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Friday, January 25, 2008

Haiti: President Rene Preval’s questionable record on democracy, security and stability by Stanley Lucas

January 25, 2008------------
Democracy can flourish in Haiti – if given the chance. Despite military coups and the selfish misuse of power by their elected leaders, corruption, and bad governance, Haitian voters have always done their part and shown up at the polls when they felt their votes would count, and organized themselves to stay away when they knew the process was corrupt. Trough a complicated network of rumors and innuendo, they have made a real effort to stay informed and seek out reliable information. However, after the voters have fulfilled their duty, the leaders they elected fail to keep their end of the bargain, and worse, have morphed into the repressive regimes that they fought to oust. Those elected have had one goal: preserving power at any cost. Whether it’s pilfering Haiti’s meager resources or leading Haiti down a dangerous path with the international community (as seen in the above picture of Preval being friendly with Ahmadinejad), it is the Haitian people who always pay the price.

Unfortunately, the current President, Rene Preval does not offer much hope of this trend being reversed. President Rene Preval has built an abysmal record of implementing democracy. He directly supported the rigging and manipulation of three elections (April 6, 1997, May 21, 2000 and November 26, 2000) in favor of his mentor and political ally, former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The manipulated results of the April 6, 1997 elections were blocked by Prime Minister Rosny Smarth. Preval dissolved parliament in January 1999, politicized the police and allowed corruption to prosper while drug trafficking was on the rise under the control of Aristide’s foes. Several years later, the electoral crisis of 2000, that Preval helped to create, led to Aristide’s resignation leaving Haiti in chaos.

Because of its leaders failure to democratize, Haiti remains in an almost constant state of political chaos. Since 1990 the United States and the United Nations, at the request of Aristide, have intervened at least 13 times to restore peace and democracy. Those operations have cost billions of dollars, and there is still nothing to show for it.

In 2006 Haiti once again was optimistic and inaugurated a new era with Rene Preval’s second term in office. Preval received 47.8% of the vote, and the entire country had high hopes that Preval was the changed man he professed to be. The first twelve months in office were characterized by prudent progress. A coalition government was put in place; a dialogue with various sectors of society was launched; security improved; and optimism grew. Over the past five months, however, optimism has been giving way to anxiety. Several actions by President Preval have raised concerns about a political recession into the familiar chaos of his previous regime. Several major issues have raised concerns:
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Amending the Constitution: President Preval has renewed attempts to illegally amend the constitution, following the tactics of renegade Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, to reinstate a new form of “presidency for life” and eliminate the checks and balances of parliament. According to recent polling, Haitians are overwhelmingly opposed to these measures. The framers of the Haitian constitution, ratified in 1987, took into account the past practice of Haitian leaders to illegally modify the constitution and strengthened provisions and processes to amend the constitution. President Preval has not followed these provisions. Further, when he last distributed the draft amendment four months ago, he had such a negative reaction from all sectors of Haitian society that he was forced to withdraw it. In fact 70 of the 99 Parliamentary Deputies sent a letter to the United Nations outlining their concerns about the Preval Administration’s recent assault on Haiti’s fragile democratic institutions. Notwithstanding the illegality of this amendment, focusing on amending the constitution should not be a priority for a country that lacks security and basic services. But he has not given up. The parliamentarians caution that without international support and attention to this issue, further political instability will ensue.

Foreign policy supporting Iran and other undemocratic regimes: Haitian leaders have made a public spectacle of their support for the rogue Iranian regime. Preval was seen at the inauguration of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega chatting friendly with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the leader of Iran. While the international community was trying to broker an agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear programs, Preval’s Foreign Minister Raynald Clerisme went to Iran to seek support for building security in Haiti. When asked about the trip, Clerisme claimed he only “participated in a conference”. However, Preval and Clerisme gave verbal instructions to Haiti’s key diplomatic missions to vote against any international initiative that would condemn Iran. As a result, Preval’s Haiti helped prevent the passing of the resolution introduced by Canada in the United Nations Human Rights Commission to condemn the actions of the Iranian regime.

Haiti is also being swept up in the overall anti-democratic movement in Latin America fronted by the ALBA Alliance, lead by President Chavez with Fidel Castro and others. This is not good for democracy and regional – or global – stability. These actions only alienate key international political support. For Haiti to succeed in pulling itself out of a severe cycle of poverty, international support will be needed. With the world lining up against terrorist and rogue states, Haiti cannot afford to align with these fringe elements. ---------------------

Hiring a convicted criminal as his security advisor: Preval has appointed a known militant, Patrick Elie, to serve as the President of the National Security Commission. Mr. Elie was arrested by the US Secret Service on April 23, 1998 for plotting to kill the Haitian Ambassador to the US. He spent three years in a US jail, and was deported to Canada (please refer to United States Court of Appeal No 96-4638 for additional information). Mr. Elie formerly served as an Assistant Secretary in the Aristide Administration in 1991. At that time, he faced allegations of torturing detained political activists and building up a militia for Aristide. The presence of Mr. Elie in this official capacity in such a critical post raises concerns among many democratic activists in Haiti. ----------------------------------------------------

Manipulating the electoral process: This is a key concern. Since 1994 all political crises in Haiti have developed from electoral manipulation. Unfortunately there are signs that this trend may continue under Preval. After inauguration in 2006, Preval has been strategically undermining the country’s electoral authorities with the ultimate goal of dissolution. This has had a direct impact on several upcoming local elections. Specifically, for the past 18 months, Preval has delayed the organization of the indirect elections necessary for the creation of Haiti’s Permanent Electoral Council by refusing to finance the electoral institution. (Haiti is required to create a Permanent Council to replace the Provisional Council that organized the 2005 election of Preval.) This has resulted in the postponement of the senate elections that should have occurred on December 17, 2007. The date for the indirect elections remains uncertain.

In December, Preval without any legal or procedural justification broke the consensual agreement between the political parties, civil society and the government that provided for the formation of a non partisan and independent electoral institution. Without consultation, he fired the independent electoral council and put in place a partisan electoral body ultimately comprised of his friends and allies after making a considerable show of consulting with many sectors. This is unquestionably bad for Haiti. Past events in Haiti and recent events around the world have shown that without a legitimate and trusted electoral body, there is a breakdown in trust between the government and the people and instability ensues. The recent chaos in Pakistan and Kenya are examples of what could happen if nothing is done to correct this trend.

Preval is also misreading the US political system. He seems to believe that a change in the White House will mean that no one will be watching and he will be able to proceed with the manipulation of these elections. He has it wrong. The Haitian democracy activists and various sectors of Haitian society are organizing to meet the challenge - the same way they did against Preval’s previous electoral coups in 1997 and 2000. ----------------------------------------

Manipulating the United Nations presence in Haiti and international supporters to prop up his regime instead of using democracy: Both Rene Preval and his associate, former President Aristide, have proven over the past 15 years that they have mastered how to negotiate with the international community to achieve their political self-preservation goals. Haiti is heading down a path which if unchecked can only result in further requests for support from international organizations. For example, the Prime Minister is incapable of addressing the urgent issues and of the 18 cabinet ministers only five of them are actually performing. Since Preval took office the cost of living has risen 30%. Poverty has risen to such alarming levels that the country could face popular uprisings that can led to chaos after the carnival in February. However, as a result of years of manipulating the international system, there is now, in Haiti, a popular perception that the UN and the OAS presence essentially supports and protects the Preval regime and instead of democracy and the people’s interests.
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The Establishment of civilian security cells: Preval has established security cells that are similar of the state security police of Cuba or the Bolivarian clubs in Venezuela. These type or paramilitary civilian networks are been built in many quarters and constitute a threat to democracy.

The bottom line is that President Preval cannot be allowed to repeat the undemocratic practices of the past. Haiti – and the region – could benefit from some “preventative medicine” in the form of support to the democratic reformers in the region. International attention and pressure have proven a deterrent in the past, and that assistance should again be leveraged before the process spirals out of control.

Recommendations:
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· Preval should not alter the constitution; he should focus on the country’s priorities. This is a divisive issue that the majority of Haitians are opposed to. Preval should focus on solving the basic problems that the majority of the Haitian citizens are facing: security, jobs, education, and health care. The average Haitian makes less than a dollar a day.
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· Haiti should pursue a foreign policy that seeks to build better relations with allies; he should not pursue relationships with rogue regimes. Preval should cut all relations with Iran until they renounce and condemn terrorism. Haiti’s foreign policy should be supportive of democracy and human rights. Haiti should actively seek economic support and trade agreements creating opportunity for the people. The United States, Brazil, Canada, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico are countries that Haiti could reach out to for support.
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· The Preval administration should build trust and support in the government. Preval should fire Mr. Elie and should follow the constitution and allow the government and it’s ministers to develop a comprehensive national security strategy to help the country face the internal and external threats. The Administration should also take immediate steps to create an impartial permanent electoral council to conduct overdue elections.
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· Parliament should fulfill its oversight role. After two years it is time for parliament to evaluate the performances of the Prime Minister and the eighteen members of the cabinet. They should give a vote of confidence to cabinet members that have performed well and, according to the constitution, give a vote of no confidence to those that are not working in the interest of the Haitian people.

2 comments:

ginou said...

Mr. Lucas, your blog was very informative. However, I asked myself, where is the harm in Haiti reaching out to other countries for survival? I personally have not seen the US, France, Canada, take any viable actions or make any fundamental changes to develop/build security, economic, and social stability in Haiti; I believe these countries have stood idle. If it takes Haiti reaching out to countries who are not only listening but are ready and willing to help bring change in the country then so be it. However, I do understand the caution in establishing relations with unfavorable countries. However, Haiti needs to pursue other avenue and open the communication line for possible change.
In my opinion, a focus on the youth in Haiti would ignite a fundamental change in Haiti. For example, the leading countries, assuming they are sincerely concern with the current state of Haiti, should show their support by establishing the following:
- Educational/Trade program where Haitian students and field professionals would have access to educational and employment opportunities in the US, Canada, France, etc..
-An international fund that would focus on rebuilding the country's economy by encouraging corporate investors, agricultural, and industrial developments.
-International support to enforce human rights and safety of the citizens in Haiti. Currently, I belive the UN presence in Haiti are only there as observers and are NOT actively protecting basic human rights in Haiti.

I would like to make a plea to you to sit down and discuss these issues with young Haitian-American professionals, especially in Central and South Florida where there seems to be a lack of policy focus, continuous and effective mobilization regarding Haiti and Haitian-American issues.

I look forward to reading your response. Thank you.

Stanley Lucas said...

Dear Ginou:

Thank you for your very thoughtful and considered email. It's exactly this type of thought and debate that we need to move forward in Haiti.

On your first point, you are right -- the international community has not paid enough attention to Haiti. I believe, though, that the leadership in Haiti has neglected to put together an effective international outreach plan. The problem is actually even more fundamental than this -- Haiti has no national economic development plan to even bring to other countries. We need to encourage these countries to invest in Haiti -- we need to earn this support. The programs you suggest below are exactly what we should be working for.

In any event, Haiti can attract assistance from responsible international actors and does not need to resort to dealing with rogue states that can only serve to further destabilize our country. We must act responsibly.

I frequently travel to Florida and would be delighted to speak to a group of young professionals. I will look for opportunities in my upcoming travels.

Kembe la,
Stanley