It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Haiti’s Democracy Under Attack: Honduras reveals the challenges of defending and maintaining a democratic system in the region by Stanley Lucas

The military coup in Honduras is unequivocally undemocratic and must be condemned. ---------

In the recent past, military coups, particularly in the Latin American region, were the principal enemy of democracy. However, Latin America had made enormous strides toward democracy over the past 40 years when it was primarily comprised of dictatorships. Today the region is home to 33 democracies – of varying degrees – and Cuba remains the lone hold out. This collective vision of democracy evolved dramatically in the last 15 years with the passage of two important actions at the Organization of American States (OAS): Resolution 1080 that called for countries to protect democracy and elected governments against coups, and the ratification of the Democratic Charter. ------------------------------------------------------------------------
Because of these democratic gains within the region, military coups have been practically unthinkable since the late 1980s. This consensus is broad, and the roots of the democracy have taken a firm hold. It is against this backdrop that the military coup in Honduras was immediately condemned worldwide and by the OAS. It should be noted that former U.S. President Ronald Reagan played a central role in promoting freedom and democracy in the region. He confronted the enemies of liberty, freedom and democracy in Grenada, El Salvador and the Soviet Union. Thanks to the efforts of President Reagan and others, freedom and democracy have triumphed. These gains should be lauded; however, this does not mean that new threats against freedom and democracy are not emerging. ---------------------------------
In my opinion, there are two major threats to democracy in the region: autogolpe and corruption. Because of the situation in Honduras, I will focus my comments solely on the autogolpe. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

An autogolpe, a new form of coup, is organized by an elected government to remain in power beyond the legal term as outlined by the constitution. Usually, this type of coup is carried out by the head of the Executive Branch. The elected government uses state institutions under the executive branch authority to execute the coup. The head of the executive branch ignores the legal rulings by the supreme court and the legislative actions by parliament to address illegal actions and prevent the coup. This type of coup employs tactics such as the illegal amendment of the constitution, manipulation of the electoral process, other institutions of the state and violent threats by armed supporters in order to remain in power. This region has seen numerous autogolpes. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
In 1992, President Joaquim Balaguer of the Dominican Republic tried to execute an autogolpe by manipulating election results. His efforts failed, and he had to leave office before the end of his term. Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori tried the use the armed forces, the intelligence service and the electoral body to manipulate electoral results in order to remain in power. His efforts also failed, and he had to resign due to popular protest. -----------------------

In Haiti, Jean Bertrand Aristide used violence, corruption, and drug trafficking for profit coupled with electoral manipulation in 2000 in order to carry out an autogolpe. He also failed due to popular protests and had to resign in 2004. And in Venezuela, President Chavez has been applying the autogolpe tactics since his election to remain indefinitely in power. He is actively promoting these practices to other ALBA countries. (Note: ALBA is a coalition of countries that created an non free market trade structure. It is comprised of Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba. This group would not exist without Chavez’s petro dollars. Democratic principles are under assault in all five countries which have experienced autogolpes.) In Haiti, currently a beneficiary member of the the Chavez-ALBA partnership, President Preval is employing the ALBA model of autogolpe tactics: ------------------------------------------------

- Electoral coup by naming a partisan electoral body and through the manipulation of elections results at the polling station during the senate elections of April 19 and June 21, 2009. ----------

- Illegal amendment of the constitution to eliminate term limits and reduce the power of Parliament while consolidating the powers of the presidency; -----------------------------------

-Economic coup to steal and transfer revenue generating state enterprises to his friends of the private sector (Groupe de Bourdon and foreign profiteers) --------------------------------------

Rene Preval's autogolpe is being executed so far without the objection of the United Nations or the OAS missions in Haiti that are there to support democracy supposedly. The handling of the April 19 and June 21 elections were in complete violation of the principles of the Democratic Charter. MINUSTAH, the UN mission in country, applauded the elections while all sectors of Haitian society expressed public frustration and still might revolt against this electoral coup. Tolerating the manipulation of the electoral results, which gave Preval's party the majority in the senate, will result in a new crisis in Haiti. These problems need to be addressed now before they become a crisis that will be impossible to manage at the last minute. When people take to the streets in Haiti, the President is forced to resign as was the case for Presidents Duvalier and Aristide. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

While it is easy to stop or block a military coup, it is much more difficult to face down an autogolpe carried out by a legitimate, elected government. The international community has no clear strategy or framework to address coups carried out by legitimate governments. We have seen an incomprehensible tolerance of the international community vis-a-vis the antidemocratic actions of elected governments. This ambivalence to democracy, the rule of the law and good governance is dangerous. The repressive methods employed by legitimate governments to execute their autogolpe generates different reactions from the people. Some have led to popular uprisings; some to impeachments. In a few rare cases, there have been military coups. In this age of democracy, the military coups often happen in countries where the democratic institutions are not strong enough to impeach the head of the executive branch. While coup is coup – and it must be immediately condemned – can the undemocratic behavior of an elected government prior to the coup be ignored? This is the new democracy challenge. -----------------------------

The key question is how to defend democracy, the constitution, and the rule of the law when a democratically elected president does not respect the constitution, the decisions of the legislative power or judicial power and wants to establish a dictatorship through an autogolpe? What do you do when a democratically elected president manipulates the electoral process to illegally give his party the majority? What do you do when a democratically elected president uses violence in the streets to assassinate his opponents and kill democracy? What do you do when democratic institutions which should sanction the antidemocratic acts of an democratically elected president are too weak to do it? What do you do when democratic institutions cannot judge a democratically elected president that purposefully violates the constitution? How can OAS as an institution formed of governments deal with the realities of an autogolpe before it creates a political crisis? What should we do to prevent future undemocratic adventures? This is a true dilemma and OAS just experiences it in the Case of Honduras. Resolution 952 passed by the OAS Friday before the coup did not stop both president Zelaya and his opponents. The region need a better framework to prevent that type of situation. --------------------------------------

On the one hand, the military coup of Honduras is illegal and unconstitutional for kicking the president of the country; on the other, the elected president was executing an autogolpe that the judiciary and legislative branches tried to stop. The elected president did not care about the two other branches of government decisions and was marching ahead with his coup. In such a situation, how do you bring democracy back in-country? How do you reopen dialogue and build trust without forgetting one side’s sins? How do you keep the country on the road to democracy? In that situation will the Secretary General of the OAS, Insulza, be able it to guide the institution with wisdom and tact and apply the Democratic Charter? How will the Chilean-Pinochet experience factor into the management of this issue? How will we continue to convey to the soldiers and the military that a coup will always be unacceptable? How can we sanction a democratically government which manipulates elections, and engages in repression and corruption? ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Considering the multiplication of these cases over the past few years, it is an issue that deserves to be to studied in order to identify appropriate responses. As autogolpes are being organized more frequently throughout the region, I put forward the following proposals for consideration:-

- The OAS should establish a commission formed of experts in the promotion of democracy to analyze the various cases and propose a framework on how the OAS should address this issue.--

- The OAS Unit of Democracy should create a watchdog team to monitor developments in the areas of free and fair elections, constitutional amendments, rule of law, the balance of power among the three branches of government, and the politicization of the police and the military. This unit should develop a ratings system that would trigger immediate action by the OAS General Assembly and the Secretary General. The decision of the Assembly will also trigger programmatic activities implemented by the watchdog team. -----------------------------------

- The OAS should organize a permanent monitoring unit for free and fair elections that is completely independent from political interference. This election monitoring unit should have the same status as the Inter American Human Rights Commission. -----------------------------

- The OAS should create a Democracy Tribunal that can hear cases of disagreement between parties. In the case of Honduras, if the OAS had such tribunal they could have heard the case and avoided further conflicts. -------------------------------------------------------------------

- The OAS should create a military-democracy team that will support the work of the watchdog team. This military-democracy team should permanently monitor the military development in countries facing political crisis. ------------------------------------------------------------------

- The OAS should create two new lower status memberships for countries that are violating democratic principles. This could be linked to the IDB, the World Bank, the IMF and other donors institutions. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

- The OAS should create a coalition of NGOs involved in democracy building capable of assisting the OAS in the promotion of dialogue and peace during crisis. These NGOs should specialize in conflict resolution, political party building, strengthening civil society, elections assistance, civil military relations, and good governance. --------------------------------------------------------

- The OAS should organize round tables and academics in Washington and the region on this issue to generate ideas and solutions. -----------------------------------------------------------

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