Thursday, October 12. Haiti Democracy Project joins in briefing new Southcom commander
Admiral James Stavridis, new commandant of the Southern Command, met with a number of Washington thinktanks for a briefing on conditions in the region. We discussed with him the outlook for political stability and economic recovery in Haiti and the best U.S. policies toward these ends. The event was hosted by the Heritage Foundation. The Haiti Democracy Project was represented by Gerald Gourdain and James Morrell. Presenting were:
Peter De Shazo, Center for Strategic and International Studies
Eric Farnsworth, Council of the Americas
Mark Schneider, International Crisis Group
Stephen Johnson, Heritage Foundation
Representatives of World Policy Center, Woodrow Wilson Center
Presentation by the Haiti Democracy Project:
Last February, the long lines of patient voters delivered what Haiti needed most: the precious gift of legitimate government. The election was not without its flaws as the Haitian politicians proved unable to resist the usual manipulation of election results. This time it was the allocation of blank presidential votes to insure that Rene Preval would not suffer the indignity of having to go to a second round. But since he so decisively led the next candidate, 49 percent to 11 percent, the outcome broadly, if clumsily, reflected the will of the voters. The voting also produced a pluralistic parliament.
Overall, the Haiti Democracy Project?s prognosis is that the resulting government will probably complete its five-year term but with increasing tension within the group in power, which is an uneasy amalgam of Rene Preval?s L?Espoir party and remnants of Aristide?s Lavalas party. There will be a real question of the coherence of this group as loyalties flow to the next presidential contender, who might be the current prime minister Jacques Edouard Alexis. Fissures within this group could be a highly destabilizing factor. Equally destabilizing would be attempts by this (or any) group to attain total power over the electoral apparatus to the exclusion of the other parties who attained a majority in the parliamentary elections last spring. This winner-take-all formula, although well-honored by Haitian tradition, is always a sure-fire recipe for political turmoil in Haiti.
This traditional Haitian factionalism, however, is taking place, as noted, in the changed context of a legitimate government which increases the chances that institutions can contain it and keep it from being decided by the usual assize of arms. Additional positive factors are:
- Increasing role of civil society which helped to express in peaceful ways the public disaffection with Aristide in 2002-2003
- Increasing role of the Diaspora
- Presence of a capable U.N. mission as an earnest of a more vigilant approach by the United States
Preval and MINUSTAH are trying to gain the upper hand over the gangs in Cite Soleil and other areas. How long they will sustain this effort remains a question mark. Despite rhetoric, the strategy is not to confront but to coopt the gangs. It is too early to tell whether this will work. At the moment, the gangs are avoiding kidnapping high-profile rich people but are making a business of kidnapping middle class and diaspora family members.
There is no sign yet that Preval and MINUSTAH have a well-thought-out strategy. Their operations appear to be improvised day by day with neither mid- nor long-term planning.
As valued as the contribution of the major Latin American nations is, a role for the Southcom is to consider whether the presence of the U.S. military could stiffen a force which is marked by excessive caution and fear of casualties. The fear does not reflect cowardice but rather the thin public support these missions have in their home countries. There is a disconnect in entrusting the security of Haiti to countries whose interests are only peripherally involved, while the United States, whose interests are involved in Haiti, is absent.
The need to cleanse the police remains urgent and new recruits need to be trained at a faster pace to replace corrupt elements planted there during Aristide?s time. These elements include both chimeres (pro-Aristide gangsters) and former FADH whom Aristide placed there to act as his enforcers. The capable police chief Mario Andresol and the courageous chief prosecutor Judge Claudy Gassant need to be supported by the international community.
The release of Yvon Neptune and Auguste Annette, against both of whom solid evidence existed, are signs that impunity will continue for all persons connected with Lavalas and Preval. A failure to proceed with the lawsuit for the recovery of assets stolen by Aristide and cohorts would be a further affirmation of impunity. This would be a serious setback because the object of all the factionalism is the spoils of office, and has always been in Haiti. As long as these spoils can be seized without penalty the incentive for the factionalism will continue. The president of the senate has called for resumption of the lawsuit because the evidence is overwhelming.
It is pluralistic and showing maturity in dealing with the executive branch. A certain number of members of parliament will if recent history is a guide abuse their cars and immunity by transporting drugs. A promising avenue for the international community is to invest in shoring up the considerable number of clean members of parliament and help them exercise their role under the constitution.