What's Next for Haiti?
Haiti Policy Analysts Weigh in Putting the Pieces Together
by Michelle Karshan, published by the Haiti Action Committee
December 16, 2002 - Twelve years ago today, on December 16, 1990, Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected President by an overwhelming majority and inaugurated on February 7, 1991. Seven months later he was ousted in a violent coup d'etat carried out by the military and its sponsors. After three years of resistance by the Haitian people, in which 5,000 died, thousands were tortured and raped, and tens of thousands took to the high seas, the U.S. restored Aristide to Haiti through a military intervention, under international pressure.
Although his supporters wanted his term extended because of the three years that Aristide was forced to spend in exile, President Aristide finished his five-year term on February 7, 1996 and for the first time in Haiti's history a democratically elected President handed power over to the next democratically elected President. President Rene Preval served his entire five-year term without interruption, setting another precedent, and on February 7, 2001, after a landslide election, Aristide was once again inaugurated to the Presidency.
Tom F. Driver, a theology professor at New York's Union Theological Seminary, sums up the last couple of years in Haiti, "Since early in the year 2000, when it became apparent that Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the Lavalas Family Party would win elections by large majorities, those opposed to popular government in Haiti have been determined to use every means necessary to thwart it. When they could not prevent Aristide's return to the Presidency, they set about to make it impossible for him to govern effectively. When they could not achieve their ends at the polls, they tried to invalidate the elections. When compromise was offered, they rejected it out of hand. Because persuasion will not avail them, they have threatened violence. Their efforts are encouraged, if not engineered, by elements in the United States Government, which has cut off all loans in aid to the Government of Haiti. The administration in Haiti is by no means perfect, but that is not the issue. The issue is legitimacy, all of which lies on the side of the Government and none on the side of the concerted opposition that has been nothing but obstructionist since the year 2000."
In remarks made by Kerry Kennedy Cuomo at the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award ceremony a few weeks ago, she revealed that, "Six months ago, a high ranking Bush administration official commented to a member of our board, 'Only when the economic sanctions lead to Florida being flooded with boat people will this administration's policy change.' That statement has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. A few weeks ago, over 200 Haitians in a rickety, leaking boat washed up on Key Biscayne Boulevard."
Reacting to this tragedy, Professor Robert Maguire of Trinity College in Washington, D.C., and Dr. Robert Bach, a former commissioner at the INS charged with policy and planning from 1994-2000, issued a policy paper entitled Next Steps for U.S. Policy Toward Haiti. They called on the U.S. to change its strategy on Haiti to avert a humanitarian disaster warning that the, "U.S. policies are simply providing the fuel that accelerates its [Haiti's] failures and expands the consequences."
Unheeded, the conditions leading up to the recent turmoil in Haiti continued to decline while Aristide's government remained under an economic embargo.
Since mid-November Haiti has been present in the international press because of demonstrations, some peaceful and some violent. The formation of a provisional electoral council (CEP) was near completion after President Aristide met several times to get all sectors to submit the names of their representatives for a nine member electoral council so parliamentary and local elections scheduled for early 2003 could finally be held. Eight names were submitted, but the Convergence, a propped up coalition of opposition groups, have continued to refuse to submit a name although the government did respond to their concerns about creating a better climate of security by petitioning the OAS to provide technical support and security for the elections and intensifying disarmament efforts.
The Convergence, as described by journalist Michele Montas, the widow of the slain journalist Jean Dominique, in yesterday's Miami Herald article, “Is U.S. Policy Subverting Haiti? " is a patchwork of people and groups who have very little in common. There are people in Convergence who are from the far right and are former members of the Duvalier dictatorships, and you have people on the far left, former Marxists and communists.'' Montas told the Miami Herald that the Convergence is held together by their common hatred of Aristide.
"The Convergence's indefensible stonewalling regarding its participation in the CEP is but another example of its long practice of sabotaging every effort to seek a peaceful solution to Haiti's chronic political problems," said the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), a Washington based policy group, in their recent press release.
Brian Concannon, Jr., a Boston human rights attorney working in Haiti, further explained that the government of Haiti had, "worked hard to fulfill all its obligations under the OAS resolution, including paying substantial reparations to opposition parties, allowing OAS oversight over elections, having seven senators resign outright, and the remaining parliamentarians agree to shorten their terms for anticipated elections. Aristide's concessions have been massive. The government has made almost desperate efforts to put the resolution of the current crisis in the hands where it belongs, the Haitian voters. It has repeatedly appointed people from the opposition to important ministries and other posts, risking alienating its base in the name of non-partisanship."
In early November the Convergence organized demonstrations throughout the country calling for the overthrow of President Aristide through violent means. This time, the Convergence brought in former Colonel Himmler Rebu of Haiti's now disbanded Army, known for his role in an attempted coup against General Avril some years ago. This solidified the Convergence's call for the return of the Army made by Gerard Gourgue in his "inaugural" speech when the Convergence installed him as their "provisional President" simultaneous to Aristide's inauguration on February 7, 2001. Previously, the Convergence had widely publicized former General Prosper Avril's support for their efforts, when he participated in one of their meetings. Avril himself actualized several coups over the years.
COHA pointed out the irony that a US sponsored "'Democratic Convergence, when called upon to participate in a new democratic process under OAS supervision, has so far refused to do so, instead pressing for a return to extra-constitutional solutions."
In a statement made on Radio Canada, which he later tried to deny, Assistant Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Ambassador Luigi Einaudi, explained the motive behind the Convergence's actions, saying, "These groups are afraid of elections, because if free and fair elections were to take place in the country, it is certain that the party in power would win." He further explained that every time an accord was about to be reached to solve the post-electoral crisis, the anti-Aristide forces created trouble.
Since their formation, the Convergence has been silent on how they would actually help Haiti. Some suggest that the opposition parties should criticize the Aristide administration and present their plans to gain support in upcoming elections.
Gary Pierre Pierre, editor of Haitian Times and former staff writer for The New York Times, wrote in his paper's editorial entitled, "Democracy Must Serve Out Term," that Aristide "has to remain in power until his term expires. That's the democratic way. Also part of the democratic process is exercising the freedom of speech and right to assembly. With protests, the government can learn of residents' concerns."
Pierre Labossiere, a Haitian activist with the Haiti Action Committee said, "It is outrageous that some are proposing a violent overthrow and organizing a campaign of violence to force the resignation of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who is democratically elected by the people in accordance with the Haitian constitution."
On November 28th several prominent Haitian activists living in the U.S. released their Diaspora Declaration denouncing the calls of the Convergence and sending "a clear message to those who want to bring this country to a civil war by looking for the departure of a democratically elected resident," demanding that "the international community must fulfill their role without complicity."
The international press shocked all Haiti watchers with their biased reporting in which they omitted reporting on violent acts carried out by Convergence supporters, instead focusing only on violence alleged to have come from Aristide supporters. Further the press only acknowledged one peaceful demonstration of Aristide supporters, while thousands around the country were peacefully taking to the streets in support of the President.
COHA observed that these events were "being witnessed by a local and foreign press, including wire services, that frequently churns out more spin than objective reporting..."
Kevin Pina, a filmmaker and journalist covering Haiti for more than a decade, provided details on events never reported on by international press, "There was a massive outpouring of support in the streets of the capital for President Aristide and Lavalas on November 25, 2002. The largest number cited in AP and Reuters for a demonstration in front of Haiti's national palace on November 25, 2002, was 2,000 persons. Photos taken by independent journalists show that the crowd was in fact far greater then the numbers cited. The only photos filed by corporate news organizations on November 25th were of much smaller anti-Aristide demonstrations and NOT ONE PHOTO of the much larger pro-Lavalas demonstration was EVER published by them."
Concannon also stated that although not covered by the international press, "Every opposition demonstration has been more than matched in numbers by a pro-government demonstration." Concannon continued that, "The creation of an impression of chaos and ungovernability is a time-tested method of eroding the constituency for democracy and independence. President Aristide's support is not 'crumbling.' Although Haitians are as frustrated as anyone would be by their poverty, all signs that I see indicate that President Aristide would be elected by huge margins were there to be a fair election tomorrow."
Montas, states that Aristide should "finish his term" and says she believes he will, explaining, "that "a majority of the people are still with him." More importantly, she continued, ''I don't believe the solution is chaos, and that is what we would have if Aristide is forced to resign.''
Ricot Dupuy, a journalist with the popular Radio Soleil show in New York opined, "When various international press organizations reduced the several thousand demonstrators at a massive pro-Aristide rally in Cap Haitien to "several hundred," what they did in effect was multiply by a factor of ten their own credibility deficit."
During this time period President Aristide visited Les Cayes in the South of Haiti to inaugurate several government and private sector projects where a supportive crowd of 100,000 greeted him. Again, the international press did not bother to accompany the local press corps to the South to cover the President's historic trip.
The international press also failed to include the voices of members of the business sector or civil society who support the government, although they can be heard on television or radio and are quoted in all of the Haitian newspapers.
President Aristide inaugurated several projects in the South during his visit including the construction of a bridge which cost the Haitian government US$1 million, a renovated airport, a new civil court building, newly constructed schools, the upgrading of the electricity system, and miles of paved roads inside the principle cities along the Southern coast, and literacy centers. These infrastructure projects were successful through collaborative efforts of the business sector and the government.
Pierre Leger, for example, a noted business leader, received the President during his visit to the South and summed up Haiti's current crisis saying, "The problem in Haiti is not political, it is economic. The private sector must develop some initiatives that will generate employment in order to help the State authorities fight extreme poverty." Mr. Leger went on to explain that misery and poverty are the main sources of violence and insecurity and he urged Haiti's elite class to do something to get closer to the poor.
Statements from the last few weeks from CARICOM, the OAS and the U.S. State Department support a democratic process through elections, starting with the formation of an electoral council.
The Heads of Government meeting of CARICOM held in Cuba last week issued a strong statement calling for the "immediate establishment of the Provisional Electoral Council" recognizing that, "elections are the only means to legitimate government in any democratic society," and warning that "only strict adherence to the democratic process will constitute a proper solution to the political problems in Haiti." CARICOM went as far as to "urge the political opposition to cooperate with the Government in the implementation of this [OAS] resolution as all parties must work together towards restoring normalcy in Haiti."
The U.S. State Department's Deputy Spokesperson, Philip T. Reeker, issued a statement calling for the formation of an electoral council and stated, "For their part, Convergence Democratique, other opposition parties, and civil society must play a constructive and responsible role in moving forward under Resolution 822, and in fostering an environment that promotes political reconciliation for all Haitians."
The U.S. led sanctions against Haiti continue to undermine Aristide's government's commitments for development, hitting education, access to water and healthcare the hardest. COHA pointed out that, "Many of the shortcomings of his administration would be mitigated if the island government received at least some of the $500 million pledged to it by the U.S. and other international donors."
Bypassing the Haitian government to fund non-profit programs only, as the U.S. and some other countries have been doing, is not sufficient, asserts Harvard doctor Paul Farmer, who runs a health center in Haiti's Central Plateau. This past year his clinic has been overrun by patients who are not able to find services at public health stations, and his model treatment program for poor persons with AIDS is challenged by the government's inability to provide water, no less clean water, to his patients. The road leading to his hospital is in need of repair, a job that can only be performed by government. In his revised The Uses of Haiti, released earlier this month by Common Courage Press, Farmer writes, "Conditions here on the ground are akin to the battlefield of an undeclared war on the poor."
The dramatic effects of the sanctions on Haiti's poor prompted Congresswoman Barbara Lee to submit House Congressional Resolution 382 several months ago, which has been signed onto by the entire Congressional Black Caucus as well as many other representatives, calling for an end to the U.S. aid embargo on Haiti. Similar resolutions have been passed by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific states (ACP), and dozens of human rights, religious, labor, and healthcare organizations in the U.S.
COHA put the U.S. sanctions against Haiti in a nutshell when it explained that, "The ostensible root cause of the longstanding economic sanctions against Haiti is the accusation that Haiti's May, 2000 senate elections, involving seven candidates in particular, were flawed. In a very real sense, however, Washington invented the electoral affair to justify what it had wanted to do ever since 1989 to isolate and then shackle Aristide. The motive behind the White House's current policy of economic sanctions against Haiti should not be seen as merely outrage over what it saw as fraudulent elections in 2000; only seven seats in the Senate were in dispute, and those senators have long since resigned at Aristide's behest, the reduction of aid had actually begun several years before Aristide assumed office. The real aim of this U.S. policy of interdiction has always been 'since he was first elected in 1990' to discredit Aristide and his political associates."
Referring to OAS Resolution 822 which was unanimously passed by all 34 member countries, Ambassador Einaudi explained, "Beginning with this resolution, it was made clear to the IDB and the World Bank that they could release funds for Haiti," and on another date after critiquing all of Haiti's political actors, he also added that, "At the same time, we in the international community must move effectively to provide economic assistance."
The Heads of Governments CARICOM statement also reiterated, "their call to the international financial institutions to relaunch effectively their financial cooperation with Haiti as called for in the OAS Resolution 822."
Loune Viaud, a Haitian woman who is this year's Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Laureate for her work providing health care in rural Haiti, pointed out during her acceptance speech this past November that, "many countries who do not even try to emerge as a democracy, as we struggle to do, are not punished by such embargos." Last week Viaud put the embargo in perspective, explaining that, "The embargo on the loans allocated for health, education, roads and clean water from the IDB has persisted, despite the fact that seven legislators whose seats were contested have stepped down and the Government of Haiti has agreed to push forward legislative elections for the spring of 2003. These policies demonstrate that the US government's underlying motive of the embargo is not to improve the human rights situation in Haiti, but rather to achieve their implied objective of changing the current democratically elected government."
Todd Howland, Director of the Center for Human Rights at the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center recently stated that, "Money for Haiti has been in the pipeline since January 2001. None of this money has been disbursed, yet the IDB indicates in its public information that they are doing wonderful work in this country. In fact people are dying in Haiti."
Finally, St. Lucia's Foreign Affairs Minister, Julien Hunt, said, "It is the international donor community that should explain why they have still not followed through on this recommendation." And the Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, Denzel Douglas, demanded that, "the international monetary community release the financial aid to the Haitian government and put an end to the suffering of the people while at the same time reinforcing democracy in the country."
Bach and Maguire advise in their policy paper that, "Aid should be released, but carefully structured and closely monitored. Assistance should resume - and be sustained - to Haitian public institutions, including the National Police, so they can better address Haiti's humanitarian, economic and security needs."
Bach and Maguire continue that, "The Administration's policy toward Haiti rests somewhere between a straightforward effort to replace President Aristide at all costs as opposed to his replacement with fewer costs. It's position stands in contrast to the views of former Administrations, the Congressional Black Caucus, and others who argue for a strategy of engagement. The Administration's policy squeezes the Haitian people, fuels potential confrontation within the country, and restrains prospects for economic growth and stability."
Bach and Maguire laid out steps for change stating that, "The Administration and Congress must find some common ground to begin to engage in Haiti constructively. The current stalemate in U.S. policy between an aggressive anti-Aristide policy and a reform policy resembles guerilla warfare, with private groups, mid-level agencies and self-proclaimed leaders dominating the public debate. President Aristide is recognized by the OAS and its members as Haiti's legitimate leader, and realistic alternatives simply are not present."
In the absence of a policy change, Bach and Maguire suggest that, "The international community needs to take leadership on Haiti's policy back from a stalemated U.S. position. The case for international involvement rests upon recognition that a failing Haitian state is already creating a humanitarian crisis, that its weakness is allowing drug cartels and other syndicates a strong foothold close to the United States, and that the policies of the United States themselves are causing greater problems."
COHA warns that if "the Convergence is allowed to play the spoilsport, Haiti will continue to be unable to improve its prospects of overcoming its crippling financial and political crisis," pointing out that although the Convergence "while lacking any kind of constitutional basis, has nonetheless managed to exercise a virtual veto power over the Haitian political process."
Kennedy Cuomo concluded in her speech that, "The best way to achieve our goal of assuring a strong civil society and a transparent electoral process is to work hand in hand with the government of Haiti. Indeed, we should engage as fully as possible with the government and be a handmaiden to democratic reform. The government of Haiti has done almost everything in its power to comply with conditions for the resumption of aid. It faces a hostile internal opposition which is supported by the [U.S.] administration's policies and is determined to extend the crisis. And, we have continuously raised the bar for ending the strangulation."