Friday, January 22, 2010

Mitchel Cohen: Toxic Wastes and Haiti

From: "Mitchel Cohen" <>
To: <>
Sent: Thursday, January 21, 2010 2:12 PM

Subject: Toxic Wastes and Haiti

Two decades ago, the garbage barge, the Khian Sea, with no place in the U.S.
willing to accept its garbage, left the territorial waters of the United
States and began circling the oceans in search of a country willing to
accept its cargo: 14,000 tons of toxic incinerator ash. First it went to the
Bahamas, then to the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Bermuda, Guinea
Bissau and the Netherlands Antilles. Wherever it went, people gathered to
protest its arrival. No one wanted the millions of pounds of Philadelphia
municipal incinerator ash dumped in their country.

Desperate to unload, the ship's crew lied about their cargo, hoping to catch
a government unawares. Sometimes they identified the ash as "construction
material"; other times they said it was "road fill," and still others "muddy

But environmental experts were generally one step ahead in notifying the
recipients; no one would take it. That is, until it got to Haiti. There,
U.S.-backed dictator Baby Doc Duvalier issued a permit for the garbage,
which was by now being called "fertilizer," and four thousand tons of the
ash was dumped onto the beach in the town of Gonaives.

It didn't take long for public outcry to force Haiti's officials to suddenly
"realize" they weren't getting fertilizer. They canceled the import permit
and ordered the waste returned to the ship. But the Khian Sea slipped away
in the night, leaving thousands of tons toxic ash on the beach.

For two years more the Khian Sea chugged from country to country trying
to dispose of the remaining 10,000 tons of Philadelphia ash. The crew
even painted over the barge's name -- not once, but twice. Still, no one was
fooled into taking its toxic cargo. A crew member later testified that the
waste was finally dumped into the Indian Ocean.

The activist environmental group, Greenpeace, pressured the U.S. government
to test the "fertilizer." The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and
Greenpeace found it contained 1,800 pounds of arsenic, 4,300 pounds of
cadmium, and 435,000 pounds of lead, dioxin and other toxins. But no one
would clean it up.

The cost of the cleanup at Gonaives had been estimated to be around
$300,000. Philadelphia's $130 million budget surplus would more than
cover it, but Philadelphia lawyer Ed Rendell -- then mayor of that city and
later Chairman of the Democratic National Committee -- refused to put
up the funds. Joseph Paolino, whose company (Joseph Paolino and Sons)
had contracted to transport the waste ash aboard the infamous Khian Sea
garbage barge owned by Amalgamated Shipping, refused as well.

In July of 1992, the U.S. Justice Department -- under pressure from
environmental groups throughout the world -- finally filed indictments
against two waste traders who had shipped and dumped the 14,000
tons of Philadelphia incinerator ash. Similar indictments were brought
against three individuals and four corporations who illegally exported
3,000 tons of hazardous waste to Bangladesh and Australia, also labeled
as "fertilizer." But none of the waste traders were charged with dumping
their toxic cargo at sea, nor even with falsely labeling it as fertilizer
and abandoning it on the beaches of Haiti, Bangladesh, and Australia.
They were charged only with lying to a grand jury.

A month earlier, similar watered-down indictments were announced against
three individuals and four corporations who illegally exported 3,000 tons of
hazardous waste to Bangladesh and Australia, also labelled as "fertilizer."
Meanwhile, the government refuses to take back or clean up the waste, and it
continues to sit abandoned on the beaches of Bangladesh and Haiti.

U.S. law was interpreted to protect the dumpers, not the "dumped on."
Unwilling recipients of toxic wastes are offered no recourse. In recent
years, much of the waste from industrialized countries is exported openly,
under the name of "recycled material." These are touted as "fuel"
for incinerators generating energy in poor countries. "Once a waste is
designated as 'recyclable' it is exempt from U.S. toxic waste law and can be
bought and sold as if it were ice cream. Slags, sludges, and even dusts
captured on pollution control filters are being bagged up and shipped
abroad," writes Peter Montague in Rachel's Weekly. "These wastes may contain
significant quantities of valuable metals, such as zinc, but they also can
and do contain significant quantities of toxic by-products such as cadmium,
lead and dioxins. The 'recycling' loophole in U.S. toxic waste law is big
enough to float a barge through, and many barges are floating through it

Every year, thousands of tons of "recycled" waste from the U.S., deceptively
labeled as "fertilizer," are plowed into farms, beaches and deserts in
Bangladesh, Haiti, Somalia, Brazil and dozens of other countries. The
Clinton administration followed former President George Bush's lead in
allowing U.S. corporations to mix incinerator ash and other wastes
containing high concentrations of lead, cadmium and mercury with
agricultural chemicals and are sold to unsuspecting or uncaring agencies
and governments throughout the world.

These dangerous chemicals are considered "inert," since they play no active
role as "fertilizer" -- although they are very active in causing cancers and
other diseases. Under U.S. law, ingredients designated as "inert" are not
required to be labeled nor reported to the buyer.

Shadowy covert operations figures spent the last two decades promoting
schemes involving the shipment to Haiti of U.S. toxic wastes.

In November 1993, Time Magazine reported that a former U.S. government
operative had detailed "an elaborate plan to tap U.S. aid funds for
low-interest loans that would be used to transport New York City garbage
to Haiti, where it would be processed into mulch to fertilize plants
bioengineered to provide high-quality paper pulp. 'We could collect $38 a
ton for the
garbage,' claims [Henry] Womack ... who helped oversee construction of the
base that the Reagan Administration-backed contras used to stage attacks
against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua." Womack has similar dreams
for Haiti: "We'd make a bundle, and the government could get enough to pay
the whole army's salaries." Womack lives in a South Miami house with the
sister of Michel François, who is the head of the death squads in Haiti and
the chief of its national police, and her husband.

Although most agents are not usually as candid as Womack, such plans are
common. In August 1991, for example, Almany Enterprises, a company also
headquartered in Miami, proposed shipping 30 million tons of incinerator ash
from various U.S. cities to Panama over the subsequent four years. Almany
would pay the government only $6.50 per ton of toxic waste received in
Panama. The ash is believed to be highly contaminated with cadmium, copper,
lead and zinc. Almany proposed to landfill the ash in marshlands near the
free zone of Colon. Dozens of similar schemes are rampant. Throughout the
Caribbean and Central America the devastating health crisis is
exacerbated -- if not directly caused -- by international capital's
"recycling" of toxic wastes.

Said Ehrl LaFontant of the Haiti Communications Project: "Instead of
repatriating Haitian refugees to Haiti, the U.S. government should
repatriate this toxic waste back to its own country."

Toxic waste dumping in Haiti was, after all, a lucrative source of income
for the Duvalier dictatorship. Former Haitian despot Duvalier profited
handsomely in his relationship with the U.S., to the tune of hundreds of
millions of dollars. That relationship included allowing U.S. toxic
fertilizer to be dumped in Haiti, at the expense of the Haitian people.

Duvalier's U.S.-based lawyer, Ron Brown, also did well, economically,
by their relationship. In the early 1980s, Duvalier secured his services by
paying him $175,000 as a retainer, and Brown went to work for the brutal
dictator on Capitol Hill. Brown, who had before his death while flying over
Yugoslavia and scouting U.S. investment opportunities, had been personally
linked to an extremely wealthy Haitian who was a major backers of Duvalier.
Brown uttered nary a word to support the return of Aristide and democracy
to Haiti, nor did he protest the U.S.'s toxic practices there.

Brown also represented the brother of Michelle Duvalier, wife of the deposed
dictator, when he was arrested in Puerto Rico for trafficking in narcotics.
He is also the subject of a scandal involving Vietnamese businessman
Nguyen Van Hao, who was the Deputy Prime Minister for Economic
Development under the corrupt U.S.-backed Saigon dictatorship in the early
1970s. Hao alleges that Brown agreed to be paid $700,000 in exchange for
his help in lifting a trade embargo against Vietnam. Hao, who previously
lived in Haiti, and Brown have a mutual Haitian friend, Marc Ashton, an
alleged "businessman," who is also the subject of much international
intrigue and shady doings.

Brown went on to serve as President Clinton's Secretary of Commerce, which
is one of the agencies that oversees toxic waste shipments. In his
confirmation hearings before the Senate, he was asked not a single question
concerning toxic wastes, nor of his relationship with the Duvalier

- Mitchel Cohen


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