Originally: Will it be Martelly or Manigat to change Haiti?
After the new president is elected, the prospects for reform may hinge on returning emigres.Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck was once a supporter of former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide. But in the foreword he wrote for journalist Michael Deibert’s account of life and politics in post-Duvalier Haiti, “Notes from the Last Testament, 2005,” he set the record straight:”The sad truth for the millions of Haitians who had placed their destiny in the hands of Father Aristide in 1990 and again in 1994 is that he left a legacy of lies, intolerance, corruption, nepotism and conspiracy to eliminate his rivals and detractors.””We should have known,” Mr. Peck wrote. Perhaps. But it is also true that by the time Haitians did figure out that Aristide was a ruthless despot, he had already become a close friend of powerful Americans. And they protected him. As Mr. Peck writes, “it became a habit . . . particularly among his American friends in the pseudo-left sector to downplay” what was going on “or to hold his entourage responsible.”He continued: “Are journalists’ assassinations, threats, the dismissal of judges who are honest and not ‘flexible’ enough, the forced exile of bothersome adversaries?are these ‘acceptable’? Do we only deserve a dime store version of democracy?
“When Haitians go to the polls to choose a new president on Sunday in a runoff election, it will be the first time in 20 years that neither Aristide nor his alter ego and former ally, the current president René Preval, will be on the ballot. This could be a pivotal moment for Haiti.For the winner, the difficulties will be daunting. After nearly 50 years of repressive tyranny?two Duvaliers, Aristide, Preval?the new president will inherit a bureaucracy more akin to an organized crime network than a civil service. On top of that, Bill Clinton, a longtime friend of the status quo, is now the United Nations special envoy for the country and the unofficially appointed U.S. go-to guy on aid decisions. No wonder so many see this desperately poor country as a lost cause.Yet giving up is the privilege of outsiders, who think about Haiti only when a horrific natural disaster interrupts their regular cable television programming. The people who call Haiti home have no choice but to try again.I would add that despite the looming obstacles, there is something revolutionary in the mix this time around that makes the future brighter.
Both runoff candidates?Mirlande Manigat, a 70-year-old constitutionalist, and Michel Martelly, a 50-year-old pop star and music entrepreneur?are reaching out to the Haitian diaspora to come home, join the new government, and help rebuild their country.
No president since 1957 has wanted that.Observers are already pooh-poohing the runoff election on the grounds that the first round, held in November, was riddled with fraud. That much is true. The circumstances could not have been worse for Jude Celestin, Mr. Preval’s hand-picked successor. An estimated 1.3 million Haitians had been living in tent cities since the January 2010 earthquake, and their sense of helplessness was morphing into anger. Yet Mr. Preval seemed to believe that he could dictate a victory for Mr. Celestin. He did not realize that Haitian patience had run out.When the Provisional Electoral Council announced that Mr. Celestin had managed a second-place finish and would face Mrs. Manigat in the runoff, the nation exploded in protest. To quell the outrage, Mr. Preval agreed to a review by an Organization of American States “verification commission.” It found that Mr. Celestin had actually finished third, so it gave the runoff spot to Mr. Martelly.Those seeking election perfection are now allied with the Preval camp, arguing that the whole thing should have been thrown out. But if a breakthrough for good governance is the goal, there are bigger worries.Fraud also marred the parliamentary elections in November, and those results were not scrutinized by any independent observers. Now it is likely that Mr. Preval’s party will secure control of the legislature. If so, it will be able to pick the prime minister and the cabinet and thwart even the best intentions of a new president.
If Haiti’s American minders persist in their old ways, the odds of unseating the crooks go down even more.This is why the outreach to successful Haitians who fled is so important. Civil society has been valiant. As Mr. Peck points out, “it decided to pick up and fight against Aristide through massive and peaceful protests” in 2003 and 2004, and in the end he fell.But the kleptocracy is not going to let go so easily, and it must be recognized that a brain drain estimated at 80% of Haitian professionals sharply increases the population’s vulnerability to abuses of power. A president who persuades capable overseas Haitians to return home and join the struggle to build a just society might have a chance to bring about real change in Haiti.Write to O’Grady@wsj.com