Originally: Haiti: What Now?

The Nation (Barbados) – June 17, 2001

The author was director of the OAS electoral observation mission in Haiti in May-July 2000, and is currently an HDP Board Member

I have always recognized Haiti’s paramount role in the political liberation of the hemisphere. The overthrow of the French in that country marked a turning point in the history of African enslavement in the hemisphere; Simon Bolivar learnt his craft there, before proceeding with the liberation of most of the South American continent.

For one glorious moment in time, it seemed that the downtrodden had risen to take on their rightful roles as free men. But the powerful nations surrounding Haiti would never let that happen.

Today, we are faced with a phenomenon that in itself grew out of that Haiti, as it turned upon itself and found not only its artistic and cultural flowering of the past, but also the darker side, bred of the brutality of slavery under the French.

This is not recognised by some of our leaders, who mistakenly believe that the president of that country is a messiah come to lead his country out of the wilderness. Their vision is clouded by sentiments sprung from what that country has done for us, rather than from the reality of present-day Haiti.

Haiti, under Aristide I was a democracy. Haiti under Aristide II is anything but a democracy and we cannot be facetious about it, or the lot of the common Haitian will never change. The present government is the result of an election, which was manipulated in a way that none of us would accept as normal in our own country. It became a farce after a day when ordinary Haitians had gone out in their millions to vote. In spite of the difficulties surrounding an election in such a poor country, unaccustomed to proper elections, the population went out in earnest to make their voices heard.

Most recently, Aristide has promised the Organisation of American States Secretary General, Dr Gaviria and former Dominican Prime Minister Dame Eugenia Charles that he would re-run the eight senate seats contested (I believe the number was nine) and all would be well again.

His spokesperson in the Senate indicated that the population was being squeezed as a result of an international blockade of aid to Haiti. Interestingly, Aristide was informed that this would happen if he did not observe the propriety of having a run-off in a number of elections where, after the vote count, his minions had changed the numbers first and then miscalculated the numbers so as to gain a 50 per cent plus one majority for his chosen.

In all probability, Aristide’s party, Fanmi Lavalas, would have won that election, if there had been no fraud and no deliberate miscalculation of the vote. The fact is that the Opposition was not much of an opposition, even though they were numerous. Indeed, they form more of a serious opposition now as the so-called Convergence than they did during the elections, when they were little more than a large number of splintered parties.

Why should anyone believe that Aristide or, for that matter his spokesperson Yvon Neptune, is any more serious now about a fair rerun of that part of the election? What about other elements of the election clearly fraudulently won, like the Mairie of Petionville? Are we prepared to let that slide?

And how will he obtain an independent electoral council? Will it be like the last one where one member ran to the president to brief him on each and every word said in the council or elsewhere in the society for that matter?

That is not all. The United States had poured millions into the country to improve the justice system. Not much improvement or even change resulted from this input, which was generally inept. Prisoners still languished in prisons waiting for their case to be heard for year after year.

In the midst of this, the poor village priest, who had risen to save the masses, had amassed a fortune for himself and lived on his estate near the airport. He was surrounded by security and he received visitors in his anteroom, which was decorated by photos of Presidents Clinton, Carlos Andres Perez of Venezuela and Preval, his own lackey.

The room was also adorned by a splendid collection of Haiti’s best painters. It was a lavish setting. Yet no one dared to ask how the poor priest now owned all of this. No one even suspected that Father Arisitide had got into bed with a large United States telephone company to increase his wealth. The poor priest had been converted to a money-grabber.

There was indeed one man who questioned this. His name was Jean Dominique. He is no more. Jean Dominique was an unapologetic leftist, who genuinely cared for Haiti’s masses. Like everyone else of his political leaning, as well as a great deal of the Haitian middle class, he supported Aristide.

Indeed, he was forced into exile by the military soon after they had deposed Aristide. He was a superb journalist. His command of French, Creole and English were exemplary and he could influence a crowd almost as easily as the charismatic Aristide could. His radio programmes kept alive some hope that there would be justice for Haiti’s poor. He was, for a long time, in constant touch with Aristide. Then things changed.

I met Jean Dominique less than a month before he was gunned down outside the gate of his radio station. That was over a year ago. His murderer has not yet been identified, even though the assassination took place in broad daylight. He spoke openly about his dislike of the French and his love for Haiti.

He also spoke about Aristide and the last occasion on which the former president had visited his radio station. On that occasion, Jean Dominique had questioned him about several millions of dollars that had been subverted for someone’s personal use. Aristide had replied in one of his usual parables, saying that he was only the driver of the truck and that sometimes things happened on the back of the truck without the driver knowing. Aristide never returned to Jean Dominique’s.

Jean Dominique was also outspoken about one of Aristide’s more prominent supporters and now a member of his senate. The gentleman in question is generally held to be a drug-lord, and rumour has it that Jean Dominique had prepared a dossier, in which he was going to denounce this gentleman. Then he was gunned down together with the watchman, at the gate of the radio station. Still no one knows who did it.

How can we run into this mess of a political situation without taking account of the fact that opposition figures were killed leading up to the elections and that Haiti’s most prominent journalist was killed for what everyone assumes was political reasons? It was clear that his death silenced some who had spoken boldly in the wake of his own forthright statements on anything concerning Haiti and its poor.

The question now is: Assuming that the countries of the Hemisphere believe that Aristide will carry out the promises he made?and that would be a first?what will be the role of CARICOM? Are we to rush in and plead with the international donor community to restore the funds to Aristide? It is now clear that the Organisation of American States (OAS), which, in its all-too-familiar style, managed to pass a non-resolution on Haiti, will play that role. The Secretary-General is asked in the resolution to report on progress towards the settling of the political crisis in Haiti. One opposition speaker, Mr Pierre Charles has denounced the OAS action, claiming that it is attempting to gain legitimacy for the Aristide fraud in May of last year. It is clear that one cannot therefore expect any co-operation from the Convergence.

Several very fundamental problems remain. No one in the opposition would risk his life by going back to the polls. So how will those opposition candidates who should have been in the run-offs be persuaded to participate? Aristide himself recognises that if he makes a call for an independent electoral council, the opposition will also boycott this, since they know that whomever they put in place, Aristide’s candidate will make it impossible to conduct business in the council in secrecy or independently.

The major question arises as to who will fund the elections proposed by Mr Aristide. It seems unlikely that the United States and Canada, or for that matter France, the three countries which bore the brunt of the May 2000 elections, are going to put any money into the kitty. Haiti certainly has no money to run an election. So, even with the best will in the world, Mr Aristide cannot hold the elections he has promised. Indeed, this might provide a good excuse in itself for a man who could easily have held the same elections when they were demanded by all and sundry. Why would he want to hold them now? Inevitably he will blame the international community for not assisting and thus making it impossible for him to keep his promises.

What then? How does one move from here? It was earlier assumed that Aristide understood that the international community would cut aid to Haiti if he did not conduct the mandated second round of the senatorial elections. Yet he insisted that the senators had been duly elected. It was also assumed that since the bicentennial anniversary of Haiti’s Independence would fall within his period in office, in 2004, he would have done everything to make Haiti a showpiece for that occasion. All those assumptions were as false as believing that Aristide would now be the democrat he was in 1990.

As I see it, CARICOM, or at least those leaders in CARICOM who are not overly swayed by their emotions, must put a foot down. If the Hemisphere is willing to be lured into awaiting the outcome of yet another Aristide promise, the Community should wait until he once more breaks his word and indicate in no uncertain terms that the region has some real values, that the Charter of Civil Society has some meaning and that we will not admit Haiti into what used to be a club, very particular about who was admitted. Please do not forget that Haiti under Duvalier and the Dominican Republic under Balaguer, as well as Suriname under the army were all refused entry into CARICOM. It was felt by some of the same people now courting Haiti under Aristide that the refusal at that time was appropriate. Is it perhaps that we have lowered our standards?

How will we justify fully admitting Haiti into CARICOM at the present time, if we refused to do so under Duvalier? What will be the result of our action on our reputation within the international community? I am not suggesting that our actions should first take into consideration the reaction of that group of nations. However, we have had a reputation for a clear interest in human rights and democratic governance. When we chastised the United States for attacking Cuba’s government on purely political grounds, the great northern neighbour may not have liked it, but I believe that they understood our principled stance on that and many other issues. What is our principle here? Is it that we are so tired of crisis in Haiti that we are prepared to do anything to put an end to it? How will we be able on our own to bring some economic prosperity to that country? I doubt that we will be able to persuade the international donors that they should ease their ban on non-humanitarian aid to Haiti.

Without the international players returning to support reform of the internal economy and improve the human rights situation in that country, there will be little or no foreign investment, little or nothing for the country to trade. CARICOM cannot correct this situation. Haiti, I am sorry. I begin seriously to believe what I said in jest to a few of my Haitian friends: we, in CARICOM, love Haiti more than the Haitians themselves.