Haiti election: exclusion in a time of cholera

November 30, 2010
The popular Fanmi Lavalas party was excluded from the November 28 Haitian elections.

Haiti's November 28 election was marred by widespread fraud. Despite the call of all the leading candidates but one to cancel the exercise, officials with the UN Security Council mission as well as the United States, Canada and Europe are voicing satisfaction with the result and urging the country’s electoral commission to press ahead with a second-round runoff vote in January.

Before the polls even closed on Sunday afternoon, 12 of the 18 presidential candidates issued a statement calling for the vote to be cancelled due to what Mirlande Manigat, a candidate and former first lady of Haiti who polls had identified as a frontrunner, charged was “massive fraud” and “unacceptable” irregularities in the elections.

In fact, election might not be the most accurate term for the November 28 exercise. The ruling party's hand-picked electoral council had banned the most popular Haitian political party, Fanmi Lavalas (FL), from participation.

FL party leader Jean Bertrand Aristide, who was elected as Haiti's president in 2000, has been exiled in Africa since 2004, when he was removed in a coup d'etat supported by the US, Canada and France and warned, in the words of former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, not to "come back into the hemisphere".

Meanwhile, as the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti warned, the presence of troops from the UN "stabilisation" mission in Haiti (known as MINUSTAH) at polling stations was more likely to cause violence than prevent it.

UN troops and Haitian National Police killed two demonstrators at anti-MINUSTAH protests in the city of Cap Haitien earlier this month.

They also tear-gassed Haitians participating in a march in Port-au-Prince, which as journalist Kim Ives reported for Haiti Liberte, "seriously sickened many women and children".

The protests vented anger at the failed international relief effort, the introduction of cholera, previously unknown in Haiti, and concerns about the upcoming election.

Calls for the withdrawal of the UN troops have been escalating amidst accusations that UN soldiers' fecal matter, dumped into a waterway that feeds into Haiti's Artibonite river, was the likely source of the cholera. The epidemic has already killed a reported 1,600 Haitians.

As late as March of this year, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was saying that the illness was "extremely unlikely" to occur in Haiti. Today, the Pan-American Health Organization is projecting that 200,000 people may be infected within a year, and that "we may have 10,000 dead".

According to Harvard University microbiology chair John Mekalanos, the cholera "very much likely did come either with peacekeepers or other relief personnel".

"I don't see there is any way to avoid the conclusion that an unfortunate and presumably accidental introduction of the organism occurred", he recently told AP.

The cholera epidemic sweeping the country raises a bigger question about the role of countries such as Canada that have boasted for years about all the "aid" they've provided to Haiti. With all this international "help", why on earth doesn't Haiti have the basic infrastructure that could have prevented the cholera outbreak?

Canadian independent journalist Isabeau Doucet recently offered some very relevant context in a commentary for the Guardian. She pointed out: “A decade ago, money was in place to address the country's failing water system. In 2000, a $54m loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) should have given the Haitian government means to rehabilitate its urban and rural water systems."

However, "US foreign policy objectives of destabilising the democratically elected Aristide government got in the way.”

In a 2004 article for the London Review of Books, Harvard medical professor Paul Farmer, who is now assistant to the UN's Special Envoy for Haiti, William Clinton, specified that "Haitian and American sources have confirmed to me that the US asked the bank to block the loans."

As independent Canadian journalist Anthony Fenton has documented, Canada was complicit in this destabilization, suspending its bilateral aid to the Haitian government after Aristide's election in 2000.

At a UN donors' conference in March 2010, the international community promised almost US$10 billion to rebuild Haiti after the January 12 earthquake. (A sum that is considerably less than the tens of billions of dollars Haiti is owed for the illegitimate debts that have been extorted from Haitians by Western governments and financial institutions since 1825.)

Nearly eight months after these pledges, an estimated 1.7 million people are still living under tarps in unsafe makeshift camps.

MINUSTAH recently issued a statement calling the organisers of recent protests in Haiti "the enemies of stability and democracy." But protest seems the most reasonable response to the present situation. Not least for those of us whose governments promised a bright future for a "New Haiti" just nine months ago.

[Isabel Macdonald is a media scholar at Concordia University in Montreal. Her work has been published by the Toronto Star, the Guardian, and the Nation. Excerpts of her thesis examining Canadian media coverage of the 2004 coup d'etat in Haiti have been published in the journals Media Development and the Canadian Journal of Communication.]

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