People queue to receive voter ID cards.
It was supposed to be the day that Haitians voted in what has been called one of the most important elections in Haiti’s history. On the ballot on 28 November 2010 were 19 contenders for the five-year post of the presidency, all but one of the 99 seats in the House of Deputies and a third of the Senate.
But this election only offers the choice between those candidates deemed suitable by the Franco-US alliance that leads the international community’s involvement in Haiti. Against the dire backdrop of last January’s earthquake, a growing cholera epidemic and a UN military occupation – now in its sixth year – Haitians largely view these elections as not only illegitimate but wasteful. Not so for the business class of the international community – at stake are $9 billion of reconstruction contracts, and the incoming government will be influential in distributing these funds.
The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) is the committee responsible for the registering of political parties, monitoring the election and counting the votes. But the CEP lacks any credibility as a neutral entity in these elections for a number of reasons – not only because it is comprised of members hand-picked by the current president, René Préval, but also because of its decision, without adequate justification, to exclude 15 political parties from participating in the election. Among the excluded parties is the populist left wing Fanmi Lavalas. Lavalas – the party of exiled president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the former slum priest twice removed by US-backed coups in 1991 and 2004 – is the largest in Haiti. In every election in which Lavalas has participated it has won outright and with an overwhelming majority. It is really for this reason that it has been excluded in not only the most recent election but also the April/June 2009 election as well as the February 2010 election (which was postponed due to the 12 January 2010 earthquake).
Media reports on the exclusion of Lavalas from the most recent election have been glaringly absent. From 1 August until the day of the election, the New York Times published 23 articles concerning rap star Wyclef Jean’s failed attempt to reach the presidential ballot. In the same timeframe, Lavalas warranted only a passing mention in a Reuters report on 8 October in reference to a letter sent by Maxine Waters and 44 other members of US congress to secretary of state Hillary Clinton urging the US to withhold funding for the elections if they were not to be “free, fair and inclusive”. When asked about the letter, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner responded to reporters, “We’ll [be] looking into these…allegations in the letter and…comment later, I’m sure we’ll review it…and respond appropriately.” To date there has been no response.
When asked to comment on the validity of the election on 23 November, the US ambassador to Haiti, Kenneth H Merten, said, “I think if you look at the sheer number of participants, you have 19 candidates from across the political spectrum running for president, you have over a hundred candidates, again, from across the political spectrum running for senators, I think you have a pretty good representation of the Haitian body politic.” The fact that this supposedly vast body politic did not cumulatively reach 9 percent of the vote in the last presidential election in which Lavalas participated, in 2000, was also never mentioned.
This standard line is prevalent in elite circles in the capital, Port-au-Prince, as well, where the candidacy of five former Lavalas candidates is apparently enough to make these elections democratic. However, Lavalas has called for its supporters to boycott the election and has repeatedly denied supporting any of the fake Lavalas candidates. In fact, the most prominent candidate associated with Lavalas, Jean Henry Ceant, was steadily gaining ground in the polls leading up to the election (based on his demands to bring back Aristide) until his support tanked when Aristide broke his silence on the eve of the election to deny supporting any candidate in this “selection”. Aristide later added, “When they talk about Lavalas and the Haitian people, they fear them because if there is a fair election the people will defeat them. So they have to exclude the Lavalas party or the majority, in order to make sure that they will select what they want to select.” Members of the elite were more candid: “The wealthy don’t get involved in politics – we know we run it either way,” said a white business owner in Martissant, Port-au-Prince.
The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), a human rights organisation based in Haiti and Boston, has duly chronicled both the unconstitutional nature of the exclusion of Lavalas and the allegations of corruption within the CEP. It additionally claims that the Organisation of American States and the Caribbean Community have ignored scandals and irregularities concerning the CEP prior to the election. That these scandals and irregularities should continue into election day and beyond should not come as a surprise. Reports of stuffed ballot boxes for Jude Celestin (Préval’s chosen successor) have poured in from all over the country.
Certain voting booths never even opened. “I woke up at 5am to come to the city,” said one potential voter named Mattiu, hobbling on a crutch to support his missing leg. “At my first voting station my name was not on the list to be able to vote. Nor the next one. I went to different voting stations all day and never found my name.” This lament, commonly heard on the streets of Port-au-Prince, was true elsewhere in the country.
Due to these shams and irregularities, 12 of the 18 presidential candidates joined together in a press conference while polls were still open to publicly call for the elections to be annulled. This declaration included virtually every major presidential candidate except for Celestin, who remained noticeably silent. It was from this announcement that demonstrators began taking to the streets, where they have remained, intermittently, since the tallying of the votes on 7 December. The street protests are a mix of two sometimes overlapping forces: those protesting about the illegitimacy of the election in the first place and those who are upset about the fraud on election day. The latter group is mostly made up of supporters of Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, a famous musician placed third in the election, less than 1 percent behind Celestin and further behind former first lady Mirlande Manigat. Only two candidates are scheduled for a run-off in January, though it is possible that the CEP may change this to three.
UN troops watch a demonstration.
To further detail the outcome of the election, its rampant fraud and the possible recount by the same CEP would be trivial. The listed candidates are only those with public policies within the acceptable framework of what US foreign policy dictates of its subordinate countries. The US primarily bankrolled this election to the tune of $15 million and ignored the vast majority of Haitians who were calling for elections to be postponed. Haitians were largely unwilling to vote while under tents, and saw election funds as money that could have been spent on preventing the spread of cholera, creating new medical facilities and building homes for people who have been internally displaced. The US ignored these calls and used this election as a chance to bury the electoral nuisance of the Lavalas popular movement – at least for the next five years.
Seen by the Haitian public as illegitimate, irresponsible and corrupt, the November 2010 elections were not even decided by a quarter of eligible voters in the country.
Not forgotten by Haitians in this mire is the outbreak of cholera that to date has taken 2,000 lives since its reappearance in October and infected nearly 20,000 people. It is now almost certain that cholera was introduced by the negligence of Nepalese soldiers with the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (Minustah) as solid human waste was dumped into a tributary of the Artibonite River (Minustah is the UN’s “peacekeeping” force, viewed by most Haitians as an occupation army). It is already confirmed that the strain is identical to one found in South Asia. The obvious link between the two would be made certain were it not for the unwillingness of Minustah to test the cholera strains from the Nepalese soldiers directly, and their insistence that discovering the origins of the outbreak should be a low public health priority.
Minustah’s reaction to the cholera outbreak has been heavily criticised, both for its original negligence and tepid response, and also for its insistence on placing blame elsewhere.
But this is just the latest of a series of indiscretions perpetrated by Minustah against the Haitian people. Minustah led the US occupation force in June 2004, which had been in the country since the coup in late February of that year. This was not so much a coup as a kidnapping: President Aristide was forced on-board a US jet at gunpoint in the middle of the night and flown to the Central African Republic. The US State Department confided that this was Aristide’s chosen destination – a point which the press dutifully reported. No one bothered to ask Colin Powell why Aristide chose to go to a far away dictatorial client state of their former colonial oppressors (France), over some place else like, say, Miami or Jamaica (or in fact any other place on earth).
Minustah’s periodic incursions into the slums of Port-au-Prince have left scores dead, and mounting allegations of rape have left the occupation with little or no support among the vast majority of Haitians. In just one week in early December two people were confirmed dead and seven inflicted with gunshot wounds purportedly from Minustah in Les Cayes after demonstrators took to the streets to protest at election results. “Aba okipasyon!” (“Down with the occupation!”) is a graffiti commonly seen in Port-au-Prince. Minustah’s annual operational budget is almost twice that of Aristide’s pre-coup budget for the entire government, a fact not lost on Haitians.
“Minustah’s original mandate was to restore a secure and stable environment, to promote the political process, to strengthen Haiti’s government institutions and rule of law structures, as well as to promote and to protect human rights,” claims its official website. As Minustah arrived to protect the post-coup government, “promoting the political process” is mentioned without any sense of irony. Conversations with the Jordanian contingency of Minustah showed much of the same ignorance. No one seemed able to explain what happened in 2004 or why they were there other than vague notions of “security” and “stability”. Our visit culminated in the Jordanian commander insisting on a photo-op of troops handing out presents to Haitian children: plastic toy cars for the boys and Caucasian Barbie dolls for the girls.
The head of Jordanian UN troops distributes toys after a public information session on cholera.
Recently released Wikileaks cables reveal some of the motives for Minustah’s presence in Haiti apart from the immediately obvious. A June 2007 US cable states, “An increasingly unifying theme that completely excludes Chavez, and isolates Venezuela among the militaries and security forces of the region, is participation in international and regional peacekeeping operations. The Southern Cone is doing very well in this area, with all countries active contributors to [peace keeping operation] missions worldwide… We should explore using the mechanism that the region’s contributors to Minustah (Haiti) have established to discuss ways of increasing peacekeeping cooperation on a broader scale.” Another 2008 cable reveals, “Brazil has stayed the course as leader of Minustah in Haiti despite a lack of domestic support for the [peacekeeping operation]. [Brazil’s Ministry of External Relations] has remained committed to the initiative because it believes that the operation serves [foreign minister] Amorim’s obsessive international goal of qualifying Brazil for a seat on the UN Security Council.”
There are currently 1,300 tent camps in Port-au-Prince housing 1.3 million homeless people 11 months after the earthquake that killed 300,000 people. People in the camps now face forced evictions by people claiming to be property owners. Mario Joseph, a Haitian human rights lawyer, had this to say in a recent interview with CBC News: “We are asking the government to verify the titles to the contested land before people are evicted, but this government works for the rich people. So there is no process in place to require that the purported landowners establish that they in fact have title to the land. The government allows the purported landowners to evict the people without providing any protection or legal process for the [internally displaced persons] and the landowners use the police to do it. These practices are illegal under both Haitian law and international law.” Rumours are rife in the tent camp of Champ Mars, across from the destroyed National Palace, that the water is to be turned off soon. The inhabitants have no idea where they will go.
Former US president Bill Clinton’s role as the UN’s special envoy to Haiti has also proved more of the same for Haitians. His insistence on pushing textiles as an economic growth option is at odds with his own admission earlier this year concerning US subsidised rice that has ruined Haiti’s ability to feed itself: “It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake… I had to live every day with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else.”
When asked about the possibility of working in a factory, Adolphe, an unemployed 32 year old from Port-au-Prince, replied, “Man, if you are working in the [textile] factories, you’re already dead.”
At the time of going to press the outcome of the recount is uncertain, but the same cannot be said of the distribution of reconstruction funds. Of every $100 awarded to date, only $1.60 has been given to Haitian firms.
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