Three days before Michel Martelly’s election to the presidency of Haiti, Martelly stepped into a room at a waterfront hotel in Miami, and his party agreed on a name: the Fanmi Lavalas party.
Michael Jackson, a Miami publicist and friend of Martelly’s, and former National Assembly member Jean Dominique Prieto didn’t think the name was good. It didn’t sound like the party’s icon, the popular “mother of Haitian liberation.” It gave them few ideas for slogans.
Their next solution: Have him visit the offices of a Central American cocaine cartel.
“We got almost $40,000 for the trip,” Prieto told the Washington Post in his office on Thursday.
Martelly would go to Panama in the summer of 2010, and officials at a cartel would inform him about some operatives in the jungle. Those operatives might be able to help the prime minister and two senators land a meeting with leaders of the Colombian cartels, the organizers believed.
But the plans didn’t work out. Martelly had never heard of the mafia; it seemed just too out of place.
So in January 2010, when Martelly made a surprise presidential appearance at a rally, one man was waiting: Yanier Tabard, chief of a rebel army that included a group that had once been dedicated to attacking the state. The rebels had been working with the drug cartels in the distant past to grow coca, and they were hungry for victims. But Tabard was not going to leave any men on the kill list. He and Martelly wouldn’t be amused.
The plan collapsed soon after that, and any hopes for peace between the drug cartels and the legitimate government suffered a major blow. It was one thing for rebels to have financial disagreements with President René Préval. But in Martelly’s presence, things got worse.
A rebel newspaper ran a front-page photo of Martelly with a drug trafficking sticker on his shirt. Martelly accused Tabard and other rebels of fomenting rebellion against him, igniting a week of clashes between police and rebels in the countryside that ended with the rebels’ seizure of the presidential palace in Petionville.
Martelly also gave the rebels a surprise gift: His private jet.
Ten years after the first presidential election of the Martelly era, Prieto, Jackson and an assistant from the Washington Post’s Colombia bureau are trying to uncover who has kept the list.
Two private investigators who contacted the Post – and supplied a copy of the list—described the agents as Americans. They said it appeared that Martelly’s enemies may have obtained his confidential list after intelligence services in Panama tried unsuccessfully to obtain it.
One of those agencies, they said, contacted members of the rebel army in the early 2000s, pleading for cooperation in a run-down.
“They started asking the fighters to help them find” small factories and palm oil mills linked to drug trafficking, said Eddy Bocachica, a longtime rebel leader who became a political rival of Martelly’s. Bocachica said the agency showed no intelligence credentials.
“They told the rebels that the army needs them,” he said. “They talked good intelligence about Colombia.”
Bocachica said that before helping the agency, he had passed through several other Central American countries seeking help in Colombia.
A former paramilitary boss in the 1990s, when Préval was president, agreed to help after agents in Cuba told him his ties to a guerrilla movement financed by the Colombian cartels would give him political clout in Miami. The ex-commando was working for his own army’s intelligence agency.
The agents told him they were trying to recover what was likely an expensive white Maserati or Maserati Ghibli, which the undercover agents believed was never recovered, he said. The former commando spent time trying to find a car dealer in South Florida. He found one, at one point, and agreed to make a $15,000 payment to the agent.
“I didn’t get the car,” the ex-commando said.
Today, he’s in Haiti. He had hoped to be there in the first place.
“When a foreigner comes with money, anyone will listen,” he said.
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