fernandez [top UN military official at the time] needs to act more like ‘mulet’
[UN official who helped oust Célestin] than the quiet peaceful guy he is.”

having been in close communication with Mills and other high-level State
Department staff, as well as Bill Clinton, who, as the e-mails clearly
indicate, was kept well informed, was certainly in a position to know just how
influential the U.S. intervention in the 2010 election was. “They elected him,”
is as clear as it gets, though given previous e-mails, perhaps it would have
been more accurate to say “We elected him.” But it’s clear that forcing her
colleague Conille to resign had pushed Graham.

[Martelly] wants GC [Conille] to leave the country,” she began another email
later that same evening. Conille’s “life has and continues to be threatened by
people associated with” Martelly, Graham added, and that Martelly “said himself
he will do all it takes to take” Conille down. Once again, Graham questioned
Merten’s stance regarding Martelly: “The U.S. – Cheryl [Mills] – promised
him American backed security immediately but when he met with Merten yesterday
Merten was not only in the mind frame of ‘well MM is not such a bad guy and
he’s better than previous presidents’ but he didn’t discuss or offer any
security. Every day, GC life and reputation are at risk. The U.S. and or the IC
must go to MM and tell him that nothing is to happen to GC, not even a tree
accidentally falling on him, or MM will face consequences.”

            A few
minutes later Graham writes again, warning of Martelly’s efforts to form armed
militias throughout the country: “I now have seen the actual intel from
MINUSTAH [UN military force] and the evidence of the armed militia training
throughout the country including evidence that the palace is funding and
supporting it. I’m meeting with Mariano Fernandez tomorrow but GC shared with
me this intel last night and its obvious from the documents and the pictures
what is going on here.”

evidence is clear as day and they have already begun parading in the streets
with guns and chanting in carrefour (less than 1 hour from PaP [Port-au-Prince])
and other areas of the country,” Graham adds.

            Finally, an
hour later, Graham sends the last e-mail after viewing Conille’s preliminary
audit, which “details the amount of corruption and the arrogance in they [sic]
way they did it.” Graham continues: “It is the contracts that MM is saying
he will come after GC with everything he’s got to prevent the real details
(presumably including his take) from coming out.”

            The next
day, Oscar Flores, a long-time Clinton aide, forwards all of the messages to
Mills and Hillary Clinton. “Pls print,” Clinton responds.

            But despite
Graham’s concerns and the apparent evidence of corruption and armed militias,
the U.S. continued to stand by the Martelly administration. His term ended in
February 2016, and Graham’s e-mail on Martelly’s lack of democratic credentials
now reads especially prescient. After no elections were held during his first
four years in office, Martelly began ruling by decree in January 2015.
Presidential elections, held last fall, were so marred by fraud and
irregularities that they were entirely scrapped (unlike the controversial
elections in 2010), leaving Haiti without a democratically elected president.
Once again, the U.S. argued for accepting the flawed elections and moving
forward with a second round, this time between Martelly’s hand-picked successor
and an old friend from 2010, Jude Célestin. But this time, the U.S. didn’t get
their way ― entirely new elections are scheduled for this October.

The original version of this article was published on
the Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch blog of the Center for Economic and
Policy Research (CEPR).