Originally: A Civil Solution to Crisis

Once again, the Lavalas regime in Haiti has failed to meet the Organization of American States’ most recent deadline to demonstrate its good faith by taking substantive action to establish minimum conditions of public security and confidence. These measures would have finally permitted the formation of a credible Provisional Electoral Council and the initiation of a transparent electoral process, leading to free and fair national and local elections, as called for by the OAS Permanent Council.

Government maneuvering since the recent visit of a high-level OAS delegation has been universally decried as a series of empty gestures. Indeed, some of the regime’s putative “responses” — including the appointment of the president’s unqualified personal cronies to command positions within the Haitian National Police — seem expressly aimed at making a mockery of both the growing outcry against impunity from within Haiti and the international community’s mediation efforts. Meanwhile, the continuing repression of peaceful dissent, the persistence of threats against civic and opposition leaders, the ongoing suppression of a free press and a series of well-documented attempts to unduly influence the judicial process give the lie to the regime’s disingenuous protestations to the contrary.

A comprehensive report from the OAS’s own Special Mission for Strengthening Democracy in Haiti documents this latest failure. Consideration of the report has been deferred until later this month.

Clearly, the time has come for the OAS’s Permanent Council to invoke Article 20 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter , and move to convene a special session of the General Assembly to consider the suspension of Haiti from the exercise of its right to participate in the OAS.

By invoking Article 20, the Permanent Council would explicitly acknowledge that an unconstitutional alteration of Haiti’s constitutional regime has seriously impaired democratic order in that country, and that its diplomatic initiatives have thus far proved unsuccessful in fostering the restoration of democracy.

After more than two years of fruitless effort and in response to the regime’s continued recalcitrance, such an acknowledgement is appropriate. Its effect will be to increase the urgency of diplomatic efforts to resolve the Haitian crisis and to focus those efforts on changing the behavior of the principal actors responsible for the continuing impasse: the Haitian state and its single-party governing apparatus.

Simultaneously, the Permanent Council should resolve to advocate the formation, and support the efforts, of a transitional administration in Haiti, charged with addressing the country’s immediate humanitarian, economic and security crises. Perhaps as much as two years may be required to achieve this objective, but there is simply no other alternative if Haiti is ever to return to the path of democratic reform.

Modeled on the OAS-brokered formula that provided the consensual basis for constituting a new Provisional Electoral Council, any new formula for creating a transitional government would be anchored by a preponderance of civil society participation and oversight, although it might well include limited political party involvement as well.

The creation of a credible and internationally sanctioned transitional administration would have sufficient impact to jump-start the long-delayed electoral process, by overcoming the reticence of civil society and opposition groups to authorize their delegates’ participation on the Electoral Council while the Lavalas party retains control.

Moreover, the Permanent Council’s charting of such a course at this juncture would have the additional virtue of recognizing that the international community’s most important ally in the effort to restore democratic functionality to Haiti must be Haitian civil society itself, which in recent months has demonstrated that it is able to transcend the internecine political wrangling and ready to act in the higher interests of the nation.

Not only the recently formed civic coalition known as the “Group of 184,” but other organized elements of Haitian civil society from across the ideological spectrum, including the established churches, should immediately be called upon by the OAS to become full partners in the search for a lasting solution to this persistent crisis — a crisis whose origins are clearly political, but whose resolution must, finally, be civil.

James R. Morrell is the executive director of the Haiti Democracy Project, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.