Originally: Election Year In Haiti
It’s an election year in Haiti, and much attention should be devoted to the situation there to help thwart the enemies of democracy who could disrupt the process. The full nine-member electoral board has issued an electoral law. Talks are under way among political parties and groups to consolidate into coalitions to reduce the multiplicity of insignificant entities. Practically all international powers, including the African Union, have declared their support for the interim government in its determination to hold local, legislative, and presidential elections later this year.
Last month, the chairman of the African Union, Alpha Oumar Konare, visited Port-au-Prince at the invitation of the government to assess the situation. From Haiti, Mr. Konare went to South Africa, where he met with President Mbeki and Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the former president of Haiti, to brief them on the decision of the African Union to aid Haiti in its stabilization process and upcoming elections. In other words, there’s no going back for Mr. Aristide as president, as some of his supporters had hoped.
This month, the Chilean diplomat Juan Gabriel Valdes, who heads MINUSTAH, as the U.N. Mission to Stabilize Haiti is called, addressed the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States, or OAS, and the U.N.’s Security Council to report about progress in Haiti and to call for sustained involvement of the international community. He noted that about $10 million more would be needed to fund the elections, which will cost about $90 million.
Late last month, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund began releasing funds previously pledged to the government of Haiti for urgent projects. Moreover, the government has shown resolve in dealing swiftly with officials involved in fraud.
But if we have learned any lesson from Iraq, it is that the enemies of democracy will do anything to disrupt the democratic process. In many ways, Haiti is a mini-Iraq. An elected president who depended on armed thugs to cow an entire country was forced out of power 11 months ago by a popular uprising and international pressure. Unlike the situation in Iraq where America bypassed the U.N. to carry out the invasion, the Security Council approved the deployment of international forces in Haiti.
Then all hell broke loose last September when Lavalas thugs allegedly connected to Mr. Aristide launched “Operation Baghdad.” Aping the insurgents in Iraq, they decapitated law enforcement officials and civilians in a deliberate campaign to destabilize the interim government.
Concurrently, Lavalas leaders called for “massive demonstrations” in Haitian communities abroad in favor of Mr. Aristide’s reinstatement in power. They have drawn a handful of die-hard activists. Weather permitting, a lone demonstrator draped in a Haitian flag shifts back and forth on the sidewalk in front of the Haitian Embassy in Washington every Wednesday for about two hours. In a recent amiable conversation, Lovinsky Pierre Antoine said, “I am doing this symbolically to protest the coup d’état against President Aristide, who should be reinstated in power.”
“But Mr. Aristide had prepared himself for the coup d’état,” I observed, “by sending close members of his family, including his two minor daughters, to Florida before he signed his resignation letter that served as the basis for the U.N. involvement in Haiti.” To which Mr. Pierre Antoine retorted, “He was acting as a good father for the security of his family.” Mr. Pierre Antoine, a former employee of the Lavalas government, may be acting out of patriotism, and not on a paid mission. But the duplicity of his leader is undeniable. He put close members of his family, including his in-laws, out of harm’s way and fled to the safety of a golden exile and then encouraged his partisans to create havoc in Haiti.
Apparently, the international community has a new appreciation of the Haitian situation. Under pressure from a more assertive MINUSTAH, some of the thugs in the shantytowns of Port-au-Prince have either gone underground or crossed into the Dominican Republic next door. But they could be waiting for the appropriate moment later this year to spring into action at the height of the electoral campaign. They may even try to emulate the Tontons-Macoute and the army-controlled bandits who went on a murderous rampage on election’s day on November 29, 1987, drowning in blood in one day the work of several months.
A well-tested security apparatus should be put in place to ensure that the elections in Haiti won’t be marred by the enemies of democracy.
Mr. Joseph is Haiti’s envoy to Washington.