By MARC LACEY
An array of human rights groups has strongly criticized the United States government for withholding money meant to provide clean drinking water to Haiti as leverage for political change in the country.
The activists, in a report released Monday, called the delay of $54 million in international loans to the Haitian government �one of the most egregious examples of malfeasance by the United States in recent years.�
The loans from the Inter-American Development Bank were intended to revamp the water and sanitation systems in Les Cayes and Port-de-Paix, two Haitian towns in dire need of the money to improve their infrastructure. In Haiti, close to 70 percent of the population lacks regular and direct access to potable water, experts say. The lack of clean water contributes to intestinal parasites and amoebic dysentery.
The development bank, over which the United States Treasury Department holds significant influence, approved the loans in 1998. Although payments began to be made several years later, the water projects have yet to be started, the report said, �largely the result of aggressive attempts by the U.S. government to block the disbursement of these loans.�
Haiti�s own political turmoil and financial difficulties also contributed to the delays, the report acknowledged.
The report was prepared by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at the New York University School of Law; a Haiti-based health care provider called Partners in Health; the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights; and Zanmi Lasante, a Haitian advocacy group.
The groups went to court to get access to internal government correspondence explaining why the United States sought to prevent the approved loans from reaching Haiti in the years after their approval. The Inter-American Development Bank�s charter says that the bank should not interfere in the political affairs of member countries.
But the delays in disbursing the loans were linked by American officials to their concerns about the administration of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whose first presidency was overthrown by a military coup in 1991 and whose return to power in 2001 was cut short three years later with the encouragement of the Bush administration.
Dean Curran, who was the American ambassador to Haiti at the time, said publicly in 2001, �There now are a certain number of loans of the Inter-American Development Bank that are not yet disbursed with the objective of trying to request of the protagonists of the current situation, in the current political crisis, to reach a compromise.�
A top Treasury Department official then sent an e-mail message to staff members that called it a �major screwup� for the ambassador to explicitly acknowledge a connection between the holdup in development loans and American political concerns in Haiti.