By Roger Noriega
January 17, 2011, 2:50 pm
A year after the devastating 2010 earthquake, Haitians are trying to clear away the rubble of incompetent, corrupt, and failed political leadership by electing a new president. Unfortunately, incumbent President René Préval – abetted by Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez and the unprincipled head of the Organization of American States (OAS) – is trying to deny the Haitian people a president of their own choosing. The dramatic return of former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier to Port au Prince on Sunday has raised the stakes for U.S. diplomats and others, who must act boldly to salvage the democratic process so Haitians can look to their future.
Sources in the American government know that Préval recently sought $25 million from Chávez to bankroll the runoff campaign of his handpicked successor, Jude Célestin. U.S. officials also know that OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza ordered his staff to suppress new findings by a team of electoral experts that reveals that Célestin is not even eligible to advance to the second round, having finished third behind Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly in last November’s first-round balloting.
The international community, which has a sorry record of asking Haitians to settle for corrupt governments in the interest of short-term stability, can redeem itself now by thwarting Préval’s plot to impose a puppet successor who will put Haiti at the disposal of Chávez and his growing drug network. Observers have told me that Préval spent at least $20 million on Célestin’s first-round campaign, and he has asked Chávez to double-down on this investment. His hopes will be dashed if Célestin’s third-place finish is documented by the OAS. That’s where Insulza comes in.
During Insulza’s tenure, the OAS has ignored egregious assaults on democracy by leftist regimes in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The original observer mission he dispatched to Haiti to help organize and observe critical presidential elections fell down on the job. That mission ignored Préval’s scandalous abuse of state resources that he hoped would rally support for Célestin. The OAS stood by as corrupt election officials rigged the process by disqualifying candidates who would have performed well against Préval’s crony. On election day, international media captured images of ballot-stuffing and electoral violence – mostly in favor of Préval’s man. However, the OAS mission rushed to declare that the widespread irregularities did not invalidate the balloting.
Insulza’s OAS mission is virtually alone in defending the official results which contend that Célestin edged out Martelly and should advance to the second round. After the U.S. Embassy joined independent observers in challenging these results, Préval asked Insulza to send a new team of election experts that he expected to back up his phony numbers. However, this independent team promptly examined a sample of tally sheets and prepared a preliminary report concluding that Martelly knocked out Célestin in the first round.
When word of the team’s decisive findings reached OAS headquarters in Washington earlier this month, Insulza dispatched his crony who runs the secretariat’s electoral unit, Pablo Gutierrez, to try to bury these independent findings. That cover-up was thwarted when the team’s preliminary report was leaked to the media. “After a thorough statistical analysis … the Expert Mission has determined that it cannot support the preliminary results of the presidential elections,” the Miami Herald quoted from the draft report. (According to sources within the OAS, Insulza is more interested in finding out who leaked the facts than they are about the electoral fraud that is playing out in Haiti with his tacit support.)
American diplomats in Port au Prince agree with the findings of the expert report. For weeks, they have given Préval and Insulza the opportunity to do the right thing and acknowledge Célestin’s defeat. But neither has the political will, credibility or clout to save the process and head off Haiti’s spiral toward political violence.
When Insulza arrives in Haiti today, U.S. diplomats should insist that he inform Préval that the OAS will no longer support his bid to steal the elections. The way forward can be found in article 149 of Haiti’s constitution, under which Préval should leave office as scheduled on February 7, ceding power to an interim government headed by a member of the Supreme Court. Then, a runoff between Manigat and Martelly should be carried out as soon as practicable under an independent electoral authority.
Duvalier’s ill-timed return may prove to be a spark in a tinderbox. It is time to put an end to this clumsy electoral farce before Haiti is thrust toward needless political violence that would be the direct result of corruption in the Préval regime and cynicism in Insulza’s OAS.
Roger F. Noriega was Ambassador to the Organization of American States from 2001-2003 and Assistant Secretary of State from 2003-2005. He is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and managing director of Vision Americas LLC, which represents U.S. and foreign clients.