Wed, Mar
3
2004

Failure in Haiti II

Wed, Mar 3, 2004

haiti_canada040226.jpg

Some reactions across the Canadian blogosphere regarding the ouster of Aristide in Haiti:

Jim Elve, on the Blogs Canada Election Blog:

If being democratically elected means using death squads to deal with opposition and mounting an election that was nearly universally condemned as fraudulent, then the assertion that Aristide was a legitimate leader has some validity. To refer to the regime of Aristide following Haiti’s 2000 rigged elections as a democratic rule is absurd. To suggest that Canada should somehow have exercised its diplomatic muscle over the US and France in an effort to prop up Aristide’s criminal regime is ludicrous.

Kevin Brennan at Tilting at Windmills:

So, to no one’s great surprise, Aristide is out. I think it’s safe to say that Aristide’s government hasn’t been a particular good one in terms of economic management.

But even if Aristide had been a great and brilliant leader I doubt he’d have been able to turn Haiti’s economy around. (And it does come down to that, with a good economy Aristide would almost certainly still be in power). What made Aristide’s task essentially impossible is the same thing that has made it impossible for leaders of third world countries around the world: the destruction of the domestic farm sector that provided for Haiti’s own food needs.

Jay Currie:

Damian Penny points to the Human Rights Watch summary of Aristide’s so called democratic election. Go read the whole thing before lamenting the passing of Aristide. Much less wondering if there was anything Canada could do to keep the murderous bastard in power.

Dru at the Dominion Daily writes:

Rather than condemn the opposition, which represents no more that 12 per cent of the popular constituency, the Bush administration continues to support them, as they have been doing all along, financially and otherwise. Many writers such as Tom Reeves, Kevin Pina, COHA, and an increasing number of alternative media outlets, have seen this developing and have accurately predicted the current outcome. In the context of the recent emergency UN Security Council meeting on Haiti, the results were no less predictable.


My initial reaction to some of the commentary was surprise. Did somebody declare a dictatorship and I wasn’t notified? One would think that, if the 2000 Haitian elections were as fraudulent as some claim, that there’d be better memories of this. I certainly didn’t recall it. I had to do a web search in order to find out when elections were last held in Haiti. The answer: Sunday, May 21, 2000.

Some response at the time, from CNN:

Haitians went to the polls in massive numbers Sunday, but the outcome of the balloting is, as one international observer said, “vulnerable” to tampering.

“There was massive fraud,” said opposition senatorial candidate Marie-Laurence Lassegue. “People were allowed to vote without voting cards, people were arrested with ballot boxes stuffed with votes. Police arrested people illegally carrying ballot boxes away from poll stations (and) some opposition party monitors were barred from balloting stations.”

But Mary Durran, a spokeswoman for an Organization of American States mission, said, “We observed no major (voting) irregularities, and by and large the polling was acceptable.”

On Monday the United States congratulated Haiti on the elections, noting the strong Haitian public support and high voter turnout.

Praising the people of Haiti for holding legislative and local elections “in a pervasive atmosphere of nonviolence and high voter participation,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher also commended international observers coordinated by the OAS.

In the leadup to the Haitian election, violent demonstrations disrupted campaigns. The opposition claimed that most of the violence was the work of Aristide supporters, but nothing at the time was substantiated. Previous to that, elections that were supposed to have been held in March had been delayed, due to shortages and other disruptions which hampered the voter registration process (although the opposition claimed that it was a tactic to bring municipal and senatorial elections in line with “popular” Aristide’s election bid).

The May elections (which were for the Haitian senate) seem to have gone okay, despite disruptions at the polls. The aftermath of these elections, culminating in the July run-off was a different matter, however. From CNN:

An international mission that monitored the recent electoral process in Haiti said Thursday that runoff elections conducted on Sunday were “fundamentally flawed” because they failed to include races for 10 Senate seats.

As a result, the United States warned Haiti Thursday that it may join the European Union in a review of international aid if the Haitian government does not quickly correct the alleged electoral flaws.

(snip!)

The OAS election observers mission said in a report to the meeting that Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) had used a method of tallying votes that favored the Lavalas party in 10 senate races, but the CEP refused to hold runoffs. The OAS mission said the authorities had violated Haiti’s constitution and election law and the principle of one-man, one-vote.

Aristide would go on to become president the following November (he was previously prohibited from running for reelection in 1995 because the Haitian constitution prevents presidents from serving two terms consecutively). Because of the controversy surrounding the July run-off elections, the opposition boycotted. Violence further marred the campaign. Again, from CNN, on November 28, 2000:

The Clinton administration has nothing good to say about the priest-turned-politician.

The reason is administration disgust with Haiti’s refusal to address “serious irregularities” that gave Aristide’s Lavalas Family Party a big margin in legislative elections last May, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said.

Officials also had concerns about Sunday’s balloting, noting that all major opposition parties boycotted the election.

And looking at the dateline of that last report, November 28, 2000, I have my answer as to why I hadn’t heard more about the controversy surrounding Aristide’s election to a second term: the United States was in the middle of a hotly contested presidential election of its own.

Enter “Haiti Aristide” in CNN.com’s search engine, and the last news report from the year 2000 that you receive is dated December 28, and headlined Haiti’s Aristide makes concessions:

Haiti’s government, bowing to pressure from the United States and other countries, has agreed to rectify problems with the hotly disputed May 21 parliamentary elections.

Haiti has also agreed to negotiate for the repatriation of illegal immigrants in the United States.

Haitian President-elect Jean-Bertrand Aristide sealed the concessions in a letter sent Wednesday to President Clinton.

In the letter, the Aristide government undertook to:

  • Hold runoff elections or take “other credible” steps to rectify disputed Senate elections. During the May 21 vote, outside observers noted significant voter fraud.

  • Create new electoral council that will involve opposition figures, to deal with voter fraud.

  • Install “technocrats” and members of the opposition in new government posts.

  • Negotiate a deal for the repatriation of illegal Haitian immigrants in the U.S.

  • Allow U.S. Coast Guard anti-drug forces to operate in Haitian waters.

  • Establish a semi-permanent mission for the Organization of American States to monitor human rights.

And then, nothing.

There are no CNN news reports on the Haitian presidency throughout 2001. The next report I get is this post on a jail break on August 3, 2002 freeing, among other people, two prisoners jailed for their role in the 1991 Haitian coup that ousted Aristide and the repression that followed. The news that follows, in dribs and drabs, is what you would expect from a country with 65% unemployment, and very little tradition for peaceful, democratic change.

The :CBC: fares better, running an article on February 7, 2001 on Aristide’s inauguration and noting that his boycotting opponents had put forward an “alternate” president: Gerard Gourgue, the former Minister of Justice of the military government that ruled Haiti after the overthrow of Baby Doc Duvalier. They follow this with an article on an attempted coup against Aristide on December 17, 2001.

So, the media certainly dropped the ball when it came to what was happening in Haiti between November 2000 and December 2003. The blogs weren’t much better; back then, the blogosphere was in its infancy (Instapundit didn’t start blogging until August 2001), and from November 8, 2000 to January 2001, the topic of choice was likely to be the Florida recount debacle. All of us, from myself to the Aristide sympathetic Dru, to those who are cheering Aristide’s departure, are johnny-come-latelies to this topic. (The Human Rights Watch was on the ball)

I think it is a stretch to call Aristide a despot. History suggests that we don’t have a Saddam Hussein, a Kim Jong Il or a Slobidan Milosevic here. We probably don’t even have a Hugo Chavez. All I see is an individual who tried to govern a corrupt, almost ungovernable country, who received very little help towards that end for the past nine years. He may well have been corrupted by his circumstances, but is Haiti really better off now that he has been replaced? With people involved in the former military coup behind the rebels, and the news today that Baby Doc Duvalier is thinking of coming home, I can’t say that Aristide’s departure, forced or otherwise, is much of a victory for democracy.

If Aristide was to fall, he should have fallen at the ballot box. I see no indication that the rebellion was necessary to that end. The failure of Canada, the United States and France to maintain, or even speak up for the cause of rule of law in Haiti is a black mark on us that gives us little right to be proud of or cheer Aristide’s departure. Indeed, the failure of the blogosphere and the general public (myself included) to even pay attention to Haiti for the past three years makes us complicit, in our own small ways, to the rot and violence that we sewed through our own inaction.


Better News in Haiti

The rebel forces have agreed to lay down their arms. We now have foreign troops from the U.S., France and even Canada in the nation. We can begin the work of restoring order. From there, let’s begin the work of restoring democracy. And this time, let’s get it right?


The Online Newspapers of Record

I must say that I’m quite impressed by CNN’s website. They organize their news well, it’s free, and the articles stick around. How else could I have turned my search for news on the November 2000 Haitian elections into a quick websearch.

Somebody should archive the CNN website before they get bitten by the money bug and close it off to anybody who aren’t subscribers.

The :CBC: website is almost as extensive; they too feature articles on the controversial presidential election in Haiti in November 2000, although their search feature leaves a little to be desired.


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