Originally: Just Say No

As the Organization of American States convenes its General Assembly in Santiago, Chile the situation in Haiti is high on their agenda.  The hemispheric organization?s most recent efforts to jump-start a solution to the endemic political crisis there by increasing pressure on the President Aristide and his Lavalas regime to undertake previously agreed-upon, concrete actions to improve the security climate and increase public confidence in the prospects for free-and-fair elections have come to naught.  Two more difficult months have passed as the OAS?s Permanent Council chose to defer action in response to the regime?s continued intransigence until the Santiago meeting.


On the eve of that meeting, the Haiti Democracy Project  is compelled to reprise its April 2 recommendations to the Permanent Council calling for a new approach to the problem, and call upon the General Assembly to act definitively and appropriately in this matter.  If anything, the thrust of these recommendations is of even greater urgency and relevance today, since Aristide?s Lavalas party has now clearly announced its intention to ?amend? Haiti?s 1987 Constitution, vitiating a number of key provisions expressly designed to prevent the resurgence of presidential primacy and authoritarian rule.


1.  The General Assembly should invoke Article 21 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, suspending the Haitian state from ?the exercise of its right to participate in the OAS.?


In fact, the precise wording of Article 21 strongly suggests that the General Assembly?once it has determined, in special session, ?that there has been an unconstitutional interruption of the democratic order of a member state, and that diplomatic initiatives have failed??must take this step (??the special session shall take the decision??). HDP submits that both of these pre-conditions have, at this point, been met; and that this has already been duly documented and reported upon by various instances of the OAS itself, including the Special Mission for Strengthening Democracy in Haiti, the Commission of Inquiry that investigated the events of December 17, 2001, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. 


In the matter of an unconstitutional interruption of democratic order, Article 3 of the Charter defines ?the essential elements of representative democracy? as including, ?inter alia, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, access to and exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law, . . . , and the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government.  Reports issued by the OAS?s own organs, cited immediately above, catalogue numerous instances in which the state, through its formal and informal agents, has sponsored actions that have systematically impaired each of these three essential elements of democratic order.  These state-sponsored actions also constitute material breaches of substantial portions of Titles III, V and XI of the Haitian Constitution, among others.


As to the determination that diplomatic initiatives, including good offices, have failed ?to foster the restoration of democracy,? as the Charter puts it, the public record of almost three years of frustrated efforts speaks for itself.  Here again, it is the OAS?s own reporting?including most notably the Secretary General?s most recent report to the Permanent Council in this matter, dated May 20, 2003 (CP/doc. 3750/03)?that unequivocally documents this failure in considerable detail, rather than the observations or criticisms of the crisis?s protagonists or third parties to the process, which might be more readily dismissed.


It is also of note that those who have publicly objected to this recommendation since it was initially put forward by the HDP have done so not on substantive grounds?not, that is, because they take issue with the indisputable facts of the case?but because the presumed impact of such an action would be to ?isolate? Haiti by prompting the disengagement of the OAS.  In effect, they argue, Haiti and her people would be abandoned to whatever fate the ruling party has in store for them.  Yet Article 21 is perfectly clear on this point as well, defining the continuing obligations of both the affected member state and the hemispheric body in its final provisions: 


  The suspended state shall continue to fulfil its obligations to the Organization, in particular its human rights obligations.


Notwithstanding the suspension of the member state, the Organization will maintain diplomatic initiatives to restore democracy in that state.


In effect, then, the invocation and application of Article 21 does nothing more than redefine the nature of the crisis in light of its evolution over the past three years, reassert its gravity in light of the continued deterioration of the situation on the ground, and reopen the question of how best to address it proactively and with an appropriate sense of urgency given these developments.


Surely the time has come for a new approach to the Haitian dilemma.  Surely the time has come to acknowledge the determinant role that continues to be played by the president, his government and his party in the perpetuation and aggravation of the crisis.  Surely the time has come to rethink the roles, responsibilities and mutual obligations of every one of the major parties to this conflict. 


Article 21 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter is the most carefully crafted instrument that the OAS has afforded itself for doing precisely this.  At the very least, it would appear to be incumbent upon the General Assembly to give the most careful consideration to its immediate application in this instance.


2.  Independent of its final disposition with respect to the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the General Assembly should draft and adopt a new resolution on Haiti that calls for the expeditious implementation of the terms of CP/RES. 822 (1331/02) under the aegis of a non-partisan transitional administration in Haiti, and according to an amended timetable that will make the organization of free-and-fair national elections both technically and practically feasible.


Such an administration would be technocratic in nature, non-partisan in composition and?in keeping with the Haitian Constitution?functionally autonomous of the presidency.  It would be charged with addressing the country?s immediate humanitarian, economic and security crises and leading the nation to free-and-fair elections within a more reasonable time frame than that currently ensconced in Resolution 822; perhaps as much as two years may be required.


Modeled on the OAS-brokered formula that provided the consensual basis for constituting a new Provisional Electoral Council?the ?Initial Accord? to which all parties agreed almost two years ago?any formula for creating such a transitional government would have to be anchored by a significant measure of civil society participation, input and oversight.  It would also properly include political party participation across the board, in keeping with the admirably balanced approach of the Initial Accord.  (Under similarly difficult circumstances in 1990, an internationally-backed government and CEP based on an essentially extra-constitutional political compromise succeeded in leading the country to its first?and arguably most credible?post-Duvalierist national elections, those that brought Aristide to his first presidency on February 7, 1991.)


A transitional administration, overseen by a consensus-based council of some sort to ensure the advise-and-consent and watchdog roles normally played by a parliament, and supported technically by foreign donors, would immediately enhance the prospects of a normalization of Haiti?s relationships with the international financial institutions, based on an IMF staff-monitored lending agreement and pursuant to a clearance of Haiti?s current arrears to the World Bank and the IDB.  Bilateral assistance would also likely be resumed at levels that would make it possible to address the country?s most pressing immediate needs effectively and adequately prepare the nation for elections.


Furthermore, a call for the formation of a transitional administration to shepherd the country through the next national elections neither prejudges the outcome of Aristide?s presidency, nor the future of the Lavalas party.  If he is willing to accede to the 1987 Constitution?s strict limits on presidential prerogatives?and to cede his constitutionally mandated role in forming a government as part of an historic political compromise?he would be free to cohabit with a transitional administration in which his party participates alongside its peers in the opposition, to preside over the commemoration of Haiti?s bicentennial, and to serve out his full mandate.  Should he prove to be incapable or unwilling to do so, on the other hand, his continued role in blocking a resolution to the crisis he played so great a part in engendering would likely prompt a more rigorous scrutiny of his suitability for office by both national and international players.


In the final analysis, President Aristide today finds himself caught in a device of his own making, hoist upon his own proverbial petard.  Given his particular style of personalized governance, it may well be unreasonable for anyone to expect that he be either willing or capable of actually dismantling the formal and informal apparatuses that he has constructed to consolidate and maintain his power.  If the thinly veiled threats implicit in the declarations of popular organization leaders like Amiot Métayer, René Civil and Paul Raymond are any guide, the president has considerably more to lose at their hands than in any action that the OAS or any single nation, acting bilaterally, may ultimately be forced to take against him. 


A transitional administration, enjoying a full measure of material and moral support from the international community?particularly in matters of public safety and security?resolves this conundrum for both the president himself and all those who would like to see the political climate in Haiti become one that is palpably more propitious for the practice of representative democracy.  The General Assembly?s resolve in this connection, then, is best expressed in the passage of a resolution in keeping with this specific recommendation.



The time has come, then, to just say no.  No to the continued nullification of Haiti?s constitutional guarantees by the state and its agents.  No to the planned amendment of the Constitution to restore and perpetuate one-man, one-party rule.  No, finally, to maintaining the no-longer-terribly-useful fiction that a Lavalas-dominated government can or will implement the changes required to restore even a modicum of security and public confidence to Haiti.


But let us trust, too, that the General Assembly is finally ready to say yes as well.  Yes to the urgency of making some very difficult decisions.  Yes to the awesome responsibility of temporarily impairing the sovereignty of a state in the name of its people.  Yes to the daunting challenge of accompanying and assisting that people as it seeks to emerge from this debilitating national crisis and to reapply itself to the construction of a democratic polity and a developing nation.