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Haiti-USA-Health : RFK Memorial takes treasury department to court

To determine US role in denying loans vital to Haiti’s perilous public health

By the The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights

Submitted to AlterPresse on Aug 14, 2006

The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights asked a federal court today to order the U.S. Treasury Department to reveal records of its role in suspending loans destined for vital public health projects in Haiti. The RFK Center filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request almost three years ago seeking correspondence and documents related to Treasury’s intervention with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) on infrastructure loans to Haiti. After Treasury’s intervention, the IDB made an unprecedented about-face, and refused to disburse loans previously approved for Haiti in 2001.

Despite repeated requests and modifications of RFK Center’s FOIA request, the Treasury Department has not provided a single document in three years.

In July 1998, the IDB approved $145.9 million in loans to Haiti. The money was intended to improve water, sanitation, health, rural roads, and education in Haiti with payment to begin in 2001. However, on April 6, 2001, US Executive Director to the IDB Lawrence Harrington sent a letter to IDB President Enrique V. Iglesias requesting that the loans not be disbursed, leading to the loans’ halt. The U.S. Executive Director reports directly to the Treasury Department.

Due to the IDB’s unprecedented actions, all too many Haitians have died or become ill due to the lack of potable water and inadequate healthcare. In particular, women and children have suffered high incidences of death and illness from waterborne diseases.

Today’s motion was filed at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

"The American public has a right to know what role its government is playing behind closed doors," said Monika Kalra Varma, Acting Director at the RFK Center. "The denial of these loans directly violates Haitians’ human rights, leaving them to suffer significant human casualties. If the U.S. blocked these life-saving loans to influence Haiti’s internal politics, it would be an unconscionable act to which no American would want to attach their nation’s good name.”

Varma continued to insist, “As international financial institutions and donor nations begin publicizing plans to reinvest in Haiti, this information must be made public so that such a destructive and perverse reversal does not happen again.”

The Freedom of Information Act celebrated its 40th anniversary this past July 4th. Many critics, including former President Jimmy Carter, have begun expressing concerns about the Bush Administration’s neglect to fulfill FOIA requests in a timely manner and its increased tendency to withhold information. The watchdog coalition credited the Bush Administration with creating 81% more "secrets”, defined as unclassified materials withheld from the public, in 2005 than in 2000.

FOIA states that federal agencies should share documents within 20 working days. According to the National Security Archives 2003 report, many agencies during the Bush Administration have been in violation of the law with average response times as long as 1,113 working days.

RFK is a non-profit non-governmental organization that engages in long-term partnerships with activists who win the RFK Human Rights Award, advocating for the social justice goals they champion. RFK’s Haitian laureate, Loune Viaud, Director of Strategic Planning and Operations of Zanmi Lasante, the largest socio-medical complex in the Central Plateau of Haiti, advocates for the realization of the right to health for all Haitians.

The RFK Center is represented in this case by the Washington, D.C. law firm of Garvey Schubert Barer.

Washington, Aug 15, 2006