Third Haiti Study Group

Presentation by Sen. Rudolph Boulos (Fusion-Nord-Est Department)

Discussion by Haitian-Americans and other participants

Presentation of Senator Boulos

Good morning to you all and thanks for coming on such a chilly day.

I know that many of you are in town for an exceptional historical event that not many of us even dreamed to see in our lifetimes. May this be an inspiration for us in our efforts for Haiti.

From the campaign to become a senator in the Nord-Est to the time that I took the oath of office I held to my conviction that democratic institutions are the best assurance of a better future for the Haitian people at large.

As vice-president of the senate I sought to hold the executive branch accountable and to keep building, consolidating and protecting democratic institutions.

Unfortunately, this clearly identified me as a threat to the executive branch?s agenda of restoring life-presidency. More then a year ago, threats to the 1987 constitution were clearly enunciated. Today the president of Haiti has reached the stage of implementation.

To avoid a political catastrophe and humanitarian disaster in Haiti, we must not lose the 1987 constitution. Rather, we should amend it by the constitutionally-prescribed process. In so doing we must avoid at all costs the attempt to revive the life-presidency of the dictatorial regimes of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. This past left us with insurmountable problems and scars.

Let?s look at the negative steps taken so far by the present government of Haiti.

  • Refusal to hold the elections of local delegates to choose the permanent electoral council. Being chosen locally, these delegates would be more likely to be independent and better able to create an electoral commission not controlled by the executive branch.
  • Refusal to hold elections that came due in November 2007 for the renewal of the outgoing third of the senate, leaving a senate with only two-thirds of its members and consequent difficulties in reaching a quorum. 
  • Dismissal of the previous relatively-independent electoral commission and creation of a new one totally controlled by the executive branch.
  • Consequent loss of credibility of the electoral commission which will sap the legitimacy of any officials chosen under its aegis.

Rather than following this route toward bad elections, a better solution would be to proceed immediately to the local-delegate elections to create the independent permanent electoral council required by the constitution, and then have this council hold all the overdue elections at the end of the year.

Instead, the government has announced elections for the missing third of the senate for April 2009 using its handpicked electoral commission. Worse, the international community is providing the money and putting on the pressure for having these elections with this questionable commission. Elections that are clearly controlled by the executive branch, and therefore perceived by most Haitians as fraudulent, will not produce legitimate senators but will merely plunge the country deeper into political, economic and social incoherence.

It is essential then that the new U.S. administration totally reassess the policy it has inherited from the Bush administration. It is not enough to put Haiti in quarantine. Haiti can move forward out of poverty, ignorance, and hunger. Working with the Haitian diaspora and local elected officials in Haiti, the United States can create this new direction.

Among its elements:

  1. A new U.S. policy must stop catering only to the Haitian executive branch with its enormous liabilities. The policy should broaden out to all three branches of government and to local communities.
  2. Support of elections in Haiti must be only of elections that truly express the will of the voters, as we achieved signally in 2006. Not a penny for rigged elections.
  3. The longstanding tradition of rigged elections, which may be imposed but will never be accepted, gives power to a certain type that has made this country the most corrupt and poorest in the Western Hemisphere. We had such elections in 1997 and 2000 and they led directly to bad governance and political and social instability.

So I challenge the Haitian diaspora in the United States to keep building up its hometown associations, keep creating links to other organizations, keep forming regional alliances, and so through dialogue and communication reach a common articulated vision that would produce clear recommendations for the new administration.

And I challenge the Haiti Democracy Project to become the catalyst of this network of hometown associations and regional alliances, all working together toward the elaboration of a vision common to all of us and directed to changing how the people?s business is conducted in Haiti and bringing hope of a minimum of dignity and better future.

Henceforth, as Dr. King said, we must not dwell in the valley of despair. It’s the task of all of us to inspire this nation to “rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.”

L? union de tous les haïtiens du dehors et du dedans fera la différence, in the spirit of our national motto. Vive Haïti, vive la diaspora haïtienne.

Before I pass the microphone, I would like in communion with you all to acknowledge two individuals in the room.

First, for over fifteen years, this gentleman has dedicated his life with much financial sacrifice on his part to Haiti and democracy. Please acknowledge James Morrell.

Second, as President Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Jacques P. Bernard has given generously of his time and expertise so that the elections of 2006 would bring about stability. He did this for over a year without monetary reward and at the peril of his life.

Discussion by Haitian-Americans and other participants

A Haitian-American government employee:

The senator’s recommendations should be disseminated widely. In considering them, it comes to mind that it is time for the Haitians, wherever they are, to take responsibility. This is particularly so on the issue of dual citizenship. Constitutionally, Haiti is a closed shop. The rule of law is lacking and must be restored. While the international community focuses on issues such as AIDS, the focus should be on restoring the rule of law.

The Haitian-Americans are responding to the situation by reinforcing their links. A Haitian-American National Alliance has been formed seeking to pull together all the hometown associations and also seeking to get the U.S. government to look at Haiti in a new light. Georges Casimir is involved in organizing it.

A former election observer of the Haiti Democracy Project:

The recommendations need to be compressed into a few talking points for the incoming administration.

A former administrator of the Haitian electoral commission:

His comments were in two areas:

  1. Concrete steps needed to bring together the diaspora
  2. The electoral process in Haiti as of today

On number one, organizing the diaspora, he had personally got involved on a voluntary basis in explaining a project to organize the diaspora to members of Congress. The project had been submitted to the U.S. government.

The reality was that the diaspora was Haiti’s middle class. It had most of Haiti’s educated professionals and much of its disposable resources.

On point two, Haiti could not have democracy without elections. If you had a government in Haiti that was always delaying elections, that would lead inevitably to instability. He had agreed to return to administer the electoral commission again, on the condition that the regulations used to hold the successful 2006 elections would stay in effect. The government agreed to this condition. Within a month, they completely changed the regulations. They set up the electoral commissioners to act both as administrators and judges of their own administration. He had had no choice but to resign.

From this there came several recommendations for the incoming Obama administration:

  1. The electoral commission was discredited.
  2. Haiti needed to organize the constitutionally-prescribed local-delegate elections to form an independent, permanent electoral commission
  3. The permanent commission should hold all the elections

A national Haitian-American leader:

There were at least two million Haitian-Americans. Counting all the diaspora in all the countries where they lived, with their children, there were six to eight million. The constitution needed to be amended to afford dual citizenship to this potent diaspora.

A Haitian-American specializing in intellectual property issues:

A generalized presentation emphasizing the above points.

A founding board member of the Haiti Democracy Project:

Delegations of the Haiti Democracy Project had gone to the Hill in 2006 to make sure that congressional attention to Haiti did not waver. At the end of the year, Congress passed the HOPE I bill. It created twelve thousand jobs. Since then, the HOPE II bill has broadened its provisions and made it much more feasible for textile entrepreneurs to invest. It has the potential to create many more jobs.

The “Next Steps for Haiti” legislation introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) could bring Haitian-American professionals to Haiti to stiffen the lax government administration in Haiti.