U.S. Gives Cedras a Lucrative Deal to Get Out of Haiti : Caribbean: Sources say cost, which includes renting three houses owned by the former strongman, will ‘run into millions’ of dollars. White House denies it is a bribe.
The United States gave former Haitian military strongman Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras a million-dollar-plus “golden parachute” to resign and go into exile, including the rental of three of his houses, according to U.S. and Haitian sources.
Cedras, who fled to Panama early Thursday and whom President Clinton and other U.S. officials have described variously as a “thug,” “stooge” and “killer,” was forced to resign as commander in chief of the Haitian army or face a hostile American invasion.
As part of a deal to avoid arrest, Cedras had promised early this week to leave the country and permit the return Saturday of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was driven into exile by a military coup on Sept. 30, 1991.
But Cedras delayed his departure while he wrested final financial concessions from the United States--a promise that the Americans would rent his own home in the suburb of Peguyville, his mother-in-law’s Port-au-Prince home and a beachfront house about 40 miles to the north.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Stanley Schrager denied reports that senior American military officials would live in any of the three homes but confirmed that the United States will rent the properties.
He declined to give the price beyond saying they would be leased “at fair market value,” possibly to U.S. personnel.
Sources close to the Haitian military, however, said the Peguyville home, which has been stripped bare, would be rented for $4,000 a month for a year, to be paid in advance.
The leases for the beach house and the mother-in-law’s home, also for a year, are for “several thousand dollars” a month each, the sources said.
In Washington, White House spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers said Thursday that the military leaders’ assets, frozen in most countries for the last year, will now be released.
“We’ve always envisioned that when Aristide returns that all the sanctions, including the sanctions on assets, would be lifted,” Myers told reporters.
The action will free funds in the bank accounts of hundreds of members of Haiti’s wealthy elite, most of whom backed the military. Cedras and his chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Philippe Biamby, do not have U.S. accounts, State Department officials said.
The payments to Cedras, which include the cost of exile for Biamby, are not the first to be made to Haitians held responsible for ousting Aristide since the U.S. troops began arriving Sept. 19.
American military officers and civilian officials have provided lucrative contracts to several wealthy Haitian families implicated in the coup or known to back the three-year military regime.
Arguing that these families were the only sources of needed services and properties, the United States has leased large tracts of land for housing and storage facilities, even building a gasoline pipeline and storage tanks.
As with any improvements to the Cedras properties, all enhancements to these tracts will be given to the owners, free of charge.
“Our intent (in financing Cedras’ exit) was to smooth the transition to President Aristide,” Schrager said, “to make that come about as smoothly as possible.” He also said there “were no cash inducements” involved.
Clinton Administration officials in Washington were similarly insistent that the United States is paying no cash to Cedras except for the rent on the three houses.
“There are no bribes here. There are no hidden inducements here,” Clinton’s national security adviser, Anthony Lake, told reporters. “I am not the least bit apologetic about this. This is a success.”
But other sources here maintained that the total package for sending Cedras, his immediate family, assorted relatives and associates into exile would “run into the millions.”
This includes transportation, housing and living expenses for the next year for six people, including Biamby, who accompanied Cedras to Panama, and similar expenses for 23 other Cedras relatives and associates who were allowed to enter the United States on Thursday.
Cedras got off to an expensive start in exile, taking an entire floor of a luxury Panama City hotel upon his morning arrival on a U.S. government-chartered Boeing 757 jetliner. He will move soon to Contadora Island, a resort that housed the late Shah of Iran in his exile.
The deal also includes moving Cedras and his entourage from Panama when and if he chooses. The general owns homes in Barcelona and Madrid, and his associates here say Spain will be Cedras’ ultimate destination.
“It sounds like a lot,” said a family friend of Yannick Cedras, the general’s wife, “but for that many people over, say, a year--well, it’s not all that big a deal.”
Why Cedras should be provided any financial incentive or aid puzzled some here. “I think it is a bad deal,” said an international economist working here. “He made himself rich and he made these poor people even more miserable.”
Cedras is described by friends and associates as having amassed several million dollars both before and during the three years he led what is considered one of the most corrupt and brutal regimes in the generally brutal and corrupt history of Haiti.
“He would certainly have tens of millions of dollars,” a banking source said. “Not only did he have his own interests in businesses and investments, but he received payments from other officers and businessmen as their price for doing business.”
Biamby too is a millionaire, according to his associates, although not on the Cedras level. “When he was thrown out before, he was broke and he swore he would never be caught short again,” said one friend, alluding to an abortive 1989 coup that ended with Biamby in exile.
So, according to the associate, Biamby began gathering money when he was restored to the army in 1991 after the anti-Aristide coup, first a $10,000 payment from a wealthy Haitian family and much more as time passed.
“He doesn’t own any property and hasn’t spent any of his money,” the source said, “so he has all he has accumulated, which is a lot.”
Earlier this year when the United States was trying to negotiate Cedras out of power, American officials said Cedras had been offered a multimillion-dollar incentive package to leave and allow Aristide to come back. The deal fell through because Cedras was sure that the Americans were bluffing. Although it was billed at the time as a one-time offer, diplomats and Haitian sources say the United States was so anxious to get Cedras out of town before Aristide returned that it gave in to the general’s last-minute demands.
Cedras and Biamby are not alone in getting a foreign government to ease their departure. Lt. Col. Michel-Joseph Francois, the former Port-au-Prince police chief, who also was forced into resignation and exile by the American troops, has rented his house to the ambassador from the Dominican Republic.
There was no price available, but Francois has close contacts with the Dominican Republic’s military and extensive investments in that neighboring country. In fact, he moved to its capital, Santo Domingo, after fleeing Haiti earlier this month.
Francois, according to friends and close associates, hardly needs the money. As head of Haiti’s police, he was in business with some of the country’s richest and most powerful families and industrial groups.
He controlled the import and distribution of cement, vehicles, many essential foods and Haiti’s extensive smuggling operations.
Times staff writer Doyle McManus in Washington contributed to this report.