Haiti Democracy Project observers played an important role in correcting management and throughput issues that surfaced in the early hours of voting on February 7. Additionally, they played an essential role in obtaining the necessary lighting equipment and security augmentation for voters at the Cité Soleil voting center at the Industrial Park to continue voting after the formal closing hour of 4:00 p.m. Everyone contributed to this effort, but special mention must be made of the initiative taken by John Merrill, Molton Michel and Lionel Delatour.
There was no electricity in the warehouse and no way the voting could be completed before nightfall. Soon the building would be pitch-black.
The Haiti Democracy Project observer team consisting of John Merrill (chief of Western Hemisphere programs for the Defense Department), Molton Michel of New York, and Peterson LaPlante of Boston, aided by Lionel Delatour of Haiti, went into action. They soon helped election officials form up the lines better. They then went for a search in nearby factories for a power source that could be hooked up to the warehouse. They succeeded in this search, hooked up the line, and the voting went on long into the evening, until all the Cité Soleil people in line had their chance to vote.
The U.S. Haitian-American community made a big contribution to our Port-au-Prince coverage, supplying six of our eight observers:
- Jean Charlet, Boston
- Peterson LaPlante, Boston
- Elmide Méléance, Hyattsville, Md.
- Molton Michel, New York
- Ulrick Ricot, New York
- Garry Theodate, Boston
- They were joined by
- John Merrill
- Shawnta Walcott
Méléance, Charlet and the others covered voting stations in Petionville, Delmas, and Carrefour.
Suggestions to ease voting in the second round
The Haiti Democracy Project hopes to get its observations and management suggestions incorporated in the planning for subsequent rounds. This input was requested by the United Nations, Organization of American States, and State Department in conversations we held with officials following the vote (including State Department officials in Washington). Since management improvements may require some lead-time to accomplish, these officials will need to move fast. A 30 60 90 day plan is the best way to begin in the initial stage.
Before the vote, Haiti Democracy Project observer John Merrill (observing also for the U.S. government) was asked by Amb. Timothy M. Carney, U.S. chargé d?affaires in Haiti, to join in addressing the status of elections preparations and Haiti’s future with the principal international representatives in Haiti on election eve. The audience included OAS secretary-general Insulza, U.N. mission chief Juan Gabriel Valdez, U.N. elections director Gerardo LeChevalier, and OAS voter-registration director Elizabeth Spehar.
Remarks by Haiti Democracy Project election observer John Merrill to U.N. and OAS officials, Port-au-Prince, February 6, 20006.
- The foreign role in Haiti, whether by individual countries or international organizations, is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of Haitian reality. These foreign observers believe that Haitians live in an unrelenting continuum of poverty and misery that is punctuated occasionally by international intervention. Cynics note that intervention brings some degree of stability and temporary but artificial prosperity, but accompanying reforms are never sustained when foreigners leave and Haiti slips back into its previous steady state of hopelessness.
- In reality, there is no steady state of poverty, to which Haitians simply adjust. Rather, conditions in Haiti are getting worse, year after year, based on a large number of objective indicators that are immune to short-lived interventions. A few examples:
- Each year, Haiti possesses less arable land, making it progressively less able to feed itself. As a result, farmers “mine the soil” through improper crop rotation and overuse of pesticides, thereby accelerating this process.
- Each year, Haiti’s fisheries produce lower yields due to pollution, forcing fishermen to venture further and further from its shores and fish inefficiently.
- Each year, Haiti produces fewer classroom teachers than the year before, making the country less able to educate its young.
- Each year, Haiti becomes less able to compete in the global market place because the advantage conferred by low wages and proximity to the United States is undercut by instability, corruption, an unreliable infrastructure and a poorly-educated workforce.
- The only consistent “positive” indicator in Haiti is population growth, meaning that in ten to fifteen years there will be perhaps fifteen million Haitians competing for fewer resources than are available today. The consequences of that future for stability and out- migration should be readily apparent to all, but the development challenge is so huge that no nation or group of nations appears willing to make the investment.
- Against that backdrop, Haiti and its friends are preparing for elections intended to install a legitimate government. Despite numerous postponements and threats of violence, Haitian voters appear poised to participate in large numbers in a process they now believe is credible. Most agree that if the election fails, it will be due to mismanagement, not deliberate corruption or violence spawned by armed gangs.
- Credible elections should produce a government with legitimacy among the population, which the interim government never possessed. Although legitimacy may be squandered by whatever government is installed, that will only occur if the international community elects to disengage.
- Regrettably, the history of international intervention in Haiti is a record of premature disengagement and failure to learn from our own mistakes, creating an empty legacy. In the mid- to late-nineties, the United Sates alone invested $3 billion in Haiti and today we have virtually nothing to show for it.
- This record prompted U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan to commit to a “ten-year mission” two years ago. He argued persuasively that long-term engagement is essential to change the economic foundations and political culture of Haiti. Most troop-contributing nations and funding countries echoed his views.
- That consensus is now eroding. Increasingly, Western Hemisphere governments are listening to their own domestic publics, who question the strategic value of continued engagement in Haiti. Particularly among troop-contirbuting countries, domestic audiences question the value of putting national troops in harm’s way. The same arguments resonate in the principal funding countries, where aid budgets for Haiti are being slashed.
- Although credible elections should be viewed as the starting point for serious reforms leading to sustainable development, truly successful elections will only increase the temptation to use that event or series of events as an exit excuse, if not an exit strategy.
- Realistically, on the day after elections or inauguration of a new president, Haitians will be no better off than they are today. The Haitian economy will be just as broken; the number of formal-sector jobs will remain far fewer than Haiti possessed a dozen or more years ago during military rule. The job of creating a functioning police or justice sector will remain unfinished, and so forth. None of the essential prerequisites to creating a magnet for capital investment will exist.
None of this means that that the U.N. mission or the OAS role should be maintained indefinitely as presently configured. In some respects, a heavy presence of foreign troops may actually lessen the urgency and imperative to Haitians to create a functioning security sector. Hence the foreign presence in Haiti must evolve; for example by increasing UNPOL while reducing military troops.
Similarly, austere budgets require that we invest in smarter ways in Haiti’s long-term development. We must perform an entirely unsentimental assessment of Haiti’s needs, abandoning projects that can never work, and focusing instead on capability and job creation for tomorrow’s global economy. We simply cannot afford to continue reinventing, for example, “temporary” jobs programs that await foreign investment that never arrives. We cannot begin yet another nostalgic reforestation project in an effort to recreate the hardwood rainforest that existed in Haiti in the 1920s, when any competent botanist or biologist knows that once the micro-climates that sustain and are created by such forests are gone, they are gone. They cannot be recreated by the works of man.
These are just a couple of examples of the realism we must bring to the international role in Haiti. We must focus on building institutions and capabilities that can function in the absence of foreign troops. We must remember that foreign investment, and especially private foreign capital, is a coward. It will not venture into Haiti until profit opportunities are genuine and stability and security are commensurate with reasonable levels of risk. Because as we have learned, even the wealthy elements of the Haitian diaspora will not let emotional, cultural, or familial attachment to Haiti override the fundamentals of sound business decisions.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. We cannot envisage any rosy scenario for Haiti if the international community repeats the past mistake of disengaging as soon as the appearance of democratic governance has been achieved. Expecting a newly-democratic Haiti to reinvent itself economically or politically, without sustained and substantial foreign engagement, is simply unrealistic. Haiti is a failed state, which will not be changed by a democratic veneer. Countries and organizations with a long-term interest in Haiti must decide whether the requisite investments can be sustained over time, and whether that investment is worth making. The alternative of continued cycles of intervention and neglect will only make the challenges of Haiti more difficult.