Fair Elections in Haiti: Imagine the Possibilities!
All indicators suggest a fiasco for the scheduled fall elections in
The International Crisis Group (ICG) observed that 18 months after former
President Jean Bertrand Aristide was forced out of the country, Haiti
remains insecure and volatile. On the part of much of the population
ICG saw "disenchantment, apathy and ignorance about the electoral
process." Rightfully so, this reputable Geneva-based organization
concluded it is essential and urgent that those conditions be reversed.
Apathy and lack of familiarity with the electoral process is no
Last April Ron Gould, a consultant with the Canadian International Development
Agency (CIDA), wrote "the voter registration process is technology
driven as a result of a decision of the Organization of American States."
Gould, who openly worried about the "the high cost, high risk nature"
of this decision given Haiti's lack of infrastructure, concluded still
"there is no turning back."
It is hardly surprising that ICG reported "a week before the scheduled
close of registration, only 870,000 [of 4 million] potential voters
had registered, and none had yet received the new national identity
card required to vote."
So, could authentic elections be held in today's Haiti? The answer is
linked to the willingness of powerful countries like Canada to let Haitians
control their destiny and determine the political fate of their leaders.
There are several critical developments that offer a basis for believing
that a genuine election remains possible. First, Aristide, the exiled
president, confirmed he shall not defy the Haitian Constitution to seek
a third mandate. Second, Aristide's return to complete a botched second
mandate is being demanded by himself and by his supporters as part of
a national reconciliation process which they insist must include free
elections. Thirdly, all members of the interim government signed an
agreement confirming they shall not seek political office in the upcoming
elections. And finally, the fully deployed UN mission (MINUSTAH) by
far outguns and outnumbers Haiti's armed factions and, consequently,
has suffered minimal casualties. Provided adequate political direction,
a MINUSTAH refocused on true peacekeeping rather than targeted political
repression could easily secure the country for elections.
Clearly, the challenge facing the foreign powers (Canada, U.S., and
France) that supervised the disastrous "regime change" in
Haiti is political rather than military. The question, then, is whether
the necessary shift in political vision can take root in the minds of
Martin, Bush and Chirac. Will they recognize that the main problem is
the illegal nature of the post-coup regime they installed, which Haitians
and foreigners alike find difficult to take seriously?
Meanwhile, it is generally recognized and even admitted by senior officials
at Canada's Foreign Affairs department that Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas
remains Haiti's most popular party. It goes without saying that an election
without Lavalas would be considered a sham. Yet, the U.S., Canada, France,
and the interim government have openly and actively sought to destabilize
and eliminate Lavalas from the running, by promoting a split within
Martin's Special Advisor on Haiti, Denis Coderre, has gone so far as
to name two individuals he deems suitable replacements for Aristide.
This ill-inspired strategy has served to irredeemably discredit these
foreign-blessed "moderates" who have lost the respect of Haitians.
It has become such a cynical farce that news broke on Aug. 4 that Guy
Phillipe, the infamous paramilitary now presidential candidate who headed
the violent coup from the Dominican Republic, has announced seeking
an alliance with moderate Lavalas. As could be logically expected, Lavalas
that the condition of their participation in the elections remain unchanged:
release some 1,000 political prisoners, end political persecutions and
return President Aristide to complete his mandate.
What does Canada offer?
Despite the efforts of a growing number of Haiti solidarity activists,
Martin shows no signs his official policy is diverging from the course
championed by Pierre Pettigrew, who continues to openly embrace the
character assassination of the exiled president. Most disturbingly,
Pettigrew continues to dismiss the many reports from credible independent
organizations such as the Miami School of Law, Harvard University, the
Geneva-based Small Arms Survey and Amnesty International which indicate
that post-coup civilian killings and political assassinations have been
primarily directed against Lavalas supporters. According to Pettigrew,
painstakingly documented horrors described in these reports are mere
"Lavalas propaganda." Consequently, the violations are ignored
and the illegal regime committing them continues to enjoy Canada's unflinching
Claude Boucher, Canada's Ambassador to Haiti, told the Inter-Parliamentary
Forum of the Americas on Dec. 9, 2004: "We hope that Aristide is
going to disappear... I believe that he should never come back. [...]We
hope [an enquiry into alleged corruption by the Aristide government]
will show Aristide is guilty of so many criminal actions." Obviously,
for Canada to play a productive role in Haiti, official Canadian policy
cannot be so partial and paternalistic. Pettigrew and Martin must accept
that Haitians have the final say in matters concerning their nation's
future, that CARICOM (Caribbean Community Secretariat) and South Africa
players whose peace-seeking role must be accorded due respect, and that
of moderation both from within and outside Haiti must be heard and listened
Canada is openly supporting the machinations of an economically powerful
but unlawful minority in Haiti. The just grievances of Haiti's impoverished,
humiliated, disempowered and marginalized majority are still being ignored.
What is urgently needed, as recommended by Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela's
African National Congress (ANC), is a genuine peace initiative that
actively and respectfully engages exiled President Aristide as well
as his opponents.
Canada could play an active role in this, but only if a significant
paradigm shift occurs in its foreign policy towards Haiti. Our fast
growing movement of solidarity with Haiti shall not be detracted by
opportunistic political statements or symbolic appointments made to
deviate attention from the real issues. From Prince Edward Island to
British Columbia, and certainly in Pierre Pettigrew's Papineau riding
Québec, our cry will continue to resonate loud and clear: No
to sham elections in
Yes to genuine and fair elections, following the release of all political
prisoners and the return of Haiti's exiled constitutional president,
There remains one question: Does our prime minister, who recently shocked
everyone with the surprised nomination of Haitian-born Michäelle
Jean as Governor General of Canada, have the courage to do the right
thing when there are few evident political points to gain - even if
risking disapproval from Bush?
Mr. Prime Minister, won't you surprise us again, this time, by boldly
taking a foreign policy roundabout to embrace the rightful aspirations
of the Haitian people to social justice, recovered dignity and sovereignty?
Jean Saint-Vil is a founding member of the Canada Haiti Action Network:
NDP Criticizes Canada's Haiti Policy Fortunately, not all parliamentarians
have bought Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew's marketing
of his Haiti policy. In a letter dated Aug. 3, 2005, NDP Foreign Affairs
critic Alexa McDonough informed
Pettigrew that she has "serious questions about the legitimacy
of the current interim government and the acquiescence of Canada in
the seemingly active attempts by the interim government to ensure President
Aristide's Lavalas Party does not participate in the upcoming elections."
Quite rightly, Ms. McDonough concludes that "Canada must take stock
of its role in the removal of democratically elected President Jean
Bertrand Aristide, evaluate its actions in Haiti since February 2004,
and re-commit to helping end the violence and restoring true democracy
in Haiti." So far, the "stock-taking" called for by McDonough
appears unlikely. -- Jean Saint-Vil
Haiti's Constitution Pushed Aside Since the violent overthrow of President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti's constitution has been pushed aside.
The very duration of the post-coup government is illegal given that
transitional regimes are constitutionally bound to last no longer than
90 days within which to organize
Nonetheless, this 18 month-old regime mired in allegations of corruption
and extra-judicial killings is sinking ever deeper into lawlessness,
illegally naming ambassadors and signing international accords. Robert
Tippenhauer, the regime's recently appointed ambassador to Canada, openly
admits being selected extra constitutionally, on account of a "special
arrangement" reached with a fragment of the international community.
-- Jean Saint-Vil
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