A Coup Continues to Govern Haiti

The Senatorial Selection Process in Haiti

Sunday April 19 marked Haiti’s senatorial election which, due to its delay since December 2007, saw nearly every seat in the senate contested. Lespwa, President Rene Preval’s political party, hopes to take control of the senate through these elections. Members of Haiti’s majority political party, Fanmi Lavalas, which supported, and still supports, Fr. Jean Bertrand Aristide, have referred to this election as “the selection” because the Electoral Council has banned F.L. from participating. As a member of a recent human rights and labor delegation, I observed many of these events firsthand.

Fanmi Lavalas

In the mid 1980s a priest serving the slum of Cite Soliel began preaching the tenets of liberation theology to his parishioners. Unlike its other Christian counterparts, which espouse passive theological frameworks (such as resignation to unjust social conditions), liberation theology empowers people to seize control of their own political and economic lives. The people of Cite Soliel were so empowered by this message that that they came together like individual drops of water, mobilizing into a torrential flood (in Creole, lavalas) to vote Fr. Jean Bertrand Aristide into office in 1990.

As president, Aristide quickly institutionalized tenets of empowerment by building hospitals and schools to serve poor people. He sought ways to develop a system apart from the US-sponsored model of free trade, which had privatized much of the country into misery. By the time he reached his second term, Aristide’s revolutionary reforms and tremendous popular support had made him a threat in the eyes of the Western establishment. Though some disaffected (and often U.S.-funded) former allies criticized Aristide for compromising, filmmaker Kevin Pina and author Peter Hallward have meticulously documented how much Aristide refused to go along with “Washington consensus” economics.

In 1991 the U.S. launched its first military disruption of Aristide’s government, sponsoring a bloody military coup under which CIA-backed death squads killed thousands of Aristide supporters.

In 2004 the U.S. backed a second coup, removing Aristide from office and banishing him from the Western hemisphere. The United Nations supported an illegal “interim” government led by former World Bank employee Gerard Latortue, and later established a “peacekeeping” mission (called MINUSTAH), to legitimize the coup regime. For two years Haitians lived under an unelected, non-representative government. During this period, as the outside world turned a blind eye, thousands upon thousands of Haitians—particularly those suspected of being members of Fanmi Lavalas— were imprisoned, driven into internal or external exile, or murdered.

Selection 2009

April 19’s selection of an unelected, non-representative senate, where almost every seat is available, but not every voice represented. The Electoral Commission has banned Fanmi Lavalas from the ballot, contending that F.L. failed to submit the proper paperwork for Aristide’s endorsements of candidates. Such paperwork wasn’t a requirement for any previous elections.

Not only has the majority party been banned by the current administration, but voting locations are hard to locate. Under Aristide, churches, schools, hospitals, and community centers in all neighborhoods were polling places, but as of Saturday, polling locations were not publicly known. In fact, Haitians reported having to call a number to find out where to vote. In a country where over 50% of the population is illiterate, the simple step of forcing voters to read a document to find the correct phone number effectively disenfranchises much of the population. Furthermore, MINUSTAH made voting even more difficult by banning downtown Port-au-Prince traffic as of 9pm Friday night.

Some suggest this exclusion is a power grab by Preval’s party Lespwa to create a parliament favorable to the US-backed neoliberal reforms – such as the privatization of industries. Once a member of Lavalas, Preval now opposes many of their political tenets. This distance began under his first administration as an elected Lavalas President. In 1997, Preval agreed to privatize the flour and cement industries, outsourcing Haitian jobs to international companies. For a country with over 66% unemployment rate this type of policy-making doesn’t help the people. Since Preval’s re-election in 2006, he has authorized the privatization of the telecommunications industry as well as the port. Not only did 1411 employees (out of 1800) lose their jobs, but the agreed upon severance packages were never delivered. The public dissatisfaction reached a tipping point last April when the poor took to the streets in protest of the rising food prices. Food staples such as rice and corn, which once flourished in Haiti, are now imported from the US. It’s thus perhaps ironic that Lespwa means “hope” in English. Preval has been widely criticized for vigorously implementing US-backed neoliberal “reforms”—such as the privatization of the ports– that are punishing the poor majority.

As of Monday, April 20, 2009, reports from Haiti suggest a 10% voter turn out (with estimates as low as 3%) for these elections. Compared to the 89% that voted for Aristide in 1990, the message is clear: this “selection” is not representative of the popular sectors.

But the popular sector remains vocal, even in the face of violent opposition. Historically, those who critiqued the interim government of 2004-2005 found themselves disappeared, murdered, or imprisoned. Even after Preval’s 2006 election, such tactics were still used against dissidents, and continue through this most recent election. A progressive Haitian journalist, whose name has been omitted for security reasons, planned and organized a city-wide demonstration protesting of the election. On April 17, he received two anonymous phone calls threatening his life if the protests occurred. According to the journalist, these threats were made from members of Lespwa. Furthermore, arrest warrants were issued against vocal F.L. leaders like Rene Civil.

Meanwhile, political prisoners continue to languish without much hope of seeing a judge (in violation of Haiti’s constitution), despite claims to the contrary by the ruling government. On Thursday, April 16th, a U.S. human rights and labor delegation visited political prisoner Ronald Dauphin in the national penitentiary. Aristide supporter Dauphin has been incarcerated for five years now without charges or trial. The delegation included two U.S. medical professionals—one of whom was a nurse for thirty-five years. These professionals concluded that Dauphin is gravely ill and is in imminent danger of dying in prison unless he obtains outside medical treatment.

While Dauphin fought for his life in the prison, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton participated in a three-hour visit of Haiti, driving to and from her airplane in an air-conditioned limo. She had nothing to say about the elections, the political prisoners, and the lack of substantial democracy in a country long dominated by machinations of U.S. elites.

Regardless of Sunday’s results our delegation makes four observations: 1) the majority political party will have been excluded based upon an invented pretext; 2) polling methods appeal to the literate, educated minority; 3) threats of violence against those speaking out against the election exist; and, 4) by not intervening or addressing these flagrant attacks against democracy, MINUSTAH has done nothing to uphold the UN agreement for human rights and democracy This passivity suggests MINUSTAH operates in Haiti as a stabilizing force, thus allowing a non-representative government to rule the people.

That this perversion of justice has been carried out with the collusion of the UN helps confuse the advocate for justice residing in us all. As American readers, we are unfamiliar with the plot. That we cannot distinguish the protagonists from the antagonists does not make this situation any less real for the poor majority of Haitians. The reality of this allegedly democratic election is that a coup continues in Haiti. A coup continues as Haiti operates under the illusion of democracy, under the illusion of representation. The poor remain silenced, the land privatized, the people stateless, and we, the international community, unequipped or unwilling to act justly—that is until we wake up and see clearly that a coup is not a singular act, but a cruel process, one that is unfortunately ongoing in the case of Haiti.

Ryan Ikeda works with Haiti Action Committee to help document human rights abuses in Haiti. He can be reached at: Ryan.Ikeda@mvla.net. Read other articles by Ryan, or visit Ryan's website.

3 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. rg the lg said on May 9th, 2009 at 10:08am #

    Haitians have learned that unless the US business large corporate and banking community agrees with the results of their elections, they are meaningless anyway.

    In that regard they are ahead of us. As BaWreck O’Bushma proves.

    RG the LG

  2. Theophilus said on May 11th, 2009 at 4:22am #

    It seems to me that the United Nations went into the situation, in the first instance, on good faith. Certainly, the appointment of Boniface Alexandre as President following Aristide’s departure was in accordance with constitutional procedure.

    The problems have largely stemmed from action taken by nations outside of the UN forum. The manner in which a coalition of North American, Latin American and French governments came together to decide for themselves the illegitimacy of the Aristide government, involving no Haitian actors in the process, was despicable.

    Equally so the actions of the US government in coercing Aristide’s resignation, although this is hardly unprecedented in global history.

    Certainly there were some irregularities in the 2000 election, but these pale in comparison with the severe malpractice that plagued the 2006 election, with the banning of Gérard Jean-Juste from running for office, the deliberate failure to mount a single polling station in Cité Soleil (disenfranchising at least the poorest 10% of Port-au-Prince’s residents), and ballots burned en-masse and dumped in landfill.

    Even if Rene Préval was the majority choice in 2006, his single-minded commitment to following US policy in Haiti has clearly alienated most of those who voted for him three years ago, especially as it has become clear just how wide the gulf between Fwon Lespwa and Fanmi Lavalas policy really is.

    So we arrive at the current situation, with essentially valueless senatorial elections taking place, awaiting a run-off in June that, if it swings in the President’s favour will allow for alteration of the constitution to entrench an increasingly unrepresentative government in power.

    Meanwhile, France and the USA use their position of power on the UN Security Council to block the organisation from conducting any official investigation into events that have taken place in Haiti. Caricom, which vigorously opposed the ousting of Aristide, cannot make its voice heard in the international forum where it matters. Whilst the Préval government remains in office, there is no official pressure from inside Haiti for the UN role in the country to be reconsidered.

    So in a sense, the UN’s hands are tied (like on so many issues) by the fact that Security Council members have a vested interest in preventing reappraisal of the situation on the ground. It is unclear what is to be done to turn things around, but my hope is that the explicitly shambolic nature of these most recent elections may be a black mark too far on the way foreign actors have undermined democracy in Haiti. Hopefully we will reach a tipping point whereby abuse of the political process is so blatant that the international community can no longer stomach it.

    Do I think there is much chance that this will happen? Sadly, no. For who will stand up against American and France to save a country so small, so weak, so severely crippled as Haiti? It falls to the Haitian people, or to no-one at all. Yet perhaps there is a little hope. The nation has precedent in casting off imperialist shackles for the good of its people, after all.

  3. Rudolf R said on May 11th, 2009 at 11:29am #

    It is absurd to suggest that the UN began occupying Haiti “on good faith.” The circumstances of Aristide’s removal, the role the initial UN-authorized occupation force (March – Summer 2004), and the role of Brazilian-led UN forces (MINUSTAH, summer 2004-2006) all need to be investigated; many crimes (by the UN or with their complicity) have been alleged for which there has been no accountability. If Aristide was, as the available evidence suggests, removed unconstitutionally, then Alexandre’s appointment was unconstitutional, as was Latortue’s selection, etc. The UN stood by while Aristide’s government was purposefully destabilized by paramilitaries in conjunction with business elites and the ‘friends of Haiti’ (U.S., Canada, France, etc. through the ‘good offices’ of the OAS, IMF, World Bank, etc.) from 2000-2004. Kofi Anna showed great cowardice when he accepted a ‘resignation letter’ that was subsequently shown to be fraudulent, and authorized the occupation force on the basis of a fraud. Everything has flowed from this….Ergo, the UN’s role in Haiti is as rotten as that of the primary agents of regime change.

    Thanks for the good article.