Guest post by 1804 Institute's Prospere Charles, PhD
The earth is not shaking this time, the buildings are not crumbling, and there are no corpses on the streets of Port-au-Prince— at least not yet. But it seems that another potentially devastating earthquake is slowly shaking the political landscape of Haiti. The political drama that has unfolded over the past year is heading toward a showdown that may plunge Haiti further into unending poverty and misery.
Haiti, a country of 10 million people, located near the wealthiest nation in the world, the United States, has seen so much poverty throughout its 200 years of existence, so much untold suffering and unimaginable disasters, both natural and man-made, that it can boggle the mind to try and understand what is really going on there.
This latest crisis is yet another that causes observers to shake their head in despair, brandishing the flag of skepticism that says nothing good can come out of Haiti. If anything, it seems that at least three questions many of us were probably asking have been clearly answered during this ongoing electoral tragedy:
1) The abject failure of the international community to build and support effective public institutions in Haiti after at least 30 years of unaccountable, astronomical spending and broken promises;
2) The total breakdown of Haiti’s institutions to create a political system that is free and fair from local and foreign manipulations; and
3) The bicentenary rift between the bourgeois elite and the mass poor in Haiti that is more pronounced than ever.
For those who have not been following Haiti’s politics closely, the international community is represented in Haiti by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), which is credited by nearly all scientific studies to have brought cholera to the country in 2010. The cholera epidemic has killed more than 9,000 Haitians by the end of 2015, and the number is still growing.
In 2010, the United Nations (UN) and other international actors, as revealed first by Professor Ricardo Seitenfus, special representative of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Haiti, successfully pressured the then Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) to change the results of Haiti’s presidential election in favor of Michel Martelly, whose term is now approaching its end. The CEP is the institution created to organize elections in Haiti. These denunciations were well documented by Seitenfus as well as the Haitian and progressive international media, but they fell on deaf ears. Martelly became president and the political struggle has only intensified ever since, mostly driven by the perceived lack of legitimacy of the presidency. Recently, the UN has been meddling deeply again in Haiti’s politics, trying to influence both the 2015 election results and a possible 2016 run-off.
The Core Group is another international body, represented by embassies from Brazil, Canada, France, Spain, the U.S., the E.U., and the Organization of American States (OAS). The U.S. is one of the more active leaders in the Core Group and it invested over 30 million dollars in Haiti’s current electoral process. Why would the US invest so heavily in another country’s elections when its own constitution warns clearly against the intrusion of foreign money in its national politics? “To advance democracy in Haiti”, the Department of State would say. “Haiti is a longtime friend and a neighbor, so it makes sense to help finance their young democracy” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. So, the Core Group has been pushing by all mean necessary to ensure the continuity of Haiti’s elections, no matter the flaws.
The situation got complicated, however, when, following the first round of the elections in August 2015, observers and human right organizations alike decried massive fraud and voter intimidation at the polls. In the absence of hard evidence and wanting to give the benefit of the doubt to the CEP and the government organizing these elections, the Haitian people continued with the process, hoping that appropriate corrections would be made in the second round scheduled for October 25, 2015.
The second round of elections occurred with less violence than the first round. It is reported that voter participation increased from 18% to 26%. Initially, this process received wider overall approval than the first and words of praise filled the CEP’s coffers. Who says that Haitians are incapable of organizing their elections? A week later, however, before the announcement of final results, rumors of massive fraud and irregularities surfaced again. Candidates who participated in these contests went on national news outlets denouncing some electoral council members of bribery and corruption, as well as members of the UN who played a logistical role in these elections. The persistence of these denunciations forced the elections’ organizers to allow a group from the opposition, the Lavalas party of former President Jean Bertrand Aristide, to conduct a sample verification of the voting results.
The Lavalas party conducted that evaluation under strict surveillance of local and international observers, and found that 100% of the sample selected—78 ballots—was full of irregularities akin to fraud. Following this discovery, the CEP discarded these ballots but refused to look further, arguing that they represented only an insignificant percentage of the total votes cast and they were not randomly chosen as first believed, trying to discredit the verification effort. Under the recommendations of the government, the CEP, the Core Group and some members of the opposition, a presidential commission was formed to dig deeper into these allegations and make recommendations to the government about continuing with the electoral process as is or whether changes were appropriate.
The commission found that the electoral process was riddled with irregularities and that at least 47% of the results it verified were very much questionable. The commission also found that the CEP members no longer enjoyed the respect and trust of the Haitian people and recommended drastic changes in the CEP in order to increase transparency and legitimacy for the rest of the elections. As the saga continued, one of the CEP members, Mr. Ricardo Augustin, who represented the Catholic Church, resigned amidst accusations of fraud and bribery; and another CEP member, Mr. Jacceus Joseph, representative of the human rights sector, confirmed some of the fraud allegations that occurred during these elections and suggested he would also resign if nothing were done to correct the rest of the process.
The most upsetting part of this tragedy is that, in spite of all these revelations, the Core Group, with the U.S. as its chief cheerleader, keeps pushing forward toward the last round of elections. “The world cannot wait for Haiti” said the US Ambassador Peter Mulrean. “There is no evidence of massive fraud in these elections” he added, challenging the scientific findings and intelligence of Haitians and foreign observers alike who claimed the contrary.
Two weeks ago, the US dispatched two high level diplomats, Mr. Kenneth Merten, Haiti Special Coordinator and Thomas Shannon, counselor to Secretary of State John Kerry, to convince Haiti’s opposition leaders to continue with the election without any change whatsoever in the process as recommended by the presidential commission. The effort failed and has predictably resulted in a total gridlock.
While it can be said that the international community, especially the U.S. has been an uncomfortable intruder in Haiti’s politics, Haitians themselves seem to be playing a crucial role in the political standoff that is challenging their country. The members of the CEP, for instance, the 10 people in charge of organizing the elections, supposedly came from the best and the brightest of Haiti’s society. They were not government employees and were chosen freely by respected members of the different social sectors of Haiti. The moral and intellectual capacity of these members were believed to be unshakable. Haiti’s election was set to be on the course of being the best election ever, run by Haitians and for Haitians.
In fact, at the beginning of the process, everything seemed normal in spite of rumors about close associations of some CEP members with the ruling class in Haiti and past decisions that some of the members have taken. The President of the CEP for instance, Pierre Louis Opont, declared to national news outlets that indeed he had changed the results of the 2010 election in favor of Michel Martelly to avoid a catastrophe in Haiti. In spite of all that, the CEP was vividly applauded by everyone when it rejected the candidacy of President Martelly’s wife, Sophia Martelly and that of the former Prime Minister, Laurent Lamothe because these candidates, it argued, did not fulfill some of the requirements for elected offices in Haiti.
Since then though, the CEP has become arguably one of the most despised organizations in Haiti. The weakness of the justice system may prevent anyone from ever knowing the truth about their involvement in electoral fraud and corruption; it will be left to history to render a final verdict on whether these CEP members did a disservice to Haiti or not.
The Haitian government also plays a critical role as it continues to refuse the recommendations of the commission it created. Their favorite phrase is “Tet dwat” or “Straight ahead” in Kreyol, referring to the continuity of the elections. In complete disregard of the evaluation commission’s recommendations, the government established January 24, 2016 as the date for the runoff. No changes whatsoever were mentioned; no consideration for the daily protests taking the streets of Haiti by storm and no dialogue with the opposition to find a political consensus. “Tet dwat” and “tet bece” (“head down”) they go, not realizing they will likely hit a hard wall in front of them.
All these actions are taken to obstruct democracy in Haiti. The dictatorship of the international community is determined to replace the will of authentic Haitians. Others believe that this fight has nothing to do with democracy but with the control of Haiti’s gold mines and other natural resources, giving new meaning to the saying that Haiti’s resources are maybe a curse rather than a blessing. According to witnesses, UN soldiers, allegedly reinforced by U.S. marines, are on stand-by for a potential showdown with the people of Haiti who are determined to attain the high ground of freedom and sovereignty.
A return to slavery, in the form of corporate exploitation, is very much possible in Haiti right now. A return to the form of thinking that considers poor black Haitians as incapable of assuming their destiny seems to be the driving theory behind the actions of the UN, the Core Group, and the so-called Haitian elite, whose roots are keenly associated with the politics of slavery and exploitation. That all of this is happening under the eyes of a black U.S. President, whose forefathers may owe a thing or two to this once-heroic nation of Haiti, is unbelievable.
After the earthquake shook the earth and killed hundreds of thousands of Haitians, critics said that Haiti was done, finished, sent to the catacombs of failing nations. Six years later, Haiti is still here, still standing, still fighting. This place was not called higher mountain for nothing. At the top of the mountain live the gods, the free spirits of Haitian ancestors who, once in a while, come down to visit their progeny. Let’s hope that the spirit of Dessalines, Boisrond Tonnere, Capois La Mort, and Henry Christophe find a country in peace, united and with no more foreign intruders.