Do Haiti’s Elections Equal Reconstruction?

Correspondents* – IPS/Haiti Grassroots Watch

HAVANA TIMES, Nov 26 (IPS) — Posters cover almost every conceivable surface, even tombs in graveyards. Trucks mounted with loud speakers blare campaign jingles. Candidates’ faces are everywhere. It’s elections “à la américaine”, complete with polls and whistle-stops.

But the mood is not quite joyful on the eve of Haiti’s elections.

With over 1,500 now dead to the vicious strain of cholera sweeping the country, with parties like the Lavalas Family excluded from the elections, and with boycotts and protests coming from progressive and grassroots organizations, the mood is mixed, at best.

“People who think elections will bring about change in Haiti are demagogues who want to get their hands on the state apparatus,” according to fisherman and farmer Jean Robert Chadichon of the tiny hamlet of Chomèy on Haiti’s southern coast. “Since 1804, things haven’t changed here. We’ve had president after president, coup d’état after coup d’état, but no change.”

Haitians have participated in one form of elections or other for over 200 years, but only since the end of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986 have they been what are generally referred to as “free” elections – over a dozen races for presidents, parliamentarians, mayors and communal representatives.

According to the preamble of the 1987 Haitian constitution, Haiti is a “democracy, which entails ideological pluralism and political rotation” and among the duties of the Haitian citizen are “to vote in elections without restraint”
[Article 52-1]. Elections are the manner in which citizens are to participate in their country’s political life.

But in Haiti, as in other countries, there seems to be a confusion or conflation of “elections” and “democracy,” with “development” and economic and/or social well-being.

Leanne Dorvin, a vegetable seller who travels between Vallue and Grand Goâve, south of the capital, said she will vote because “elections are good” and “we need someone to help the people who are still in the streets, who have so many needs.”

But, as with many other voters, when asked about the government she elected five years ago, she launched into a tirade about the lack of roads, schools or health facility in her region: “The state has forgotten us. Whatever they’re doing, we don’t know. They skip right over us… We don’t participate in anything. People are living in tents. People are dying. But they don’t see that.”

The contradictions are clear – to Dorvin and many people, elections are a way to somehow participate and bring about justice, social services, and relief from the misery and now calamity of everyday life. But so far, they haven’t delivered.

Dorvin’s confusion of “elections” with service-delivery and “development” is not surprising.

This spring, President Rene Préval told journalists much the same thing: “If, when my mandate is done, there isn’t a legitimately elected president, a parliament with a lower house and a Senate, if we don’t have elections… that will create mistrust and we won’t have development.”

Préval is correct about the details: the terms of many parliamentarians have expired already and his term expires on Feb. 7, 2011. Thus, constitutionally speaking, the Nov.
28 elections are required. And it is also unlikely the various donors and lenders who have made pledges totaling some $10 billion to “reconstruction” would be comfortable if elections did not take place.

Thus, within weeks of the Jan. 12 catastrophe which killed some 230,000, devastated the capital, made 1.3 million homeless and traumatized the nation, the “international community” began to push them.

Edmond Mulet, U.N. special representative to Haiti, says they are “a significant step in the process of consolidating democracy and re-establishing the state.”

Colin Granderson, former Assistant Secretary of CARICOM, who spent most of the 1990s working for a UN/OAS human rights mission, returned this summer to lead an OAS/CARICOM Elections Observer Commission charged with assuring the elections are credible.

Granderson told Haiti Grassroots Watch that the 2010 elections are “important” and, like Préval, underlined the need for a “legitimate” president and parliament in order to assure Haiti’s “reconstruction.”

Granderson, Mulet and Préval are right about the legitimacy issue – at least constitutionally speaking.

But what they fail to note is that Haiti and its elected officials suffered under severe economic and humanitarian crises long before Jan. 12. And now, in addition to these continuing crises, Haiti is also in the midst of a political institutional crisis that elections won’t necessarily solve.

Last January, the Haitian parliament approved a special “Emergency Law” that handed a great deal of power over to the “Interim Haiti Recovery Commission,” a body dominated by former U.S. President Bill Clinton and foreign funders.

The law gives the commission the power to “carry out the Development Plan for Haiti” until at least August 2011.

“How can free and fair elections occur when a State of Emergency is in place?” University of Virginia Professor Robert Fatton asked at the Haitian Studies Association Conference held at Brown University in the United States in November.

Fatton also noted that due to the commission and the multiplicity of foreign consultants, funders and agencies, Haiti has suffered a “virtual loss of sovereignty”.

“It remains unclear how an elected parliament will function in an environment dominated by the international commission,” Fatton concluded.

Of course, those who are part of the current system – members or staff of the ruling political party (Inite), elections workers, radio and television station owners who are profiting from the unprecedented spending in these races – believe in, or appear to believe in, the 2010 elections as the panacea to Haiti’s ills.

“We need people to make choices so we can have a good government, a good parliament, good non-governmental organizations who will work with us, so that we can get these people out from under the tents and see what treatment is going to be delivered for this epidemic which is killing people,” said Nicolas Jean Louis, a member of Inite.

Jean Louis is mid-way into his third five-year term as head of the communal executive committee (CASEC) for Chomèy.

But one of Jean Louis’ constituents, preschool teacher Marie Thèrese Belizaire, who is also a member of the Chomèy Women’s Organization, had a different take.

“It’s the same old people who always get into power,” said she. “We’ve been voting for a long time but we haven’t seen things change.”

*Read the complete series, see an accompanying video at Haiti Grassroots Watch – http://www.haitigrassrootswatch.org. Ayiti Kale Je (Haiti Eyes Peeled, in Creole), Haiti Grassroots Watch in English and Haïti Veedor (Haiti Watcher in Spanish), is a collaboration of two well-known Haitian grassroots media organizations, Groupe Medialternatif/Alterpresse
(http://www.alterpresse.org/) and the Society for the Animation of Social Communication (SAKS – http://www.saks- haiti.org/), along with two networks – the network of women community radio broadcasters (REFRAKA) and the Association of Haitian Community Media (AMEKA), which is comprised of community radio stations located throughout the country.



5 thoughts on “Do Haiti’s Elections Equal Reconstruction?

  • Sadly my answer must be an .UNEQUIVICAL NO! porque?
    It has been my experience wordwide that any time the amerikkkn gov has anything to do qith a nation esp a poor nations striugges that nation loses al things..
    case in point

    There is much solemn discussion today explaining, correctly, that democracy means more than flipping a lever every few years. Functioning democracy has preconditions. One is that the population should have some way to learn what is happening in the world. The real world, not the self-serving portrait offered by the “establishment press,” which is disfigured by its “subservience to state power” and “the usual hostility to popular movements”-facts are extensively documented, appalling, and shameful. They are deemed irrelevant for the usual reasons: they do not conform to the required self-image, and so are efficiently dispatched deep into the memory hole, though they can be unearthed by those who have some interest in the real world.
    They will rarely be found.
    Suffice that what was taking place in Haiti shortly after Clinton “restored democracy” in 1994, I was thinking that “It would not be very surprising, then, if the Haitian operations become another catastrophe, and if so, It is not a difficult chore to trot out the familiar phrases that will explain the failure of our mission of benevolence in this failed society.The reasons were evident to anyone who chose to look. The familiar phrases again resound, sadly and predictably. Now haiti has had Bily boy Clinton step in again..We all are waiting for the pot to boil over

    Reply
  • Follow up to Haiti

    Those who have any concern for Haiti will naturally want to understand how its most recent tragedy has been unfolding. For those who have had the privilege of any contact with the people of this tortured land, as i have had when i went to help in january,it is not just natural, but inescapable. Nevertheless, we make a serious error if we focus too narrowly on the events of the recent past or even on Haiti alone. The crucial issue for us is what we should be doing about what has taken place. That would be true even if our options and our responsibility were limited; far more so when they are immense and decisive, as in the case of Haiti. And even more so because the course of the terrible story was predictable years ago-if we failed to act to prevent it-and fail we did. The lessons are clear, and so important that they would be the topic of any daily front-page articles in any country.
    They will rarely be found, however, in the establishment press.”Keeping to the more liberal and knowledgeable end of the spectrum, the standard version is that in poor countires like Haiti and other places the U.S. must become engaged in benevolent nation-building”to “enhance democracy, a goal, but one that may be beyond our means because of the inadequacies of the objects of our solicitude. In Haiti, despite Washington’s dedicated efforts from Wilson to FDR while the country was under Marine occupation, the new dawn of Haitian democracy never came not under any US Pres.
    Not all America’s good wishes, nor all its Marines, can achievedemocracy until the Haitians are allowed to do it themseves
    Like the French in the l9th century, like the Marines who occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934, the American forces who are trying to impose a new order will confront a complex and violent society with no history of democracy
    What most do not know is that the imperialist are afraid of a nation that struggled against Napoleon’s savage assault on, leaving it in ruins, in order to prevent the crime of liberation in the world’s richest colony, the source of much of France’s wealth. But perhaps that undertaking too satisfies the fundamental criterion of benevolence: it was supported by the United States, which was naturally outraged and frightened by “the first nation in the world to argue the case of universal freedom for all humankind, whie it held Africans in chains as well?
    To be continued

    Reply
  • Haitian historian Patrick Bellegarde-Smith writes, accurately describing the terror in the slave state next door, which was not relieved even when Haiti’s successful liberation struggle, at enormous cost, opened the way to the expansion to the West by compelling Napoleon to accept the Louisiana Purchase. The U.S. continued to do what it could to strangle Haiti, even supporting France’s insistence that Haiti pay a huge indemnity for the crime of liberating itself, a burden it has never escaped -and France, of course, dismissed with elegant disdain Haiti’s request, recently under Aristide, that it at least repay the indemnity, forgetting the responsibilities that a civilized society would accept.
    My thoughts??
    The basic contours of what led to the current tragedy are pretty clear. Just beginning with the 1990 election of Aristide (far too narrow a time frame), Washington was appalled by the election of a populist candidate with a grass-roots constituency just as it had been appalled by the prospect of the hemisphere’s first free country on its doorstep two centuries earlier. Washington’s traditional allies in Haiti naturally agreed. “The fear of democracy exists, by definitional necessity, in elite groups who monopolize economic and political power
    The threat of democracy in Haiti in 1991 was even more ominous because of the favorable reaction of the international financial institutions (World Bank, IADB) to Aristide’s programs, which awakened traditional concerns over the “virus” effect of successful independent development. These are familiar themes in international affairs: U.S. independence aroused similar concerns among European leaders. The dangers are commonly perceived to be particularly grave in a country like Haiti, which had been ravaged by France and then reduced to utter misery by a century of U.S. intervention. If even people in such dire circumstances can take their fate into their own hands, who knows what might happen elsewhere as the “contagion spreads.
    The Bush I administration reacted to the disaster of democracy by shifting aid from the democratically elected government to what are called “democratic forces”: the wealthy elites and the business sectors, who, along with the murderers and torturers of the military and paramilitaries, had been lauded by the current incumbents in Washington, in their Reaganite phase, for their progress in “democratic development,” justifying lavish new aid. The praise came in response to ratification by the Haitian parliament of a law granting Washington’s client killer and torturer Baby Doc Duvalier the authority to suspend the rights of any political party without reasons

    To be continued

    Reply
  • WHY HAITI WILL NEVER KNOW FREEDOM UNTI IT FREES ITSELF

    The law passed by a majority of 99% OF THE PEOPLE”””” . It therefore marked a positive step towards democracy as compared with the 99% approval of a 1918 law granting U.S. corporations the right to turn the country into a U.S. plantation, passed by 5 percent of the population after the Haitian Parliament was disbanded at gunpoint by Wilson’s Marines when it refused to accept this “progressive measure,essential for “economic development. Their reaction to Baby Doc’s encouraging progress towards democracy was characteristic-worldwide-on the part of the visionaries who are now entrancing educated opinion with their dedication to bringing democracy to a suffering world-although, to be sure, their actual exploits are being tastefully rewritten to satisfy current needs.
    Refugees fleeing to the U. S. from the terror of the U.S.-backed dictatorships were forcefully returned, in gross violation of international humanitarian law. The policy was reversed when a democratically elected government took office. Though the flow of refugees reduced to a trickle, they were mostly granted political asylum. Policy returned to normal when a military junta overthrew the Aristide government after seven months and state terrorist atrocities rose to new heights. The perpetrators were the army-the inheritors of the National Guard left by Wilson’s invaders to control the population-and its paramilitary forces. The most important of these, FRAPH, was founded by CIA asset Emmanuel Constant, who now lives happily in Queens, Clinton and Bush II having dismissed extradition requests-because he would reveal U.S. ties to the murderous junta, it is widely assumed. Constant’s contributions to state terror were, after all, meager; merely prime responsibility for the murder of 4,000 to 5,000 poor AFRICANS(not blacks?).
    Recall the core element of the Bush doctrine, which has “already become a de facto rule of international relations, those who harbor terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves, in the President’s words, and must be treated accordingly, by large-scale bombing and invasion.
    When Aristide was overthrown by the 1991 military coup, the Organization of American States (OAS) declared an embargo. Bush I announced that the U.S. would violate it by exempting U.S. firms. He was thus fine tuning the embargo for the benefit of the suffering population.
    Clinton earier had authorized even more extreme violations of the embargo: U.S. trade with the junta and its wealthy supporters sharply increased. The crucial element of the embargo was, of course, oil. While the CIA solemnly testified to Congress that the junta “probably will be out of fuel and power very shortly” and intelligence efforts are focused on detecting attempts to circumvent the embargo and monitoring its impact,”Clinton secretly authorized the Texaco Oil Company to ship oil to the junta illegally, in violation of presidential directives. This remarkable revelation was the lead story on the AP wires the day before Clinton sent the Marines to ” restore democracy,” impossible to miss-I happened to be monitoring AP wires that day and saw it repeated prominently over and over-and obviously of enormous significance for anyone who wanted to understand what was happening. It was suppressed with truly impressive discipline, though reported in industry journals along with scant mention buried in the business press.
    Also efficiently suppressed were the crucial conditions that Clinton imposed for Aristide’s return: that he adopt the program of the defeated U.S. candidate in the 1990 elections, a former World Bank official who had received 14 percent of the vote. We call this “restoring democracy,” a prime illustration of how U.S. foreign policy has entered a “noble phase” with a “saintly glow,” the national press explained. The harsh neoliberal program that Aristide was compelled to adopt was virtually guaranteed to demolish the remaining shreds of economic sovereignty, extending Wilson’s progressive legislation and similar U.S.-imposed measures since.

    WHY HAITI WILL NEVER BE FREE..TO BE CONTINUED

    Reply
  • HAITI THE TRUTH AS I KNOW IT

    As democracy was thereby restored, the World Bank announced, “The renovated state must focus on an economic strategy centered on the energy and initiative of Civil Society, especially the private sector, both national and foreign.” That has the merit of honesty: Haitian Civil Society includes the tiny rich elite and U.S. corporations, but not the vast majority of the population, the peasants and slumdwellers who had committed the grave sin of organizing to elect their own president. World Bank officers explained that the neoliberal program would benefit the “more open, enlightened, business class” and foreign investors, but assured us that the program “is not going to hurt the poor to the extent it has in other countries” subjected to structural adjustment, because the Haitian poor already lacked minimal protection from proper economic policy, such as subsidies for basic goods. Aristide’s minister in charge of rural development and agrarian reform was not notified of the plans to be imposed on this largely peasant society, to be returned by “AmeriKKKASs good wishes” to the track from which it veered briefly after the regrettable democratic election in 1990.

    Matters then proceeded in their predictable course. A 1995 USAID report explained that the “export-driven trade and investment policy” that Washington imposed will “relentlessly squeeze the domestic rice farmer,” who will be forced to turn to agroexport, with incidental benefits to U.S. agribusiness and investors. Despite their extreme poverty, Haitian rice farmers are quite efficient, but cannot possibly compete with U. S. agribusiness, even if it did not receive 40 percent of its profits from government subsidies, sharply increased under the Reaganites who are again in power, still producing enlightened rhetoric about the miracles of the market. We now read that Haiti cannot feed itself, another sign of a “failed state.??? REMIND ANYONE OF THE US EMBARGO AGAINST OUR COUNTRY?
    A few small industries were still able to function, for example, making chicken parts. But U.S. conglomerates have a large surplus of dark meat, and therefore demanded the right to dump their excess products in Haiti. They tried to do the same in Canada and Mexico too, but there illegal dumping could be barred. Not in Haiti, compelled to submit to efficient market principles by the U.S. government and the corporations it serves.
    Similar programs had a large role in creating today’s third world. Meanwhile the powerful ignored the rules, except when they could benefit from them, and were able to become rich developed societies; dramatically the U.S., which led the way in modern protectionism and, particularly since World War II, has relied crucially on the dynamic state sector for innovation and development, socializing risk and cost.
    The punishment of Haiti became much more severe under Bush II-there are differences within the narrow spectrum of cruelty and greed. Aid was cut and international institutions were pressured to do likewise, under pretexts too outlandish to merit discussion.
    Putting details aside, what has happened since is eerily similar to the overthrow of Haiti’s first democratic government in 1991. The Aristide government, once again, was undermined by U.S. planners, who understood, under Clinton, that the threat of democracy can be overcome if economic sovereignty is eliminated and presumably also understood that economic development will also be a faint hope under such conditions, one of the best confirmed lessons of economic history. Bush II planners are even more dedicated to undermining democracy and independence and despised Aristide and the popular organizations that swept him to power with perhaps even more passion than their predecessors. The forces that reconquered the country are mostly inheritors of the U.S.-installed army and paramilitary terrorists.
    Those who are intent on diverting attention from the U.S. role will object that the situation is more complex-as is always true-and that Aristide too was guilty of many crimes. Correct, but if he had been a saint the situation would hardly have developed very differently, as was evident in 1994, when the only real hope was that a democratic revolution in the U.S. would make it possible to shift policy in a more civilized direction.
    What is happening now is awful, maybe beyond repair, and there is plenty of short-term responsibility on all sides. But the right way for the U.S. and France to proceed is very clear. They should begin with payment of enormous reparations to Haiti (France is perhaps even more hypocritical and disgraceful in this regard than the U.S.). That, however, requires construction of functioning democratic societies in which, at the very least, people have a prayer of knowing what’s going on. Commentary on Haiti, Iraq, and other “failed societies” is quite right in stressing the importance of overcoming the “democratic deficit” that substantially reduces the significance of elections. It does not, however, draw the obvious corollary: the lesson applies in spades to a country where “politics is the shadow cast on society by big business,” in the words of America’s leading social philosopher, John Dewey, describing his own country in days when the blight had spread nowhere near as far as it has today.
    For those who are concerned with the substance of democracy and human rights, the basic tasks at home are also clear enough. They have been carried out before, with no slight success, and under incomparably harsher conditions elsewhere, including the slums and hills of Haiti. We do not have to submit, voluntarily, to living in a failed state suffering from an enormous democratic deficit.

    READ AND WEEP

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Photo of the Day

Photo of the Day
Picture 1 of 1

Jordan Station, Ontario, Canada. By Joe Edwards (Canada). Camera: Cell phone

Submit your pictures to our Photo of the Day section
You don’t have to be a professional photographer, just send an image (in black and white or color), with a photo caption indicating where it was taken (city and country), type of camera or cell you used, and a small description about it.
Note: it is better for our format if you send horizontal orientation pictures. Even square will work but vertical is a problem.
Send your picture with your name and birth country, or where you reside, to this email address: yordaguer@gmail.com