Let The Haitians Work Out Their Differences
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Let The Haitians Work Out Their Differences by Figaro Joseph

It is fair for anyone to offer opinions on and analyzes of Haiti’s recent election. It is clear that there were many irregularities during the election. There can be disagreement, of course, as to whether or not the irregularities were malfeasance or simple mistakes, mistakes that were likely to occur in any country facing similar conditions on the ground. However, reading opinions and newspaper articles from the United States (U.S.) as well as in other countries, I can’t help but wonder what would the U.S. do if the demands that the writers of these opinions and supposedly independent journalists are making on Haiti were being made on the U.S. government and the American people. Having lived in the U.S. country for many years, I can certainly say that they would be regarded as being unreasonable, to put it mildly.

An opinion or analysis, in the form of a press release by the Center for Economic and Policy Research and the TransAfrica Forum, demanded the annulment of the results of Sunday’s election because “the political parties had not presented any kind of social platform or program for the country.” The opinion is loaded with quotes such as “it [was] an election without substance,” and “a selection, not an election.” Finally, there was this quote: “It was not the population that chose the moment or that demanded that elections be held now.” These are unreasonable charges against Haiti and its recent election. The best way to assess their unreasonableness is to examine them in relation to the two major political parties as well as the electoral process in the United States.

In the last four or five U.S. presidential elections, what “kind of social platform or program” did the parties present for the country” other than their generic slogans? The Democratic Party chanted that it was ‘on the side of the middle class’ with all the rest of its usual promises. The Republican Party chanted that it was going ‘to cut taxes’ with all the rest of its usual promises. In Haiti, however, most of the candidates and parties that participated in Sunday’s (November 28th) election made similar promises to the Haitian people. By “similar,” I mean general and insipid promises; although, in some cases, they provided some specifics. Michel Martelly, for example, proposed a lottery tax to help pay for free primary education. If the parties in the U.S. and in Haiti have operated in similar fashion, then the claim that Haiti’s recent election was one “without substance” is weak. Until those who have levied this charge against Haiti bring the same charge against the U.S. and other advanced democracies, they are not to be taken serious and independent observers.

Another charge made against Haiti’s election was that it was not the Haitian population that demanded elections be held at the particular time. This charge, too, does not make sense. In the years I have been living the U.S., I don’t remember one time when the American people ‘choosing’ a time when elections were to be held. Election dates are usually set in national constitutions and/or legislation. In the case of Haiti, the set dates for elections have not been adhered to in couple or so cases over the last ten years because of special circumstances. The departure of or coup against, depending on one’s view, of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in early 2004 was one of the cases. It forced the country to hold elections before their constitutionally scheduled time. The same is true for last Sunday’s elections. Before this Sunday, elections had been postponed for a number of reasons, including the January 12, 2010 earthquake. The U.S. sometimes holds ‘special elections’ when unforeseen circumstances have presented themselves. An example would be that an elected official dies before her/his term in office expires. Here, again, it seems to me and, I venture to say, to any independent observer, that Haiti is no different; and why some here are trying to hold it to these unreasonable standards is inexplicable.

Another important claim that has been made is around exclusion of political parties. Critics have been saying “parties”—plural, but they are mainly referring to Fanmi Lavalas (FL). The claim of the exclusion of FL, to a large degree, is a myth. Those who have made this claim often conflate Fanmi Lavalas with the popular movement known as lavalas, which means a torrential force used primarily to imply a cleansing flood. It supposedly cleansed the almost 30-year dictatorial regimes of Francois and Jean-Claude (father and son) Duvalier (1957-1986). The popular movement is no more and has been such for many years. President Aristide corrupted the movement into a political party of the same name, which I differentiated in my recent book, The Power of Movement in Political Transitions (2010). Right before Aristide relinquished power in 1996, many in the top echelon of the party left, disgusted by Aristide strong-armed tactics to control the party as his personal project. The infighting led Aristide to rename the portion that had remained under his leadership Fanmi Lavalas. Fanmi Lavalas is not lavalas.

Many have accused the CEP of barring Fanmi Lavalas’ candidates. There is some validity to this claim, but part of the blame rests with the way in which former President Aristide set up the charter of his party. The charter states that he, and he alone in person, can certify and officially submit candidates for the party. He did this, I suspect, as a way to ensure lifetime tenure as the head of the party. The Duvaliers did the same thing when they claimed that it was they and they alone who could govern the country. I think the right thing for the CEP to do is to allow whoever is leading the party to amend the charter that was drafted by President Aristide. I hope that the saga of Fanmi Lavalas serves as a reminder to leaders who think they ought to be king that Haiti has no need for them.

On Wednesday, December 1, 2010, Jonathan Katz of The Associated Press reported that President Rene Preval, in a memo in 2009, expressed interest in ‘orchestrat[ing]’ the presidential vote so that his successor would not “force him into exile.” It is almost certain that the detractors of Haiti will make a big deal out of this memo. They will conveniently forget the tragic history of Haiti’s leaders over the last 200 years. Anyone who knows this history will understand why President Preval was and is concerned about life after the presidency. Any president would have these concerns. The top two candidates who will face off in the second round of voting on January 16, 2011 should pledge that no future Haitian president would be sent into exile. If s/he were to be accused of any wrongdoing, s/he would face Haiti’s legal system, whatever legal system Haiti has at the particular time. Sending our presidents into exile further damages Haiti’s prestige. Ayiti granmoun, se pou’l regle zafè’l.

Returning to the recent election and the knee-jerk reaction to it by some small groups of people inside and outside of Haiti. The election took place under very difficult conditions and the authorities did the best they could with the resources that they had. I hope that they will listen to any criticism of their efforts, investigate credible claims of fraud, and institute reform so that the next round of election can be better. It is now clear that those who were crying “massive election fraud,” including 12 of the 18 presidential contenders, were playing politics. Those in the U.S. who are spreading rumors, fears, and accusations need to stop and let the Haitians work out their differences themselves.

Figaro Joseph is a native of Haiti and author of “The Power of Movement in Political Transition: Haiti Under the Lavalas, 1989-1991.” Berkeley: Minuteman Press, 2010. He can be reached at: figarojoseph"@"gmail.com


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