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Denial in Haiti

By Anthony Fenton & Dennis Bernstein
December 31, 2005

Editor’s Note: The independence of American journalism -- how free it is from government influence and control -- has emerged as a troubling issue in recent years. The Bush administration has admitted to paying some commentators, such as Armstrong Williams, to promote government policies. In other cases, pro-Republican groups have planted "journalists," such as Jeff Gannon, inside the press corps to pose friendly questions to Republicans.

Major U.S. news organizations, including the New York Times, also have had to grapple with star reporters, like Judith Miller, who shed professional skepticism and parroted administration propaganda as news. A similar issue has now arisen in Haiti, where a stringer for the Times and the Associated Press appears to have done work for the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy. After the story broke, the AP severed its relationship with the stringer and the Times is investigating.

The following story was first published by Flashpoints! and is also available at http://www.haitiaction.net.

A by-lined freelancer for the Associated Press, who is also a stringer for the New York Times in Haiti, is moonlighting as a consultant for the US Government funded National Endowment for Democracy, according to an official at the NED, and several of the agency's grantees.

NED is funded annually by grants from the US Congress and State Department, with a 2006 global budget of $80 million, an increase of $20 million from 2005. For years the group has played a controversial role-with lopsided funding of elections in foreign countries-in promoting pro-US candidates and policies friendly to US interests. Most recently, the NED has been accused of attempting to destabilize the Venezuelan government.

Regine Alexandre, whose name appears as an AP by-line at least a dozen times starting in May of 2004, and appears as a contributor to two NY Times stories, is a part of an NED "experiment" to place a representative on the ground in countries where the NED has funded groups.

"This is almost like an experiment for us," said Fabiola Cordova, a Haiti program officer with the NED in Washington D.C. on December 6th. "The NED usually doesn't have a field presence and most of the work from our side takes place here in D.C. Then once the grants are approved it's really very much on the grantees' leadership and initiative to 'implement their programs.'"

Cordova said the NED tries to monitor the programs from DC and to provide some financial oversight, but "a lot of the organizations in Haiti really need a lot of hand-holding, so we hired this person to be part-time NED staff on the ground, and she's helped us, well, both identify new grantees and to respond to any specific questions they're going to have on the ground."

Cordova said the relationship between NED and Alexandre has worked out well. "I think it has been very helpful, and over time as they get more used to having her there, they will use her more effectively too. It works out well for us," said the NED program officer, "because we don't need a full time person. Like I said, it's an experiment, NED has never had like a field presence like this before, but we really wanted to expand our Haiti program so we thought it was really necessary to do this."

Cordova said that Alexandre "was already in Haiti doing some other freelance work" and the NED hired her part time where she "works as a consultant." As a follow up, NED's Haiti program officer forwarded in a December 6, 2005 eMail the direct contacts for Regine Alexandre including her phone and eMail address. "Nice talking to you today," wrote Cordova, "As promised, attached is the information on our Haiti grantees, and the contact information on our part-time field rep in Haiti. Her name is Regine Alexandre. I will drop her an e-mail and to let her know you might be in touch."

In recent years, NED funding for Haiti has skyrocketed from $0 in 2003, before the forced departure of elected President John Bertrand Aristide, to $149,300 in 2004 to its current level of $541,045 in 2005 (8 grantees). NED spending in Haiti is at its highest level since 1990, the year Aristide was first elected.

Alexandre denies working for the NED, but said she has met with several NED grantees and was considering working for NED but then decided not to. "All I can tell you," she said in a phone interview from Port-au-Prince on December 27th, "I met with NED, I was going to work for them, and I didn't know much about NED and I decided not to work for them. I remember meeting with two, maybe three of the grantees and that's it, but I do not work for NED."

In response to queries to AP about Alexandre's links to NED, Jack Stokes of the Associated Press, Corporate Communications, replied that "Regine Alexandre, a freelance reporter for AP, says that at no time has she been an employee of the National Endowment of Democracy. Alexandre, who is also a development consultant in Haiti, says that at the request of NED she did meet briefly with some Haitian non-government organizations to provide them with contact information for NED, and was reimbursed by NED for travel expenses. She says she was unaware that NED had any U.S. government links. The AP is continuing to look into the matter," the Stokes statement concluded.

For their part, the New York Times has been avoiding comment for days. After dozens of calls to several offices at the Times, we were told that they were still looking into it, and that their reporter in Haiti, Ginger Thompson, who used Alexandre as a stringer, had no information about whether Alexandre was working with the State Department. When I pointed out we were talking about the NED, and not the State Department directly, the deputy Foreign Desk Editor for the Times, Ethan Bonner, said the Times will look into the matter further and get back to us. Mr. Bonner acknowledged that it could present a "conflict of interest," depending on the situation, but he had no idea whether this particular case would be a problem, or whether the Times would be utilizing Regine Alexandre again or not.

In a follow up interview on 12/30/2005, Times Deputy Foreign Editor, Ethan Bonner, stated that Thompson had caught up with Alexandre for a brief cell phone conversation and Alexandre assured her, as in the case of AP, she received expenses for travel, which includeed air-fare to Washington D.C. for a job interview with the NED, but then turned it down. Bonner said that the NY Times believed that Alexander was not working or consulting with the NED when she was reporting for the paper. He said in her interview with Thomson that Alexandre denied being an employee for the NED, but the line went dead before Thompson could follow up as to whether Alexandre was on the NED payroll, either directly or as a consultant or being paid by NED grantees with NED monies.

"Conflict of interest" would be to put it mildly. "The NED was created in the highest echelons of the US national security state," writes William Robinson in Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, US Intervention and Hegemony. "It is organically integrated into the overall execution of US national security and foreign policy. In structure, organization, and operation, it is closer to clandestine and national security organs such as the CIA than to apolitical or humanitarian endowments, as the name would suggest."

Other groups that have worked with Alexandre include RANCODHA, a Haiti-based group, also working around the elections. RANCODHA was the recipient of a $41,220 grant from the NED, according to documents obtained from the NED. Gadin Jean-Pierre, a spokesperson for the group, said in an interview from Haiti on December 27th that Alexandre has been in regular touch with the group, as a representative of the NED. "She's keeping in touch with us, and we keep her informed about our activities that we are doing now with the project. I have had a meeting with her already, and she keeps in touch with us."

In a second interview, Jean-Pierre again confirmed Alexandre's work for the NED. "NED is the organization funding our program...We get funding from NED and we are working in close collaboration with Regine Alexandre. She will meet tomorrow with us, at 9:00; we have the evaluation of the program of the last module we have done. She will be with us tomorrow (Thursday,December 29th)."

Hans Tippenhauer, director of Fondation Espoir (Hope Foundation), the recipient of a $132,970 NED grant, also confirmed that Regine Alexandre was working for the NED, and acted as a "contact officer" between his organization and NED. In an interview from Haiti Tippenhauer said "Yes, she is a contact person" for Fondation Espoir, and added that "the reality is our last program was approved before she was in charge, so now she is just a contact officer for us, but we are working directly with, I mean we had previous engagements with NED in Washington..."

Maryse Balthazar is the coordinator of the Association of Haitian Women Journalists or AMIFEH. The group received a $16,815 NED grant for 2005. Balthazar said she last met with Regine Alexandre on December 8th. She says that she first started working with Alexandre in September 2005. Part of AMIFEH's work is to train Haitian journalists how to cover elections. "Yes," she said in an interview on 12/29/2005, "I work with Alexandre." Balathazar said the last meeting she had with Alexandre was "before the Session of the North department," on December 8th, and that she had commenced working with her in September of 2005.

Flashpoints! UPDATE
 
After the original story broke, AP announced that it had severed ties with the free-lancer because she is on the payroll of the National Endowment for Democracy. The AP story stated in part that "AP employees must avoid any behavior or activities that create a conflict of interest or compromise our ability to report the news fairly and accurately," said Mike Silverman, the news agency's managing editor."

The AP story continued "Alexandre, who freelances for other news organizations, reported only one story for the AP - on the Dec. 24 killing of a U.N. peacekeeper in Haiti — after beginning her association with the NED. She first began reporting for the AP in 2004. After another freelance journalist raised questions this week about Alexandre and the NED, she denied she was an employee of the organization. She said she had made trips into the Haitian countryside to establish links between the NED and Haitian non-governmental organizations and was reimbursed for her expenses. When told later that the NED confirmed her employment, she continued to maintain she did not work for the organization."

The NED said it was unaware when it hired Alexandre that she worked for the AP or any other media organization.

Later, we received a phone call from New York Times Deputy Foreign Editor, Ethan Bonnar. He stated that a spokesperson for the NED confirmed that, in fact, Regine Alexandre is an employee of the NED. Bonnar asserted that it is his understanding that she was not an NED employee at the same time she was a stringer for the NYT.

When asked if she was paid indirectly - through another agency - Bonnar replied, "...that is a deeper question..." that he would have to look into it further:

Bonnar further stated that Regine Alexandre has been freelancing for the NYT for some time going back into the 1990's. Additionally, he suggested that she may have "fed into" stories filed by Lydia Polgreen and David Gonzales. Bonnar said that the NYT is not yet where the AP is in announcing that it is severing all ties, but he said that if the Times confirmed that Alexandre was in fact lying regarding her work with the NED, then they would not be able to work with her.

© 2005 Flashpoints!



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