“Je ne vais pas baisser les bras, la bataille ne fait que commencé.?
?Sen. Rudolph Boulos, visiting his constituents in the Nord-est Department on August 13, 2008.
At this time of calamity, Haiti can ill-afford to cast off any of its few remaining public servants of competence and probity. Just an ounce of competent management could have saved a ton of lives, for example by assuring that the U.S. Southern Command had the necessary land for its warehouse so that abundant supplies would be pre-positioned on Haitian soil, rather than depending on helicopters from an offshore warship.
Yet last March 18 President Preval incited the Haitian senate to expel perhaps its most competent member, Sen. Rudolph Boulos, the vice-president of the senate, for no other reason than that he was competent, he was practical, and he was independent. Before Preval embarked on his vendetta, Boulos had given him no offense and had not even criticized him publicly. But it was clear from Boulos?s character that if Preval intended a major power-grabbing exercise like junking the constitution and rigging elections, Senator Boulos would stand in the way.
In the ensuing stampede to betray their colleague, the senators overlooked the fact that under the constitution they were explicitly denied the right to expel one of their own members, unless that member had been convicted of a crime by a court of law. Boulos has been convicted of no crime. Accordingly, on June 13 the civil court of Fort-Liberté ruled his expulsion illegal and ordered him reinstated.
In the coming days, the senate will take up the Fort-Liberté ruling. This will be a primary test of Haiti?s ability to adhere to the rule of law. For if the freely-elected senate itself scoffs at the law, there is no other place in the Haitian government where the law will be respected.
The Boulos case goes far beyond an individual. As a senator elected for six years and an organizer of conferences aimed at bringing about a Permanent Electoral Council and a fully-seated senate, Boulos emerged as the highest-ranking advocate of democratic norms to be found in the Haitian government. There were certain other government ministers and legislators sharing this tendency, but they were either too much under Preval?s thumb or simply lacked Boulos?s tenacity and practicality.
There were also few among the opposition who could match Boulos?s electoral success: he was elected three times overwhelmingly, touching a chord among the poor people of the Nord-est by his constant attention to their needs, and prevailing over fraud and slander. To this day he enjoys high popularity among the poor, and not just of the Nord-est. He showed the courage of his convictions in returning briefly to Haitian soil on August 13. ?Rudolphe Boulos comme un cavalier sans peur et sans reproche revient au pays,? reported Info Haiti. ?Brushing aside the threat of arrest or even attempts on his life as threatened from all sides (in an unofficial fashion), Rudolph Boulos went back last Tuesday as promised.?
As the new Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis assumes office mellifluously promising ?inclusion,? the real question is whether the government can tolerate any opposition at all, beyond the incapable and token. Slanders and office-ransacking have already been inflicted on two other senators supporting Boulos. The Boulos case is then a primary test of whether Haiti is headed for a dictatorship, with all the incoherence and suffering of the people that this implies.
Boulos was more than expelled, he was threatened and exiled. Had he not fled immediately, he would have been arrested and subjected to mistreatment, perhaps killed. An arrest warrant was prepared, although not signed since they could not find grounds. A Lavalas senator close to the palace told Boulos he would be killed if arrested. An informant close to the former gang members whom Preval keeps at the presidential palace said that the method would have been injections to induce a diabetic coma.
The reaction to this outrage among the Haitian democratic intelligentsia was a self-indulging indifference. As one of their own was plucked from among them, they seemed to regard it as some kind of curiosity that did not affect them. The leaders of Boulos?s own political party, ?Fusion of Social Democrats,? hardly lifted a finger as one of their leading elected officials was kicked out of the country. ?Fusion? indeed. And to this day, mum is the word from Haiti?s leading intellectuals and democratic writers.
If one argues, however, that no more could be expected from Haiti?s failed political class, then certainly the United Nations and the major democratic nations on the scene would understand the danger to political stability of expelling a leading, duly-elected oppositionist. Based on their experience at home, they might also wonder about the reaction of a whole province of voters at having their favorite senator yanked away. But on the contrary, such is the Western policy community?s embrace of Preval as the elected president that nothing was done. Boulos was even kept from communicating his concerns to higher-ranking American officials. As the elected president, Preval has been designated as the bearer of stability. The Bush administration and the United Nations have turned over policy control to him. Such is the deference to Preval that nothing he does, whether his expulsion of a senator, or his passivity in the face of repeated national emergencies, or his scheming to fix elections and dispose of the constitution, can deflect them from their chosen course.
This approach will get the Bush administration through the rest of its term, but will leave a headache for the next administration. Historically, Haitian presidents are not bearers of stability; just the contrary. Not for nothing did the 1987 constitution seek to severely limit their power. The typical Haitian president is perfectly willing to tear down the house in his quest for a monopoly of power, and many have done exactly that. Far from stabilizing Haiti, a blind policy of deference to them brings the opposite result.
Rather it is a judicious placing of international support on a careful balance of all the major interest-groups and institutions that slowly builds the skein of stability in Haiti. The network that holds them together is democratic procedure, constitutional government, growing acceptance of the rules of the game. From this grows the accountability that can eventually also trump corruption. Support should be withdrawn from actors who flagrantly violate the rules, or the structure will never be built.
One last group beyond the disenfranchised voters of the Nord-est was victimized by the expulsion shenanigan, and this was the Haitian Diaspora. After a fishing expedition to find other pretexts, Boulos?s persecutors settled on alleged ?dual citizenship,? accusing him of flashing an American passport in various airports (presumably in order to get into the short line!). However, Boulos was born of Haitian parents, has never renounced his Haitian citizenship, and so remains a Haitian under article 11 of the constitution. The only way to prove otherwise would be in a court of law, the Fort-Liberté decision also held: ?Questions relating to the nationality or attributions of a citizen are the exclusive province of the civil courts.? More to the point, the constitutional ban on dual citizenship would come into play if Boulos had repaired to the American embassy and pressed a claim against the Haitian government as an American citizen. He did no such thing. As a Haitian citizen, and with no more protection against government misconduct than any other Haitian citizen, he fled the country for his own safety.
For many years, the Haitian Diaspora has appealed to the Haitian authorities for political rights commensurate with the huge monetary contribution it is making. This contribution was set to reach $2 billion this year, even before the demands of hurricane relief came in. The Haitian Diaspora is also the repository of four out of five Haitians with university degrees. Next door in the Dominican Republic, eyeing the wealth and talents of their Diaspora, Dominican officials opened the doors wide to voting and office-holding, reaping a huge reward in Diaspora travel, tourism, investment, and retirement. Starting from the same level, the Dominican Republic?s GNP is now five times larger than Haiti?s.
The Haitian officials responded to their Diaspora?s appeals with empty gestures, but now Preval has given the real answer: for the alleged sin of holding an American passport, a duly-elected Haitian senator can be expelled and chased from the country. That tells the Diaspora several things: they are unwelcome, except for their money; their competence and executive ability, which could save Haiti, is not wanted in the government; there is no security for their investments, property, or even person.
The handling of this affair will also be a test of the new government of Michele Pierre-Louis, the longtime head of the Open Society Institute?s nongovernmental organization in Haiti. As such, she was the vanguard of one of the most principled American foundations fighting against government arbitrariness, abuse, and repression. In the commission that was marshaled against Boulos it was not only senators but high government officials sent by the previous prime minister who participated. Michele Pierre-Louis was willing to accept the support of the American foundation for many years. She must now publicly and emphatically revoke her government?s involvement in this sordid affair. If not, she will have compounded an earlier illegality, that of accepting nomination without senate approval of her government, with a second and most objectionable one.
The calamity that has brought the flooding to seven of ten departments is commonly described as a natural disaster. Just a glance around the Caribbean, however, will confirm that elsewhere the damage was contained by rational management?the same quality of management that Haiti recently displayed in the free and fair elections of 2006, and that its Diaspora routinely displays in the professions of the United States and other advanced countries. Boulos is one of the rare senior government members to bring this level of managerial ability. He has already used it to map out a course to deal with hunger and catch up with elections so as to restore legality. Both Preval and the senate should welcome Boulos back immediately, and in the current humanitarian crisis, put him to work managing the salvation of thousands of threatened lives.
James Morrell is director of the Haiti Democracy Project, of which Senator Boulos is a founding member.