Crucial Negotiations Ahead for Haiti: Elections Yes, But Security Also

James R. Morrell

“The time for inaction has ended!” With these stirring words OAS negotiator Luigi Einaudi called the Haitians back to the table to negotiate new elections. Einaudi is right to press the notoriously suspicious Haitians to the table. Yet he must be careful that in his zeal for an elections agreement he does not expose the weak Haitian opposition parties and independent media to even more violence than they have already suffered.

Einaudi has been to Haiti more than twenty times to coax the government and opposition to agreement. If he succeeds at last?and there is momentum behind this new round?he will deserve the Nobel peace prize. But don?t book your flight to Oslo just yet.

For one thing, he has terrible material to work with?on one side, an autocratic president and on the other a fraying opposition coalition that has yet to demonstrate popular support. It was President Aristide who started the whole election mess two years ago when he had his people on the electoral commission manipulate the count and cut more than half of the senatorial candidates out of their chance to win on the second round. When the election commissioner objected, he was threatened?he says by Aristide himself?and had to be spirited out of the country by the U.S. embassy into New Hampshire exile, where he remains to this day. The OAS electoral mission protested and withdrew from the country. The opposition members of the electoral commission resigned. The opposition parties boycotted. Aristide held his elections anyhow and waltzed into the presidency unopposed.

The United States and European Union cut off all aid to the government. Pressured strongly by President Clinton, Aristide agreed in December 2000 to correct the electoral charade but did nothing. The Bush administration took Aristide?s agreement as a good starting point, but so far it has been starting, mid- and endpoint all together. By now, indeed, enough time has elapsed that most of the illicitly-elected legislators will have served a majority of their terms even if new elections were miraculously held.

As if the elections imbroglio were not enough, in December 2001 Aristide released his armed gangs against the opposition. They torched the homes and offices of most of the principal leaders. An independent journalist was killed and a dozen fled for the United States. The main perpetrators have not been prosecuted. So the security question is now superimposed on the already difficult elections question.

The opposition, for its part, has failed to connect with most of the Haitian populace. In the last elections it presented the voters with a confusing mass of twenty or thirty candidates, reflecting the habitual Haitian disunity, and no coherent message. Forced by dire necessity, it came together in the Democratic Convergence.

Besides this deficiency of Haitian material, Einaudi must also deal with the paucity of resources from the United States. The aid cutoff is some leverage, but a policy of aid sanctions alone is sterile. The Congressional Black Caucus has protested this cutoff of the most poverty-stricken country in the hemisphere.

The administration needs a more proactive policy. It needs to give negotiator Einaudi the same range of resources his U.N. predecessors had in the 1990s: a foreign security presence, police trainers, human-rights observers, and programs to build up democratic institutions. The huge number of skilled, professional people in the Haitian diaspora living in the United States could play a crucial role. In short, Einaudi should have all the elements of a nation-building program.

Lacking these, yet desiring an agreement, the temptation is to squeeze the weakest party at the table, namely the rudimentary democratic parties of the Convergence. At least these parties have leaders used to give-and-take, unlike the autocratic Aristide. If, however, Einaudi insists that these opposition politicians, many of them elderly, must go to elections without security, he will be leading lambs to slaughter.

On the eve of the last election agreement on March 6, 1999, an opposition senator was gunned down. Two months ago, the leaders of the two largest armed gangs, closely linked to Aristide by ties of patronage and clientship, vowed that the ransacking and arson of last December was as nothing compared to the violence “next time.”

An agreement with adequate security provisions should earn a trip to Oslo. An agreement without them could well be, in the words of Haiti?s historian, “written in blood.”