Controversial Senate elections planned in Haiti
April 6, 2009
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U.N. military personnel and Haitian police block off the street in front of the headquarters of Haiti's Provisional Election Council (CEP) in anticipation of large protests on Feb. 28. The date marked the five-year anniversary of the second coup against former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. The CEP disqualified all the candidates of the Fanmi Lavalas party, Haiti's largest, from upcoming elections. Photo: ©2009 Randall White



One of the many roaming protests of more than 20,000 people throughout Haiti's capital following the arrival of former president Bill Clinton and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on March 9, 2009.

According to witnesses from the Haitian press corps, the Clinton/Ki-Moon convoy along with a large contingent of foreign press took a route on March 9 designed to keep Lavalas protestors out of view.
In the end Clinton and Ki-Moon offered nothing substantively new and continued a push for economic development based on apparel manufacturing and what many Haitian organizers consider sweatshop labor.

Controversial Senate elections planned in Haiti

by Kevin Pina

The Obama administration and the international community have remained silent the past two weeks concerning a decision by Haiti's election council to move forward with controversial Senate elections scheduled for April 19. Without disclosing its origin, the United Nations announced on March 24 that Haiti received over 100 tons of election materials to be distributed to 11,000 voting locations in advance of the poll. The National Democratic Institute, an organization created by the U.S. government and loosely associated with the Democratic Party, has been busy holding seminars throughout Haiti in preparation for the upcoming Senate elections.

The apparent decision to green light the contentious ballot comes on the heels of a ruling by Haiti's Provisional Election Council or CEP to exclude the Fanmi Lavalas party of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide on procedural grounds. Haitian president Rene Preval met with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Washington on Feb. 5. The election council's decision to disqualify all of the Fanmi Lavalas party's candidates was announced the following day.

Major stakeholders in Haiti such as the U.S., Brazil, Canada and France have to worry whether excluding Lavalas from the upcoming ballot will be seen as undemocratic and call into question the validity of the elections. A recent visit in early March by former president Bill Clinton and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to ‘draw attention to Haiti and promote development' has only temporarily distracted attention away from the issue.

Lavalas, which means flashflood, is a political party and social movement in Haiti. Its roots begin at the break between the Duvalier appointed hierarchy of the Catholic Church and independent parish communities known as "Ti Legliz" or the Little Church. Haitian priests deeply influenced by Vatican II and what was called ‘Liberation Theology' led many in the Christian-based communities of Ti Legliz, particularly in Haiti's countryside. Among them were figures like Father Jean-Marie Vincent, the former Director of CARITAS in Haiti, and Father Antoine Adrien the superior of the Order of the Holy Ghost Father's. They, along with younger priests like Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Gerard Jean-Juste would later transform Ti Legliz into a resistance movement of the poor to successive coups and military regimes following the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986. The movement became known as Lavalas and has served as the largest base of Haiti's electorate since it galvanized around Aristide's first successful candidacy for president in 1990. Preval's election victory in 2006, and the success of his Lespwa party, is widely seen as a result of support from the Lavalas electorate.

Factions of the Fanmi Lavalas party originally presented two slates of candidates to the CEP for the upcoming Senate elections scheduled for April 19. After the CEP demanded they present a single slate, the Fanmi Lavalas party's leadership managed to hammer out a compromise list of candidates in time to meet the deadline. The CEP refused to accept their applications on the grounds they did not have Aristide's personal signature from exile in South Africa as the National Representative of the Fanmi Lavalas party. One analyst close to the CEP and who spoke on condition of anonymity commented, "It didn't really matter what Lavalas did. The result was always going to be the same. There was more division within Lavalas and greater procedural irregularities with their candidates in the elections of 2006. The only difference is they needed them to provide legitimacy to those elections. The political infighting only provided the CEP with a convenient excuse to exclude them. They don't feel they need them [Lavalas] to legitimize the April 19 elections. "

By the time Aristide was ousted a second time in Feb. 2004, his political opponents in Haiti had painted the Lavalas movement as a violent political organization within the human rights community and the international press. Such claims led to the imprisonment of many within the leadership of Lavalas including Catholic priest Gerard Jean-Juste, folk-singer Annette Auguste, and former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune. Their high-profile examples represent many lesser-known prisoners originally detained based on accusations related to political violence and Lavalas.

According to human rights attorney Mario Joseph, lead counsel for the Haiti-based rights organization Bureau des Advocats Internationaux (BAI), most of the Lavalas prisoners were held beyond the limits of the Haitian Constitution only to have the charges dropped months or even years later. Joseph explained, "I have personally represented many of the Lavalas political prisoners over the past five years. Most were never afforded the basic protection and rights guaranteed by the Haitian Constitution. If you were associated with the Lavalas movement or the Aristide government and they arrested you, you were treated as if the Haitian Constitution had been suspended."

Mario Joseph also describes a period of unprecedented human right violations committed by the U.N./Canadian-trained Haitian National Police (PNH) between 2004 -2006. Joseph elaborated, "This was a terrible time in Haiti where we had examples of the police executing Lavalas supporters in poor neighborhoods of the capital. They would also gun down peaceful demonstrators and make mass arrests without warrants." Preval's election in 2006 seems to have marked the end of the overt repression of that period but since then Haiti has also been wracked by a series of hurricanes, omnipotent hunger and a greater dependence on foreign charity.

Most observers acknowledge that Aristide and the Lavalas movement continue to be a force to reckon with in Haiti. It's said that no other social movement in Haiti, before or since, has shown more resiliency and commitment. They elected Aristide president in Dec. 1990 and the movement was forced to survive three years of brutal military repression after he was ousted in Sept. 1991. Lavalas was later instrumental in Preval's victory in 1995, Aristide's second election in 2000, and Preval's latest return to the National Palace in 2006.

During the last presidential elections of 2006 the Lavalas movement was unable to field its desired candidate, Father Gerard Jean-Juste, who was being held in jail on trumped up charges. Lavalas then threw their weight behind Preval's candidacy as a means to end the severe repression of the U.S.-backed Latortue regime, free political prisoners and return Aristide from exile. When the elections of 2006 were nearly stolen through fraud, it was thousands of Lavalas demonstrators supporting Preval who were responsible for shutting down Haiti's capital for over a week. Without their support the president of Haiti today might well be the long-winded and crusty politician Leslie Manigat or sweatshop magnate Charles Henry Baker. A strong argument can be made that it was only with the support of the Lavalas base that Preval was able to ultimately assume office.

As further testimony to the endurance of the Lavalas movement in Haiti, nearly ten thousand supporters took to the streets of the capital to protest on the five-year anniversary of the second coup against Aristide this past Feb. 28. Most protestors called for the Preval government and the United Nations to allow Aristide to return to Haiti while others used it as a platform to condemn the recent decision of the CEP. Chants directly accusing Preval and his government of being behind the CEP's decision to exclude Lavalas from democratic elections were heard in the streets of the capital.

On March 9, former president Bill Clinton and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon arrived in Haiti with several ‘business leaders' and celebrities. Much of the press gushed such as this report by Britain's Guardian, "Not since Haiti plunged into anarchy that led to the ouster of its democratically elected president five years ago has it received such targeted attention on the world stage." In the end Clinton and Ki-Moon offered nothing substantively new and continued a push for economic development based on apparel manufacturing and what many Haitian organizers consider sweatshop labor.

Clinton and Ki-Moon were met with several large roaming demonstrations estimated at more than 20,000 combined who tried to get their attention through the thick cordon of U.N. security. It was a cat and mouse game between the demonstrators and U.N. military security that whisked the Clinton/Ki-Moon entourage from destination to destination always trying to stay one step ahead of the crowds.

Most of the demonstrators were demanding Aristide's return and hoping Clinton would join their call given his history of having helped return the Haitian leader once before in Oct. 1994. Their hopes were soon dashed as it became clear that Clinton had no intention of supporting Aristide ‘s return. As one of their leaders put it, "It's clear now that he [Clinton] is here to support the Preval government's project to exclude the Lavalas movement." In the early evening about 5000 demonstrators continued to camp out on in front of Haiti's National Palace in a final plea on behalf of their exiled leader. As Preval and his government shared champagne with Clinton, Ki-Moon and other U.N. officials inside, many of those camped in front of the building vowed publicly they would never trust Clinton again.

The arrival of the Clinton/Ki-Moon public relations junket in Port au Prince also served to distract attention away from another important event. That same day Haitian judge Jean-Claude Douyon ruled, "The political rights of Lavalas have been violated," and he ordered "the reintegration of candidates of that party, if they each individually meet the legal standards." On April 3, Preval's Minister of Justice Jean-Joseph Exumé fired Judge Douyon accusing him of corruption in a seemingly unrelated case. Douyon has since made it clear in the Haitian press he believes the move is in retaliation for his ruling ordering the CEP to include Lavalas in the upcoming elections. He further claims Exumé threatened him not to take the case and made it clear the Preval government's constitutional interpretation is the judiciary has no jurisdiction to overrule a CEP decision.

This makes Preval's handpicked election council "the final arbiter" in any dispute related to the electoral process. Ironically, that was the same position taken by the Latortue regime when it tried to use the CEP to stack the deck against Preval in 2006. Their decision was final and there was no appeal until burning tires and massive crowds blocked every major intersection of the capital finally forcing them and their patrons in the international community to back down. As the analyst close to the CEP put it, "Anyone who remembers the ‘Belgian Option' knows who was really pulling the strings" referring to the face saving solution where Belgian electoral law was invoked to count thousands of blank ballots giving Preval a majority.

According to witnesses from the Haitian press corps, the Clinton/Ki-Moon convoy along with a large contingent of foreign press took a route on March 9 designed to keep Lavalas protestors out of view. The recent decision to bar the Fanmi Lavalas party by Preval's CEP, and the challenge it poses to the Obama administration and the international community for ‘restoring democracy in Haiti,' may prove more difficult to hide.

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See Also

Thousands more take the streets of Haiti, demanding the return of President Aristide Mar12

Listen to the Flashpoints Radio reporting
of Monday, March 9, 2009

Fanmi Lavalas: Haiti's largest political party shows no lack of leadership talent Mar2

Thousands march in Haiti demanding return of Aristide Feb 29

Propagandhi: progressive thrash, Haiti and activism on tour Feb 26

Haiti bill calling for investigation of U.S. role in 2004 Coup d'État Feb 5

The rebirth of Konbit in Haiti Dec 17

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