California Representative Maxine Waters recently called upon the Government of Haiti “to set aside the flawed November 28th elections and organize new elections that will be free, fair and accessible to all Haitian voters.” On the massive decisions and responsibilities facing Haiti’s next government, the Congresswoman said that “If these decisions are made by a government that is not perceived as legitimate, the recovery process could be impeded for years to come.”
She has a point. The next Haitian president will preside over a fortune in pledged reconstruction funds, and the international community should be striving to ensure that a democratically elected, legitimate Haitian government is put in place to make sure those funds are properly spent. But is it?
Well, no. Missing from the vast majority of reporting is the great unspeakable: the fact that Haiti’s largest and most popular political party, Fanmi Lavalas, was prevented from taking part in the elections, which cost some $30m (paid for by the U.S.) at the same time that an estimated one million Haitians are still living in temporary shelters.
The technicality dreamt up by Haiti’s electoral council to exclude Fanmi Lavalas was that it had submitted “improper documents.” Wyclef Jean, probably the most instantly recognizable Haitian on the planet, knows all about such scams, having had his bid to run in the elections thwarted by a residency ruling.
In essence the elections, which now lie stalled amidst uncertainty over which candidates should advance to a run-off, were boycotted by the Haitian people. A recent report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) said that some three quarters of Haitians did not vote. This is before one even mentions the widespread ballot-stuffing, fraud and exclusion from the registry which the CEPR says it witnessed on the ground.
Ploughing on regardless, the Organization of American States (OAS) has now proposed a new round of voting between former first lady Mirlande Manigat and the singer Michel Martelly, two candidates who received just 6% and 4% of votes polled in the first round, respectively. Jude Célestin, the government’s chosen candidate, looks like he may now be eliminated.
So why didn’t Haitians vote? One major reason was the exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas, the party of the wildly popular priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who came to power with a huge majority in the 1990-1991 election and was briefly President of Haiti until a September 1991 military coup.
Amidst spiraling violence and under U.S. pressure, the coup regime collapsed in 1994, with Aristide being returned to power after reluctantly agreeing to demands that he roll back several social reforms which he had initiated. He served as president again from 1994 to 1996 and from 2001 until 2004, when he was ousted in a rebellion which he has often called a U.S.-orchestrated kidnapping. He was flown directly to the Central African Republic, and is now in exile in South Africa.
There is a precedent to this election boycott: in the April 2009 parliamentary elections more than 90% of voters did not vote when the same exclusion on Fanmi Lavalas was imposed. By contrast, for the 2006 presidential election, despite its flaws, turnout was 59.3%, and it has also been much higher in the past, such as for the parliamentary election in 2000.
In a notable exception to recent reporting, Mark Weisbrot of the CEPR pointed out in the Guardian that Haitians are known to take risks to vote even under the threat of violence, and have previously been pragmatic about voting even when their first choice was not on the ballot (as in 1996 and 2006). But most won’t vote when they are denied their right to choose. As he says, “This is the big story of the election that most of the major media have missed entirely.”
The CEPR report also points out that the majority of those who participated in 2006 (54.1 percent) did not participate this time. This suggests that a majority of voters who were willing to participate in an election that was at least somewhat competitive in 2006 were not willing to participate in the November election. From this we can gather that the people didn’t think this was a fair, competitive election, even factoring in the votes lost in the disorganization stemming from the earthquake.
The exclusion of Haiti’s most popular political party, as Weisbrot points out, is akin to banning the Democrats or Republicans from U.S. elections. Or, say, blocking Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil or Labour from participating in Ireland. It’s unthinkable. It would cause international uproar, or worse. Yet this is exactly what has been done in Haiti, only to be met with international silence.
Despite the fact that 45 Democratic Members of Congress asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in October not to provide funding for “elections that do not meet these minimum, basic democratic requirements,” their pleas were ignored. The same happened in June when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee published a report calling for Haiti’s electoral council to be reformed. So we must ask the question, why?
The only conclusion to be drawn is that the Obama administration thinks that Haiti is for now in the hands of those most likely to serve U.S. interests, and that if Fanmi Lavalas is allowed to participate in the democratic process, the country could once more fall into the “wrong” hands, as the U.S. apparently thought it was before the 2004 Aristide ouster.
In effect, the administration is indicating that it supports the 2004 Bush-inspired plan for Haiti and all that it has brought, such as the calamitous response to the earthquake, the resentment towards the thousands of imposed UN troops who swarm the country (and who in all likelihood, via Nepalese troops, caused the recent cholera outbreak), and now the recent farcical demonstration of Haiti’s “democracy”.
In a recent interview, outgoing Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive criticized the international community for not allowing his country to play a greater role in its own reconstruction. Does anyone agree with him?
Brazilian diplomat Ricardo Seitenfus, one person who did, was ousted as Special Representative of the OAS in Haiti on Christmas Day. His crime? Raising concerns with Swiss newspaper Le Temps over international meddling in Haitian affairs.
Writing in the Washington Post last week, Haitian author Alex Dupuy cited recent reports on the rebuilding efforts which claim that of the more than 1,500 U.S. contracts doled out worth $267m, only 20, worth $4.3m, have gone to Haitian firms. The rest have gone to U.S. firms, which almost exclusively use U.S. suppliers.
Perhaps therein lies the key; perhaps this is why this farcical election process is unfurling before our eyes as the silence from Washington continues to deafen. It would appear the “right” people are in charge, or at least the “right” circle of people is competing to be in charge.
Henry Ford once said of his Model T that, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black,” and it would appear that the Haitian people can have any government they want, so long as they are not the ones who get to choose it.