On Wednesday November 5, 2003, Rep. John Conyers convened a session for the members of the Congressional Black Caucus?s Haiti Task Force to hear the viewpoints of key Haitian and Haitian-American organizations on the current political crisis in Haiti. The session took place at Rayburn 2237 and went on from 2:00-9:30 p.m. The six members of the CBC that attended the session heard among others representatives from the government of Haiti, the Organization of American States (OAS), the Haiti Program of the Trinity College, and the Haiti Democracy Project, each separately.
Our delegation consisted of Ambassador Timothy Carney, Clotilde Charlot, and Arielle Jean-Baptiste, respectively board members and associates of the Haiti Democracy Project. Below is a summary of the main points presented by Clotilde Charlot to encourage a more effective participation of the CBC in supporting democratic development and good governance in Haiti:
I am Clotilde Charlot, a founding and board member of the Haiti Democracy Project, a Washington-based thinktank that unites Haitians, Haitian- Americans and Americans of various viewpoints in support of democracy in Haiti.
I came to Washington in January of 1992, following a three-month stay at the Brazilian Embassy in Haiti where I was forced to seek asylum as a target of the bloody repression that followed the September 1991 military coup against the constitutional government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. I paid dearly for my political involvement when Aristide was overthrown. I lost my job, had to
abandon my home and leave my children behind in the care of others for over six months.
From April 1992 to March 1993, I served as President Aristide’s chief of staff here in DC, before joining a multilateral organization as a social development specialist.
As a well-known activist in Haiti (I served as the vice-president of Haiti’s then Association of Voluntary Agencies, and the executive director of a U.S.-funded NGO that served women workers in the light-assembly industry), I played a crucial role in promoting the Aristide candidacy for the 1990 elections among a large segment of Haiti’s civil society – particularly in rallying the support of U.S.-graduate, Haitian and Haitian-American professionals who were
rather skeptical at that time of our candidate’s ability to govern.
I left President Aristide’s Secretariat BEFORE he returned to Haiti because by that time I had become largely aware of his failings. Nonetheless, I stuck to my democratic principles and supported his reinstatement as the constitutional president of Haiti. At that time, I was nourishing the hope that what I had perceived as his most serious shortcomings would not lead to despotism, but that is exactly where we are today.
Like many of my compatriots inside and outside of Haiti, I am profoundly disappointed by the attitude of complacency of the traditional allies of Haiti’s struggle for democracy in the United States [ i.e the Congressional Black Caucus, the TransAfrica Forum, and some of the most liberal figures of the Democratic party ] towards Mr. Aristide’s ever more despotic government.
Unless one believes in a vast international human rights conspiracy, one cannot dismiss the unanimous assessments of credible international and Haitian human rights organizations of the situation in Haiti. These include: Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporteurs sans Frontières, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR).
In Haiti, women’s rights groups, students, academic and intellectuals are increasingly raising their voices to denounce the atmosphere of intimidation, repression and violence that the government is entertaining. At this very moment, the three hundred civil-society organizations that now comprise the Group of 184 are planning a major intervention on November 14, to protest against violations by the government of the Haitian people?s basic freedoms:
Freedom of Association: Threats, intimidation, attacks and outright prohibitions of public rallies and demonstrations have been a key feature of the Government’s response to dissident voices since November 2002
Freedom of the press: Many Haitian reporters have sought asylum abroad as a result of threats and intimidation. Radio stations are practicing self-censorship and some of them have been forced to temporarily shut down to protest government-sponsored attacks
Freedom of speech and opinion: to express publicly opinions different from those of the government or its supporters inevitably leads to threats. Intolerance is at its peak. Government loyalists are openly advocating presidency-for-life. President Aristide has never openly rejected such appeals to despotism.
On the economic front, Haiti now holds the distinction of being the lowest-ranking country with respect to business competitivity and among the five lowest-ranking countries with respect to corruption according to Transparency International.
Haiti’s business climate discourages foreign investment since the cost of doing business with the GOH is one of the highest . This not only deters domestic investment, but also encourages capital flight. Also, as you certainly know, over the past two to three years, thousands of the most qualified professionals and technicians the country has have resettled in Canada, a reproduction of the brain drain that characterized the worst years of the Duvalier dictatorship in the 1960s and left Haiti with such a poor endowment in human capital. On top of this all, business people are systematically the targets of kidnappings and ransoms.
What can be done?
The Haiti Democracy Project believes that the Congressional Black Caucus could be involved in the following ways:
Support the deployment of an international police force [1000? 2000? 3000? the exact number needs to be defined] throughout the electoral period, with the understanding that they would be deployed under clear rules of engagement that would permit them to act against human and civil rights violations as they may occur.
Help Haitians establish a politically neutral transitional government, which would enjoy full autonomy from the presidency in keeping with the constitutional prescriptions in this regard. Such a transition solution can operate with or without Aristide, with a formula that more or less resembles the one agreed upon for the Electoral Council.
Help Haitians establish an International Election Commission composed of Haitians and international members who have integrity and experienced in electoral processes following the model used for the 1994 elections in South Africa. That would require some minor modifications of OAS Resolution 822.
Support the organization of general elections – presidential and parliamentary in 2004 . This implies that Aristide’s presidential term be shortened accordingly.