Haiti Democracy Project

Washington, D.C., April 2002

The Haiti Democracy Project will advocate a more effective U.S. policy toward Haiti. While the sending of an OAS democracy mission to Haiti this month is a useful first step, experience indicates that the United States and international community will need to do considerably more if human-rights abuses are to be contained and democratic institutions built. And without these minimal building blocks of governance, Haiti will remain mired in the worst poverty in the hemisphere.

A recent conference of U.N. agency heads and Haiti specialists generally concluded that the 1994 U.S.-led intervention was unduly driven by an exit strategy and that the international community “had a one-year plan for a ten-year problem.” The withdrawal from Haiti was precipitous and left fledgling democratic institutions, such as the professionalized police, vulnerable to political takeover. The power of the exiled president was certainly restored by this intervention of twenty-two thousand troops. However, the other democratic institutions?legislature, electoral machinery, judiciary, police, governmental ministries?were left unprotected against a recrudescence of presidential power.

Nevertheless, virtually the entire Haitian middle class, “civil society,” independent news media, and independent politicians continue to demand their democratic freedoms and they have an increasing echo from the impoverished majority which objects to the corruption of the regime. At the same time, President Aristide still enjoys important support based on the historical memory of the legitimacy of his 1990 election. This bifurcated polity adds to the complexity of the Haitian question. Such few valid elections and opinion polls as have been held point to a bedrock of support for Aristide’s party co-existing with a wide diversity of other candidates and positions.

The Haiti Democracy Project, an independent organization, is a continuation of the Center for International Policy’s ten-year Haiti project, which originally worked to restore President Aristide to power but in more recent years joined with the major human-rights organizations in deploring the unfolding political violence and destruction of democratic institutions. In recent years the Haiti project signed joint declarations of concern with the National Coalition for Haitian Rights, Human Rights Watch, Washington Office on Latin America, and the International Human Rights Law Group.

The director of the Haiti Democracy Project is James Morrell, who for twenty-eight years served as research director of the Center for International Policy, a liberal thinktank in Washington. He was an adviser to President Aristide at the Governors Island negotiations in 1993. In the year 2000 he observed Haiti’s legislative elections for the OAS. He entitled his report on those elections “Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory” to convey the paradox of a party that had the votes to win legitimately, yet threw away that legitimacy by falsifying the count in a bid for total power. Morrell received his Ph.D. in history from Harvard University in 1977.